Race Report for Viking Racing, US Rotax Grand Nationals July 18-23th, 2011
A year ago we decided to switch from the Rotax Masters class to the DD2 Masters class and see if we could qualify for the Rotax World Championships in Abu Dhabi later this year (The regular Rotax Masters do not have a class at the World finals). As such I sold all my karts, engines etc. and bought the DD2 shifter kart/engines instead. Now one year later it was time for the 2011 US Grand Nationals at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah and we were excited to see if a full year of preparation would pay off.
I arrived at the track with my mechanic/driver coach Kris Shaw 6 days before the main final. Kris had bought a DD2 kart as well meaning we could do lead/follow share on track experiences etc. for the first two days of unofficial practice. A US Grand National is a big event with a lot of racing until the final score is settled. As such we had 2 unofficial practice days, 1 official practice day, qualifying, 3 heat races a pre final and the main final. The net result is determined only by the outcome of the main final. With all the driving involved over a week, being in good physical (and mental) shape is critical as it is the last race at the last day that counts. There are photos from the event in the photo section.
At last years’ Grand National I set my fastest lap of the entire event on my only second day of practice – which essentially meant that I did not improve as the track gripped up. My goal was to improve on that this year, finish at the podium and if possible in top 2 and qualify for the Rotax Worlds Championships.
Like last year having two karts was an advantage and within the first couple of days we found the right setup that would be faster towards the end of a long race rather than be fast for the first few laps and then fall off. Having a total of 3 engines and a ton of spares to tune with also helped and Kris managed to build a really strong engine package. Although the Rotax engines in principal are the same, there are still small things that can have a meaningful impact on performance.
During the 3 practice days I was constantly in top 3-4 and I qualified on third place, meaning I would start all my three heat races on 3rd place and the combined result of these races would determine the grid for the pre final. As I qualified 3rd I had to go to technical inspection where they inspected the carburetor for compliance. In the heat of the moment I assembled the carburetor wrong. Unfortunately I did not find out until the first race, and drove the entire race with a faulty carburetor and I ended 5th with no chance at a top spot. We found the error and ended the next two races in 4th and 3rd respectively and improving my times in every session I went out.
The final balance of the three heat races put me 3rd on the starting grid for Saturday’s pre final. A perfect starting point and with the fastest time of all in Saturday’s morning warm up things were looking good. In the 15 lap pre final I once again ended on 3rd, with a very competitive time and my fastest time of the week, which again was a good starting point for the 20 lap main final. As the classes were relatively small they were running DD2 and DD2 Masters together. With the regular DD2’s being significantly lighter but with the same engine, this class is around a second faster a lap. So although starting from 3rd on the grid, it meant I was starting 10th overall.
I got a great start gaining a position to 2nd and on the bumper of the lead. Last years’ champion had a tough week, with mechanical issues, I out qualified him, ended in front of him in some of the races and being 2 positions down from me in 4th I was sure he would come and try to pass at some point during the race and Kris and I had discussed and prepared for that in advance as we knew he would fall off and lose speed over a full race distance.
I was still literally at the bumper of the lead, who was on the bumper of the guy in front of him (from the regular DD2 class) and everyone was running the first lap in a single file as typical on the first lap of a long race. What we had not prepared for was that the mentioned driver would come as a maniac and place all bets on the first lap. As such slowing down going in to a hair pin I all of a sudden get a huge hit in the back and is unable to slow down until I hit the dirt and get back on the track as the last guy. This was a deliberate and illegal attempt to take me out of the race by last year’s champion. He succeeded. What a sorry excuse for a driver…
Obviously I got very frustrated but tried to keep my cool for the remaining 10 laps. I managed to pass all driver between me and him and from at least a 20 second gap I dialed in 15 seconds on him and ended 4th 5 seconds after him. Entering the pit Kris asked to calm down and file an official protest. A lot of people in the pits had seen the move, and the race management claimed to have video so we were not really doubt. I asked the race director if a move like that was legal, to which he obviously said no.
You have to pay $300 to file a protest. If they accept the protest you will get your money back. If not they will keep the $300. Or in other words the race management has a financial incentive not to accept the protest. After a long argument we were finally told that no officials had seen anything, the video showed a clear pass and they refused to listen to any outside witnesses. After another hours of debate we finally got to see the video ourselves. As we were running two classes together the video (and probably the officials as well) did not pay attention to the race lead of the DD2 Masters, as they were too busy focusing on the lead of the regular DD2’s.
As such the video did not even catch the incident but showed me right after going 3x as fast as anyone else directly in to the dirt. Unless hit by stroke nobody with their senses intact would of course drive straight in to the dirt on the first lap of a US Grand National Final but that was the race managements best explanation of what happened.
The other driver admitted to me to have hit me, he admitted to Kris to have hit me but when the race management interviewed him he refused to had hit me. They also interviewed the 3rd place driver about the incident, who confirmed that he do not hit me. Only problem is that the guy in 3rd was in front of the guy who hit me. There are no mirrors on a go kart, so the 3rd place driver must have had eyes on the back of his helmet. The race management did not interview any drivers behind the guy who hit me.
This was the end of the 2011 US Rotax Grand Nationals. 4th place is not a terrible result, but it is terrible to lose my podium and World Championship spot because another driver is cheating and the race management is sleeping on duty. There are drivers on the track trying to cheat and that is why you need officials. It is kindergarten-level officiating-knowledge to follow top 3 of any class – especially on the first lap, but not here...
Next challenge up is round 6 of the Redline Oil Karting Championship August 14th at Infineon Raceway. Once again I would like to thank my sponsors for making this season possible.