Robert Carrier: Michael! Good luck out there today!
Michael Schumacher: Thank you.

So went my brief conversation with the 7-time Formula One World Champion at the SuperKarts! USA SuperNationals XIII in Las Vegas, Nevada. It probably didn't help that I caught him on the grid with the other drivers before the SuperPro main event, and thus right in the middle of his preparation for the upcoming 25 lap race, but I've heard that he's not exactly a social person anyway. Nonetheless, the short interaction is an example of what set this Supernational apart from all that came before it and made it the biggest and best SKUSA race ever... [read more]

There were a variety of classes that competitors could take part in over the course of the weekend, including the popular TaG (Touch and Go) Junior class, TaG Senior class and the KF2 class. The TaG Senior and KF2 classes in particular were both extremely fast and featured a host of world-class karters, some as young as 15 years of age. It goes without saying that the TaG classes are just as much a breeding ground for future professionals as the shifter classes are.

The TaG karts themselves, from such manufacturers as Tony Kart, CRG, Birel, Intrepid and Top Kart, differ only slightly from their shifter kart cousins. Utilizing single speed gearboxes and often lacking front brakes, the KF2 karts offer most of the performance of a shifter in a simpler package that allows up-and-coming drivers to focus on the fundamentals of steering, throttle and brake input, and passing before moving on to bigger and better things.

Despite the impressive performance of the TaG karts, the SuperPro shifter kart class was the one that people came to see. The starting grid for the SuperPro event included not only the KZ2 world champion and Formula One legend Michael Schumacher, but also ex-F1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr., Sebastien Buemi from the Torro Rosso F1 team, and a host of world-class karters from as far away as Europe and New Zealand.

The 125cc shifter karts were amazingly fast around the short .66 mile road course set up in the parking lot of the Rio Hotel and Casino, lapping some 3 seconds faster than the still-very-fast TaG Senior karts. Seeing some of the top drivers navigate the course in these machines firsthand, I can say that it comes as little surprise that karting is the most popular stepladder into upper echelon motorsport. Quite simply, the speed at which these karts accelerate, change direction and slow down is amazing.

Despite the immense talent that current F1 drivers possess, the fact that karting is in many ways nothing more than a hobby for them meant that the F1 racers started no better than ninth. Perhaps not surprisingly, the small contingent was led by none other than Michael Schumacher. A couple of spots behind him were Nelson Piquet Jr. and then finally the young F1 driver Sebastien Buemi back in the middle of the pack. Though I assume many of the spectators in attendance were expecting a one-two-three podium from the F1 drivers and may have been disappointed with their mid-pack starting positions, I was actually quite impressed that the three were able to compete head-to-head with individuals who dedicate their time and energy exclusively to the discipline.

At the beginning of the SuperPro main event, the field of nearly 40 karts funneled its way into the first corner and miraculously made its way through without too much drama. If the start of an F1 race seems a bit dicey, I highly recommend attending at a sprint kart race! I would not have been surprised to see several of the karts go flying into the stands! Not everyone made it through the race unscathed though; after roughly 12 laps, Sebastien Buemi dropped out and came limping into the pits as the rest of the field continued buzzing around.

Quite to my surprise, Sebastien came over to where I was photographing the race and nudged against the fence to my immediate left. I took advantage of the unexpected opportunity and asked him what happened on track. and he told me that he broke one of his wheels and was forced to retire. I couldn't really think of anything noteworthy to say, so I offered the obligatory apology even though I had nothing to do with the situation! With that exchange done, we both refocused our attention to the track to watch the legendary Michael Schumacher in action, and perhaps for the first time all day long, I dropped my camera and simply soaked it all in.

I had the pleasure of watching Schumi in action at the 2002 Australian Grand Prix and will always remember the sight and sound of him navigating the beautiful Melbourne circuit in the stunning Ferrari F2001, but that feels like a world away. Here I was seven years later standing alongside current F1 driver Sebastien Buemi watching retired Formula One icon Michael Schumacher driving around a track in anger, and I can say that the surreal nature of the moment was not lost on me. As far as motorsport events go, this was clearly the highlight of 2009 and will be something that I remember for some time to come!

For full results from the SKUSA SuperNats XIII event, visit the SuperKarts! USA website

For a look at all of my photos from the SKUSA Super Nationals XII, click here

Photo/Editorial: Robert Carrier

1 comment:

  1. Very cool :)

    Alot of people think karts are for kids, but if anyone ever gets a chance to watch shifter karts in action, or even the TAG single speed karts, they will change their tune very quickly! I'm looking to start racing one of the chassis' you mentioned in the piece here in Australia. I certainly have found that driving them has improved my driving as the reactions you need with these things are lightening fast! Jump back into a road car at a track day or super sprint and all of sudden you can push far beyond what you used to simply because you have the reactions to catch anything the car throws at you!

    Anyway, that is my aim for 2010 and even though i am 26, i know of a 28 y/o guy in Europe who races competitively at international events so age is not a factor :)

    Keep up the kart reports!