Cody Schindel: Welcome to the first ever CKN Roundtable. My name is Cody Schindel and I will be your host today. Joining us for today’s session are the three Canadian drivers that stood on the podium at the most recent Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, held at the end of November in Portimão, Portugal at the beautiful Kartodromo Interacional do Algarve circuit.
I am honoured to introduce tonight’s guests. Winning his third Rotax Grand Finals title, but first as a Canadian, DD2 Champion Ben Cooper is here. Welcome Ben.
Ben Cooper: Thank you for having me.
Cody Schindel: Competing in his record ninth Rotax Grand Finals, and earning his second podium appearance, DD2 Vice-Champion Scott Campbell is here. Welcome Scott.
Scott Campbell: It’s my pleasure to me here.
Cody Schindel: And finally, the driver that many are saying had the drive of the weekend in Rotax Junior, third-place finisher Parker Thompson joins us. Welcome Parker.
Parker Thompson: Thanks Cody, I’m very happy to be here.
Cody Schindel: Today’s conversation has me asking some questions to the group and the individual’s, but we will also be asking some CKN Nation reader submissions.
To start, can you guys quickly reflect on your Grand Finals experience this year?
Scott Campbell: I was very happy that this year ended better than last year where I caught my left front tire going into the first corner of the final. I knew this year that I had the experience to be up at the front and winning two of the heats was a great confidence boost for that. Knowing that I had the speed in the final with the fast lap, just not making the right move at the right time for the win. Always next time.
Ben Cooper: For me this year’s Grand Finals was quite different. The first time in DD2 and obviously representing Canada. Overall it was great week with a lot of fun times, which is ultimately what racing about.
Scott Campbell: Better than all the years with the Great Britain guys right?
Ben Cooper: Felt more like a team thing yeah rather than just by myself!
Parker Thompson: My Grand Finals experience was incredible. It had its ups and downs no doubt, but overall we put in a solid effort and got the results for it. The podium was definitely the highlight of my weekend as it was incredible to be the first North American to attain a podium result. Representing Canada was a honour I will never forget on the podium!
Scott Campbell: I knew you could always do it Parker!
Cody Schindel: With the event being a complete week plus travel, how did you guys train and prepare for the event to ensure you were both mentally and physically ready?
Ben Cooper: I didn’t do too much really. Just done a few laps around SRA Karting a couple of weeks before and worked on my P1 fitness schedule.
Scott Campbell: I am pretty relaxed now going into the Grand Finals. I know that if you get worked up for the race it will hurt you more than just taking it as another race weekend. I continued to do my sports before the race with even playing a soccer game day before I left for Portugal.
Cody Schindel: Ben, can you elaborate on your P1 Fitness program?
Ben Cooper: The guys for P1 Fitness gave me a fitness program to do at home just to mainly help my endurance and back pains that I used to get after races.
Cody Schindel: Scott, was there anything in your diet that changed before the event.
Scott Campbell: Really just tried to cut out all junk stuff to try and cut a bit of weight.
Parker Thompson: I trained no more than I do for average races. Every morning I get up and put in a two-hour workout specifically for racing. Then eat very healthy and drink lots of water for hydration. My mind set was to win just like any other race, and there isn’t really a way I prepare for it.
Cody Schindel: This isn’t the first Grand Finals for any of you, can you reflect on any differences to the event this year compared to any previous Grand Finals you have competed in?
Ben Cooper: I felt like it needed to be warmer. For me the Grand Finals should always be somewhere exotic and warm and I think that helps to make the atmosphere better.
Scott Campbell: This year there were a couple things that I did think were not up to the regular Rotax quality. The intercom system was very poor but the TV coverage was totally awesome. After the racing was done there is usually a driver podium media conference and that was missed this year. Good for PR. I know next year that Maxspeed Group and Rotax will do an amazing job in New Orleans.
Scott Campbell: I agree with Ben too.
Ben Cooper: I agree with Scott!
