Canada now has nine new National Champions and four additions to its Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals’ roster after the 2012 edition of the ASN Canada FIA National Karting Championships presented by Canadian Tire concluded August 26th. Returning to the Jim Russell Karting Academy at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant for a third consecutive year, the best in the nation enjoyed five days of track action in nearly perfect conditions, capping it off on Championship Sunday. Matthew Latifi, Gianfranco Mazzaferro, Tommy Lemaire-Ouellet, Jesse Lazare, Ben Cooper and Stuart Clark earned championships in the Rotax spectrum while Trevor Rancier, Gerald Caseley and Cameron Nabert earned National titles in Briggs & Stratton four-cycle.
And thank heavens for the latter trio, as while Mont-Tremblant offers a state-of-the-art facility, exceptional atmosphere, and a track nearly all love to drive, the racing it produces generally tends to be less than spectacular at the front. All told there were ten lead changes in National Finals, and five of them came in the same race. Four of eight races had flag-to-flag winners, and in the case of Rotax Senior, the podium was set by turn three – on lap one. But Briggs & Stratton was an exception, as both Junior and Senior fields offered up four-cycle classics.
Senior was 20 drivers deep itself and when combined on track with seven Masters the class was a storyline even before it produced the best final lap of the weekend. Leading up to that point, Nicholas Michaud (CRG) had scored pole position but those who would become the title protagonists came forward in the heats as Steven Szigeti (TonyKart) won the first, Gerald Caseley (CRG) the second, and Jean-Francois LaFontaine (Birel) the third. The same trio had the top three spots after the Prefinal, with LaFontaine on pole for the National Championship run. He remained there as the field took the green, with Szigeti and Caseley in tow, and John Buzza (LH Kart) just off the back in fourth. The quartet worked free of the rest by putting in laps with clockwork efficiency, and as the final race of the weekend, they certainly produced a grand finale.
Szigeti took over the point in the second half, but the trio still remained nose-to-bumper under the last lap board, again, with Buzza just off the back and looking to be a factor – and a factor he was. In the hairpin leading onto the long backstraight the final time, LaFontaine went inside Szigeti in a bid to regain the lead and as the pair went pod-to-pod on exit Caseley went for the inside and made it three wide. He got his CRG even with the others, then with a bump from Buzza was through to the lead with the inside line at the end of the straight. LaFontaine slotted behind and had a counter-shot at the line, but Caseley held with a margin of victory less than a tenth! A sensational way close to the weekend. Szigeti was third and Buzza fourth, all four drivers with identical 1:02.6 fast laps, Buzza with fastest of all at 1:02.659 seconds. Nabert had a little more breathing room in winning Masters as he was seven-tenths up on Steve Durkac, and Shane Cluff completed their podium.
Briggs & Stratton Junior was a similar story, as it came down to a final lap showdown as well. Trevor Rancier (K&K Kart) scored pole on Friday morning, and he followed up by winning the first heat race on Friday afternoon. Sarah McKay (CRG) and Kyle Edgar (K&K Kart) followed with heat race wins on Saturday, and the trio were the main contenders heading to the Final after McKay won from Edgar and Rancier in a Saturday afternoon Prefinal. In the Final, McKay and Rancier got away early and worked in tandem to clear the field. Edgar tried working with Justin Beers (CRG) to run them down early, but a faster pair came into the picture as Kaleb Sauve (Arrow) and Braxton Terry (Birel) took over third and fourth on lap seven. McKay and Rancier had set their best laps on three, while Sauve and Terry posted bests on nine in inching closer and closer to the lead pair. In the end, they got within a second by the last lap board – a lap where all three podium positions changed! McKay looked to close the door with an inside line down the back straight but Rancier went around the outside with what proved to be the winning move. Terry got Sauve on the same lap, completing the podium order: Rancier, McKay and Terry. Sauve was fourth, Beers fifth and Edgar sixth.
Turning to the opposite of situations, two Rotax drivers swept their way to National titles in taking pole, all three heats, Prefinal and Final wins. Jesse Lazare (TonyKart) was the first, but his route to a third National Championship proved anything but easy, despite the appearance a sweep creates. The Senior field was 27 drivers deep and stacked with talent from across the country. Eastern Canadian Champion Marco Di Leo and Western Canadian Champion Bryce Choquer were in a mix that included six former Team Canada members, and lead guns from a full range of chassis manufacturers: Birel, CRG, Intrepid, Maranello, PCR, Energy, and LH Kart, but the biggest threat to Lazare came from fellow TonyKart driver, Steven Szigeti. The reigning National Champion was coming from fifth on the grid each time and had the fastest laps in heats one and three. He finished second in heats two and three, and in the final heat crossed just a tenth back of Lazare. The game was very much on.
