Confident. Watching Thomas Nepveu compete around the world in 2016, the first word that comes to my mind when trying to describe him is confident.
As an eleven year old, it’s a quality you just don’t see too often in young kart racers, but this young driver is different, especially when you compare him to his fellow competitors that he raced against this year. Sure there are drivers, and not just young drivers, that have the motivation and think they will win a race and have the aspirations to do so. But this driver shows that he knows how to win and then puts his money where his actions are.
Talking to him in the paddock, even with a small language barrier, he is analyzing and responding to conversations with me like a veteran, in a second language nonetheless. On track, his lap times are remarkable and almost unbelievably consistent. He hits his marks lap after lap, corner after corner. Working with his driver coach, he knows what he needs and provides the perfect details to help make the correct adjustments to go even faster.
No wonder he swept the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship this year. No wonder he stood on the podium at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Italy this year. No wonder he drove from thirty-second on this grid to second place at the SKUSA SummerNationals in Indiana and no wonder he closed out the year with a victory in quite possibly the toughest Mini category in the world at the SKUSA SuperNationals in Las Vegas.
The only race result he is really missing from 2016 is the ASN Canadian Karting Championship, a race that saw him spun out while racing for the lead by a fellow competitor on lap two, only to recover and drive all the way back to second place. (He did receive a penalty for contact with another driver that ultimately kept him off the podium, but nonetheless the speed and drive was there).
Following the best season of his young racing career, I had the chance to chat with Thomas and ask him a few questions about 2016 as well as his plans for the future.
CKN: You ended the year off with victories and podiums in two of the largest events in the world. How did that feel? Describe the feeling of being on the podium in Italy and Las Vegas (SKUSA). Which one means more to you?
Thomas: “Well, being on the podium for the last two and largest events made me very proud and especially, I finished my season in the Mini category on a really good note. It’s like a gift! When I was in Italy, the beginning of the week was difficult but the more we advanced and the faster we were. I won the pre final so, everything was possible from that point. Passing the line in second was not what I was expecting, but when I came out of the paddock and saw a lot of people from Team Canada waiting for me, then I realized and I started enjoing my Vice-Championship!! Thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m Vice-Champion!’ Then at SKUSA, it was a bit unbelievable. I was in tenth place and maybe we were fifteen drivers that could make a podium. Throughout the race, I was patient, I was fifth when the white flag was given and I was hunting! It was crazy. I was so proud of myself for winning my first race in the USA. For me, the race that is the most important is Italy because throughout my Canadian season, I worked very hard with all my team to be able to participate in this race. SKUSA was also a great achievement because the SuperNational was only the second time I was driving this kind of kart.”
CKN: You had a spectacular year in the MINI categories, only losing one race in Canada. What do you feel is the biggest difference in your driving compared to just one year ago? Do you see where you could have improved even more?
Thomas: “Confidence! I’ve gained some! And being well surrounded with the new team. I was a lot stronger too, physically and this year, my style of driving was different. I’ve worked hard with Oliver Askew to improve my consistency and decrease my mistakes. So I try to be very smooth. Going to Junior next year, I have to keep going on this way!”
CKN: You have worked closely with Dan St-Germain, what has he taught you over the years that really stands out to you?
Thomas: “Dan and I, have been working together for several years. We know each other very well! Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not! But let’s say that there is more good times then bad! This year, he has been teaching me to be consistent and stay calm no mather what. I have to win races like that.”
CKN: Your plans for 2017 are to move to Junior, are you excited? What are you expecting and when will we see you make your Junior debut?
Thomas: “Yes I am excited. But a little bit stressed out! I will run Junior in December on the testing day (FWT Collective Test) and be at the Florida Winter Tour for the first round abord my new kart. For the Winter Tour, I hope I can make top-five. There are a lot of good drivers and I am only twelve years old so I have to take experience and be ready for my next Canadian season.”
CKN: In 2016 you joined the PSL Karting team, describe the atmosphere of being on such a professional team. Is there anything that makes them stand out from the rest of the teams?
Thomas: “I joined PSL last winter for the FWT and it was a big change for me. PSL is a competitive and serious team. Everybody working there is willing to make you win. Even if the atmosphere is really competitive, there are times for fun and jokes! I need these moments, to reduce my stress (laughs).”
CKN: Ultimately, what are your racing goals for the future?
Thomas: “Let’s say for 2017, if I can make Team Canada again it would be awsome! But if I think in a longer future, a factory driver would be cool and ultimately my biggest dream: a DTM driver!”