The third edition of the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship came to a close Sunday and on a day set to deliver champions – the champions certainly delivered. Rotax Junior, Senior, DD2 and DD2 Masters all had invitations to join Rotax Team Canada at stake and in all four cases the 2012 Series’ Champion put an exclamation mark on proceedings with victory at the finale. The series wrapped up at the 14th Annual Monaco de Trois-Rivières, and proceedings were highlighted by Marco Di Leo three-peating in Senior, Zachary Claman DeMelo defending his Junior crown, Stuart Clark earning his second-consecutive trip to Grand Finals, and Ben Cooper winning the Battle of World Champions in DD2. Matthew Latifi and Gianfranco Mazzaferro were also crowned Rotax Champions, joined by Simon Rousseau, Dylan Brady and Russell Kroon in the ECKC Briggs & Stratton classes. Luke Chudleigh was awarded a trip to represent the series at the Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shootout, and with that the 2012 ECKC calendar came to a close.
Drivers and teams had fantastic weather over the final weekend and the circuit that emerged became a reasonable facsimile of the famed Barrie Grand Prix layout of yesteryear. A bus stop leading to a hairpin; a long sweeping right-handed carousel turn; and a tight combination corner that although wasn’t quite the Tiffin Street hairpin, challenged the drivers nonetheless and factored in the championship storyline. Utilizing both the pit lane and pit straight of the Grand Prix track in Trois-Rivières (GP3R), along with some re-claimed paddock parking lot real estate, the track offered up a significant set-up challenge and raced to just over forty seconds in Rotax Senior. It certainly had drivers and tuners talking, and they were definitely doing that Thursday when the layout was changed over lunch – catching some drivers out afterwards. More than one chassis was binned as the redesigned chicane was discovered at speed by some – a near flat left-hand sweeper that became a hard braking right-left combination! In the end drivers found the line, and as rubber started going down all got ready for racing. Friday was a second practice day, Saturday was race five of the Coupe de Quebec, and then came Championship Sunday, with the tension in the air palpable and the highest of Rotax stakes on the line.
CKN Race of the Day – Rotax Senior
Closest of the championship chases was Rotax Senior where Intrepid North America driver and two-time defending champion Marco Di Leo was clinging to a ten-point lead through five rounds over reigning Canadian National Champion and SH Karting/TonyKart driver Steven Szigeti. The challenger fired an opening salvo in winning Saturday’s Coupe de Quebec race, but Di Leo countered Sunday morning when he took pole by 0.046 seconds over Luke Chudleigh. Andrew Palmer was third for J3 Competition/Kosmic, Maxime Couturier fourth and Szigeti fifth in a field of twenty-one.
In the Prefinal the pole line got a great jump and Di Leo converted with Palmer slotting second. Chudleigh had his Prime/Maranello third ahead of the TonyKarts of Marc-Andre Levesque and Szigeti. The five at the front quickly became eight when the REM/Birels of Kevin Monteith and Kieran Oxley joined in along with Couturier, and an epic heat race was in the making. Palmer looked quickest through the opening stage but had yet to take a look when the order was shaken in the bus-stop turn. A number of drivers were delayed, and through it came Di Leo leading Palmer, Chudleigh and Szigeti well clear of the rest. The TonyKart then moved to third beginning lap six, and things really began to change on seven. First Szigeti went inside Palmer running into the hairpin, and when he looked to double his pleasure by getting Di Leo as well, the pair thumped at the apex. That allowed Palmer the top exit speed, and he had his first lead after winning a drag race with Szigeti to a right-left combination of turns. Di Leo was then third, Couturier fourth and Chudleigh fifth.
Palmer and Szigeti scored a little gap at the front as Di Leo recovered from the contact, but much, much bigger things were about to go down. Szigeti bid for the lead and got it at the hairpin, but once again Palmer countered with a scissor move on exit and won a drag race with the inside line down to the next corner. One lap later Szigeti repeated the move at the hairpin, and once again Palmer countered on the exit as the pair drag raced to the next turns. This time though, Szigeti looked to hold the outside line on the right-hand entry in order to capitalize on the longer left-hand exit turn, but he ran out of real estate before he got there! The result: bent axle. Race over. Championship over! Many in the grandstand may not have known the implications of what they witnessed, but Szigeti certainly did as he retired to the infield, head down, total dejection evident. Palmer cruised to pole for the Final afterwards, with Di Leo second and new three-time Champion. Levesque got to third in the ordeal, Chudleigh was fourth and Fritz Leesmann fifth for PSL Atlantic/CRG.
The Final was then easily the Race-of-the-Day, as with no championship points to worry about all were looking to end the schedule with a win, Szigeti included in racing from the back of the pack. The front row went side-by-side through one at the start before Palmer put the squeeze on and assumed the lead into the bus stop with Di Leo second. Chudleigh wasted no time in taking second himself at the hairpin, and with no speed on exit Di Leo then had a gaggle of karts swarming behind him as he was in survival mode in the run to the next right, saving the spot in the end. Chudleigh then went inside Palmer at the hairpin on three, and just as had been the case earlier in the day, P3 proved the place to be. As the lead pair fought through the turn, Di Leo jumped both on the exit to take his first lead of the Final while Palmer salvaged second in once again winning a drag race. The line of karts at the front was then seven deep, but not for long.
