Safely back on the ground in Toronto, we have returned for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Valencia, Spain. The fifteenth Rotax Grand Finals was one for the memory books as those who attended will remember it for many different reasons. On track, the racing was beyond expectations, as per the norm at the Grand Finals. Off track, Mother Nature played a huge role in the crowning of four Rotax World Champions and in the press room, BRP Rotax Announced major upgrades to their flagship engine program.
After catching our breath, we bring you our CKN News & Notes feature from what was a great week in Europe.
Rain spoils Championship Saturday
For most who travelled to Spain for the Rotax Grand Finals, their main memory won’t be who won or lost, but how the weather altered what is the best day of the Grand Finals.
Watching the weather forecast for the two weeks leading up to the Grand Finals, everyone knew the rain was coming (to a region that hasn’t had a major rainfall in the past year), but through the first five days it just never seemed to fall. The skies finally opened up on Friday afternoon just as the Last Chance Qualifiers were about to hit the track and once it started it didn’t stop for 24 hours.
The rainfall on Saturday morning wreaked havoc on the brand new Kartodromo International de Lucas Guerrero circuit, flooding major portions of it and delaying Championship Saturday. After a 30-minute delay, the Rotax Juniors hit the track for their PreFinal to kick off the racing for the day, but it took less than one lap for officials to red flag the situation as the conditions just weren’t drivable.
With the rain continuing to pour down and the track failing to drain any of the water the officials were forced to wait it out and eventually call off the PreFinals.
The rain let up enough for the Finals to begin earlier than planned and the Juniors returned to the track almost 90 minutes after attempting their PreFinal for their Grand Final and while a champion was still crowned and the racing was stellar it wasn’t until the Senior Max Grand Final that it really felt like the titles were on the line.
While the rain continued during all four Grand Finals, the sun came blazing out almost immediately after, allowing the delayed drivers parade and podiums to be held under much more ideal conditions.
Two more Canadian podiums for the record books
Team Canada drivers Zachary Claman DeMelo and Ben Cooper had stellar drives all week, culminating with trips to the Grand Finals podium. For Cooper, he came up just short of winning his fourth Rotax Grand Finals title finishing second in the Rotax DD2 Final, while DeMelo fought tooth and nail to earn Canada their first ever podium in the Senior Max category.
With DeMelo’s podium, Canada has now stood on the podium in every category Rotax has offered at the Grand Finals. Luc Sauriol was the lone Canadian in Max Masters to stand on the podium with his title back in 2006. Pier-Luc Ouellette, Daniel Morad and Ben Cooper have flown the Maple Leaf on the DD2 podium multiple times, as has Scott Campbell in the DD2 Masters. Parker Thompson earned Canada their sole podium in the Junior Max category in 2012 and now DeMelo has done it in Senior Max.
Rotax MAX EVO finally announced
The rumours have swirled for a while now but it wasn’t until Friday night that BRP Rotax finally confirmed their plans for the future.
At a grand gala, BRP announced the future of the Rotax Max program, unveiling the Rotax MAX EVO upgrade package. While it is not a complete overhaul of the engine itself, most of the components have received much anticipated updates and starting in 2015 the Rotax Max engines will have a new look with a red cylinder top and a black casing.
It is now up to the National importers around the world to introduce these upgrades and we will bring you the info from SRA Karting in regards to Canada as it becomes available.
It is an exciting time for the Rotax Max program and while it may take a year to really capture everyone’s hearts, we fell this is a major step in the right direction.
Kartodromo International de Lucas Guerrero Not Quite Ready for the Rotax Grand Finals
While the track was superb for racing, the Kartodromo International de Lucas Guerrero facility as a whole may have been utilized a year too early for the Grand Finals. Buildings were incomplete and most of the operations were done out of temporary construction containers. Running water was an issue in the restrooms as well.
When the rain arrived on Saturday, it was also very obvious that the facility wasn’t prepared with proper drainage as the water pooled very heavily is certain areas and ultimately needed to be pumped out by a water truck.
The poor effort for food service disappointed many as wait times were very excessive.
But for those who got to enjoy the drive to the track, the rally-course style of road was nothing short of exciting.
No Stickers Allowed of Karts
We are not too sure where the idea came about from Rotax, but this year’s rule stating that no additional stickers were allowed on the race karts left many scratching their heads. Drivers, teams, sponsors and the media spend a lot of money getting to the Rotax Grand Finals and with the worlds media on site for the event the exposure is at a season’s high.
