If you think kart racing is zipping around an oval on a burping clunker powered by a lawn mower engine, you've never sat down in a Rotax RM1. This streamlined kart is a lightning bolt capable of speeds that would get you ticketed on any American highway.
"It's so fast it's scary," says Richard J. (R. J.) Valentine, the owner of F1 Outdoors, a 45-acre karting facility in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and the Northeast distributor for the RM1. He's right: the RM1 can exceed 100 miles per hour, and that's a machine without seat belts and airbags.
The Rotax, which is designed by Bombardier Inc. and made in Austria, boasts 34 horsepower, phenomenal strength for something that weighs only 200 pounds. It's powered by a sealed engine with a direct drive train, has a much-needed 4-disk breaking system and a wide, stable body that's more narrow in front than in back.
I squeeze into the molded seat, turn on the electric ignition and roar onto the track, following Valentine. The RM1 is simple to drive, with a brake on your left, gas on the right and a clutchless, dual paddle shift on the steering column. The tachometer has a computerized display that tells when to shift (12,200 rpm).
The thing is a beast, pure and simple, and feels more like an F-16 than a go-kart. (It's no wonder that many top auto racers, including Michael Schumacher, whet their chops on the karting circuit.) I couldn't hit max speed. The RM1 ate up F1's long straightaway, and the kart was still accelerating by the time I chickened out and backed off the pedal, wary of the approaching turn. I was going fast—and the considerable speed seems even greater given how close you are to the road—but R. J. tore by me with ease, nipping inches off each corner with a pro racer's eye. On one lap he passed me with his elbow slung over the rear fender, showing off.
"There's three things you can't get enough of in life," says Valentine. "Money, sex and horsepower."
The first two may be out of our hands, but to get plenty of No. 3, visit www.f1outdoors.com. The RM1 retails for $7,995. For an annual fee of $2,500, F1 will store and maintain your vehicle, and give you some lap time. For the dealer in your area, visit www.sscracing.com.