Sitting at Pearson International Airport Monday on December 10 – with a sheet of fog in every direction – the trip was off to the worst possible start. My dad and I were scheduled to leave JFK International Airport (New York), bound for Sao Paulo, Brazil in one hour and we were still in Toronto. We were put up for the night in a great hotel, breakfast vouchers, transportation, and the whole kit. Tuesday afternoon brought clear skies and we left JFK on our 10 hour flight for Brazil! A short flight from Sao Paulo to Navegantes had us minutes from the track only one day late. We weren’t on the ground for five minutes when a semi-truck in oncoming traffic had a tire come off, rolling straight for us. Good thing MG Tires have an excellent shuttle driver, which dodged the danger with composure. Talk about an eventful trip…we haven’t even got to the track yet!
With our arrival to Beto Carerro World Wednesday afternoon, I was thrown right onto the track to get caught up on the lost practice. What a gorgeous facility, top to bottom it gave me the vibe I was at a Formula 1 race. For me, today was going to be all about learning the track, and learning how to control the 205 kg beast of a kart. The track was awesome. With long uphill and downhill straights, you had to be almost perfect through the infield for a chance at the oh-so-important draft. A solid first day of practice had the MG Tires/WR Motorsports team in 16th spot.
Thursday the competition got a little tougher. Teams figuring out set-ups and some more drivers showing up had the lap-times dipping under 1:00:00 for the first time, a blistering pace. It didn’t take long for it to set in that I was up against, and even on the same team as some big names and idols that I grew up watching. Our kart was 1 of 4 under Sabia Racing, consisting of drivers such as Rubens Barichello, Tony Kanaan, Felipe Giaffone, Devlin DeFrancesco, and many, many more. By the end of the day, our kart sat 26 out of 49.
Friday was qualifying, and I was selected to represent the team. The racing gods were not being friendly that day, with nothing but rain from start to finish. Qualifying broke down like this: The 49 teams were divided into 3 groups (16, 16, 17), each group had their chance and the top-8 from each would move on to “super-qualifying” and secure a spot in the “A” group for the running of the Granja Viena 500, the karts falling short of the top-8 in their respective group will be scored as the “B” group for the race. I put together a pretty solid qualifying, 1:12:60, and that was good enough for 3rd in my group, moving me to “super-qualifying” and ensuring the MG Tires/WR Motorsports kart was in the “A” for the race. After all 3 groups finished qualifying, I was 13th overall, and it was time for “super-qualifying”, which was REALLY cool! The way it worked was you started based on your time, (13th for me) in a 15 lap shootout race to determine your starting spot for the 500. I was on the track racing people like Barichello, Fittipaldi, Piquet Jr., it was amazing. Some bad luck and hard racing had me off the track on lap 3, finishing a disappointing 23rd spot.
Saturday, the week had led to this moment. The pre-race show was incredible, Beto Carerro World put on a huge display. It began with a symphony orchestra from Brazil playing the National Anthem, then a thrilling show of medievel jousting and sword-play, all done with real horses. A few dance numbers with mascots from “Madagascar” and “Kung-Fu Panda”, 300 or so balloons, and a minute of opening fireworks had the race underway! Teammate Peter Mastro led us off, with some rough opening few laps, Peter did a great job keeping the kart in one piece and staying out of trouble. 500 miles is a long time and the last thing we needed was an early set back. The 23rd starting spot quickly became a 38th place running, but once the karts were in line, Peter began his work, picking karts off all the way to 26th spot by the time his hour and a half stint was over. Next was my turn, I did my best to stick to the gameplan. “Stay out of trouble, find a friend and work through the pack, keep the kart rolling”. Before I knew it my run was over, and I came all the way to 11th spot, laying down the 2nd fastest lap of the race to that point (0:59:64). Chris Fosso and Phil Kirby had their turns behind the wheel, and once everyone was through we were running 19th. Then we all took our second stints, Chris hit some fierce battle and bent up the steering column, and then just as Phil was finishing up his, the rain began to fall, just a mist at this point. It was on Peter to close the last 80 laps. He was doing an excellent job keeping the team inside the top 20, and then at 45 to go, the rain got a little bit harder. At this point some teams played it safe and pitted for rain tires, but pit stops could push a team back 3-4 laps, our strategy was slow laps would still save more time than pitting if the rain stayed light, so we gambled and kept Peter out there. 20 to go and the rain came on even harder. At this point it was too late to come in, Peter was up to 14th spot and doing everything he could with the kart on slick tires, but the rain never gave up. As the laps counted, and the rain poured, the MG Tires team finished in 25th spot, mid-pack of the field of 49, a competitive kart all day. What an exciting race.
The city of Camboriu is where we spent our nights. We stayed at the Hotel Reiger, just two blocks from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, it was beautiful. Miles of beach both ways you looked, the strip was full of shops and restaurants to keep us busy every night. Huge thank you to BSRKC, MG Tires, Luis Rubial and Wagner Rossi for offering this trip every year for drivers like myself to experience such an amazing country, an incredible racing event, and have memories to keep for a lifetime.
Photos by WR Motorsports