In the Prefinal a messy turn one saw karts collect and Lazare had a break from the onset. Tyler Wheeler (PCR) slotted second and Szigeti was quickly back to third after being displaced. While Lazare had free reign up front, Szigeti once again had the fastest lap and closed to Wheeler before falling off in the back half, perhaps opting to start P3. Birel drivers Kevin Monteith and Choquer completed the top five in setting the grid for the Final – a race that contact had big affect on once again. Lazare held from the point and Szigeti slotted second ahead of Monteith and Choquer. The Western Champion then got third coming uphill to turn three, and the gaggle of karts behind were scrambling over the first half lap in desperate bids to advance quickly. The result though, was creating space for the front three that they would never relinquish, and the podium drivers were set. Lazare and Szigeti exchanged fast lap multiple times through the first half as both were looking to repeat as National Champions. Szigeti’s level of desperation went up as the laps wound down, but Lazare was picture perfect over twenty laps, never putting a wheel wrong in adding a Rotax Senior Championship to prior wins in Rotax Junior and Mini-Max. Szigeti was just two-tenths back at the checker, and if he was ever more than that it wasn’t by much. Choquer was third in completing the podium, while Di Leo (Intrepid) just held off Marc-Andre Levesque and Wheeler at the line. Fellow Western star Chris Glover (LH Kart) was seventh, followed in the top ten by Austin Milwain (Energy), Monteith, and Luke Chudleigh (Maranello) – seven different marques in the top ten.
The second driver to complete a perfect run was Stuart Clark, as after a tight qualifying session Masters DD2 was once again all Clark, all the time. His average win in the heats was just over two seconds, he won the Prefinal by 2.3, and in the Final was well over five seconds clear of the field. After earning a spot on Team Canada last year by winning at his last possible chance to qualify, Clark (Maranello) was much quicker to the ticket this year in winning the ECKC title in dominating fashion. That meant the DD2 Masters invitation from Nationals trickled down, but the next in line already had one too! Scott Campbell (CRG) was on hand in Tremblant and after starting four-two in the first two heats he was looking to mount a challenge for top spot. The task didn’t get any easier after a DNF in the third heat and an engine change, but the Team Canada veteran was back to fifth in a field of sixteen after the Prefinal and on the move again in the Final. He was quickly to second with a very strong start, but there was no catching Clark on this weekend. Yet, as Campbell is the 2012 Western Canadian DD2 Champion and already headed to Portugal, P3 became the place to be and Luc Sauriol (CRG) will be returning to the Grand Finals after reaching the podium! He held off reigning National Champion David Ivichek (MS Kart) in the Final to earn the spot, while Martin Verville (Haase) was fifth.
Another Canadian star had a perfect weekend in the works, before a very unusual incident on Sunday morning. Zachary Claman DeMelo (CRG) took Rotax Junior pole and walked away to three heat wins on Friday and Saturday, but in Sunday morning warm-up disaster struck. Claman DeMelo was running down the pit straight and had his head tucked for aero when a kart in front of him spun and bounced off the barriers. His CRG then collided with it at full tilt, bending the chassis to an unusable state. The chassis was bent so badly, his ZCD Autosport team was unable to strip it of parts and make a switch to a new chassis before the Prefinal, and Rotax rules state a driver cannot run the Final if they haven’t participated in the Prefinal before it. After starting out perfect, Claman DeMelo was out! Pole then fell to the TonyKart of Tommy Lemaire-Ouellet, and to say the least, he made the most of it beginning with the Prefinal.