Parker Thompson: The major difference this year was it was very cold with some minor wet conditions. The weather changed a lot more then it did in the 2011 Rotax Grand Finals, so it seemed as a driver you were always having to adapt your driving style to the track to compensate for lack of chassis set up. The drivers that could adapt were the ones that came out on top in this Grand Finals in my opinion.
Scott Campbell: Just like the tracks we race on here at home.
Cody Schindel: Where do you feel the event can be improved?
Scott Campbell: I think that Rotax needs to try and get the parties that they throw for the drivers to be a bit more exciting to have everyone want to come to the events. Better food would be one thing. The tire changing competition is great but need just something else. I also think that it would be good to have a bunch of monitors in the big tent as well as outside with the live timing on it so everyone is not crowded around one monitor. An official clock in the big tent would also be a good idea.
Ben Cooper: I wish there wasn’t the big line system to get into Parc Ferme. Depending on where you were in the line depended on how long you got in Parc Ferme. A little bit more organization there would have been better for me.
Scott Campbell: Yes a faster way of getting into Parc Ferme would be great.
Scott Campbell: When they do tire hand out they need to do something better. And also have more air lines. Every year there is not enough.
Parker Thompson: The event could be improved this year with the banquets; in Al Ain for the 2011 Rotax Grand Finals the banquets were incredible. They had fantastic food, this year it was poor. Also this year’s event was disorganized compared to 2011.
Cody Schindel: Parc Ferme was discussed about a lot, as was the lack of communication in the tent. I’m sure Rotax has taken this into consideration for next year.
Cody Schindel: Moving on, the level of competition is much different at the Grand Finals compared to here in Canada, what do you guys find is the biggest difference?
Scott Campbell: The main difference is the aggression level. We are taught in Canada not to hit other drivers but in Europe it is accepted. But on the other hand with saying that it seems that most of the Canadian drivers stay out of crash trouble, so it might be a good thing we are taught that.
Ben Cooper: The amount of drivers competing. Obviously from all over the world and that is quite impressive to see. When you get all those drivers together some exciting racing is produced.
Parker Thompson: The biggest difference is not the lack of speed Canadian drivers but it is our race craft. We have the speed to match their laps without a question, but in the heats, pre-final and final we cannot race due to our lack of race craft. For Ben, he grew up over there and Scott being his ninth Rotax Grand Finals event are used to the aggression. But most of team Canada isn’t used to the “pass or be passed” method of race craft. We just don’t have the large and highly competitive fields as Europe has and this is why our race craft isn’t up to seed.
Cody Schindel: Ben and Scott, do you agree?
Scott Campbell: Yes
Ben Cooper: Yes definitely. I mean for me I don’t really notice that so much because that is the style of racing that I have always been involved in.
Scott Campbell: But you also have to aware that it might only be worth one point. You have to be aware in the heats that it is a total points and not do what ZCD did in the first heat.
Scott Campbell: I call the World Finals a big chess match.
Ben Cooper: It’s true. Ultimately at the Grand Finals there is just one race that counts. So you can be happy to finish near the front in the heats rather than winning every one. Like at the Nationals for me. All you have to do is give yourself a good opportunity in the final.
Cody Schindel: I have a couple questions for Ben next.
Cody Schindel: Ben, this is your third Grand Finals title, but first in DD2. Where does this one rank?
Ben Cooper: I think it has to be my hardest fought race at a Grand Finals. I had to work hard for the win where as the previous years I had a reasonably comfortable lead to take the win. Not so much this year, so I would have to rank it as my number one.
Scott Campbell: The DD2 class is tough isn’t it?
Ben Cooper: Did you see my race!! Yeah it’s tough. DD2 is underrated and my race just goes to show that DD2 is anything but easy.
Cody Schindel: In your CKN Driver Diary, you mentioned that DD2 in Europe is considered more of a Masters/Amateur Class. Did this play on your mind when Rotax made you the offer to switch to DD2 for the Grand Finals?
Ben Cooper: No it wasn’t really. Not when I made the switch anyway. I enjoyed racing the DD2 and I had felt like I had moved on from Senior. But as the event approached and when I got to the event I felt like I needed to do well because of what people think DD2 is like in Europe.
