After weeks of anticipation, two full days of practice and a brief morning warm-up, drivers and mechanics were finally put to the test on Wednesday at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Portimao, Portugal.
Throughout the day, 366 drivers representing over 50 countries, spread over the six categories rolled out on track to see who was the quickest. A poor result in Qualifying could make for a long week, putting plenty of pressure on the drivers to perform. It was also the first chance to mount new tires on the karts since Free Practice 1. Wednesday also featured the first round of heat races for all categories.
For our Canadian contingent who are looking to defend last years Nations Cup title, it was a good start as the day was highlighted by Ryan MacDermid in Senior Max and Justin Arseneau in Mini-Max. The pair both placed inside the top-five, with MacDermid second overall and Arseneau P5. It is the second straight year that MacDermid has qualified on the front row as last year in Italy, he was the fastest qualifier in Junior Max.
As the lone Canadian in Micro-Max, Marcello Paniccia has plenty of eyes on him and support from the team. However, he was unable to stick with the pack when the group rolled out for Qualifying and thus lost the draft. It meant that he had to post his best time without any support from another driver and when the clock ran out, he was all the way down in thirty-first place, a disappointing effort.
He was able to rebound a little bit in heat one, moving up six places in his first heat race, crossing the line in 26th, but he will have to push forward in his heats in order to have a better starting spot in the PreFinal.
Like Paniccia, Justin Arseneau is the only Canadian in this category this week, taking part in Mini-Max. He showed great pace in the practice sessions and on the first lap of Qualifying, posted the fastest out-lap to set the initial pace. While the times dropped, so did Arseneau’s and following the 8-minute session he ranked fifth overall, a superb result for the smallest driver by far in the category this week.
Arseneau’s pace continued in the heat race, but the young driver came under attack and while battling for third came in contact with the driver ahead of him, in turn, three, slowing him down and pushing back his bumper. He would cross the finish line all the way down in sixteenth, but being accessed a 10-second penalty for the nosecone, his result will be much worse. He will need to keep clean tomorrow to move back up the rankings, but thankfully he will have his fifth-place starting spot in both heats.
In Rotax Junior, the second group to hit the track definitely took advantage of the added rubber and earned the majority of the top spots. Benefitting Patrick Woods-Toth, he rolled out in the second group and was able to post the twelfth quickest time in his group, ranking him fourteenth overall and the highest of the North American drivers. On the flipside, Jason Leung was out in the first group and when all the times were combined, he was all the way down in forty-ninth, a little further down the order then he has been running this week.
Starting on the outside of row four for his heat, A vs B, Woods-Toth was in a heated battle all race long, struggling to settle in during the quick eight-lap sprint. Falling back some spots, he would finish eleventh. In the C vs D heat, Leung fell back on the start but put his head down and moved up eight spots by the finish, taking 20th.
With the Junior Max drivers on the MOJO D2 tires and the Senior Max drivers using the new MOJO D4 tires, it appeared that the two compounds don’t mix well on track as the first group of Senior Max’s led the way. This worked well for Ryan MacDermid who went second quickest in his group, missing the top spot by only 0.006 seconds!
The top-60 drivers were separated by less than a second on a track that requires a big draft to put down a flyer, meaning hundredths of a second mean a mile. Marco Signoretti, who impressed in Rotax DD2 at the Grand Finals last year, put down the sixteenth quickest time, which was the seventh quickest from group two. Kellen Ritter was the next best Canadian in twenty-second, stating to CKN after that his best lap was interrupted by a much-needed pass on a fellow competitor. Finally, Logan Cusson ranked 47th after being pushed off track during his qualifying stint and dirtying up his tires.
The A vs B heat was quite the battle with MacDermid falling back to fifth on opening laps, but with heavy battling for the lead was able to get back into the mix for the front. Showing the world how his race went with the onboard camera for the live stream, MacDermid finished fifth four spots ahead of a hard-charging Ritter.
Signoretti and Cusson found themselves in the C vs D heat and both maintained their starting spots with Signoretti eleventh at the finish and Cusson twenty-first.
There will be two more important heat races tomorrow for these Senior Max drivers to sort themselves out and earn their starting spots for the PreFinals.
Zachary Claman DeMelo initially posted the eighteenth quickest time in Rotax DD2 Qualifying, but he made contact with a slower driver during the session and pushed back his front bumper, meaning he had to surrender his two fastest laps. This meant that instead of starting the heat races from inside the top-ten, he ranked sixty-sixth overall, nearly at the back of the grid.
Tyler Kashak, therefore, led the Canadian contingent, placing thirty-seventh, merely three-tenths of a second off the pole-position! Davide Greco was the next best Canadian in forty-eighth followed by Natael Cantin in sixty-fifth, who continues to struggle here in Portugal.
In the A vs B heat, Kashak jumped up a few spots at the start and continued to push forward, taking the thirteenth place at the line. Behind him, DeMelo was on a charge and initially broke into the top-sixteen, but he earned himself another nosecone penalty and in all of his hard work was for nothing, taking a twenty-eighth place result. Ethan Simioni enjoyed a good run and scored a fifteenth place finish after initially following DeMelo across the line.
The lone Canadian in C vs D was Greco and he improved from his starting spot to take nineteenth.
It just doesn’t feel right that our DD2 drivers aren’t further up the rankings given the result we have enjoyed over the past decade. Hopefully, our boys can push forward tomorrow and not push back the nosecones.
Rotax DD2 Masters
Joe Crupi put himself in the top-half of the rankings in DD2 Masters Qualifying, posting the thirty-third quickest time of the combined sessions. Only four-tenths of a second back of the leader, Crupi has the pace to race but he struggled to get settled in early in his heat race and fell back before finishing in the nineteenth position. Blistering off on of the fastest laps of the heat, Crupi will be hungry for better results tomorrow.