Trevor Wickens and I got to Vegas via a ride with AJ Whisler. We had spent the previous week doing some engine breaking in and testing at his local track, PKRA. Obviously, the SuperNats is a massive event and having to spend one or two of our limited Practice sessions breaking-in engines could put us behind the eight ball massively as far as chassis development goes! We took our time to break in our mint-fresh leopards from High-Rev over two days at PKRA instead. This way we were ready to hit the ground running in Vegas. The drive to the Rio from AJ’s shop was a little under five hours – though it felt much shorter! Whisler is a pretty entertaining host (when he’s not talking about the scientific engineering of chains and sprockets) so the ride was a pleasure!
Robert Wickens and Brendan Wales completed our entourage when they arrived Wednesday morning. The energy at SuperNats is an incredible thing – unmatched by any other event we do all year! Taking a look at the track layout that morning I must admit I was really impressed with the upgrades SKUSA had made this year! The addition of curbs made for closer apexing and more visibility through the corner. Senior TAG competed in the mornings so I was one of the first sessions on the new track!
The track was made up of three awesome hairpins, two S sections and the super back-straight that has remained constant every year. The longer inner straights made for a much better rhythm and ample passing opportunities throughout the lap. Trevor identified immediately that there was going to be two options for gearing: either set for top speed down the main-straight, or gear high enough to get out of the hairpins and challenge mid-range. Our engine break-in system seemed to do the trick, I was able to push from the first practice session and stay well within the top 20 the entire first day. At most races I would argue that it’s not easy to compare with your competitors from the first practice day, but at a race this size, nobody could afford to spend a session not pushing!
I was lucky enough to showcase my speed on Wednesday timed practice. This gave me the advantage of being in the fast or P1 group. This is an important thing at big events. Being able to practice with the other fast drivers helps me to continue to push for speed and not get held up by drivers who are off the pace. Again, Thursday was an excellent day. With Robert, Trevor and Brendan each watching on from different spots on the track, we effectively had four sets of eyes on the track every session. With all of our options combined I think at that point in the weekend we had a seriously competitive kart.
Funnily enough, Vegas this time of year is quite cold in the morning! With bigger radiators than normal, it was difficult for us to find the magical temperature for the engine. Even so, both our High-Rev race engines were super strong. Mark had noticed that we had incredible top end power and we used this to our advantage! Being able to pull out and pass anyone down the back straight was a huge piece of confidence. Knowing that we wouldn’t get stuck behind anyone in the race allowed us to have the kart come in at any time during the heats.
Qualifying day perhaps went a little worse than I would have liked. I missed first practice in the morning because of carburetor issues. Having missed practice, I had to go into qualifying with no warm-up or data from that day. I consider that a pretty large handicap. Mark and Trev got the issues with the carb fixed, so thankfully I was able to hit the track hard in qualifying. Placed 21st overall. That meant I would be starting outside row 5 for each heat. Not a terrible result but I was more than confident I would be able to improve that in the heats!
Heat one was odd from the beginning. After David Sera had troubles starting in the pits my row did not get out of the pits in accordance to the other row. This is a problem we’ve all experienced before, but it seemed some of my row didn’t get into position on time and it ended up really messing up our starting position. Taking the green-flag (four wide at some spots) it was clear it was going to be a messy race! I made it quite clean through the inside and was able to over-slow enough to not get collected in the Senior craziness! Later that night we did our best to go out and enjoy Vegas, but the combination of jetlag, early morning expected Saturday, and the combined difficulty of the day – as always – it was a pretty early night for us!
The start of Heat 2 Saturday was much cleaner and I was able to get into an excellent position (P4) off the start. We had tried higher tire pressures that session to see if the tires would come into grip sooner but it turned out to not be so good for us. The kart faded for me too quickly and I wasn’t mature enough to nurse the tire back to grip. Both Heat one and two I finished 6th. I was really happy with the results and I had mathematically clinched a spot in the final, regardless of the final heat! (That takes the pressure off!)
Heat 3 was wicked! A clean start and a mega first lap put me into 6th, and I got by Sera on the following laps, making a great break to the leading pack. Between the leaders and I, and Sera behind me, there were equal gaps. In the closing laps the two in contention for the heat win must have swapped back and fourth five times. This allowed my to close up to within tenths! I made a few attempts to get third, but that slowed the group even more which allowed Sera to close in, making it a six-kart race for the lead! I finished in fourth, but it could have been anyone’s victory! It’s awesome when a bunch of guys can fight that hard and finish without a scuff on the side-walls!
Going into the Final I knew how much conflict there was in the field between various drivers. I was just glad to have a clean slate with most! Haha! I never thought the fighting would happen so soon though! Even during our formation lap there was tire smoke between karts!
Beautiful start! From P7 to P2 and away! I spent the first lap-and-a-half defending hard, hoping that I could get a small gap between me and the train of karts behind. I knew I had pace to catch the leader, I just needed the chance to open up my line without having someone dive under! Unfortunately, one competitor decided he didn’t want to play by the rules and punted me going into one, and again into turn 2, a second hairpin. I was slow recovering from that, putting me back into eighth place. Austin Elliott then tried to find a way around me as I got back up to speed – between me and the wall! This resulted in a chassis pretzel for him and a bent axle for me. Race over.
It was a real shame to end what could have been an awesome race! Regardless, I think there were so many successes that I took from that weekend, it didn’t really matter to me where my finishing position was! The event was a better one than I can ever remember. On behalf of my team and family I would like to thank the event organizers and sponsors who got the job done yet again in world class form!
I continue my journey now with pre-season testing for Formula Renault 2.0 with Tech1. Can’t wait to get into that car again!