Cody Schindel: After competing in the two premier Rotax divisions back-to-back, what do you find are the major differences in terms of competition?
Ben Cooper: Honestly, there aren’t any major differences. Everyone who is there is there to win, no matter what class you are in. I have had to improve as a driver in DD2 compared to Senior, but as differences in competition I really don’t think there is any.
Scott Campbell: I really think that some of the big named racers from Europe need to give the Rotax a try and find out that what Rotax has going is the best thing in the World.
Ben Cooper: 100% agree!!!
Cody Schindel: Anyways, final question for Ben. What are your plans for karting in 2013? Plan on defending your ECKC and Canadian National Championships?
Ben Cooper: Definitely coming back to defend the titles. Hopefully I can book my ticket for next years Grand Finals at the FWT so I can relax a little throughout the year.
Cody Schindel: Next up, I have a few questions for Scott.
Cody Schindel: Scott, this was your ninth Rotax Grand Finals appearance, a Rotax record. Is there one of the nine that stands out as your favourite?
Scott Campbell: Definitely would have to be Italy in 2010 when I won the World title. Got shuffled to the seventh on the start and picked them off one by one and held off for the win. Was a very emotional day for me.
Cody Schindel: I was in attendance. Was truly an emotional day for all of Team Canada. Any other moments that stand out for you?
Scott Campbell: I think the first one in 2003 in Sharm El Shiekh. I found out that I really did not know much and learned so much about kart setup. After I got my kart figured out I was fifth fastest from the crappy 41st qualifying. Got caught up in some crashes and did not make the finals. Think it was good for me. Showed me how hard you need to work to be up at the front and you also need to be humble.
Ben Cooper: Good point at the end there. A lot of people think they have the right to be at the front nowadays, when it really takes a lot of work.
Cody Schindel: You are very right Ben.
Cody Schindel: And now you’re a threat from moment you receive your Grand Finals ticket
Cody Schindel: Do you feel that Rotax is doing the right thing by expanding the DD2 Masters division every year at the Grand Finals?
Scott Campbell: I do think it is the right move. This year we had eight World Champions in our class. That is almost unheard of. The level of the Masters class is no slouch. It is very stiff. A lot of great drivers are now the age to race in Masters and lots on the verge of it. On a North America side to it the class is a great place for the older guys to get into a great kart and strive for the World FInals experience.
Scott Campbell: Everyone that is at the race has won their country but they do not think that they should be a middle or back packer at the Grand Finals. That is where all the complaining of motors and karts comes in.
Ben Cooper: Exactly!!!
Cody Schindel: Yes, I did see a few Masters that were well off the pace this year.
Scott Campbell: The most important thing people forget is that they made it to the Grand Finals. That is so much more than so many people around the world are trying so hard to do. Be happy you made it.
Cody Schindel: For sure! There are rumours that Cristiano Morgado is planning to race the 2013 Florida Winter Tour. Are you also planning on racing at the FWT, potentially continuing the excellent battle you two have created over the past two years?
Scott Campbell: I have talked to Cristiano about this and he is very interested in doing the FWT. I am now thinking of coming down to Florida to do the races. Bill Wright is a great promoter for the karting world and over the years has expressed that I should come and race the FWT and this year is no different. The level at the FWT is like no other here in North America and we are trying to see if we can get a package together for the 2013 season.
Ben Cooper: I would love to see you two going at it along with the guys from the USA!! Would be good.
Cody Schindel: Parker, you have been pretty quiet, but now it’s your time in the hot seat!
This was your second year in a row competing at the Grand Finals. Did you change your preparation approach for this year’s event?
Parker Thompson: Yes I took a very different approach to this years Rotax Grand Finals as had I did previously last year. The biggest difference made ALL the difference. That is worry about myself as the driver and the development of my chassis and engine package. Don’t worry about other people’s time; the only time sheet I really looked at was Practice session 4 and qualifying. That was so huge to this year’s success and my podium result.
