Hello CKN Readers!
I’m Jason Leung from Vancouver, BC and this past weekend I participated in the X30 Euro Challenge in Genk, Belgium. Last year I won the Canadian Mini-Max National Championship and for 2017 I will be racing in Europe to gain as much experience as possible. Coming into this weekend I was very excited and nervous to race some of best junior drivers in the world. I wanted a great challenge, but I had no idea how much I would learn in just one week.
My family and I left our home in Vancouver a week before the event so we could meet with the team and do some testing. My driving coach, Stepanova Nekeel, hitch hiked up to the Vancouver from his home in Seattle and met us at the airport. I’m used to long flights, but it is never easy sleeping when all you can think about is getting back in the kart.
We landed in Amsterdam in the morning and made the short drive to PDB Racing to fit the kart. I had been to the shop before, but it is always amazing getting a tour from double World Champion Peter De Bruin. Talking with Peter and Nick about their accomplishments was definitely a good way to get motivated before this big race.
“As drivers Peter and Nick De Bruin set the bar extremely high and they expect the same from their whole team. However, PDB’s professionalism is partnered with a soft family touch.”
After the kart was prepared, Stepanova drove the van to Genk where we spent the weekend freezing our fingers off in the rain. This was very good practice because I’m a bit rusty in the wet and the European style of rain driving is a lot more intense than what I’m used to. Monday we traveled to Mariembourg near the French border and where we had the track all to ourselves. Tuesday we traveled to Kerpen in Germany for another day of on track battling with the best driving coach in the world (who definitely didn’t write this whole thing while I lay around watching TV). It was great learning three new tracks in four days, but I was a bit tired after and needed Wednesday to recover before official practice Thursday.
I feel very lucky to race for a team with as much history and success as PDB. As drivers Peter and Nick De Bruin set the bar extremely high and they expect the same from their whole team. However, PDB’s professionalism is partnered with a soft family touch. Every morning the team is greeted with hot coffee, omelettes and toast from the “PDB cafe” and for dinner the whole team comes together over a home cooked meal and local wine to recap the day. Peter and Nick have been exemplary in their support and guidance for so many young drivers, I hope to be another driver adding many more trophies to their collection in the coming years.
After a day away from the track I was anxious to get back in the seat. Thursday practice saw a lot of improvement as I closed the gap to the leaders from over two seconds to just under one. Being my first race on a full size chassis, X30 engine and Comet tires we mainly focused on my driving, but on Friday we began making chassis changes to close the gap. Peter and Nick know the Gillard chassis so well that as soon as I start explaining what the chassis is doing they already have a solution. Going into qualifying I felt confident in the setup and thought I could reach the top-20, however I missed out by under a tenth and ended up 22nd.
The heats were very challenging! As soon as I left the grid the race was on. All the drivers were fighting immediately to gain any advantage. The calm and courteous nature of Mini Max racing was gone and I had to fight for every inch. Unfortunately I crashed at the start of the first heat and came home last. For added insult, the crash caused the mandatory drop down bumper to fall down and I received a 5 second penalty. In the second heat my bumper dropped down from contact before the start as a driver ahead of me stalled causing the whole row to pile into him. I came home in 17th, but the five second penalty moved me outside the top-20. The third heat was the best yet. I finally had a good start and was running in 13th when I went for a late overtake that resulted in contact. I lost three place and the other driver finished last. I realized my mistake and accepted another five second penalty, again moving me outside the top-20.
“Unfortunately the other driver decided not to yield and we made heavy contact, bending both of our karts and taking us both out.”
Hoping to move on from the disastrous heats, I got a great start in the prefinal and moved up to 13th from 26th after just two laps. Ultimately I didn’t have the pace to maintain this position and fell back to 17th, but was relieved to finish a race without a penalty! My goal coming into the weekend was a top 15 finish and so starting the final 17th I felt confident I could achieve this. I made another good start in the final as was running as high as 11th before some hard racing pushed me back outside the top 15. By lap 11 of 12 I had recovered to 16th and was charging. On the last lap I reached the rear bumper of the 15th placed kart. I made a late dive down the inside of the turn 5 hairpin, but slid a little off line on exit, allowing the driver to slip back passed. Knowing I was ready to fight, the driver ahead moved to the inside on the next straight to block. Undeterred, I went even further to the inside, braking hard and taking the apex. Unfortunately the other driver decided not to yield and we made heavy contact, bending both of our karts and taking us both out.
It was a disappointing end to a weekend of learning, but the best part is I’m still in Belgium and get to race again this weekend at Rotax Euro Max. I’m confident what I’ve learned so far will transfer for the Rotax weekend and I’ll be able to achieve a good result this time around. I would like to thank my dad for being a great mechanic, my mom for cleaning up after me, Peter and Nick for their guidance and chassis tuning, Chris Black for the engine support in Rotax and Stepanova Nekeel for being a living example of what not to do.
Thanks for reading, I’ll update you again in a week after the Rotax Euro Challenge race.
– Jason Leung