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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