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Karting World Champion Oli Oakes Reveals His World Championship Winning Karting Techniques!

When Oli Oakes agreed to speak to us about winning the Karting World Championship we knew we had to get your input on the questions. With your questions and some of our own, Oli Oakes delivered us some hot kart racing tips!

Oli Oakes gave us an unbelievablely detailed look into the techniques that took him to the pinnacle of kart racing, winning the Karting World Championship! Oli Oakes also talks about his corporate karting at Ellough, and what it's like to race with the worlds best karters!

 

- Winning the World Karting Championship is a superb achievement, and is a highlight in any racing drivers career even if they go on to success in Formula One. What attribute as a driver do you feel is most important in winning the World Championship?

'I think to be honest it requires a lot, in my particular circumstance I think that we took everything we had learned from the dramas at the beginning of the season and turned them around to create a world championship winning combination. One particular important thing was that we never tried to show our hand, in testing I was always top 3 in Braga but we never tried to put together our good engine and perfect setup to get that quick lap, in qualifying we were unlucky with the drying track on wets but this meant in the heats I was coming through from the middle of the pack to catch Ardigo through the race, instead of trying to push and catch him I just sat there happy in second trying to look after my tyres.

I think its important that as a driver/team you always know what time you can achieve, for example when I won the 2 finals at the last round of the European championships I wasn’t the fastest but I could drive consistently fast laps which a lot of drivers couldn’t do, and equally I knew that for the Worlds we had a few things in the pipeline so it was important to just knuckle down. I think the most important thing to remember is that the quickest driver doesn’t always win, I won the world championships with fastest lap, but the weeks before at round 3 of the European champs I won both races by just being consistently fast, not the fastest, its an important thing people often overlook, its not that one lap you can do its about your performance over the whole race.'

- Kart braking technique is a favourite talking point on Karting1. Can you describe what kart braking techniques you used in a Formula A, and how does it differ from class to class? E.g. do you like to be hard on the brakes, or more progressive?

'Generally with the Gillard we have what I call an old school brake! similar to that used in TKM which Tim designed, however don’t let this fool you, we may not be the latest on the brakes but we never have any problems with it and equally its reliable and fast, a vital combination. I think the biggest thing with the brakes is that it depends on how the kart is handling, we had some problems in the beginning of the season and often the brake was at the heat of the discussion however once we sorted out the chassis imbalances the brakes were fine so I think its important you take this into account.

My particular technique involves hitting the brake at 70% power initially then going to max pressure just to avoid locking up and also this helps you to moderate the minimuim corner speed better. A lot of people say you need to be the latest on the brakes to be fastest but this is often not the case, it primarily depends on the exit you get and when you can get off the brakes in a corner and pick up the throttle.'

- Daniel Wheldon had Mark Rose, and Ayrton Senna had Tche as their karting mentora. Did you have a mentor or a coach that helped you achieve success at the highest levels of karting? If so, what aspects of your driving, and performance did they help with?

'To be honest through out my karting career I had many mentors who all taught me something, these include Dean Panrucker, Terry Fulletton, Lee Cook, Mick Barrett.

All of whom I worked with at some point in my career. My mechanic Glenn was a big influence; we had been together since I was 4 years old that’s something that is very special, it’s a bond that’s difficult to describe because there were times when we used to be at each others throat but equally there were times that will remain with me through out my life. Most memorable our road trips from circuit to circuit with his Queen greatest hits CD screaming out from the sprinter van stereo!'

- Sometimes when a young driver rises through the karting ranks, the fun aspect of karting can sometimes wane. How did you keep mentally strong, and still enjoy your karting at the pinnacle of the sport?

'Admittedly there were times when the fun aspect seemed to disappear, but at the same time you only got annoyed because it was something that you care about so much. Driving for PDB was a fantastic attitude and atmosphere, there were times when we were serious but equally after the day of testing when we headed to dinner in the hospitality for chicken prepared by Art and Will, karting is left behind in the tent, often discussions revolve around Peter’s love life and trying to understand the Irish mechanics lol. I try to stay mentally strong generally by trying not to let things get to me, often by just chilling outside alone or hanging in others peoples awnings chatting to take my mind off things.

I do still enjoy karting even though I haven’t driven a kart properly since the Bridgestone tyre test in La Conca after the world champs! I still head down to my local track; Ellough for a play every now and again when I get the chance, its something that I can never stop, having it done it for the best part of my life, I would have liked to come back and do some races this year and continue on from where we left off but unfortunately as I begin my first year of car racing I have a lot to learn but hopefully I can come back soon.'

