Moving up to the Junior class in any karting category is scary, no matter who you are. It is the first real serious step and more often than not it is the most competitive age range for karting. The action on track in closer, the competition is tighter and for some, it’s where they begin to really make a name for themselves in motorsports. Some drivers love the challenge, some are very timid as a rookie Junior and some just fit right in at the front like there was no transition at all.
It is also where crashing happens, a lot.
Making only the second Junior start of his career, Thomas Nepveu found himself at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows at the Florida Winter Tour stop in West Palm Beach as he was victim to a horrific crash on Saturday only to return to the track on Sunday and end the day standing on the top of the podium in Rotax Junior.
Exiting the first corner and onto the fast main straight at Palm Beach Karting, Nepveu was right in the middle of the pack when he was squeezed by karts on either side of him sending his kart up into the air. Coming to the ground, Nepveu and his kart tumbled upside down and slid a fair distance before finally coming to a stop. (Watch the video below)
Thankfully, Nepveu was quick to push the kart off of himself and stand up. Shaking himself off, he stood up and signaled a thumbs up to his parents watching track side, a sigh of relief for everyone watching.
Twenty-four hours later, Nepveu not only had shaken off the bad flip, but he was right in the middle of the race for victory. Playing his cards right, Nepveu pushed Tyler Gonzalez to the lead and while he hoped to have a shot at the lead, he was forced to settle for second when the checkered flag flew.
Arriving at the podium a short while later, Nepveu was grinning ear to ear. He had been informed that race winner Gonzalez had received a penalty in the race and Nepveu had been elevated to the race victory completing the roller coaster of a weekend.
Following the race weekend, we caught up with Nepveu for a few questions about his crash, his victory and his helmet that is now an item for the trophy shelf.
First, how are you feeling now that the weekend is over? How are the bumps and bruises?
Thomas Nepveu: I am feeling good, good to be home and I can take care of my scratches before going back on track. I have time to see my osteopath, need some time there!
What was your first thought after the crash? Do you remember what happened?
TN: It happened so fast that I don’t remember everything. I see myself in the air and then I just thought about checking myself and see if I was in one piece. After, I did a thumbs up to my Mom and Dad to let them know I was okay before heading to the paramedics.
And your helmet, are you sad to see it go or just happy it did it’s job?
TN: Well, happy that it did its job because looking back at the accident, I was lucky. Now that it is behind me, it’s funny to look at my last helmets. I had one in Micro and I had a flip in Mini in my first year so I had a new one for Mini and now that I start Junior, same story! I will start the category with a new one and a chrome one, and go over this story for the best I hope.
Your coach and mechanic Dan mentioned to me on Saturday morning that you had the pace to win even if it didn’t show in Qualifying. What changed as the weekend progressed?
TN: The speed was there in qualifying but It was hard for me to find a good spot on the track. Still, I was okay with my tenth place. We found better set up in the Heat so when I was in Prefinal, I was the second fastest on track.
In the Final, you’re battling against a train of TonyKarts, did you have a plan of attack for the race knowing you didn’t have much for a teammate after MacDermid and Yuven crashed out on the start?
TN: For sure I had a plan with all my teammates but without them it was something different. I had to think real quick. So I decided to wait for a good opportunity. My coaches Dan and Oliver were making me signs to stay calm and push others. I tried to assured a gap with behind me. When finally I went for the second spot, I pushed Gonzalez to give me a chance to get away and make a great battle at two. But I couldn’t make it.
Finally, your overall thoughts on getting the victory?
TN: First, just out of this race with the second place at first was satisfying for me regarding what happened on Saturday. Honestly, I was not one-hundred percent secured but I was getting confident more and more on each laps. When I knew I’d won, I was very happy because I was just at my second race in Junior and I am still twelve years old until the end of August. So, there is more to come. Now I am focusing on New Orleans.