Scott Campbell: That is a great approach
Parker Thompson: Thanks Scott
Scott Campbell: Even with me. I knew I had the speed from day one. Just have to be there at the end.
Cody Schindel: All four Canadian Junior’s were very quick throughout the week, was there much teamwork done to help each other out?
Parker Thompson: To answer your question honestly Cody, not as much as I would like us to. Canada is such a great team especially this year but set up is something that seems to be a very personal thing at the Rotax Grand Finals. The sad thing is this year we worked more together than we did last year, and this year we didn’t work too much together. I worked with one other driver to quite an extent, and it worked out extremely well. If Canada wants to take the Nations Cup I would suggest it be mandatory to share information and let the best driver win. That way everyone is on a stellar setup because all of Team Canada has developed it. I think it is that little bit more that Canada needs to take the Nations Cup.
Scott Campbell: I agree but most of the time it is the parents or tuners that don’t want to share the info.
Parker Thompson: Very correct!
Cody Schindel: Scott and Ben. Was there much teamwork with your fellow in-class Canadian’s?
Scott Campbell: In my class this year we all talked every day at the track and went for supper almost every night. It showed on the time sheets. We were almost always within a tenth of each other each time on track.
Ben Cooper: There was from my side. Well with Zach Robichon obviously as we are team mates anyway. Also with PLO as when he was struggling so much we helped him out to try and find the problem.
Cody Schindel: That’s very good to hear.
Scott Campbell: Like Parker said, we need to become a family at this event. Just because you might run a different kart or different team back home does mean to not share info because in the long run it will come back to bit you.
Cody Schindel: Parker, You just signed a contract to race KF3 in Europe in 2013, what influenced your decision to move on from the Rotax power plant you have raced a majority of your karting career?
Parker Thompson: The decision breaker for taking on Energy Corse Factory and racing on European soil was mainly for the competition and the overall benefits. The benefits range from opportunities I have to build new partnerships into Parker Thompson Racing all the way to learning Italian for my career ahead of me. I also think that Energy Corse Factory will sharpen my skills immensely, and I can’t wait to start with them. I am proud to be representing such a professional and successful factory such as Energy Corse team and look forward to a successful year with them in KF3. I move over this Saturday. Should be a very good experience overall, and quite a maturing one on my part.
Ben Cooper: Good luck mate! You have picked a great crowd with Energy and Mick Panigada.
Scott Campbell: Just keep doing what you are doing!
Parker Thompson: Can’t thank Mick enough for the opportunity! Thanks guys!
Cody Schindel: Finally, Parker with your busy European schedule, do you have any plans to race in Canada in 2013?
Parker Thompson: There are no plans to race in Canada other than the single WSK North American Championships date in Mont Tremblant. I really hope it stays on the calendar this year, as it would be great to race on my own soil here in Canada.
Cody Schindel: It would be great to have the Europeans come to Canada and enjoy the beautiful circuit in Mont-Tremblant.
Cody Schindel: That does it for the individual questions. I have a few more and then some questions from the CKN Nation!
Cody Schindel: How hard was it for you guys to keep up with every changing track and weather changes?
Parker Thompson: Honestly the track conditions changed, but we didn’t touch the chassis setup from Wednesday. I knew the chassis was absolutely perfect and I refused to change it from Wednesday through till the end of the event. It had perfect balance on the hard D1 Mojo and that is tough to come by. All we worked on was gear ratio, which was huge for the Junior Rotax class with the long straightaway and a high-speed yet technical infield. Then I also think that driver manipulation through body language and lines on the track was a ton! Like I said earlier drivers who could adapt to track conditions through body language and line choices were the drivers who were at the top of the sheets.
Ben Cooper: I would say the hardest part for me was after the rain on Friday going into the dry on Saturday. For me it was hard to know where the track was going to be and how to set the kart up.
Scott Campbell: Did not really bother me too much. When the rain fell I did think I would be faster though. Kart was just not right.
Cody Schindel: What were your overall opinions of the track in Portimão?
