Nestled between corners 2 and 13 of world-renowned Hungaroring race track is a go-karting experience like no other.
I hear the go-karts’ distinctive drone as I cross the bridge into the centre of the track. I’m not quite sure what to expect as I head down towards the go-kart centre. There are a couple of temporary buildings and a marquee tent, as well as a few parasols in the seating area. I head over to the main office, and come back a few forints lighter, looking for the helmets.
I pick out a helmet that looks about my size, and join the queue for the next race. I notice a time displaying above the main office: 32.467, the fastest time around this track. A little mental maths tells me that on a 513 metre track, that’s an average of just under 57 km/h. These racers aren’t doing quite that, but they’re whipping past pretty damn quickly.
I’m up. I jump into the first empty car, right at the front of the pack, and wait while the others take their seats behind me. As soon as the steward gives me the go signal, I slam my foot down. As I reach the end of the first straight, I give a tap on the brakes to keep the steering light, but the first corner is an easy one. The second corner feels more like a continuation of the first as I head down into the third right hander. I can see it’s tight, so I press down on the brakes—and the back of the kart slips away, and I spin out. I have to wait while everyone else drives past before I can get going again.
Whatever I try, I can’t keep the back-end from slipping away, and I’m starting to lose heart as I see my lap times after the home straight—1:01, 1:05, 1:14, spinning once or twice every lap. When I park the kart at the end of the session, I’m disappointed. I’m not the racing ace Gran Turismo led me to believe. I’m not even better than the 14-year-olds on the track alongside me.
But I bought the ‘day pass’, which is three eight minute sessions, and I have another two to go. I thought it was a bit disingenuous selling 24 minutes of racing as a ‘day pass’, but my arms are aching from wrestling with the kart and I’m thirsty as a midtown boy from Trinity already.
I take a pause to recover, and notice that the only refreshments are from two vending machines with a mediocre selection. At least I brought my coins with me. I slot the coins into the machine, and pull out a bottle of water.
A few minutes later, I’m ready to race again. I take the front car again, this time number 12. I head into that third corner again, breaking light and early to avoid the wheels locking up and… nothing. The kart slows and turns beautifully. I’m shocked, and end up not putting on the opposite lock early enough, so I crash into the tyres opposite.
Kart number 12 handles like a dream. I watch my times going down, down, 54.3 seconds, 53.7 seconds, 49.2 seconds. I can’t believe the difference. This must be what F1 drivers feel like after a pit stop and a tyre change. The feeling is exhilarating, and in the 10 or so laps I’m able to race, I only spin out once.
On the third outing, I’m taking more risks, making fewer mistakes, and I’m really feeling at home in the kart. But by the time I get the chequered flag, my arms are hurting, and my throat is dry.
There’s one more challenge to face today. I need to get back home. Which is easier said than done. The Hungaroring Kart Center is a long way from home. In fact, it’s not even in Budapest, it’s in Mogyoród, and it’s a 45 minute walk from the HÉV station, where I can catch a train to Örs Vezér Tere, and then a metro back home. It’ll take me maybe two hours before I’m back. It’s cold, and the streetlights are non-existent. My phone battery is dying, and I’ve got a long trek ahead of me to think about the day.
The Hungaroring Kart Center is a perfect day trip for a couple or a small group. The day pass is well priced, and will keep you busy for hours. Just be sure to scan through the lap times for each car, and see if there’s one that is consistently clocking worse laps than the others, even with different drivers, and be sure to avoid it.
If you’re thinking of heading out there without a car, then plan carefully. You don’t want to end up stuck there in the dark, trying to pick your way back to the HÉV station, or calling a taxi from Gödöllő to come and pick you up. That said, the experience of racing inside the world-famous Hungaroring is well worth it, and a great day out.