My trip to the IAME International Final in Lyon, France, started a few days early so my teammates and I could check out some of Europe and get adjusted to the time change before the race weekend. After two easy flights, we landed in Milan, Italy, on a Saturday night. I was travelling with Italian Motors drivers Scott Hargrove, Remo Ruscitti, and David Jurca. Scott would be my teammate while Remo and David would tune for us at the event. I had been to Europe once before, nine years earlier, but this would be my first karting event outside North America. Even though our hotel was right downtown, we were too tired to do much exploring so we went for an amazing pasta dinner and then off to sleep.
We spent Sunday in Maranello at the Ferrari factory where we toured the museum and got to see some amazing machines. That night, back in Milan, we checked out the spectacular cathedral in the centre of the city. The next morning we got in the car and made our way over to Monaco. It was a beautiful day and such an incredible place. Having been a Formula 1 fan for as long as I can remember, I knew the track and it was a huge thrill to drive and then walk the same streets that the F1 drivers blast through every May. Seeing the streets up close, they seem even narrower than they do on TV and on Playstation! After spending the night, we made our way to Lyon, with a quick stop in St. Tropez along the way.
In the morning we headed to the karting facility to check out the circuit and start putting our karts together. The first thing that you notice at Actua Circuit de Lyon is the size of the facility. The grounds are home to three separate karting circuits, in addition to several café, RV and shop facilities. It is like a small city of karting! The next thing we noticed was the setup of the Praga factory team that we would race with. The tent is very large with glass sliding doors and enough room for up to 20 karts. While the team was still setting up, we were told to return to the tent later in the afternoon to start prepping for the weekend. After we walked the track, we went to the train station and headed downtown. Lyon is built on two rivers which separate the old and new. The old side of the city houses a 13th century cathedral and is connected by several narrow cobblestone streets lined with countless restaurants and patisseries. It was fun to walk around and see another city on the trip.
Back at the track in the afternoon, we assembled our X30 engines and got the karts ready to go for our early morning engine break-in. Fortunately, my tuner David Jurca is fluent in Czech, which was extremely helpful as most of the team was Czech and it really broke down the language barrier between us. With the International nature of the event, there was English, Italian, Czech and Spanish all being spoken under just our tent! When we were assembling our karts, we noticed that we would be using hand-operated front brakes, which was a new concept to all of us coming from North America.
Returning to the karting facility I woke up feeling excited to finally get on track and start the race weekend. Having been in Europe almost a week by this point, I was well adjusted to the time and felt pretty good. The first session of the weekend was an engine break-in and kart shakedown. Everything was good and we made a couple of small adjustments to get me more comfortable in the kart. The rest of the day was spent just learning the track, the hand-operated front brakes, the Praga chassis and the Komet K1H tire. There was a lot to learn! We got faster every session which was a good sign of progress. The drivers’ meeting was held in the evening and a lot of drivers were left confused as the whole meeting was conducted in French with very little English translation.
We started Friday right where we left off Thursday with David and I getting the kart faster each session on track. Qualifying would be the last session of the day and we felt good going into it. I was around 35th position out of 88 after final practice and we made some small adjustments to the kart to go even faster. Then disaster struck. On the out lap of qualifying my engine developed a bad misfire which caused me to have to enter the pits and try to figure out the issue. It took me over half the session to figure out the problem, but I came across a loose connection in the wiring harness and then went back on track to set a time. The checkered came out long before my tires had a chance to get warm, but it was irrelevant because after the session I was summoned to the steward’s office. After some difficulty speaking to the chief steward (he only spoke French) I was informed that all of my times would be removed and I was essentially disqualified from the session for re-entering the track after stopping. This meant a classification of 87th and a last row starting spot for each of the four heats on Saturday. As only 34 would start the A-main on Sunday, I was extremely disappointed because I knew my chances of making it were just about gone.
In the morning I woke up with an entirely new attitude for the rest of the weekend. I had a new focus and I was ready to go out and put on a passing clinic. Each heat would be 11 laps long and I knew I would start each heat 36th and need to finish around 15th in all of them to make the final. I figured if I could avoid all the crashes then I would be satisfied with my day. It only took one corner for the first incident of Heat 1 and I advanced about seven or eight spots right away. Then I put my head down and battled my way to a 22nd place finish, advancing 14 spots in 11 laps. The second heat was my only chance to race against my teammate Scott, so I think I had some added incentive to drive through the field. After only seven or eight laps I found myself in 17th, advancing almost 20 spots and right onto Scott’s rear bumper! I finished there, and felt pretty good halfway through the day.
Heat 3 was strange as a first lap mega shunt brought out a full course yellow. It was only the second time I had ever seen one in almost a decade in the sport, but I was assured this was common in Europe and it allowed them to keep on schedule. I spent seven laps outside the top 30 under caution, but I caught a bunch of drivers napping on the restart and made up a handful of spots late to finish 23rd in the heat. Scott’s heat was up next and after a mix-up and miscommunication (these were extremely common all weekend), he was disqualified from the heat for a bizarre rule infraction which ended his chance of starting the A-main on Sunday. The final heat of the day was more of the same for me as I just stayed out of trouble and wound up 22nd again. After the four rounds of heat races, I had advanced a total of 56 positions in only 37 laps of green flag racing.
When I got to the track for the final day, I found out that I would start prefinal-B in 16th spot with Scott starting 11th. With no transfer spots being offered up into the A-main, my goal was to go out and win the B-main. The start of the prefinal was great and by the midway point of the 15 laps, Scott and I ran 2nd and 3rd. After a late race pass, I was left to settle for a 4th starting spot in the final. My start in the final was my worst all weekend, and I dropped back about three or four spots in turn 1. After battling with Scott and several other drivers all race long, I ended up 8th in the race while Scott was 6th. We had a side-bet before the weekend and when I was right behind him I gave it everything I had to get past but I couldn’t quite do it. The front brakes are a really neat addition to TaG-style karting, and may be something that North America will want to look at for the future.
Sunday night we drove back to Milan where we caught our flight home the next morning. Unfortunately, we missed our connection in London and had to spend a night, but we went into the city and had one last adventure before the flight home.
Overall my first experience karting in Europe was a success. If it hadn’t been for some rotten luck in qualifying, who knows how I could have done. I still felt very good about the event, having climbed 45 positions from qualifying to the final, more than anybody else in the whole event. I must say though, given the ‘international’ billing of the event, the lack of English speaking left a bad taste in my mouth, as it did for many other drivers. However, my teammates and I laughed all week and I definitely will look back on the trip positively. I feel much more prepared for SuperNats in a few weeks, and I got a lot of chances to practice overtaking.
I need to thank Italian Motors for the opportunity to race in this event, and my parents for helping with my travel costs. Also a big Thank You to my tuner at the event, David Jurca, who worked very hard all week. Stay tuned for my diary from trackside at SuperNats XVI in Las Vegas in a few weeks!