I just got back from Canada’s Wonderland! No, I’m not talking about the amusement park. I’m talking about my roller coaster ride of a weekend! It was full of ups and downs, but in the end I had a great time and shared a lot of laughs with everyone. Of course, you can never get away from the politics and controversy surrounding motorsports, but I tried my best to let loose and just enjoy my time back in a kart with all my great friends from the karting community. Here’s a little bit of how my week went.
For most people competing in the 2012 edition of the Canadian National Karting Championships, their journey to the circuit began on Tuesday. For me, I traveled on Monday night. I know a lot of guys drove through Montreal from Ontario, and if you were one of the people who did more than one lap around the detour set up at highway 540 and highway 40, you weren’t the only one honking randomly and occasionally having outbursts of anger. In fact, I managed to do three laps around the detour before finally just turning at one of those places on the highway where it says not to make a U-turn. Don’t tell anyone! Mind you, it was around 11pm and I was very tired from the drive, so after 40 minutes of driving in circles, I took evasive action. Anyway, I finally made it up north and spent the night with a friend.
I woke up Tuesday morning and figured I could get some last minute training in before heading over to the circuit. I strapped on running shoes and took my friend’s dog, Zara, a Husky/Boxer, running through the woods. She was fast as hell! It wasn’t a good start to the week because she creamed me in our little race. Once I got over the loss, I headed to the track where my Prime Powersports/Maranello chassis awaited. We stickered up the bodywork and it was ready to go for Wednesday morning. By ‘we’, I mean Trevor Wickens, team principal at Prime Powersports/Maranello. I’d say he’s a pretty important guy to have in the team. Actually, he’s so important that some team personnel were thinking of getting shirts made up saying, “I don’t know where Trevor is.” I think that was a commonly asked question under the tent.
Once we were finished at the circuit, I headed back to the Village with my best friend and brother-from-another-mother, Vito. If you were at the circuit, you probably saw him. He was the guy that was tanned and jacked! He was my bodyguard for the weekend – you know, just in case we had any problems. Luckily for everyone else, we didn’t have anything too serious. We settled in at our hotel and had a quiet dinner with my other friend, Ian, the airline pilot, who came in for a couple days.
I haven’t done much racing this year so I was very eager to get on track. It was actually only my 3rd race of the year, so it was a going to be a real test. From the very first session on track, we seemed to be very strong. I felt comfortable from the moment I stepped in the seat. We ended up being quickest, unofficially of course, at the end of the day. I was able to find the non-Italian stopwatch to tell me what the best times were, so at least it was a little more accurate. Those damn ‘Italian’ stop watches can sometimes knock up to four tenths off a competitor’s time!
Coming into the event, I wanted to challenge myself by trying to turn the wrenches on my own kart. Of course I required a lot of help at first, and I may or may not have used the famous line, “Do you know where Trevor is?” For the record, I ended up finding out where Trevor was hiding when he needed a break from the non-stop questions being thrown his way. He went into Adam Martin’s trailer (Rotax Jr. driver), which I have to say is a lovely getaway. He had pretzels, granola bars and drinks, not that I took anything…
After we were done at the track, Steven Chapman (the man, the Legend, my engineer/mechanic during our famous World Championship victory), Vito and Ian all went mountain biking. I’ve been mountain biking before, but let me assure you, this was a near death adventure! We started by riding uphill for about 10 minutes on a gravel road. When we got to the top of the road, I thought we were going to start riding downhill. I was so wrong! We went in the woods and continued to climb over obstacles and rocks. Vito and Ian ended up bailing out, which in the end, was probably a wise choice. Steven and I continued to climb through the forest. Ninety per cent of the time, I was just sprinting up the hill holding my bike. After about an hour of climbing, we reached the summit! It’s a good thing I had a helmet because the number of times I fell on the way down was mind boggling, literally! We went all the way across the mountain face and ended up getting lost. After a two-hour ride across Mont-Tremblant, we called it quits. I think we showed up a week late for the Ironman competition. The taste of food and water was never so sweet! After that, it was off to bed; Had to be in the kart the next morning at 9am so sleep was needed!
Thursday was another long practice day. We got through a lot on the test program and I was finally spending less time searching for Trevor. I’m convinced it was my fault for forcing him into hiding. At the end of the day, I felt pretty confident in my technical abilities. The one thing that I couldn’t get my head around though, is how to change a Mojo D3 tire. Those things are tough as hell! Lucky for me, I was able to work out a deal. Brendon Bain’s mechanic, Mark Robertson, was nice enough to change my tires for the rest of the weekend. Of course I had to fulfill my end of the deal, get him a 2-4 of beer – it was well worth it! Coors Light was on sale too, so it was my lucky day! Oh yeah, we were fast again in Thursday’s practice sessions.
Friday marked the start of the first Official event day. First up was the morning warm- up. Again, we found ourselves two tenths-of-a-second ahead of the pack. I didn’t have my transponder on for the session, but the MyChron doesn’t seem to lie very often. We were in prime shape for the Canadian Tire Super Pole later in the day. When I hit the track for qualifying, it was very slippery out there. The track temperature increased drastically from warm-up to qualifying, so it was a bit of a handful for everyone. In the end, it was an incredibly close grid. The top ten drivers were separated by two-and-a-half tenths. I was fourth after qualifying, which was unlucky for the team. I promised the guys that if I finished in the top three in the Canadian Tire Super Pole qualifying, I would reimburse everyone for the shop towels and brake cleaner that I was using. Unfortunately for them, I missed out on the top three by a mere 0.018 of a second.
