There may not have been a more versatile and successful Eastern Canadian driver in 2016 than Jeffrey Kingsley. The Port Hope, Ontario racer was crowned double-champion in the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship, the first driver to win two titles in one season, claiming Rotax DD2 and Briggs & Stratton Senior, finished runner-up at the ASN Canadian National Championships in a third category (Rotax Senior) and also dominated the two US Open international races he attended, winning both races at ease in Rotax DD2. Simply put, wherever Jeff Kingsley raced in 2016, he was out front and ended up on the podium.
It was a special year for Kingsley. He has been building up this momentum for a few years now and teamed up with PSL Karting for a third straight year he became a nearly unstoppable force. A little kick does go to the Karts & Parts/Awesome Kart team, who Kingsley started the Briggs & Stratton season with and scored a race victory for, but it’s been his focus and determination in the Rotax categories that really stands out. Not to knock the Briggs & Stratton racing he did, as the competition and wheel-to-wheel action is impressive, but just looking at the results, a six-second victory at ECKC Mont-Tremblant stands out at one of his best performances in Canada, while he took the US Open of New Orleans by five-seconds. When qualifying times can be divided by only hundredths and thousands of a second, six-seconds is a helluva margin.
Earning himself a fourth straight ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals in Italy via the US Open, it looked like Kingsley was in for a run at the podium on the world stage, posting some of the fastest times in free practice, only to be struck with some bad luck at the worst possible time, Qualifying. Spending the remainder of the week just trying to push forward, Kingsley rebounded and advanced to the Grand Final and drove brilliantly towards the top-half of the grid against the worlds best. Nothing to be disappointed by, but definitely not the result he was aiming towards, for himself and for his country.
Even though he missed out on the US Open of Las Vegas, the high points finale for the US Open Championship, Kingsley perfect scores in rounds one and two meant he still managed to finish on the championship podium in third place.
Checking in with Jeff as he finishes up his exams at the Ivey School of Business, we asked him a few questions about his 2016 season.
CKN: You had a very successful season this year, what moments stand out to you?
Jeff Kingsley: I would have to say that racing in the US Open was my favourite. Although I won both races as well as the ticket to the Grand Finals, that wasn’t the reason it stood out. It’s hard to explain, but I felt at the top of my game, even though the competition wasn’t high. Both tracks were beautiful and all I wanted to do was get as many laps as I could. Even in free practice I would tuck my head below the steering wheel and push for fast laps, which is something I didn’t often do in practice. My mechanic Chef [Sylvain Clair] and I were constantly pushing for success even if it was sometime unnecessary. Secondly, I spent a lot of time with Alessandro Bizzotto and JF in Utah, and our friendship became very close. Al has become a close friend, someone who I always looked forward to seeing at the track, and we share a lot of great memories and fun times. This season, both in Canada and Internationally was one that ignited a lot of new relationships throughout the paddock. I owe all of my race wins and championships to Chef and PSL Karting for all they have contributed.
CKN: In Canada, you tamed both beasts, taking the ECKC DD2 and Briggs Senior Championship. Describe the challenge of competing in two completely different categories? Which did you prefer?
JK: I chose to add Briggs to the challenge as many people often say, “Briggs is the elite category” and “racing DD2 or Rotax Senior is easier compared to the number of people in 4-stroke.” For that exact reason, I chose to race Briggs; in order to prove a point. It was a hard thing to do, going from something fast with two gears and front brakes compared to something slow with only rear brakes. The hardest part wasn’t the driving; it was the adjustment and coordination of the brain. Your arms and legs move the go-kart, but it is the mental skills that make someone quicker than another. This is an opinion that I share with former world champion, Ben Cooper, as the key to winning races and championships is through the mind and how they use it. After racing both classes, DD2 is still my favorite category in karting. In Briggs and Rotax Senior, a driver only has to steer, throttle, and brake at the maximum every single lap, making it more about how much power the kart has in order to make a pass. In DD2 a driver must steer, throttle, shift gears, adjust break biases, and break at different pressures throughout the race with both front and rear brakes. There is so much more work, both physically and mentally, in a DD2 compared to the other classes and it is less about power and more about the driver. I am one who seeks a challenge and that is exactly why I choose to race DD2.
CKN: You also chose to race Rotax Senior at the Canadian Nationals, how did you come to that decision?
JK: Karting is a sport that should be about having fun, and people tend to forget that. Although DD2 is my favorite class, it became a repeat throughout the year, often driving alone on the track. I’ve only raced Senior once before, so I figured I’d give it another go. As much as I wanted to race DD2, Senior, and Briggs at the Nationals, we figured we have proven ourselves in two of the classes already. I did quite well, perhaps should have done better, but nonetheless it was great to race against some former competitors once again.
CKN: It was a rough go at the Rotax Grand Finals in Italy, was there anything that you learned during that week?
JK: The week in Italy started off very well, always in the top three in practice and topping the time sheets in one of them. I was very confident in my abilities for the weekend, but it all went downhill very quickly. On lap two in qualifying, I had a perfect gap to my teammate Alessandro Bizzotto, and I told myself inside my helmet “this lap is 100% putting me on pole.” Sadly, my engine seized on the straightway, meaning my out-lap was the only one counted, putting me 58th on the time sheets. From there on it was just trying to scrape my way through the heat races and into the final which I was able to do. At the 2016 RMCGF, I learned two things that will always stick with me going forward. One is that the Grand Finals is often easier when you’re at the front compared to the back. And secondly, sometimes in racing there are things that are out of your control. The engine seizing for example, there was nothing myself or mechanic Chef could have done, but that is racing. This amazing sport is filled with heartbreaks and celebrations, of which every driver will experience both. The celebrations make you strong, but the heartbreaks are what make you stronger.
CKN: You opted to miss out on the final US Open race in Las Vegas, giving up the championship while leading the points. Why did you skip it and any regrets to that decision?
JK: Of course I regret missing the US Open in Las Vegas as I missed out on the Championship which easily would have been mine. After missing a week of school [for the Rotax Grand Finals] and having to reschedule exams, there was no chance I could make it to the event. In order to maintain my marks for the Ivey School of Business, I couldn’t be absent from my studies for two weeks during one of the most demanding times of the year. In the back of my mind I know I am the US Open champion, on paper or not, after two perfect weekends in the first two rounds. It was even harder because there was a ticket to the 2017 Grand Finals available and I am confident I could have secured that one then and there. Regardless of the conflict, you can’t win them all!
We know you are busy with school, do you plan to return next season?
JK: 2017 is still being sorted out right now, but of course I am going to take opportunities that are presented. School is my main concern right now, and every driver should feel the same way. Although I say this, I am always eager to hop in a kart or car at any time, as racing is my hobby, my passion, and it is in my blood. We will see what happens in 2017, hopefully a Florida Winter Tour race, but plans probably won’t be known until the beginning of next season.
Finally, can you touch base on your relationship with Team PSL Karting?
JK: PSL Karting has become a second family to me. When I think about karting, I immediately think about them for their passion and friendliness. I raced with PSL in 2011 and then re-joined in 2014. I started off very shy, then established great relationships with leaders Dominic, Stephane, Chef, Big Dan, Andrew, and Coy but quickly extended relationships to other mechanics and drivers. Chef has been with me since 2014, and together we have won numerous amounts of races and championships. He has been the main key to my success and he knows me and my driving style better than anyone I’ve been with. The karting industry is continuously dominated by PSL and I owe them a great amount for my success over the years. I could go on and on, but for reader’s sake, I will just say that PSL Karting truly is the best.