Ben Cooper: FAST!!! All most too fast because the draft played a huge part for Senio and Junior.
Scott Campbell: Yes very fast!!
Ben Cooper: For DD2 I think it was good though
Scott Campbell: You could not break away very easy though.
Ben Cooper: You could have been 5 tenths faster in the infield there and still would have been caught down the straight.
Parker Thompson: Portimão had long straightaway and a high-speed yet technical infield. The straightaway was great in my opinion because it was very hard to break away. This created some great racing, and there was no lack of passing either which made it fantastic to move up the field.
Ben Cooper: The racing was great to watch!!!
Cody Schindel: I agree.
Cody Schindel: Why do you guys think Canada producing such strong talent for the Grand Finals in the past few years?
Ben Cooper: I think it is down to the strong Rotax program we have over here. Not saying that to be politically correct, but its true. You look at the UK who won. Their Rotax program is huge. When I first raced Senior there we had over 100 drivers at the first round in Senior and Junior. For us here in Canada I think the fact that we just focus on the Rotax program means we can continue to drive in the same style rather than swap between different classes that may need different styles.
Scott Campbell: Think now we have such a strong core that the level now is being raised so much here in Canada.
Parker Thompson: Canada has a lot of talent for how little the fields are, ECKC was a huge challenge for me compared to Florida Winter Tour. I battled ten times harder and there was half the field as there is in the Florida Winter Tour. I think Canadian drivers are at the top in North America and are well on their way to showing the world that we can be very competitive at International events like the Rotax Grand Finals.
Cody Schindel: Ben, you just touched on this but we have finished second the past two years in the Rotax Nations Cup, what do you think Canada needs to do to regain the top of the Nations Cup podium?
Ben Cooper: I feel like we need a little bit more experience and the higher-level races. This year we had drivers that all could have been on the podium, had certain thing not had happened. Where a little more experience might have meant that we would have been on the top of the podium.
Scott Campbell: I think that the Senior class has to work on something to get to the front. It seems to be the class lacking every year. Junior could also bring up the game a little. Other than Parker’s great drive this year we have never been a front-runner. I think it comes back to sharing info with everyone.
Parker Thompson: If Canada wants to take the Nations Cup I would suggest it be mandatory to share information and let the best driver win. That way everyone is on a stellar setup because all of Team Canada has developed it. I think this is that little bit more that Canada needs to take the Nations Cup.
Ben Cooper: Maybe we need more events that have the 3 heat, pre final and final schedule, where you really have to think about positioning yourself well for the end of the event.
Scott Campbell: I agree Ben.
Parker Thompson: Agreed Ben! It is the risk over reward method most drivers in Canada do not understand!
Cody Schindel: Great points guys.
Cody Schindel: With the Rotax Grand Finals coming to North America for the first time in 2013, are you more determined to qualify because it is so close to home?
Scott Campbell: I am really wanting to make it. I want to win on North American soil.
Parker Thompson: I will be racing KF3 with Energy Corse for 2013. That will be my main focus and I will not be looking to qualify for a third consecutive time. Best of luck to the 2013 Team Canada squad, bring home the Nations Cup! I’ll be cheering for you guys!
Ben Cooper: I’m no more determined than before. It doesn’t make too much of a difference about where the Grand Finals are for me, as to how determined I am to qualify. One thing is for sure though and that is next years Grand Finals will be special in New Orleans.
Cody Schindel: Final question, what was your favourite moment from this years Rotax Grand Finals?
Ben Cooper: There are actually loads for me. I know everyone always says that. I could say the rental karts on the first day, to ping pong matches at the hotel, even Parker flirting around with the grid girls. But I think the favourite memory for me would be seeing the checkered flag in the final, because I really didn’t have the speed to stay at the front much longer.
Scott Campbell: Seeing all of the friends that I have made over the nine times I have been to the Grand Finals.
Parker Thompson: My favorite moment of the 2012 Rotax Grand Finals was the Podium! You have no idea how many chills I got on the podium and it was the first time I have ever started to shed tears for a result in my racing career.
