The Kart before the Horse

Submitted by Peter Novani

 

Every now and then, something quite unusual emerges onto the slot car scene. In the past slot car manufacturers have, with varying degrees of success, embraced other forms of motor sport besides car racing. Trucks, banger and stock cars, bike/sidecars, horse racing and similar concepts, have all come and gone. Some ill conceived, others just uninteresting or simply poorly designed. Scalextric even tried selling go-karts to a largely indifferent buying  public during slot car racing's heyday in the sixties. At that time, full size go-karting was still in it's infancy and yet to attain the wide spread appeal that it currently enjoys. Although now quite collectable, performance and handling left much to be desired.

With the introduction of Ninco's new range of karts, (the sport has since dropped the 'go' part of the title), the Spanish company hopes to succeed where Scalextric conspicuously failed. And, if you have tried 1:1 scale kart racing, you will appreciate how much fun it can be. It has now become an extremely popular participation sport. The introduction of the kart range reflects that interest.

They were certainly the surprise package of Ninco's 2000 catalogue. However, following the initial euphoria, I began to have doubts as to whether they would fit Scalextric type track, rather than the wider Ninco track. Figures quoted in the catalogue reveal the karts to be extremely wide (72 mm) and short (106.3 mm). Therefore, space between lanes would probably be marginal at best. Possibly, Ninco are trying to tempt racers away from rival track systems.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS 

Official supplies have started to filter through to dealers. Apparently, interest in this series has surpassed all expectations. Even non Scalextric enthusiasts, who would rather watch paint drying than buy a slot car product, have purchased these beauties! Obviously, Ninco have got the desirability factor just about right. Naturally I was keen, desperate in fact, to find out if they would run on my track, and if so how well would they perform. Of the two karts so far available I opted for the 'Allegrini' example. The blue colour of the driver's overalls and chassis frame were ideally suited to racing on the 'difficult' blue lane. Ninco have wisely elected to offer a good selection of popular lane colours, so I look forward to the introduction of the red, green and yellow 'F-1 Series' versions. How refreshing not to have to paint a slot car to match a particular lane colour - rival companies please note! Without question these tiny projectiles are unique, and cannot be compared to any other type of slot car. To fully appreciate how intricate the detailing is, and how much thought has gone into the execution of the mechanical layout, you really need to handle one. I use the word 'tiny' advisedly. Although the components are that size, overall dimensions are in fact almost 1/18th scale. Therefore, comparisons with the Minichamps die-cast version are inevitable.

The guide, braids and brass bearings, are the only parts interchangeable with Ninco's existing range of cars. Front wheels, fitted with 6 mm x 8 mm tyres, have an intricate steering mechanism connected to the guide. Incidentally, rear tyres are 15 mm x 10 mm. Plastic side pods and front air dam, plus a rear chrome nudge bar assembly, afford some protection against possible damage. Fragility is a concern, as some parts are moulded in extremely thin plastic. Only time will tell if they remain in pristine and undamaged condition.

The full length driver figure has a movable right arm, no doubt, to surreptitiously grab a pint (milk of course!) between races. Aesthetically, the only gripe I have is that the exposed brass bearings should be either chassis coloured or black. They look out of place in relation to the high level of detail included elsewhere. For example, check out that single brake disc on the rear axle or the chrome brake/accelerator pedals, not to mention the tiny fuel 'tank' that looks as if it should have some fuel sloshing around in it. Superb! Overall width of 70 mm compares with that of a Scalextric 'turboflash' F1 Williams - Honda. Overall length works out at 105 mm. Having said that, space between lanes is still at a premium. The side pods will help prevent the problem that afflicts most other open wheel cars - interlocking wheels. When racing other karts, overtaking will be difficult. But, is that not the case with the full size version?

The inclusion of two pin head sized magnets was unexpected. Originally, Ninco had not intended to fit such a device. An entirely new NC 3 motor was developed specifically for the kart series. This is situated, angle-winder style, in the centre of the chassis. The NC 3 is not unlike a BSCRA 'strap motor,' as the traditional casing is absent, thus leaving some of the motor internals exposed. The bevelled gear and pinion are also unique to this range.

ON TRACK TESTING

It's worth mentioning that the track test was conducted on my 12ft x 6ft 'exhibition' four lane track layout which is occasionally used for public events. It utilises Scalextric made track and is extremely smooth and flat, as it benefits from being nailed down. The layout design consists of an assortment of curves, including a few of those notorious double inner curves and comes complete with track borders around the entire length of the layout.

Placing the kart into the slot for the first time, you almost feel the need to pull back a cable to start up the engine, and await the inevitable lung filling engine smoke. It is essential to progressively wear in the running gear and 'scrub in' the tyres properly. At first, it was rather an incongruous sight as the large scale kart whizzed around a 1/32nd scale layout complete with scenic effects. It is also extremely quiet, unlike the raucous cacophony of the real thing.

Considering that it was 'out of the box lappery,' the kart immediately impressed. Phew! I guess that power levels and acceleration capabilities could be favourably compared to a NC 1 motor powered slot car - although the power to weight ratio is, needless to say, vastly superior. On the straights the kart is entirely stable. However, handling can best be described as lively. With the amount of power available, the kart requires your undivided attention when cornering. No doubt, Ninco have chosen to incorporate the magnet to alleviate the tendency for the kart to 'de-slot' when negotiating very tight corners. The short wheel base (60 mm) and lighter weight (51.2 g) deters the use of conventional driving techniques - you really have to adapt your driving style somewhat. Ideally, I would have preferred Ninco to have fitted a slightly less powerful motor! As karts will not be raced with other types of slot car, to some extent comparisons are an irrelevance. However, it is worth including the following fastest lap statistics, from a brief test session using the difficult inner blue lane to illustrate how the kart performed.

NINCO - KART                           5.5146 sec

NINCO - Ferrari F50                4.8357 sec

SCALEXTRIC - VW BEETLE            4.7195 sec

FLY - PORSCHE GT1                         3.6561 sec

The Kart felt extremely sensitive and 'twitchy' around my layout. No doubt the 45 ohm controller I tend to use, exacerbated the problem, particularly when sudden and judicious amounts of power were applied. A 60 ohm version would almost certainly afford a smoother power delivery. For some reason, I found that the kart responded better with the 'dynamic braking' track system disconnected.

CONCLUSIONS

If fun is an important criteria when racing, then most slot car clubs will adopt karts as a bona fide racing class. Imagine four, six, eight lane kart racing on club nights! Ninco's vision of miniature kart racing was well worth the wait. They should be applauded for introducing such a refreshingly different and well engineered product.

Thankfully, there are no major foibles, or idiosyncrasies to report. Once you have seem them, I defy you not to buy one - either to race, or to keep on the shelf. Despite my reservations about the powerful motor and handling, I cannot wait to have four karts racing on my track layout. I'd better start saving....