After the first start attempt was waved – no unusual incident there, as it happened eighteen times over the weekend – the field got the green the second time down and trouble in row three meant Ouellet, Olivier Bedard (Birel) and Nicolas Faure (TonyKart) had a break they’d keep for the entire time. It was a scene that repeated exactly in the final as well. Ouellet, Bedard and Faure went one-two-three at the start, and if Bedard checked out on the field in second, Ouellet had Express Check-Out at the head of the line. He was the only kart to go under 56 seconds, and was six seconds clear at the checkered flag. Bedard was another five ticks clear of third, a position that offered up the most action of any in the race. Christophe Paquet (CRG) took it from Faure first, and went to the head of a line five karts long, a line Nicholas Dore (Birel) was picking his way through. Dore was into fourth by half distance, and took third one lap later. Paquet responded by getting the spot back, but Dore took it for good on fifteen and the Junior podium was set: Ouellet, Bedard, Dore – with Ouellet invited to Team Canada and the Grand Final in Portugal this Fall. Tyler Kashak (Intrepid) took fourth the final time through turn two, but Faure torpedoed him in looking for it back allowing 2011 Mini-Max National Champion Jeffrey Kingsley (Birel) and Anthony Tolfa (Maranello) to cruise through to fourth and fifth.
Contact also played a role in the DD2 story, taking out a title contender and former National Champion in the Prefinal. In another epic field that included nine drivers with Grand Finals’ experience and World Rotax Champions Pier-Luc Ouellette, Ben Cooper, and Daniel Morad among a field of 26, it was Darren White who took pole position in his first full race of the season! Brendan Bain (Maranello) continued the strong form he showed in Trois-Rivieres by clocking second, followed in line by Ouellette (CRG), Morad (Maranello), Christophe Boisclair (Birel) and Cooper (Birel). White then won heats one and three to maintain pole for the Prefinal, while Boisclair won the second heat. Looking at the qualification points, Cooper moved up to second in edging teammate Zach Robichon by a single marker, and another karter making his season debut was fourth as Pearce Herder (LH Kart) lined up outside row two.
In the Prefinal Cooper jumped to the lead with an outside line in turn one but White (TonyKart) took it right back as the field raced through proper turn two – classes starting to race on the longer back straight, two corners from start/finish. Robichon, Herder and Boisclair made it a five-pack at the front, and karts were on the move. Robichon took second on three, Cooper falling to fifth in the process, and the dicing allowed Morad, Bain, Nicholas Latifi (CRG), and Daniel Burkett (LH Kart) to catch on and create a line of nine. Robichon then took the lead on five by getting inside White at the hairpin leading to the back straight, but when Boisclair attempted the same move a lap later he ran White off the road and was himself delayed in the process. The incident gave Robichon a free run to pole position for the National final, Herder cruised through to take second and Morad, Latifi and Burkett did the same in completing the top five spots. Boisclair crossed sixth but was down to sixteenth after a ten-position penalty for contact, allowing Cooper, Bain, and others to advance one spot prior to the Final.
After a ceremony, National anthem, driver introductions and interviews, the DD2 final kicked off championship proceedings just prior to 1pm Sunday. The front three stayed in order through the first turn as Robichon led Herder and Morad, but things were about to change in a hurry. Morad gained a spot at turn one proper, but Herder took it right back through two and toward the entry to three. Burkett, Cooper and Bain were then hot on their heels after the delay cost Latifi, and things got much worse for the Ferrolati Corse driver toward the end of the lap two. Looking to nose inside Bain at the end of the straight he was touched into a half spin on the exit and Fred Woodley then sealed his fate when he crashed onto the scene. Both drivers were forced to retire, and the front six then had some breathing room on the rest of the field. Nothing changed working to five, but on six Herder took the lead and Cooper got Morad for third. He then took second from Robichon, and if having Cooper in chase didn’t cause enough concern for the leader, Herder had more than he could handle entering the second half in the form of a deflating tire reaching a critical point.
Cooper got him on eleven, and the train went by on twelve: Robichon, Morad, Bain, and Burkett! The front six then stayed that way through fifteen before chaos on sixteen and seventeen. Bain got Morad in turn one, and just as when karts diced at the start of the race a mad scramble saw the order change from third through ninth, the position Morad ended up. Ouellette had charged from dead last to fourth, and while White now had Boisclair in his crosshairs coming from second last, he never got the chance to catch him. While looking inside Herder for his shot at the former leader with three to go, there was contact and both karts were off. Herder retired, Boisclair finished before being excluded for contact, and the front six were then all spaced out. Cooper, Robichon and Bain, who was wishing for more laps as he was the fastest kart of the race at that point and closing in on a Team Canada spot rapidly. Ouellette was fourth, and Burkett fifth ahead of White. With Cooper already qualified for Grand Finals from the Florida Winter Tour, Robichon earned the Team Canada invite, his first.