Cody Schindel: Thanks guys. We have just a few CKN Nation submitted now.
Cody Schindel: Parker, how much influence has Chris Freckleton been towards your confidence and ability to compete at this level?
Parker Thompson: Chris Freckleton has influenced my career a lot. He knows how I tick. That’s the least to say, he is one of those guys that just knows how to get the best out of me and it has been a pleasure working with him all these years. I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done developing me, and all the great setups we have come up with together to win races. If you need a great mechanic, I am pretty sure he is open due to me heading to Energy Corse and he would be the guy to get!
Cody Schindel: Scott, how many more years do you plan on attempting to qualify for the Grand Finals?
Scott Campbell: I really don’t know. I feel like I am still at the top level with my racing ability. My wonderful wife Crystal is four months pregnant with our second child. So racing this year will be very selected and not as time consuming. Still would like to make it to the Grand Finals in New Orleans though. The Grand Finals is a great event and if I could not race at it I still love to be there doing something.
Cody Schindel: Ben, you ran a special edition helmet in Portugal to represent your position on Team Canada, do you plan on continuing to use the helmet, or is it up for retirement?
Ben Cooper: Well it’s going into retirement for now. I may pull it out for the Nationals, but it just doesn’t seem like me and my design. I’ve always had the UK flag on top, I guess I am going to have to come up with a way to put the Maple Leaf in the UK flag.
Cody Schindel: It was a very unique helmet, but you are right, it just wasn’t the Ben Cooper we are used to see on track.
Cody Schindel: Ben, you had the chance to return home to Britain after the Grand Finals. How was the reaction from your friends, family and fans at home?
Ben Cooper: The same as always really. They were all happy for me to have won, but the main thing was that everyone was asking how I was doing in Canada more than the Grand Finals. In all fairness I was in the UK for 3 days so I didn’t get to see many people, but I did have several messages on my phone and Facebook.
Cody Schindel: For all three of you, is there something you would do different if the event restarted tomorrow?
Ben Cooper: No not at all. Well maybe have taken some warmer clothes!
Parker Thompson: Calm my self in the Final, and make fewer mistakes.
Scott Campbell: Make my move earlier in the final. And yes bring warmer clothes.
Cody Schindel: Parker, what was going through your mind on the final lap?
Parker Thompson: On the last lap I was honestly in disbelief, and I double counted to make sure I actually hit the podium, before I yelled in my helmet and pointed to the Canadian flag on the hill. Emotions ran high, as I was overwhelmed with my podium result.
Cody Schindel: Guys, thank you for joining CKN for our first Roundtable discussion. Any last words?
Scott Campbell: Just want to thank CKN for this and again thanks to everyone that supported me over the year and at the Grand Finals. Big thanks to my wife Crystal and daughter Adilyn! Also: CRG West, Karting Canada, PSL Karting, K1 Racegear.
Ben Cooper: The main Person I would like to thank would be to Michel Boisclair because he very rarely gets mentioned in my interviews. He was the man who brought me over here to Canada to start a new life and I just wanted say thanks to him for giving me the opportunity. I also need to thank HRS Racing engines, SRA Karting, Jim Russell Karting Academy, KMS and Peter Kalman, My mechanic Gaga, Birel and R’s Design for the awesome limited edition helmet! As well I want to thank the Team Canada Sponsors.
Parker Thompson: CanadianKartingNews.com for this awesome opportunity, and all the partners of Parker Thompson Racing for a great 2012-racing season! Also all of the Team Canada official sponsors and Rotax Grand Finals sponsors for the great event!
Cody Schindel: Thanks Ben.
Ben Cooper: Oh and you Cody!!! This has been cool. Loving your ideas. Next year CKN should be cool!!!
Scott Campbell: I also need to thank my Rotax Grand Finals sponsors: Saskatoon Kart Racers, Endevour Machining, Juicy Autobody, Cindy Moleski Photography, Crossman Graphics, Grace Beyer, Jayson Clunie.
Cody Schindel: Guys, thank you so much. It has been a blast.