Fresh off the plane, Monday was my first day ever, setting foot overseas. Remo Ruscitti, Steve Rickman and I made our way to the arrivals area, I was excited to see my friend again, Mr. Eddy Tinini. I began feeling the jet lag almost immediately, but luckily I managed to continue throughout the day without falling asleep. I was set to stay with Eddy for the week and was exited to do so. Eddy introduced me to his family, and took me for a tour around the CRG factory. Wow! I must say it was impressive, the factory is very well organized, the staff looked very committed, and everyone was hard at work. After the tour, we took a drive through the country side back to his house. I was amazed at how narrow the streets were and at how small the cars are. On a normal city road, the cars near miss each other by a matter of only a mirror width. But the entire time I was there, I never saw a collision.
“I must say, despite driving all over town to find seating for a group of 15 the food was excellent, the Italians sure know their pizza and pasta!”
Before I left Canada I had heard many great things about the Lonato karting track, I was very excited to finally be there and to experience it with Italian Motors and the CRG factory racing team. I can honestly say that the facility is the best I have ever seen before. The spectators have 100% visibility of the track from the gigantic grand stand area. The grand stand area stretches the distance of the entire front straightaway. The track has anything a racer may need, everything from kart wash and wheel balancing stations, to a variety of cafe and buffets to dine at. Unfortunately, we were not able to pick up the engines from vortex until 5:00 pm, so we had to miss the entire Tuesday of practice. In Europe they allow much more time for practice, there were 8, 20 minute sessions on Tuesday and it seemed like we were the only drivers in our class not participating in them. We used the spare time to make sure everything was prepped 100% and to learn from the drivers on track. After everything was ready, we headed out for dinner at one of Eddy’s favourite restaurants. I was surprised when I found out how late in the evening Europeans eat. It’s hard to find a sit down restaurant open before 7pm, and even tougher to find seating at 10pm. I must say, despite driving all over town to find seating for a group of 15 the food was excellent, the Italians sure know their pizza and pasta!
Before heading to the track we stopped to have breakfast, I couldn’t believe how different it could be from North America. Cereal is not in their vocabulary or in anyone’s cupboards either. The majority of people have nothing but an expresso and a croissant for breakfast, which I found amazing. I eat practically every ten minutes, so my first concern was figuring out how to make it to lunch on something so small. Eddy took me to a bakery where he ordered a deli sandwich for me each morning as the menu was in Italian. Playing a bastardly trick, he ordered a different type of meat each morning and didn’t tell me what it was. I was informed later on that my morning delight consisted of, Rabbit, horse, and some other mystery meats, but, you know what, it actually didn’t taste half bad.
It was time to hit the track, my first impression while breaking in the engine was, hairpins, hairpins, hairpins. For anyone who hasn’t seen a picture of the Lonato karting track before, there are a total of 8 turns and 1 bend on the track, and 5 of them are 180 degree hair pin turns. There was a total of four, 15 minute practice sessions on Wednesday, so I broke the engine in as fast as possible in the first session. In the second session, we put the correct compound of Bridgestone tires on and I was ready to go flat out. The tires felt to be sort of a cross in between a MOJO and an MG, they wore down very evenly. The first time I experienced the massive straightaway flat out, it was sensational! The onboard video doesn’t do it justice, the sound of the Super Rok engine screaming at 16,700 rpm and holding there for about 10 seconds was absolutely amazing! The first few times, I wondered how long the two stroke motor could cry for before it would quit, luckily it never did. I managed to learn the track fairly fast and finished off the day as the fastest North American, and about 18th overall. We packed up for the day and I began to review my onboard videos. When we returned back to the house, Eddy’s girlfriend had made us a wonderful baked cannelloni meal. I was in for a real treat and boy was it good!
“Once I had some clean air, I pushed to do a hot lap and nearing the end it was completely ruined by two drivers slowing up and impeding my lap.”