Next up was the first of three heat races. After qualifying in 4th position, it meant that I’d start each heat from the outside of row two. The outside isn’t an ideal spot to start at the Mont-Tremblant circuit because the first four turns of the race are right-handers. It just meant that I would have to fight hard to get to the inside line. After the first few corners, I’d already been hit on both sides of my kart. My beautiful stickers were ruined! Okay, that wasn’t the only thing that was a problem. I found myself struggling for pace after being hit off line by another driver, which went unnoticed. By the time the tires came back to me, I was back in P7 and was struggling a bit with the balance of the kart. I found myself defenseless to attacks from the karts behind and really tried to conserve the tires for the remainder of the event. I figured that it was not as important to battle hard in the heat races and destroy the tires for the whole event. With the limited tires that are allowed, it was vital to keep the rubber on them. At the end of the race, P9 was the best I could do. I managed to shake some of the rust off in the first heat but I have to say, I was not driving up to my standards and I really reflected upon my race later that night.
The morning marked the start of a new day for me. Morning warm-up went very well, but it turned out to not play much of a factor later in the day when the sun came out and torched the asphalt. The start of heat two was again a huge mess! I was run over by a few drivers in turn 1. The races were started on the long back straight, with turn 15 and 16 being the first and second corner of the race. Turn 1 proper is the third corner after the start of the race, and that’s where all hell broke loose. A few drivers got excited when they saw a small gap at the apex of the corner – but four karts have a hard time fitting into an area where only one should be, so, of course, I found myself getting hit like a piñata yet again. This time, the rear bumper, right side pod, my shoe, throttle pedal, front bumper and fairing all had rubber marks. Unfortunately for everyone, I didn’t explode with candy!
By the end of the race I was P10. It wasn’t a strong start to the day, but it took a turn for the better in heat 3. By better, I mean I didn’t really get hit ‘too’ hard on the start. The first turn of the race was a disaster. Bain and PLO got together after a small nudge from Boisclair, which sent PLO into Bain. I managed to just swerve out of the way, through the dirt on the exit of turn 15, through the pit entry, catching air over the curb and back on the track in turn 16, somehow managing to make a pass into turn 1 in the process. I still can’t quite figure that one out. In the end, P6 was where we ended up in the heat, giving us a strong starting spot for the Prefinal on Sunday morning considering that we’d gone to hell and back.
After the race, my kart was full of dirt, as you can imagine. My girlfriend Jessica Hofman, who is an entrepreneur (shameless plug www.jessicahofman.com), helped clean my kart. Of course, another deal had to be made. She helped wipe the dirt off, but I had to brush her hair after, which was another pretty fair trade-off. At least she didn’t ask for a handbag or heels. Later that night we were invited to join the Ferrolati Corse team in a BBQ at the track. When you get an invite to a BBQ with Mr. Michael Latifi, you do not pass up the opportunity! It was great food, as usual. I’m not sure if it was a tactic to fatten me up before the race, but it worked!
Once I woke up from my food coma from the night before, it was time for the Prefinal, where I would line up in P7 on the grid. After a small bunch up on the build-up to the start, I just miss-timed the acceleration point and lost 2 spots on the run into the first corner. I finished off the lap strong by making a double outside pass into turn 1 and another 2 passes on the outside of turn 2. I finished the first lap in P5, which was a strong recovery considering how poor of a start I had. In the end, we had a good run up to P3, which was exactly what we were aiming for to start the Final.
Leading up to the race, the nerves were building, especially when we were out there on the track for the opening ceremony. All I could remember is how focused I was on the start at La Conca for the 2010 Grand Finals. There was actually a picture where I looked like a zombie, standing motionless without an expression on my face. All I tried to do was replicate getting into that zone. Once the race got underway, all I thought about was getting a clean start and being the aggressor. I’d had enough of being pushed around through all the heats. When the lights went out, I was able to hold P3. As soon as we made it around to turn 1, I went on the attack, overtaking Herder who was running P2 and nearly getting inside of Robichon to take the lead. Herder fought back hard, which allowed the gap to Robichon to increase. I worked together with Herder to finally catch back up to Robichon. As soon as Herder went to the lead, Cooper found a way past me. It really caught me off guard and at that point, put an end to my chances. The gap opened up quite a bit once Cooper got by and I was really only able to fight for the last podium position after that.
The race settled down and I held P3 until Bain made a late, yet clean move on me into turn 1, overshooting the corner slightly in the process. Just as I was making my cross back on him into turn 2, I had contact from Burkett at the apex. It was an unfortunate end to my chances of the podium, but at the end of the day, I was only thinking, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”, so it made no difference. Burkett apologized and admitted that he broke too late after the race, which was cool of him to do. Not many drivers own up to their mistakes, but he did, and I appreciated it. At the end of the day, we walked away battered and bruised in P7.
Regardless of the result, I feel like I can hold my head high. I was the only driver on the grid without a mechanic, I made my very first axle change (with the help of a few guys under the tent… okay, everybody under the tent), put on my own engine and did mostly all the work on my kart, minus mounting the tires (which I made the beer deal for), and using the sniper on the front end (I found Trevor and he did it), which is probably not that difficult. I should probably try it next time… Oh and I should mention that I had the best lasagna ever that night. It kind of made up for the lack of results over the weekend.
A big thanks to Prime Powersports, Andy DeFrancesco, SRA Karting, Sofina and DaVinci Foods, Chudleigh’s (I had like 3 apple pies after the race) and every single driver, mechanic, father and mother under the Maranello tent! Thank you for making my 2012 Canadian National Championship a great experience!
P.S. Carlo, you make great Lasagna. I need to see you make it some time soon!
– Daniel Morad