The look and feel of this year’s class of Rotax Junior class is quite different from a year ago. With many drivers having graduated from the class and a strong group of Mini-Max drivers moving in, a very mixed bag of results has been the result with many drivers making their way to podiums across the nation.
In breaking down the Canadian contingent at the mid-point of the season, we have developed a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis in documenting how we see the Rotax Junior class shaping up in the East, where large grids have been full of excitement, and in the West, where we are seeing a changing of the guard.
Strengths: Mazzaferro / Lupien Brothers / Stellar Racing / Martin
There is no doubt that Gianfranco Mazzaferro is competing at the top of his game and ahead of the rest this season. Thus far, he is undefeated in ECKC competition, winning every PreFinal and Final he has started, each in fine fashion. While he hasn’t quite been challenged in a race yet, it seems near certain that Mazzaferro will be tough to beat for the rest of the Canadian season – but we have been surprised before!
The closest competitor to Mazzaferro in the East has been Cedrik Lupien, who finished runner-up in both Goodwood ECKC races. But there is also another Lupien that is having a breakout season as Samuel has been up front in Coupe du Quebec action as well as on the ECKC podium. If there is a driver ripe for a Junior win, it could well be one of the Lupien brothers.
With the grids just shy of 30 drivers in East, the racing has been stellar. The top-10 is constantly changing as many of the rookie drivers become accustomed to racing in close quarters of Rotax Junior. The racing in the West was also great to see, as Rotax Junior was the largest class in the WCC opener in Regina.
Out West, we saw Ryan Martin sweep two of the three race days in round one, but Ontario driver Clay Van Eerd delivered in round three to steal some of his thunder. Martin is proving to be the strongest contender from the West and we are hoping that he travels to Mont-Tremblant to stack up against Canada’s best.
Weaknesses: Class Veterans Struggling
When a driver enters a third year of Rotax Junior they often do so with the ability to dominate, but this year’s crop of third-year drivers isn’t quite living up to that expectation. Tyler Ripani started strong with a pair of second-place finishes at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park but lost a lot of ground at Goodwood and fell to fourth in points. Jordan Slipacoff has only put one finish inside single digits, and it’s the same for Taegen Poles, each with a best result of P8. Van Eerd has been quick in the East, but also has little to show for it – a pair of P9’s at CTMP his high mark. Each was surely expecting better results from the first half of season three.
Opportunities: Lacroix / Cantin / Fulham
Could we see another mid-season surge from Alexandre Lacroix? Remember, he was unstoppable at Le Monaco last year after a quiet start. He has been quiet to start again this year, but heading back to his home province we are expecting that to change and for him to make more of an impression on the Junior field.
After a rocky start, Nataël Cantin is working his way back to the front and just missed the podium at Goodwood. We can tell that working with ‘Papa’ Ben Cooper is paying off for Cantin and we foresee him on the podium before the season is complete.
Manitoba’s Jeff Fulham was on the Junior radar in Regina, earning two second-place finishes and would have had a third had an electrical issue not sidelined him. In his second season of Junior he is improving quite quickly and that makes him a third driver in the race for the WCC Junior title.
Threats: DeAngelis / Lupien / Van Eerd
Roman DeAngelis and Cedrik Lupien haven’t finished outside the top-five through four ECKC races and have to be considered the most threatening to Mazzaferro. Racing nearly every weekend this year, DeAngelis has expedited his rookie orientation and that has us thinking he could be in for a big win before the season is out.
As mentioned, Van Eerd has shown great speed this year, qualifying on the front row at ECKC Goodwood and scoring a win in the West, now if he could just steer clear of trouble in his races he could also find himself on top of the blocks much more often.
CKN Mid-Season Power Rankings: Rotax Junior
1. Gianfranco Mazzaferro
2. Cedrik Lupien
3. Roman De Angelis
4. Ryan Martin
5. Samuel Lupien
6. Clay Van Eerd
7. Nataël Cantin
8. Jeff Fulham
9. Alexandre Lacroix
10. Jordan Slipacoff