So for Rotax to not allow any stickers on the karts other than the drivers name is a real disappointment. Hopefully this changes back for 2015.
Canada continues to display strength of DD2 program
Almost since it’s inception at the Rotax Grand Finals, Canada has been producing some of the best Rotax DD2 talent around the world. Holding the world title for three straight years (2010-2012) and earning multiple podiums on top of that, the strength of the Canadian DD2 program is one of the best around the world.
It goes further than the results that put the Maple Leaf on top of the podium. This year, and much like years past, more than one Canadian driver has been in contention for the title. Three of our four drivers ran inside the top-ten all week long and when the rain settled on Saturday, Canada claimed three of the top-11 finishing positions, including two in the top-five.
Both Fred Woodley and Jeffrey Kingsley were competing in their first Rotax Grand Finals in the category. When you look at their results in regards to the talent from around the world that was racing, it really shows how competitive our DD2 program is, even if the numbers have fallen off in the past two seasons.
While Canada was unable to add a fifth Rotax DD2 Grand Finals in Spain, we still made a statement.
Don’t forget to check out our event page for all CKN’s coverage from the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals
Early end for more than expected
It’s always a tough pill to swallow when a driver is unable to qualify for the final day of competition, but this year was really tough for Team Canada as a whole.
Only five of our thirteen drivers were able to transfer on and our entire lineup in the Junior Max and DD2 Masters classes were wiped out completely on Friday.
We really expected to see more, especially out of our Juniors, but some tough luck and the lack of experience really caught up to many of the members of Team Canada. In fact, the only Canadian Grand Finals rookie to advance to the Final was Fred Woodley in DD2. It is also worth noting that for DD2 Masters driver Stuart Clark, his 2014 season of unbelievable bad luck has finally come to an end.
Experience is what makes our drivers stronger and there is no doubt that what our drivers learned this year in Spain will be shown back home in 2015 and hopefully for most of these drivers they will get another shot at the Rotax Grand Finals.
No announcement of 2015 Rotax Grand Finals
It’s become normal now for the announcement of the location for the next years event to well after the completion of the Grand Finals. This year is no different as nothing was mentioned about 2015 yet. Any rumours that were swirling around seem to have the Rotax Grand Finals going back to the Middle East with Bahrain and Al Ain being part of the conversations.
With weather always being a factor, Bahrain would be ideal given the facility is complete and has successfully hosted the CIK U18 World Championship and other CIK competitions.
Morgado Unable Add a score fifth Rotax Grand Finals Title
Through the first four days of competition, it seemed nearly impossible that anyone other than South African Cristiano Morgado was going to take the DD2 Masters title. A four-time champion in the category already, Morgado was on his game, laying a smack down on his fellow competitors.
But when the rain came pouring down on Championship Saturday, Morgado wasn’t the first driver to arrive in corner one at the start of the Final, surrendering the lead for the first time all week.
Unable to run with the lead duo, Morgado was forced to settle with a third place result, although he was elevated to second place with the disqualification of the race winner, and was not able to achieve his record setting fifth Rotax Grand Finals title.
Comeback of the Weekend Award
For Team USA veteran Alan Rudolph this years Rotax Grand Finals was jam packed full of emotions.
One of the fastest drivers in the DD2 Masters category through practice, Rudolph made a error in judgement on the grid in Qualifying that forced him to sit on the sidelines as his group rolled around the track. The error was bringing tools onto the grid to ensure his wheels were tightened. This meant that he had to start each of his heat races from the rear of the grid.
After two decent heat races on Thursday, a Friday morning engine issue once again sidelined him for his third and final heat race. Barely limping into the Last Chance Race, in the wet conditions for the first time of the week, Rudolph drove from 26th on the grid to the final transfer position of sixth in the short stint and was the only North American driver to advance in the category.
With the elimination of the PreFinal, Rudolph once again started at the rear, this time in the Grand Final. Passing 21 karts on the first lap alone in the wet Final Rudolph was on a mission, picking off kart after kart until the checkered flag where he crossed in seventh. A pair of post-race disqualifications elevated Rudolph to fifth overall in the final rankings to cap off the roller coaster of a week in Spain for Captain America.
Rudolphs never give up attitude made him our Comeback Driver of the Weekend in Valencia, Spain.