Number the first: these OTL Storm karts are blisteringly quick and a hoot to muscle around. Second: the track surface is still terrible and it boggles the mind why they didn’t address it over the six month renovation.
I had gone into this with mixed emotions. On the one hand I really wanted to have a go at proper electric karts, fake F1 sound gimmickry aside. When else would you be able to drive brand new karts with little mechanical woes? On the other hand, the rates were holding me back from really enjoying myself - $25 per race does seem a bit excessive considering other locations offer much more racing at this price (albeit with slower karts). I understand that GPK and K1 have drastically different ROI but its hard to convince people to go out of their way to visit Downsivew Park without any massive group incentives.
Given this was the opening month and they offered a $50 tax incl. package for two races and the annual membership, I figured it’s worth a shot this first time.
What I hadn’t been expecting was how quickly I was shot down for wanting to stick an action cam on the side of the kart. Again, I can understand if this was K1 policy but it doesn’t take long to do a quick YouTube search and find loads of videos at other K1 locations. Granted they are mostly from the likes of motovloggers who have their own helmets and cameras, but since when has suction mounts on the side of a kart proved to be detrimental to the karting experience? GPK, which was arguably much rougher of a lap, had no issues with such a mount.
And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the track surface. I was under the impression that it had been resurfaced entirely, and while it did appear that some attention was paid to smoothening out some of the rougher sections there are still massive patches of uneven track. Compared to the old layout (above), the new layout avoids most of the whoops lining the outer edges of the box so you spend less time bouncing up and down while flat out - and that’s good.
What’s bad is when you get to a corner and the outside tires are loaded up so you are already in a slide by the time you hit the brakes. One can put this down to driver error as in the two other braking zones I had a better time straight-line braking (a la Vettel) but anytime I entered sector 2 I wasn’t entirely confident the rear wouldn’t suddenly kick out. The karts had no issues under power and the steering was as I had expected, but some of the uneven stuff still caught me by surprise.
My last gripe was with the straps in the actual karts. I’m a big guy, 175cm and 200-ish lbs, and I’ll admit that its a lot of mass to keep stable. But none of the straps in the OTL karts seemed to be able to hold anybody securely in place throughout the course of the section. Mind you, these were done up just as tightly as I had done in the GPK karts to the point where I couldn’t gulp big breaths, but they would still come loose by lap 8.
The lap is so unforgivingly short that you don’t really get any chance to tighten the waist strap so you go for a pull on the shoulder strap, which has the effect of pulling the waist strap up so your lower torso becomes free. I know for a fact that it wasn’t an issue isolated to just me as you could visibly see the straps coming loose on other karts, all of which were piloted by larger gentlemen. As I haven’t been to other K1 locations I can’t attest to how repeatable this behaviour is, but the roughness of the Toronto track did seem to be a major contributor.
The layout itself was actually pretty fun. A very compact Monaco if you will, with a lot of fast-flowing chicanes and a few tricky hairpins. As you could expect there wasn’t much opportunity to pass and I was held up on a few occasions but there was some good cat-mouse interaction in my two heats. It’s not as easy to over-under as the old GPK layout and you really do have to watch how much speed you carry through some of the bends - I had the rear end slide out a few times over a left-right where the track surface suddenly changes. But at least I can tell you with confidence that the barriers at the end of T1 work extremely well!
Overall I was mildly pleased with the experience. The karts and staff were fantastic, and the overall interior renovation really gave the Downsview hangar a new lease on life. However if they expect a repeat visit the track surface is something that dearly needs to be addressed.
Not feeling content I decided to hit up Simulation1 for a bit more sparring with a buddy of mine. At roughly the same price point, $30 here got you 6x as much racing if you opted for a PS4 (GT Sport or Project CARS 2) or 3x as much on a full direct-drive (Accuforce + Heusenkveld pro) or VR motion-rig system that probably costs as much as the OTL kart + charging infrastructure. Not to mention you dont have to deal with nearly as much traffic getting to Markham as you do going all the way to Downsview. I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I really like how GT Sport handles and the Gr. 3/4 racing is superb.