Indoor Go-Karting in Toronto: Grand Prix Kartways vs Formula Kartways

Toronto is for­tu­nate to have two high-quality indoor go-karting race­tracks: Grand Prix Kart­ways (GPK) in Downsview Park (75 Carl Hall Road Bay 3, Unit #9 to be exact) and For­mula Kart­ways in Bramp­ton right near 410 and Stee­les (79 Bram­steele Road).

I was for­tu­nate enough to try these two venues back-to-back — and I feel it my duty to share a few thoughts about how these two rac­ing joints com­pare and when & why you might choose one over the other.

GPK’s pos­i­tive points:

  • eas­ily acces­si­ble and conveniently-located for many in the GTA (north-west cor­ner of Downsview Park, just at Keele & Shep­pard and a stone’s throw away by car from Allen Road & Sheppard)
  • elec­tric go-karts with­out the fumes of tra­di­tional gasoline-powered go-karts
  • acces­si­ble track any­one can race on, with a few tech­ni­cal areas to chal­lenge skilled drivers
  • low cost on all-you-can-race spe­cial events
  • lap times recorded and printed out for you for all laps, along with info on how you rank com­pared to every­one else who’s ever raced there

GPK’s elec­tric carts are pretty zippy lit­tle things, and the track gets slightly mod­i­fied to suit the audi­ence at dif­fer­ent days and times (I’ve dri­ven on at least 2, pos­si­bly 3, dif­fer­ent track con­fig­u­ra­tions so far). You can get a good, solid rac­ing expe­ri­ence at GPK. You have to drive with good tech­nique to stay with the best dri­vers, and you have to have your wits about you to effec­tively defend your line or to over­take some­one in the corners.

GPK pro­vides the high­est qual­ity state-of-the-art elec­tric go-karts for its rac­ers.  Not only are these race team styl­ized go-karts fast, they are safe, and envi­ron­men­tally friendly with no nox­ious fumes.” — GPK website

The GPK track is acces­si­ble enough for novice dri­vers to get into the race quickly but with enough tech­ni­cal ele­ments to make the race chal­leng­ing for more expe­ri­enced dri­vers vying with each other for posi­tion. The easy con­fig­u­ra­tion that I just drove on with a group of friends reminds me of the Sil­ver­stone rac­ing cir­cuit (which I have “known” since rac­ing on it in video games since pri­mary school) with its col­lec­tion of straights punc­tu­ated by a few turns (some easy, some tech­ni­cal). The only-slightly-more-difficult con­fig­u­ra­tions that I’ve raced on more fre­quently intro­duce two or three more tech­ni­cal turns onto the track which, in my opin­ion, make for a much more inter­est­ing dri­ving and rac­ing expe­ri­ence are com­pa­ra­ble in feel to some­thing like Monza (again, which I have “known” for years from video games of vary­ing cal­ibers) with sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal por­tions joined by faster portions.

GPK’s neg­a­tive points:

  • on some days, quite a few of the carts are out of commission
  • the track can be too sim­ple and gets bor­ing with­out good com­pet­ing dri­vers out at the same time
  • races are only 8 min­utes long, enough for about 16–17 laps

I went to GPK for the first time when the place was rel­a­tively new. I think it had only been open for about a month at that point. The carts were all still shiny and new. Now, after a few years, the cars look like what you’d get if you put Le Mans cars into the Mad Max uni­verse. You can see what used to be bright col­ors and decals on them, but they are now faded and cov­ered with grime and tape and ancil­lary parts of the cars may be bent out of shape a lit­tle and you can see some spots have been re-welded over and over.

That doesn’t detract from the dri­ving, per se. The carts still drive well… when they are dri­vable. Appar­ently peo­ple are rough on these carts, and from how these cars have aged over the past few years, some peo­ple must be very rough on them. On some days, you have 16 or 18 carts work­ing well — which means groups of 8 or 9 rac­ing on the track at any given time. On other days, you might only have 12 carts work­ing well — which means a much sparser field of just 6 carts out on the track.

The flip side of track acces­si­bil­ity is the increas­ing reliance on the qual­ity of com­pe­ti­tion to make races inter­est­ing. The track itself, after a few times around, isn’t dif­fi­cult at all and you will soon find maybe only one cor­ner still requires you to con­tinue to learn and prac­tice. I’ve had some really fun races, includ­ing the last race on my visit with a group of friends the other day, but on other days when I race with strangers, some races get pretty dull.

The carts are zippy and envi­ron­men­tally clean, but the flip side of run­ning on elec­tric power is that you have far less range on the carts than you do with con­ven­tional gasoline-powered carts. With the GPK carts, they are able to sus­tain rac­ing speeds for only about 9 or 10 min­utes — which means races are only about 8 min­utes long. 16 laps is not a whole lot — par­tic­u­larly when you’re jock­ey­ing for posi­tion with other skilled dri­vers. All races at GPK are, there­fore, nec­es­sar­ily sprint races.