- Driving a Formula A kart is a wonderful, and challenging experience. What was it like driving a Formula A kart for the very first time?

'I did ICA in 2003 so its pretty similar to be honest engine wise, the only difference is your up against the legends of karting such as Davide Fore, Alessandro Manetti, Sauro Cessetti, at first you’re a bit cautious knowing that they are the big boys but equally overtaking them becomes the most fun! '

- Keeping smooth is an essential part of being quick. How did you keep the kart balanced under heavy braking, and what other techniques do you think are important to improve the smoothness of a karters driving?

'The general rule is to brake in a straight line to avoid flicking the back round and locking up. I tend to just not stamp on the brakes rather hit them hard then push them a bit more. The biggest thing in being smooth I think is your driving position its important you can feel the steering and can reach it properly otherwise you will just jerk the steering. I tend to try and be smooth in the fast corners but you need to attack slow corners in a structured manner – such as braking deep, turning then sometimes having to hold the lock in the middle or corner or maybe turn a bit more to get the wheel to jack and go round, the trouble is it depends on track conditions and the type of corner.'

- Ayrton Senna once said he was a couple of car lengths ahead in his mind to where he actually was using a technique called ‘looking further ahead’. What importance do you place on ‘looking further ahead’, and how do you focus your mind to do this technique e.g. using reference points etc…

'I try to focus before I drive by watching other drivers, often I run several scenerios through my mind before the race so that when it happens in a race I can react quicker, and prepared for it. One example was in the final at the world champs, starting 6th I knew the start would be tricky and there was often first corner crashes at Braga, so I backed everyone up coming out of the last corner onto the start line to allow the front 5 to filter in, I wasn’t worried about making up a place because I knew I was fast enough and there was 28 laps in which to overtake in, thankfully it paid off! I think after having done racing for several years a driver instantly gets into the ‘zone’ as soon as he puts his helmet on without even thinking about it.'

- Setting up a kart is of huge importance, and at the CIK Karting World Championship it is even more vital. With the pressure on, what set up tips and techniques would you give someone who wants to achieve the same success as you?

'I think its important that you don’t go radical, a lot of teams came to the World Champs with radical new chassis’s we turned up with the same one from La Conca just with a slight alteration near the seat. That way you don’t need to spend ages changing heaps on the kart you just have to dial it in to the track. The biggest tip I could give someone is to not try and be too smart, it;s very easy to loose yourself by going too radical or trying too many things…simple is always best!'

Questions from Karting1 readers

James - What was it like crossing the finish line in first place to become world champion Formula A?


'It's something difficult to describe, once I crossed the line I couldn’t believe it but I knew at the same time that I was going to have to leave karting if I wanted to make it to the top of motorsport which was quite saddening as its something I had done for almost 10 years. The image which remains most in my mind was looking up and seeing everyone on top of the PDB truck….cheering and waving next to the Tonykart truck whom I used to drive for in my Junior days it was nice because everyone was clapping…it had been a good race, I led from lap 5 and after all that had happened that year everyone knew it was an amazing achievement for a little team from Holland. Its something that makes me smile still when I look back on it and will do for the rest of my life.'


D’arcy Fenton - How much do you attribute your karting success to the Gillard chassis? Do you think that the chassis makes a big difference, or is it the team and the set up? Could you have done it on another chassis?


'I attribute a lot of it to Tim Gillard, he did a tremendous job, we had struggled in the early part of the season with the chassis and the new compounds of the special tyres, however after that test in La Conca when we tested the new karts by Tim I was so impressed, he really had hit the nail on the head….i guess the only problem is he now cant make enough! The team at PDB did a great job with the setup although a lot the credit goes to my mechanic glen, who understands exactly what I mean.

To say I could have done it on another chassis is not fair because winning a world championship isn’t something that can just be done overnight it takes time, to understand the team the equipment. Most importantly it’s about having a good combination, a good chassis alone can’t win you a world championship, it all comes down to the package. I don’t know if I could have one it on another chassis its all about how it goes on the day, I do know I’ve won on every kart I’ve ever driven in my life but to win a world championship isn’t quite as simple! '


JSJ - Do you ever play driving simulator games? If so, do you feel it can help you as a driver in anyway?