On Thursday we were scheduled to have a few practice session and then jump straight into qualifying. The morning sessions went well, after running on the same set of tires for the last two days, they were pretty much finished, we had planned to put brand new tires on for the last session in preparation for qualifying. In the second to last session, and the last session on those tires, I finished 12th in my group and 23rd overall, holding my position as the fastest North American. The last official practice session came around and we put on a new set of tires, to see what our race pace was. On the 2nd lap the tires were just about up to temperature and I was beginning to push. A driver a couple of kart lengths ahead went off of the track at the end of the straight away and when the driver went to re-enter the track, he did not check for faster drivers approaching before occupying the race line. Already committed to the turn there was nowhere for me to go, I was along for the ride. I collided with the slower driver and drove over the rear wheel. As I came back down from a couple of feet in the air, the axle was badly bent and my session was over. I was upset for several reasons but mostly because the session was wasted and the kart was damaged. After repairing the damage, I took to the track for qualifying. In my qualifying session, I tried to set myself up to get a draft down the gigantic straight from a fast driver. Finding myself stuck in traffic and wasting time, I slowed down to try and find some clean air. Once I had some clean air, I pushed to do a hot lap and nearing the end it was completely ruined by two drivers slowing up and impeding my lap. As soon as the drivers saw me they sped back up, but it was too late, the lap was ruined. I was forced to slow again and to let them go away. There is not much time to screw around in an 8 minute session, so I tried to do the best that I could with the remaining time. I was able to get a lap or two in at the end, but as a result I royally screwed up qualifying, with a position of 45th.
After going to sleep with a terrible feeling from qualifying, I was ready to put the problems behind me in the morning and try to move forward as much as possible in the heats. Starting mid pack made it a tall order to avoid trouble, but I managed to keep my nose clean and finish all three heats. It was a steep learning curve for me, when I first experienced how they drive over there. To be honest, initially I was not happy with the way the drivers drove at this race. It was not the high level of aggression that bothered me or even the bumping and banging, it was simply the fact that the drivers didn’t drive smart. For example, every lap for the entire race, the group drove a defensive line into all of the major passing zones making it extremely time consuming to make a pass. The drivers were not thinking about moving forward in the race but rather not moving backwards. As a result not a lot of position changes were made by anyone in the race. The biggest pet peeves I had with the other drivers were: 1. The drivers never seem to know when someone has got the better of them. Rather than just tucking in and minimizing time loss, they would always fight you on the outside until the very last second, costing both drivers time. And 2: Immediately after executing an already time consuming pass, no matter how much you defended or how much faster your lap time was, they would always insist on passing you back immediately at the next turn, costing even more time and causing the groups ahead to break away. The drivers didn’t want to work together much, it was just a free for all. It took me a while to figure out how to compete with these drivers but eventually I began to make up positions. In my races I finished 28th, 26th and 17th. The accumulation of points would make for a tough starting position in the pre-final.
“Over the next couple of corners we entered three-wide slowing us up even more and allowing the drivers behind, who were desperate to get a transfer spot, to attack as well. Sadly I went from 14 to 16th to 20th and then to 18th all in a matter of a couple laps.”
Saturday was race day, and I geared up for my morning warm up session. Based off of points they re-sorted two groups to make them equal with each other. This is the first time I was separated from Remo in a practice session. Remo posted a good time in his practice session, placing 8th and I posted a similar time in mine placing 12th. I was excited for the pre-final, but also nervous at the same time. Only the top 17 from each group advance to the Final and a lot of stuff can happen in these races. As we came around the tight hairpin onto the straight away, the lights were let out early and the leaders had already distanced themselves. I started the pre final in 24th position so I had to make up at least 7 positions to start the final. At half distance I had made my way to 14th. I was well within the zone, there was a pack of drivers all around me. I went for a pass on a driver and as we were slow out of the exit, the drivers behind were able to attack and they did so. Over the next couple of corners we entered three-wide slowing us up even more and allowing the drivers behind, who were desperate to get a transfer spot, to attack as well. Sadly I went from 14 to 16th to 20th and then to 18th all in a matter of a couple laps. The 17th place driver was right on the bumper of the driver in 16th and he didn’t dare make a move. I wasn’t close enough to the drivers to make a move, and as a result I finished 18th, missing the transfer spot by one position. It was a sad way to end the weekend, but I did gain some valuable experience from the crazy racing.
Remo and Dustin Stross (The current ROK USA Champion) were battling like crazy up until the last corner in their group. On the last corner, Remo was able to slip himself into 17th position and Dustin finishing directly behind in 18th. Unfortunately, Remo was the only North American able to make it into the Super Rok final, but from starting dead last on the grid, he was able to put on a good show advancing to 17th position.
Overall I had fun and it was a really great experience for me. I learned how different the racing is organized in Europe and how different the driving style is as well. Ultimately I think that it has made me a better driver and it will improve my performance back home. I am looking forward to my next race in three weeks, the SKUSA Supernationals. I would like to thank everyone who made this weekend possible for me: First and foremost My Parents, Eddy Tinini, Italian Motors, CRG Karting, and last but not least Rampart Detection Systems.