For­mula Kartway’s pos­i­tive points:

  • tech­ni­cally demand­ing track
  • gasoline-powered carts
  • lengthy races

The best thing about For­mula Kart­ways is its track. The track is tech­ni­cally demand­ing, eas­ily sep­a­rat­ing the really good dri­vers from the merely good. Almost every cor­ner is tech­ni­cally demand­ing in order to attain good lap­ti­mes. You must have good rac­ing lines and you must work your brake and throt­tle skill­fully in order to nav­i­gate this track com­pet­i­tively. There are 4 good over­tak­ing points on the track ver­sus 2 on GPK’s track. Whereas GPK is com­pa­ra­ble in feel to Sil­ver­stone and Monza, FK’s track feels like Monaco — but with more pass­ing opportunities!

Designed by Canada’s top rac­ing pro­fes­sion­als FK is the most real­is­tic rac­ing expe­ri­ence avail­able to the pub­lic at an afford­able price.” — For­mula Kartways

The gasoline-powered carts aren’t super­carts, but they also aren’t the hand­i­capped rid­ing lawn­mow­ers that family-oriented go-karting places pro­vide. For­mula Kart­ways is not for kids and nei­ther the track nor the carts are geared towards kids. You’ll get good speed on these carts, and being gaso­line pow­ered ver­sus GPK’s elec­tric, you must man­age the RPMs through your dri­ving in order to keep the engine at high revs to give you power. One very good thing about gaso­line engines is that they give you audi­tory feed­back on how you’re doing. If you hear your revs die down, you know you made a mis­take in your dri­ving — which is, of course, in addi­tion to the very obvi­ous visual and phys­i­cal feed­back of not hav­ing any speed or acceleration.

By using gasoline-powered carts, you can have very long races at For­mula Kart­ways — if you can afford it, go for a 50-lap race to really learn the track and really see how you rank amidst your group of friends (or strangers, as the case may be!).  For­mula Kart­ways also runs endurance race events — 300-lap events or even 3– or 5-hour events requir­ing dri­ver changes and refu­el­ing. You can’t do that with GPK’s carts, that’s for certain!

For­mula Kartway’s neg­a­tive points:

  • tech­ni­cally demand­ing track
  • higher cost
  • no chunk­ing up your laps
  • less con­ve­nient location

While skilled dri­vers will appre­ci­ate and enjoy For­mula Kartway’s tech­ni­cally demand­ing track, this is also a track that novice dri­vers will not enjoy as much. If your entire group con­sists of skilled dri­vers, you’ll have a blast. But if you have indi­vid­u­als who are novices, they may not enjoy the expe­ri­ence as much because of (a) the frus­tra­tion fac­tor deal­ing with the track itself and (b) the defla­tion of being com­pletely blown away by the com­pet­ing drivers.

For­mula Kart­ways costs quite a bit of money. 50 laps will last you about 20–25 min­utes and will cost you $50. While this com­pares favor­ably with GPK’s reg­u­lar pric­ing of 2 races for $50 — so that’s about 32 laps or about 16 min­utes — it doesn’t com­pare well at all against GPK’s fre­quent $30 or $35 all-you-can-race days. Those are always in the day­time on Sat­ur­day or Sun­day from 12 to 6 and in that time­frame you can get about 7 races in.  That’s why my frame of com­par­i­son is GPK’s 110-ish laps or about 56 min­utes of track time for $30/$35.

At For­mula Kart­ways, if you buy 50 laps, you have to race them all con­sec­u­tively — you can­not chunk them up and take breaks and dis­cuss with your fel­low dri­vers.  No, you race them all at one go. If you want to race a fewer num­ber of laps, dis­cuss and strate­gize, and then race some more, you have to buy your laps in smaller incre­ments at a higher per-lap cost.

Finally, with its loca­tion way out in Bramp­ton, For­mula Kart­ways is not as con­ve­niently located for most of us in the GTA. This isn’t a knock on For­mula Kart­ways itself, it is sim­ply a fact that Bramp­ton is “out there” ver­sus more centrally-located Downsview.

My over­all thoughts on the two venues is as fol­lows: You’ll get bet­ter rac­ing at For­mula Kart­ways, but you have to go out of your way and it will cost you more. You’ll have more social­iz­ing and more oppor­tu­ni­ties to chat and learn at GPK, but the track is not as inter­est­ing and your races are short.

Nei­ther venue com­pletely out­does the other. They each have their place in the city and in go-karters’ hearts. Which you decide to go to will depend on which fac­tors are most impor­tant to you at the time.

For me, I will go to GPK for their drive-all-you-can events for cost and con­ve­nience rea­sons, but go to For­mula Kart­ways for endurance rac­ing events when it’s worth the cost and the time to trek out to Brampton.

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