Rotax Mini-Max and Micro-Max
The race that produced the most lead changes on the day, matching all other classes combined, was Rotax Mini-Max where Gianfranco Mazzaferro and Devlin DeFrancesco had a titanic battle through the first half of their National Final. Each had some work to do first though, as Natael Cantin (Birel) was on pole ahead of Thierry Cote (CRG) and Mazzaferro (Zanardi) was third. DeFrancesco was forced to start three heat races from P15 after having tape on his radiator, something permitted when he races in the USA but not in Canada. Cantin maintained pole after winning two heats, Mazzaferro was second with a heat win, Cote was third and DeFrancesco came forward to fourth after posting nine-three-six. At the start of the Prefinal Mazzaferro surged to the lead followed by Cote, Cantin and DeFrancesco. Things changed in a hurry as Cantin worked back to the front, but trouble on five saw him fall all the way to the tail of the field. Mazzaferro and DeFrancesco then began swapping the lead after that, where DeFrancesco could pass at will into one only to have Mazzaferro take it back at the end of the straight. In the end the Ferrolati Corse driver took pole for the main event with DeFrancesco second, and JP Hutchinson (TonyKart) having quickly worked to third while finishing within touch of the leaders.
In the Final DeFrancesco swept to the lead from the outside with Mazzaferro second and Hutchinson third in a line of five. The lead trio worked slightly off the front in the formation stages, but every time top spot was flipped Cote and Joe Soranno (LH Kart) joined back in. Turn one and the end of the straight continued to be the prime passing spots, and it wasn’t until the second half that things settled in. Mazzaferro wiggled out to a one second lead while Hutchinson continued to hang in with third. Nothing changed with the lead pair, although heartbreak struck on the final lap as Hutchinson retired with a loose pulse line, rolling to a stop in turn one. Stephen Bachalo (LH Kart) inherited the podium spot ahead of Alex Murphy (CRG) and Soranno. Mazzaferro will now join Team Canada as an observer at Grand Finals, and chances are his cousin and Micro-Max National Champion Matthew Latifi will be there as well, keeping an eye on big brother Nicholas.
Latifi won in Micro-Max, but here again all were chasing a Birel after qualifying as Thomas Simard took pole ahead of William Chayer (Birel), Matthew Barry (Intrepid) and Xavier Harris (Praga). Simard then won a pair of heat races, but Chayer was on pole for the Prefinal after winning the second and having the lowest total points. Barry was third, and Latifi fourth as he began to enter the picture, and he was definitely in it after winning the Prefinal. The Ferrolati Corse driver took the lead in turn one proper while being chased by Chayer and Barry. The trio was clear of the rest early, while Simard was storming from the back and was up to fourth in short order. He was third shortly after, but when the trio tripped over each other in turn three Latifi was gone. Harris capitalized to take second, while Sam Macri (TonyKart) got through for third. Barry fell to fourth, Chayer sixth, and Simard eighth after a penalty for contact.
The day was definitely not going his way, and the trend continued in the Final when he was one of three karts to go off in turn one. Latifi led the field away from the green flag, followed on track by Harris and Barry. They were quickly joined by Chayer creating a four-pack at the front, and when they began swapping second, third and fourth, Latifi made a break for home. He enjoyed a gap early, but as Chayer settled in second ahead of Barry and Harris, the chase began to hunt down the leader. They got back to the tail of his CRG, and things were frantic in the closing laps. Barry took second in turn one with two to go, but Chayer took it back in turn two on the same lap. Barry then came looking again in turns three and four, and the dice presented Latifi with the winning margin for his first National Championship, just over one second. Chayer held off Barry coming to the checker, while Harris was fourth and Simard fifth.
Once again it was another strong event presented by Paul Cooke and the ASN Canada FIA staff. The venue looked superb and both Briggs & Stratton and maxchallenge.ca representatives were on hand to support their products. Rob Howden and Alain Cyr were outstanding on the PA system providing coverage in both of Canada’s Official languages, and both TSN and RDS were at Tremblant preparing to broadcast karting coast-to-coast. The technical team was ever-aware, nabbing those who strayed beyond the limitations with engines, tires, their chassis or their driving, and even had video capabilities to review track action in an effort to make the right calls. Rotax Max Challenge Team Canada invited four new members for 2012, and the team is shaping up with epic talent just as in past years. Be sure to stay tuned to CKN for more video highlights and interviews from Nationals in the days to come.