Next time around a pile-up in the bales exiting the hairpin delayed a number, and later in the same lap Monteith and Szigeti, the latter having charged from nineteenth to eighth already, tangled in the chicane leading to retirement for both. The race just five laps old, the fight for the win was then down to four: Di Leo leading Palmer, Chudleigh and Levesque. On eight Palmer took the lead back at the hairpin, and when Chudleigh brushed a bale on the exit Levesque took third in winning a drag race to the chicane. Unfortunately for him he then overshot it, and Chudleigh had the spot right back with Couturier getting through as well. Working into the second half and through twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, Di Leo looked to have his fastest set-up of the weekend and on fifteen he went inside Palmer at the hairpin, but P3 was again the place to be as Chudleigh jumped both on the exit creating the fifth lead change of the afternoon! Di Leo tried to respond in a drag race on sixteen and couldn’t, but was back to the lead on seventeen when the Maranello washed wide in the bus stop. Palmer and now Couturier caught on, and with two-to-go it was once again four at the front. The decisive move came on the penultimate lap as Palmer took second at his favourite spot – winning a drag to the chicane in getting second from Chudleigh. That move set the podium, as Di Leo then had some room to breath on his way to the checker and Chudleigh didn’t have time to muster a response with just one lap to run. Palmer was second, Chudleigh third, Couturier fourth and Levesque fifth.
Ben Cooper looked well on his way to the title after running the opening four rounds with nothing worse than P2 in a Prefinal or Final, but the calculators quickly got to work after his race five mechanical DNF and there was definitely a championship at stake heading to Trois-Rivières. Equally important, with Cooper having already qualified to contest the 2012 Grand Finals based on a Florida Winter Tour Championship, his SRA Karting/Birel teammate and race five winner Christophe Boiclair was in with shot to reach second in points and claim a ticket himself. Looking to win from both of course was the reigning DD2 World Champion, PSL/CRG driver Pier-Luc Ouellette, along with the rest of the field in North America’s toughest DD2 competition. Cooper got off the mark well with a pole lap of 39.249 seconds and Boisclair was looking equally good in qualifying right alongside his teammate. Ouellette was third, Ferrolati Corse/CRG driver Nicolas Latifi fourth and Brendan Bain fifth for Prime/Maranello.
The inside line got a great jump in the Prefinal as Cooper shot to the lead with Ouellette second and Bain third. Latifi was fourth with the field stacked behind him, and the top three worked a little clear through the opening laps. Things were shuffled when a kart met the bales nearing half distance, and in the end Cooper had no issues in maintaining pole position ahead of Ouellette, Bain, Boisclair and the Prime/Maranello of Fred Woodley. The final proved a carbon copy, as Cooper held the point at the wave of the green and never saw the bumper of another kart all day. Bain slid into second in turn one, and after Ouellette took the spot back early on, the pair became the closest karts on the track in the late stages. Bain took looks at second, including a drag race out of the hairpin when he nearly got the spot, but in the end Ouellette hung on and Bain completed Le Monaco podium. Boisclair was fourth while Latifi’s recovery run from the back took him all the way to fifth in the Final.
In identical fashion to Cooper, Zachary Claman DeMelo swept the day in Rotax Junior and defended his championship at the same time. It began with a very tight qualifying session where he and Intrepid North America’s Tyler Kashak went back-and-forth before Claman DeMelo’s 40.872 second lap edged Kashak’s 40.901 for pole. Tyler Ripani put in a late lap 40.9 himself to take third with his Karts&Parts/LH Kart, and the next six all timed in at 41 seconds flat! In the order were: Frank Arnott, Alexandre Lacroix, Tommy Lemaire-Ouellet, Marco Signoretti, Nicolas Dore and championship hopeful Parker Thompson. The top ten were covered by a quarter-second and eight-tenths covered the top twenty-one of twenty-eight karts in the field! After a red flag restart owing to a pile-up in the bus stop in the Prefinal, Claman DeMelo held the point while Ripani slid into second ahead of Kashak. The field also collected at the bus stop the second time around but the karts were cleared and green flag conditions remained. Kashak got second back entering the hairpin on lap two, while Thompson sat ninth with a big gap to close to eighth. The front three spread out over the first half with Claman DeMelo, Kashak and Ripani in their own space, but Ripani was slowly falling backward to the clutches of Lemaire-Ouellet and Arnott. By the end they were in a group with Thompson on the back in sixth, but the order remained the same.
