Race week began early Sunday morning as we were off to the airport to catch a flight to Paris, France. My dad was accompanying me on the trip to round four of the Euro Max Challenge in Salbris, France. I had a very big choice to make before this event. With our budget this year we did not fit in this race and the only way to keep our budget the same was to make cuts. I had a choice between the Canadian Nationals or to race in France and the Euro Max Challenge. I looked at it as: ‘where would I gain more experience to become a better racecar driver,’ and then the choice was obvious: off to France. Another reason was I needed to test on a Birel chassis with D1 tires, and what better way to test than in a high-level European competition with Kalman Motorsport?
The plane ride was a long nine hours on Air Transat. The plane was brand new, but they crammed us in there like sardines, literally. As crammed as I was my excitement overcame the uncomfortable plane ride, and when we landed in Paris it was 11:30am Monday morning. We had the day to chill in Paris before we had to be off to Salbris, but we were so tired we barely did any looking around. My dad and I just went to bed, we were so exhausted! Then when it was later that night we attempted to go to the Eiffel Tower and boy was that a mistake. We got lost at nighttime, and we finally gave up and went back to the hotel. We had to be up fairly early to grab some breakfast and pick superbencooper up from the airport. Once we got him, it was off to Salbris. Surprisingly, it was quite a long drive from Paris to Salbris, (especially when Ben gets you lost) but it was all a good time. When we got to the track I was amazed! The track was awesome; it was everything a driver wanted in a track. The only thing I did not like was the golf ball-sized rock that surrounded the track. It was very hard on lids. We spent the remainder of Tuesday doing track walks, getting to know the team and my mechanic for the race – Pap Ben Cooper. We got to the hotel that night in Salbris and disaster struck! My brand new Bell helmet didn’t make it – it was held up in customs! It was a mad scramble to find a helmet for me to use for Wednesday testing, but we found one.
Testing for me was all about adapting to my situation. I had to learn a new chassis, new tire and new track all in one day. It’s definitely not easy but there was no way around it if I wanted to be fast. For testing on Wednesday there were 8 ten-minute sessions. That was amazing because there was plenty of time on track. Wednesday was just another day in the office. We made very little changes to the kart and just let me adapt. At the end of the day we were only a couple tenths off sitting top ten. It was a very good day.
The second day of testing was where we introduced making changes to the kart. It was another busy day with learning the track, kart and tires and now giving pin-point feedback that is necessary in order for the team to collaborate on chassis setup decisions. Thankfully, my helmet arrived around noon, and by the end of Thursday we were relatively quick, around top ten, top fifteen. Qualifying was looking really good if everything would go as planned, but of course my weekend had to be exciting!
On Friday how it went was we got two test sessions before a fifteen-minute qualifying session. The first morning warm-up, we went P8, which was great, a very solid position if we would have stayed there. Second warm-up we changed brake pads and learned Birel front brake pads are incredibly touchy and it trashed the session completely. This kind of set us up a little bit blind going into qualifying. Going out for qualifying the kart was pretty strong and things were going well until I pushed the kart too hard going into a curb section. I went into the gravel and over a cement curb on lap two. This was devastating because it bent the chassis. This put me much slower but I drove what I had the best I could and came out in 27th position. Not the best but considering what happened on lap two it could have been a lot worse. So, given the way they form heats, I was in Group C and starting inside once (13) and outside twice (14).
The first day of heats is where in my opinion you can either make up a ton of ground or lose a ton. First of all, one of the key factors to heats is finishing. In order to keep your overall points low you want to make sure to take little risks in order to ensure a safe finish and avoid getting high points. In my first heat I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew that European racing was very different than what I’m used to at home. What I learned blew my mind in that first heat! I couldn’t believe the racing over there. Drivers were more aggressive, defensive, smarter; their race craft is so much more developed overall it is was amazing. It’s been a long time since a race has given me chills but this one did. I started on the inside and avoided the wreck on the start, which put me in the top ten. I was around eighth when I made a lunge pass on another driver from far back. I had the inside on a left-hand corner but the next corner was a switchback right. I made the mistake. I should have pushed him off the track but I didn’t, I was nice and he lunged back at me and he did what I should have done to him. What he did completely trashed my rolling speed and this killed me in the chicane curb section that followed the right-hand corner. The train of karts that was behind me all tried to go by me in the tightest section there was on the track. Before I knew it, a kart thought there was a space that wasn’t there and we got tangled up and took a trip to the gravel pit. The kart was too damaged to carry on so it was a DNF for me. This put pressure on me to go out and do very well in the next two heats in order to make the main with no last chance qualifiers’ race. The second heat race I went on track with a different racecraft and mind set. No more Mr. nice guy is the easiest way to put it. I knew what to expect and I drove my way up to a seventh-place finish. Now for the third and final heat, it was imperative for me to finish well because it would mean moving directly to the pre- main without the last chance race. I drove to a twelfth-place finish. When they added up the points I was starting 25th and would not have to be entered in the last chance race!
Finally Sunday was here. It was a long week thinking all about the final day of racing and that final race. I started on the inside for the Prefinal and was actually pretty excited because I knew all I had to do was have a good clean but hard race and I would be starting pretty far up the field. On the start the inside row was separated and weren’t bumper-to-bumper. The outside row squeezed us as I was forcing the driver in front of me to close up with the rest of the inside row. I got smashed from behind in mid corner of the flat-out corner one kink. This spun me around and I was the only driver that didn’t make corner one – yet another devastating blow to the weekend. I finished the Prefinal 31st and that was where I would start for the Final. On the start of the Final I had it great. I made many places and avoided the big wreck in corner two. I was sitting top twenty on the first lap when a driver moved me out of the way aggressively. I dropped out of the top twenty because of this. After that incident I drove as hard as I could and passed as many as I could through the duration of the race. The end result being I went from 31st to 16th on the track, even with the first lap incident. A fairly respectable drive from the back of the grid toward the front. Overall the weekend was tough, but it was a huge learning curve for me. I felt I learned more this race weekend than any in the past. Also, I am now prepared to take on the World Finals in Portugal now that I have experience with the Birel chassis, D1 Mojo Tire and the European race craft.
Once again, thanks to all my partners for all their support in my racing program: OMP, RLV, Tillett Racing Seats, canadiankartingnews.com, Courtney Concepts, Bell Helmets, Polen Designs and Sylvan Lake R.V. Also, another big thanks to Kalman Motorsport and HRS Racing Engines for their great support.