Just like there are different styles of men’s and women’s dress suits, there are different styles of racing suits. The primary difference is that auto suits are fire retardant/resistant and motorcycle/kart suits are abrasion resistant. In auto racing, you have a higher risk of being involved in a fire. Of course, because you will be inside an enclosed vehicle, hopefully harnessed in, if you are in a fire, you will likely be exposed to it for a considerable amount of time. Therefore, the focus of design on an auto suit is protection from fire.
But motorcycle and kart racers are susceptible to very different dangers. In motorcycle racing, the racer is at high risk of a high speed bail-out or simply losing control, which will result in sliding across pavement, gravel, grass, barrier walls, or even impacting with another bike. In karting, you are in an open cockpit vehicle, experiencing very high g’s, very high speeds, and very sharp corners that can lead to being ejected from the vehicle, or on occasion, being dragged along the pavement or side-walls. Keep in mind, these dangers are rarely encountered, but they are real dangers nonetheless, and serious enough to protect yourself just in case. Because fire exposure is far less of an issue in motorcycle and karting, the focus is centered on abrasion resistance – the paramount danger and concern.
You can also identify some subtle differences between the two styles in regards to fitting, cuff design, shoulder gussets, etc. Primarily, kart racers understand that space in the cockpit is slim. You can’t expect to wear a baggy suit and be comfortable, much less be able to perform competitively. Karting Suits are designed with spatial consciousness in mind, which ultimately leads to a better experience for the individual wearing the suit.
Moto-specific suits are also tailor-trimmed, but for different reasons. Aerodynamics play a key role in all types of racing, but especially in motorcycle racing. Riders tend to be of small frame, so they can fit behind the façade of the bike. But the size of the rider matters little if the rider’s protective gear negates it. Therefore, manufacturers design motorcycle suits to be streamlined and form-fitting, while simultaneously protective. Snowmobile suits share many of these inherent characteristics, but also integrate insulation as well as a waterproof external shell. Snowmobile clothing also needs the be breathable and, like motorcycle wear, needs reflective piping.
Auto suits, being focused on fire protection, are designed to ensure you are never exposed to a fire. This is fairly easy to accomplish in light of the fact that space is not of paramount concern for most auto racers. The foot wells and cockpit area of most automobiles are spacious enough that no considerable limitations are imposed on manufacturers.
Ultimately, if you know you’ll be auto racing, buy auto racing suits. And the same applies to those who know they will be motorcycle or kart racing. After all, that’s what they are made for! Just because they are all “Racing Suits,” that doesn’t mean they will protect you in the same ways. And never ever choose a suit solely based on its appearance. If you are going to spend the money, buy something that will actually benefit you in a way that actually counts!