The start of the Final was much the same as ZCD held with Ripani sliding into second, but this time Kashak wanted it back in a hurry. He took the spot back entering the bus stop on lap two, only to have Ripani counter a lap later with Tommy Lemaire-Ouellet following through as well. Thompson took that spot before the lap was out, and all the dicing assured Claman DeMelo a free run at the front. He wouldn’t be challenged all day in taking his fourth win, while behind, Thompson passed Ripani for second at the hairpin on lap five. Ripani took it back a lap later in the same spot, but Thompson showed the third time was the charm as he took the spot and kept it on seven and Lemaire-Ouellet followed through once again. The pair of TonyKarts couldn’t run down the leader in the back half, and that’s the way they stood on the podium steps later on in the afternoon: Claman DeMelo, Thompson, Lemaire-Ouellet. Olivier Bedard ran the second half in fourth, Ripani was fifth, and Kashak sixth.
Rotax DD2 Masters
In DD2 Masters PSL/CRG driver Marc-Andre Bourgeois was looking to sweep the day to control his own championship destiny and got off to a good start when he edged point leader Stuart Clark for pole by just over a tenth. Bourgeois then held at the wave of the green, but Clark was looking hungry. He took a peek heading to the hairpin, another in the return chute heading to the right-hander, and a third in the carousel turn! On lap two in another drag race out of the hairpin, Clark finally got the spot he craved and immediately got a couple of kart lengths off the front. The lead trio then spread out over the Prefinal, with Bourgeois second and fellow PSL/CRG driver Enrico Bolduc third.
With karts on the grid for the final Clark knew he’d be headed to Portugal and the Grand Finals if he finished first or second, while Bourgeois needed victory paired with some help. When the green went up Clark held first while Bolduc fought side-by-side with Bourgeois through turns one and two before yellow flags went up and the start was aborted. Confusion reigned for a few moments, but credit to the Officials for wanting to get it right with so much on the line. The second time around Clark assumed the lead once again, with Bolduc taking second in turn one and Bourgeois taking up chase. It wasn’t a dream start for Bourgeois, but he had a nightmare on his hands a few corners later when he nosed into the hay bales exiting the hairpin! Other karts were collected and Bourgeois was out! After that Clark was on cruise control for the win and Grand Finals’ ticket as the first Masters DD2 driver to qualify from the ECKC. Bolduc was second and Michel Legrand third in the final Masters race of the season.
The Rest of the Show
A pair of Ferrolati Corse drivers were in line to take the other two Rotax titles on offer as Micro-Max CRG driver Matthew Latifi locked up his championship when he took to the track, and cousin Gianfranco Mazzaferro did the same after having to do a little more work on his Zanardi Kart in Mini-Max. Latifi was on Micro-Max pole from Matthew Barry and Thomas Simard, and though they were in the same order after the Prefinal, Barry had his Intrepid right on the bumper of the CRG. In the final Barry got a jump to the lead while the others climbed all over each other in the bus stop! Latifi was forced to retire afterwards, and Barry dominated on his way to a fourteen-second win. Sam Macri went the distance in second before being excluded for a carburetor infraction, and that gave the spot to Simard, who recovered all the way from the back after the first lap collision. Xavier Harris then took the final podium spot.
In Mini-Max qualifying Mazzaferro was on pole ahead of Pedro Cardoso and Natael Cantin in an eleven-kart field. Mazzaferro and Cardoso then swapped top spot over the first four laps of the Prefinal before Mazzaferro went out in the bus stop working five. That allowed Cardoso to run to the checker, while Cantin was just over a tenth back and Thierry Cote came forward to third. It also kept the championship hopes of Austin Riley alive, as he was in with a shot after Mazzaferro’s retirement. Riley needed to make a podium run in the final while hoping for a little more help. He got the help he needed, but just couldn’t muster the speed he needed to find the podium. Mazzaferro was seventh in the race, but still had enough points to take the championship. In the race meanwhile, Cardoso and Cantin had a great scrap for the win. Cardoso led the opening stages before Cantin went by on the start/finish straight beginning lap six. His lead didn’t last long, as Cardoso had it back before the lap was out, but Cantin came calling again on eleven and got the lead in turn one! They were nose to bumper the rest of the way with the Birel driver hanging on to win. Cardoso and Cote completed the podium.
Briggs & Stratton classes once again ran combined with some added Eastern Canadian support from PSL Atlantic drivers tuning up for Nationals. Alex Van Snick was the winner on Sunday, while Series’ Champion Simon Rousseau was second and Gerald Caseley was third in Senior. Another PSL Atlantic driver was tops in Junior as Sarah McKay won from teammate Buddie Munn and Series’ Champion Dylan Brady. Russell Kroon was on hand to represent the Master class once again and collected his championship hardware in the final podium presentations.
Eastern Canadian Rotax Max drivers now turn their attention to the Canadian National Karting Championships in Mont-Tremblant. Four more drivers will earn invitations to join Rotax Max Team Canada after National Championships are claimed, and CKN will be on hand to cover every aspect of the action. If you haven’t yet, be sure to ‘like’ Canadian Karting News on Facebook and follow @CKN_Live on Twitter.