First Test Drive: “Kartpalast” reopening near München

For many years, Kartpalast, located in Hansastraße, was the only karting location in München. The place wasn’t exactly ideal. An indoor location which featured a fancy overpass, but apart from that a very twisting track layout, which in turn led to very low-powered karts being used. And of course, it had all the disadvantages of a small indoor kart location: short track, loud noise and bad smell.

With their reopening this January, Kartpalast has tried to overcome all of these issues. First of all, there was a move to a completely new location: it’s now in Bergkirchen, to the west of München, which can still be reached from city centre in less than half an hour (unless you choose rush hour timing for your track event). With that came an extension of the track length to 450m. This is still below the length of some notable outdoor sites, such as Kartshop Ampfing with 1063m or AK Garching with 851m. It’s even below the length of the (more comparable) indoor section of Karting-Paradies Vilsbiburg (650m indoor+350m outdoor extension), but for indoor kart sites in the München vicinity, this is till top of the line.

The most notable change, however, is the change to electric karts by RiMO. In one go, you ged rid of the noise and smell problems – but, here is the question: is it as much fun as a kart with a proper combustion engine?

The Site

Kartpalast is an odd combination of an indoor karting track and an indoor minigolf course. Located in a business park in Bergkirchen – easily reached via A8 Stuttgart or Eschenrieder Spange – it looks from the outside just like the big Aldi/KiK/dm shopping centre on the next block. Reaching the thing by public transport, though, is not that easy: the commute requires the use of a local coach service, which only runs until about 19:00, and even if it runs, it takes more than one hour to get there (from Marienplatz as a point of reference).

Inside, you have the restaurant/bar and the minigolf course downstairs, with the kart track upstairs. The interior is nothing fancy of any kind – however, it’s a pity that, unlike on most sites, there’s no direct view from the restaurant to the race track. This is usually the way to go for discussing lines after a race event, or even for people tagged along who don’t race themselves. The spectators’ area for the race track is just ugly and has no seating places. There would be room for improvement – but the area is, in addition to that, relatively small.

The Track

The track is made up of mobile fences, which are not fixed in place. Obviously, just after opening the location, the staff already made use of this feat: compared to the track chart available on their website, the track layout already has changed. Quite radically, but I might think for the better.

The first point of interest is the u-shaped track section moving past the pit lane and going through start/finish, which can be driven at full speed and is the fastest section of the track. And as it is with such high-speed sections, the turn just afterwards (early apex, great for overtaking!) and just before that section (make sure to get a good line out of the hairpin before that to accelerate early out of that bend) are key for a fast lap time.

There’s also a great variety of different passages in between, such as a wide hairpin, followed by an acute-angled-curve, albeit with a very wide section of the track leading into that curve – make sure to take early apexes for the hairpin and take it a little slower and tighter, such as to allow you to take the next curve already fully accelerating.

The surface of the track is, not surprisingly after less than a week of operation, in great shape and with homogenous adhesion – let’s see how long it stays that way!

Track width is sufficient for overtaking manoeuvres in many places of the track – there’s even points where the “Häkkinen/Schumacher/Zonta at Spa” trick from 2000 is possible. And as there’s many possible lines you can choose to go around the track quickly, overtaking really is a possibility.

The karts’ performance (see also below) can be seen as sufficient for the track. Unlike as on many other indoor tracks, where the kart’s power output is reduced considerably, it’s really required to brake at various points along the track – even heavily so with risk of lockup. This is, of course, also related to the efficient safety concept of the track layout: different to typical outdoor tracks, the track is delimited only by the aforementioned mobile fences. This does actually help seemingly in case of collision, because as the fences are not fixed in place, they just move a little, at the time taking up the engery of the impact. While I obviously didn’t test this, it looks like a good concept for safety of the participants – in fact, better than on most other tracks.

The Karts

They’re electric. So what does that mean? It actually changes the entire powertrain concept, not just the engine: first of all, there is no solid live axle, as in typical (rental) karts. Instead, the rear axle features a split axle design, with each wheel driven by an independent motor. This is obviously cool in many ways: first of all, the kart-typcial high steering forces are reduced (they are a result of the rear axle not having a differential), then, power is transmitted to both live wheels mechanically independently – which gives you a behaviour similar to a limited slip differential.

The first thing you’ll notice, however, will be large negative drag torque if you release the accelerator pedal – which seems only logical, because, being the eco-friendly beasts they are, these karts do recuperation: they use the motor as a brake and feed back energy into the battery. This is tricky insofar as, as with most rental karts, power to the engine is cut the moment you step on the brake, which makes gentle changes from acceleration/driving under load to braking tricky, and could invite load change oversteer. I did, however, not find it difficult to get used to this behaviour.

Speaking of oversteer: there’s also no clutch, and thus the available torque is always directly related to the wheel revs – which means, due to the synchronous motor concept, torque is lacking at low revs, so it’s slow from the starting line, or after loosing speed due to an accidental oversteer manveuver (which still can happen – as with most rental karts, only the rear wheels have brakes). So do avoid that – in our test, a single manoeuvre of that kind cost me roughly 6 seconds!

Another thing of importance: those karts are heavier than comparable designs – in fact, more than 50% so. Which means that the driver’s weight is less relevant compared to normal karts. And to address one frequently asked questions: the electrical system of the karts guarantees full power from “battery full” to “battery empty”, so there’s no need to worry about performance degrading during the race.

The karts at the track are usually set up in a power mode which gets them to a little above 60 km/h, with the track crew reserving the right to reduce that in case of to many heavy contacts during a race. The karts “in theory” do go a lot faster, but this is regarded as unsafe by the crew (and I must say, this is most probably true unless all racers are experienced kartists).

Offers and Pricing

The main offer is a combo of 10 laps of qualifying, followed by 25 race laps, which amounts to a little more than 20 minutes of race time – count in getting into and out of the kart, in- and outlaps and race preparation, and that event duration is just below half an hour. Prices for that vary hugely by time of the day and day of the week, and go from €18 per person (weekdays 10:00-15:00) up to €36 (17:00-22:30). Booking the entire track (including a maximum of 14 karts) is also possible – at prices which correspond roughly to the sum for the rental of 12 individual karts. In addition, other events (e.g. longer race distance, team races etc.) are available only when booking the entire track.

One word of caution: upon first racing at the track, you’re required to get a membership card – which costs €2.50. Very bad business policy. What’s more, this is not mentioned on their website, so this may very well be illegal – if you’re in the mood to wreak some havoc on a kart track during best business hours, just try it and inquire about this, while calling your lawyer.

Summary

First of all, the electric karts left with me a very good impression – in fact, better than about any typical rental kart you’re about to encounter. Still, this may change with time when these vehicles suffer from some wear. The track has a tricky layout which will not  swamp a beginner and at the same time offers challenges to a more experienced driver. The event organization of 10 laps of qualifying and 25 laps of race seems to work well, too.

The interior design of the area the track is in, unfortunately, makes the stay only enjoyable as long as you’re racing. This can be considered a drawback if you’re looking for doing this as a family event or something.

The location can be reached efficiently from München by car – public transport is a problem.

Pricing seems in roughly the same ballpark als e.g. AK Garching (which you may or may not prefer, though). One thing that hassles me, though, is the thing with the membership card. This is just really bad, unethical, and illegal business practice.

For this reason alone, and even though all other points say another thing, I must strictly recommend against using that place. Don’t go there. Hope it gets bankrupt soon. They deserve it.

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