By Lyonel Doherty
You likely can’t afford to drive a McLaren at Area 27, which is too bad. But will you settle for a mini version doing 90 at the new Kartplex?
Well then, the facility awaits you.
When Area 27 president Bill Drossos approached Craig Finer to be the director of operations, he jumped at the chance.
“Bill said, hey man, do you want to come build a go-kart track with me and Jacques Villeneuve? I said . . . no, I have to think about it (laughing out loud).”
Finer has been involved in karting since 1999 and was instrumental in bringing the sport to the Penticton Speedway.
What he really likes about the location in Oliver is the fact it’s surrounded by vineyards, lakes and golf courses. He noted most tracks are compromised near airport runways or industrial parks, but this one is the most beautiful in Canada.
“The biggest thing that separates us from a lot of beautiful kart facilities around the world is this is the only kart track I know of in North America that is set adjacent to a full-size grand prix level racing circuit.”
Finer said it’s probably the only kart track in the world where you can see so much eye candy driving by – Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porches.
Okay, let’s get down to it.
Finer said they have a fleet of TB-R15 karts imported from Italy. They host Honda 270cc, four-stroke engines that muster 10 horsepower. In the right hands on the fastest configuration of the track, these machines can reach speeds of 90 km/h, according to Finer.
He explained that each kart has a
sophisticated electronic safety and control system, meaning each kart has its own artificial intelligence on board.
For example, if one kart departs from what is considered a safe lap, it will automatically slow down all of the other karts within 140 metres of that kart.
Finer said they also have a smaller fleet of junior sized karts – TB-R13s (160cc) to accommodate smaller people and children age 8 to 12.
The company is also investing in a couple of two-seater karts for people who are too young or who aren’t comfortable behind the wheel. Perfect for father and son.
Finer said basically anyone wearing sneakers can enjoy the experience; you don’t even need a driver’s licence. Anyone under 19 requires a parental release form.
The track itself has 10 configuration options. The smallest section is the kids’ course at just over 300 metres, while the
longest configuration is 1.35 kilometres.
Finer said the karts people are driving here are intended for competition; they are basically racing karts adapted for safety.
Kartplex staff consist of experienced karting professionals. For example, crew chief Dana Cave has been involved in the sport for 30 years and is a racer himself.
Race manager Danny Kacic is also an accomplished racer who represented Canada at the Rotax World Championships.
Finer said their staff definitely know their karting, including being able to coach.
“We’re enthusiasts. None of us are here because we need a job; we’re all here because we love go-karts.”
Finer even has his two sons involved in the venture. Isaac, 11, is in charge of
controlling the karts’ electronic systems via computer. Oldest son Josh, 17, is the crew chief responsible for flagging and marshaling the drivers. He is also an instructor of the rookie course.
After finishing a few laps with Finer, Drossos said driving a kart is obviously different than driving an Area 27 car, but there are definite similarities.
For example, you get to feel the flow of the track, which feels natural after a while.
“You can actually find a rhythm on the track, and after a few laps you start to settle in.”
But he noted there are challenges, which require a breath to analyze your mistakes.
Drossos said the kart track is quite engaging, adding that everything comes at you rather quickly, from one corner to the next.
Cors Verhage from Vanderhoof said his ride was fantastic, noting all the equipment is top quality.
Area 27 member Dirk Hohmann from Kelowna said he likes the fact that the consequences on the kart track are much less expensive than those on the Area 27 track.
Neil Braun from Summerland said he loves the head-to-head competition at the kart track.
The Kartplex is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. If you’re not a member, the first time at the track will cost you $35, which includes the $10 pit pass.