After a successful two-day test a week before the date of the WSK Masters series at La Conca I felt that I was prepared to take on my first KFJ race with Energy Corse. The week all started on Wednesday when the team and drivers flew from Bergamo, Italy, the city the Energy Corse Factory is located to Brindisi, in the south of Italy. From there the team drove then from Brindisi to La Conca International Circuit to immediately begin prepping the race material. The Energy Corse tent was already assembled from the week prior when we did a team test at the circuit. The team wasted no time getting on track for the afternoon sessions Wednesday. My mechanic and I managed to make two sessions, both of which I had to break in my race engines.
Thursday was a full day of practice. Four 15-minute sessions meant no mistakes, you would have to stay on top of making all your sessions in order to get the valuable track time. The track time was especially valuable to Energy Corse because most teams tested at the track all the way up until the race date at La Conca. This put us behind where most teams were with chassis setup, development and drivers seat time. All of Energy Corse caught on quick though as in every class we had drivers posting quick throughout Thursday. As for myself in the beginning we were fast without the rubber. Every session though the grip levels increased, and it took its toll on me. It’s not that I wasn’t strong enough to hold on and keep the wheel straight, it’s that I didn’t now how to attack with the rubber. The “North American” driving style is when the rubber comes down you start attacking the corner harder under breaking. This is not the case in Europe, when the rubber comes down you attack differently. You ease your breaking points and get on the throttle earlier. This prevents upsetting the chassis by carrying to much roll speed through the corner, and it betters you coming off the corner. It also keeps the RPM of the KFJ engine package up, which is extremely important. This all came to me after qualifying, and is why I struggled up until then. Thursday I felt we were within striking distance, we were in the top ten range and still had time to gain. All the practices went decently well, a couple problems here and there but we sorted them and had enough time to get a few hot laps in. Overall Thursday wasn’t a day to brag about, but I felt we were on the right track.
Friday was a combination of practice, qualifying and for some drivers a heat depending on the group you get placed in after qualifying. All drivers get two fifteen-minute sessions for practice to fine-tune your setups and driving style before they are thrown into a 10-minute qualifying session with no hot pit. Then the only group that doesn’t have a heat race is group A. Qualifying groups are determined by the place you earn in Qualifying. For example 1st is in group A, 2nd in group B, 3rd in C, 4th in D, 5th in E. Then the order repeats itself until everyone is in a group. The group represents the row you start from for your heats. Group A will always start on the inside, group B will start on the inside against all other groups except A. Group C will start on the inside against D and E and on the outside for A and B, etc. Both my practices went problem free, but we lacked speed. In both my practices we were sitting top fifteen, which was okay but I wanted more. Going into qualifying I had never been on new Vega tires with as much grip as there was on the track. I didn’t know what to expect, and what the kart would feel like. During the session I really struggled, I have never faced that much grip and I didn’t know how to use it like I said earlier. You have to ease your breaking points and get on the throttle earlier. This prevents upsetting the chassis by carrying too much roll speed through the corner, and it betters you coming off the corner. It also keeps the RPM of the KFJ engine package up, which is extremely important. That is what I missed in qualifying and it put me 26th overall. I was disappointed, but I managed to be slotted into group A. This was a huge bonus, and would make my job a lot easier in the heats starting 11th.
Saturday was a really busy day with four of my heats all happening throughout the day. The heats consisted of 8 laps in length. I didn’t know what to expect going into the heats, I didn’t know what the race craft of the KFJ drivers would be like and this left me going in without a game plan for my race craft. All I knew was I just had to get to the front. It was also my first start with the KFJ, and I knew I would have to learn how to tune the carburetor for the starts and then find the sweet spot for the races in the opening laps.
In the first heat my start was excellent. I got off the line good and made up a great deal of positions, but going into corner three it was damp offline due to it raining in the night. I went to defend my position from others behind me and completely missed the apex due to the damp track. This lost me everything that I had gained previous on the start. Around half way I was not doing so well, I was running around mid pack due to my mistake in corner three. Luckily I got a second chance and there was a red flag. On the restart I made no mistake, making multiple positions. From there I was in rhythm picking off position after position. In the end I crossed the line third, but when penalties were calculated I was moved into second.
On the start of my second heat, it was again solid until the third corner where I was punted off the track. This again lost me everything I gained off the start. After the third corner incident I worked as hard as I could to make my way back up the but I had to settle for fifth at the end of 8 laps. In the third heat I got a solid start and made it successfully through the third corner. From there I was in the top five, but slowly fell back the field due to lack of speed once the grip level rose again towards the end of the day. I fell to eighth, where I crossed the line. In the last heat I didn’t have a very good start, but managed to hold around my starting place. From there I advanced to eighth place where I finished the race. With a combination of 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 8th I managed to be placed 3rd for pre final B, 6th overall. I was happy with this result, and how hard I worked to recover from a poor qualifying.
Sunday consisted of morning warm up, pre final and final. The morning warm up did not go as I wanted it to, we were nearly half a second off. This gave me a bad feeling going into the pre final because I thought that I was going to fall down the order quick. On the start of the pre final I advanced into second for the first eight laps of the 16-lap pre final. I got passed and fell to third but I quickly struck to take second back. I held the second position for two more laps until getting passed back and falling to third for the remainder of the race. When the penalties were calculated though I was advanced into second. This meant I would start fourth for the final because the other pre final was faster than ours.
In the final I knew I had the pace, but I just had to have a smart race. I started on the outside and knew it would be difficult to maintain my position around the outside as the first three corners are right handers. When the lights went out on the start I managed to move to an open gap on the inside. Coming out of the first corner I held the second position. I was in second for the first two laps until another driver while making a pass on me purposely tried to drive me off the track in a flat out corner. I saved it but gained an enormous amount of marbles (rubber off line) on my tires. This lost me three positions and put me back to fifth. It took two laps for my tires to come back in and by then the lead pack had a decent gap on me. On the bright side I had a large lead over the next position and I could relax and focus on catching the lead pack. As the laps wound down I slowly but surely was catching positions 2,3 and 4. On the last lap I knew something was going to happen, they were fighting much too aggressively. I watched it all unfold as two drivers tangled up in front of me. One driver completely spun around while the other was left bogged down. I knew right away that the driver left bogged down would receive some sort of penalty for the contact and I was not within a comfortable striking distance, so instead of taking myself out of the race trying a risky pass for a place that was already mine I made the decision to bring it home where I was and take podium once the driver received his penalty. When I got off track that is exactly what happened, and I took my first podium in the KFJ class in my first race.
This all could not be possible without the partners of Parker Thompson Racing. Thank you very much Sylvan Lake RV, RLV, Bell Racing Helmets, Tillett Racing Seats, CanadianKartingNews.com, Racing Against Cancer, Panigada European Transport, GFR Engines, TM Racing Engines, Douglas Wheels, Lucky Design, and Energy Corse.
Check out these videos, posted by TKart. First is my Final race with Italian commentary, and the second is an interview with TKart before the podium ceremony.