'I’ve played Toca 3 a little bit on my little brothers PSP, it did teach me the way round Thruxton for my BMW race to some extent, I think they do help to teach you the layout of tracks but that’s about it really to be honest other than being good fun...although I must admit I’m not the greatest at them lol!'


Ramo - How to get in the right frame of mind before going to kart? I always have a problem that sometimes I am just too good and other times I am a big flop. How can I break this consistency?

'I think the important thing is to work out how you get in that right frame of mind and then do it every time before you drive. I find going off away from people and watching drivers on track before my race helps me focus, however its more a natural thing now that whenever I put my helmet on I get into that frame of mind, often going through the race in your head helps or thinking about what you need to improve for this race can often help to get you in the right mindset.'

Shawn Campbell - What would you say the key to driving fast, consistent laps is around any kart circuit?

'I’ve found the key is not too push at 100% for 20 laps…instead drive at 80% for a 20 laps that way you don’t overdrive and miss apexes, bringing your braking points back to a more controlled manor will increase consistency and also…it wont effect your lap times because you wont screw up the exits out of corners like you would trying to drive at 100% to the limits because your bound to make mistakes if you do. I always think on bringing it back a peg or two for racing from qualifying.'

Michael - Is the correct posture in a kart important for you? If so, what posture do you use in the kart, and what tips can you give someone who wants to improve their posture?

'It really depends on the driver to be honest and his height etc, my posture is to sit quite upright and nearer the steering wheel than most this is because I like to have control over the front end on the Gillard that is often quite strong, I think posture is something that really depends on your driving style and what you find comfortable.'


Will Hulaki - What tactics do you use to stay focused when you are out front on your own or anywhere in the field, just on your own?

'I tend to just focus on trying to pull away and not make mistakes, its easy to push too hard and make mistakes so again I tend to try and drive not at my limits just near them to avoid making mistakes. One thing that has helped this year is something that George Olendrum told me, it involves letting go of the steering wheel in the straight to give your hands a break and avoid wrist cramp, also taking breathes on the straight helps because often your focusing so much you tend not to think about breathing. It sounds silly but its true!'

Henry -Do you have any rituals before you start a race?

'Not really to be honest, I always try and go to the toilet several times because you drink so much when its hot and with the whole pre-grid on track thing that take ages the last thing you want to do before you drive in need the loo. I always check my fuel cap is tight I don’t know why I just do! '

Carla Wellings - Imagine you’re starting a kart race at the back of the grid in say 20th place how do you manage to overtake as many people as possible in 8 laps without knocking them all off?


'It's difficult to plan something like this a lot of it depends on luck…one thing is for sure you need a good start…going round the outside is risky but often the rewards are greatest then it’s a case of picking people off one by one and not messing around, you have to think like once you’ve done him its time for the next, obviously you have to be pretty fast in the first place to pull it off, some people use the rule you shouldn’t be stuck behind them for more than 2 corners.'


- Some drivers like to practise karting to keep their driving sharpness like Dan Wheldon, and Antonio Luizzi. Do you ever find the time to jump in a kart, and do some laps?

'I do but not as much as I’d like, I often go to my local track Ellough and play in the rental karts when I get a chance. Actually yesterday I did a fun race there but typically I got stuck with the not so good tea. Thankfully though we managed to come second and someone in the team got fastest lap…I wonder who! '


- Will we see you racing karts again?

'I would have liked to do the World champs this year with PDB and carry on where we left off but unfortunately I have to focus on my car racing this year. They’re doing well though and it’s nice to see that the other drivers have carried on from where I left off. I will hopefully do a race soon though especially as I never got a chance to race with the No1 plate on!'


- How is your championship going in Formula BMW, a
nd what are the plans for the rest of 07 and onwards?

'It started off very well with a pole and win in my first race, then I had a second at the next round. However I had a crash in testing at Oulton park and sustained concussion which I’ve only just stopped getting headaches from. I currently lie 4th in the points, mixing it with the 2nd and 3rd year drivers and leaps ahead of the other rookies so it’s pretty good. We had a test last week at Snetterton I was fastest in the morning and afternoon so hopefully things are back to normal now.'

Here is some video of Oliver Oakes winning a round of the European Formula A Karting Championship at La Conca, Italy -

 

 

What a fanstastic interview, and we thank Oli for the answers he has given us. He has obviously taken much care to make sure you are given the best advice possible. We wish him all the best this year in Formula BMW, and for the future.

Be sure to check out Oli's official website to check up on his progress!

Alan Dove

Photo's by Chris Walker kartpix.net

22/07/2007

 

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