Speed demons

Ele Cooper satisfies her need for speed – only to find she’s more tortoise than hare


I’m flying! I’m a speed demon! I’m king of the world! I’m… 10 seconds slower than a child.

This fact, kindly provided by the Dubai Kartdrome’s Joao Gouveia, brings me crashing back to earth with a bump. Ironically, it was precisely my fear of crashing that had led to my apparently grandma-like speed on the karting track. What can I say: I’m an adult, therefore I no longer think I’m invincible. The thought of broken bones, whiplash, or even a little bruise – possibilities that never even crossed my mind as a youngster – has been enough to put me off driving like a loon ever since I was actually in a crash aged 18.

It’s a good job, then, that the real purpose of my being here is to investigate on behalf of Time Out Kids. The Autodrome has been open for a fair few years now, yet go-karting remains one of the most popular activities for children in Dubai – and, despite my initial doubts, it turns out it’s pretty safe. What Joao hadn’t told me before I did my 12 laps round the indoor circuit (the outdoor one isn’t open to kids) was that the blocks marking out the track are not only designed to absorb shock, but they’re also not secured to the ground, so it really doesn’t matter if you hit them. In other words, my carefully executed manoeuvres, the preciseness of which I hadn’t practised since my driving test, were completely pointless. I comfort myself with the thought that at least I did it with finesse.

So, how does the whole process work? First, children must create a user account on the Autodrome’s system, which includes entering their date of birth (‘We do this because sometimes parents lie and say their child is seven – the minimum age for karting – when they’re actually only six,’ says Joao), and having a photo taken for identification purposes. They’re then issued with a membership card, which can be used on every subsequent visit. The child’s parent (or, if they’re with a friend, the friend’s parent) signs to give their permission, and then it’s time to get togged up.

The all-in-one overalls are far from flattering – mine seem to have been made for someone with exceedingly short legs – but they have a comforting sturdiness to them, and they’re available in a variety of sizes. A balaclava, which is thin and gauzy rather than the type bank robbers wear, is provided to be worn under the helmet for hygiene purposes, and disposable gloves and a neck protector top the look off – then it’s time for the briefing.

Behaviour on the track is controlled by a simple flag system: green for go, yellow if there’s an issue on the course and you need to be careful and not overtake, and red meaning there’s a serious problem and you need to move into the pit lane. (There are also traffic lights, although their colours have slightly different meanings. This confuses me. It’s been a long day.)

‘When we do briefings, if we think the group has some potential troublemakers in its midst, we are very strict,’ says Joao. ‘We are able to control how fast the karts go when we release the throttle – it can either be fully or partially released.’ What happens if an over-zealous speedy Gonzales crashes into his buddy when he’s overtaking, I ask nervously. ‘We always tell them it’s not bumper cars, but sometimes a bump is inevitable. That’s why we give the kids the neck protectors – it means they won’t be injured,’ Joao reassures me.

Then I ask how fast the karts can go. The answer is up to about 40kmph, although that would be difficult to reach on this track as it’s riddled with twists and turns. This is the point at which I begin to doubt how fast I was actually going so I tentatively ask Joao. ‘Some kids go faster,’ comes the amused reply. Hmph.

My best lap time is 48.3 seconds. The best time of the week is 35.2. So here I am – knocked off the perch from which I was crowing, and feeling slightly silly. But who cares – it was a lot of fun and I would highly recommend it to anyone, young or old, with a need for speed and a negligible concern for how they look in overalls.
Dubai Kartdrome, Motor City (04 367 8744; www.dubaiautodrome.com). Dhs100 for 15 minutes’ arrive and drive. Over-sevens only. Call for timings.

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