For the first time this week at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Portimão, Portugal, the skies opened up and the rain came falling down. Today’s action would see drivers hit the track for their final heat race, and if needed the Last Chance Qualifiers. Mother nature played games with the wet weather as quick downpours, lots of wind and sunshine and the unpredictability had many mechanics scratching their heads on what setup to choose.
DD2 heat race A vs D was a guaranteed wet race. Earlier that morning, the drivers had a short moment to learn the fully saturated circuit in warmups, but this time on track meant forcing thirty-six karts to take the green with minimal visibility. Ben Cooper would start second and Nicholas Latifi started third. When the green light fired, it was clear that Cooper had no issues and immediately jumped out into the lead for turn one and Latifi dropped into tenth. With a clear line of sight, Cooper was quick to explore the course and find the best grip and show dominance right away. He was in a league of his own posting times over a second quicker than anyone else on track. Cooper would go on to win by almost nine seconds. Latifi on the other hand had some work cut out for himself as he was shuffled back to tenth in the early stages. Regaining spots wasn’t easy, but Latifi was able to find out the secrets of Portimão and lay down an improved pace allowing him to fight his way back to a final spot of fifth. He would also post the races second fastest time.
The last heat race of the event was the DD2 B vs C groups. This included Pier-Luc Ouellette and Zacharie Richard-Robichon. Today Ouellette really needed to turn things around, with two DNF’s already, this World Champion would need a decent result to even make the LCQ race. The race went live with the green light and both Robichon and Ouellette were off. Ouellette finally survived a race start and opening lap without being crashed out. Robichon was quick to progress forward through the field, moving from nineteenth to ninth and Ouellette advanced from twentieth to fifteenth.
With the heat races now out of the way, the points were calculated and Team Canada drivers Cooper and Latifi were quick to know where they stood, first and fourth. On the other hand, Robichon and Ouellette were nervous about their points. Robichon wanted to avoid being in the LCQ and Ouellette was hoping to just make the LCQ. Both of their wishes came true with Robichon in twenty-seventh and Ouellette fifty-eighth.
No one ever wants to be in the Last Chance Qualifier race, but this was Ouellette’s only chance to make it to Saturday’s pre final. Starting thirtieth, Ouellette was off to a fantastic start and again avoided all the trouble on the first lap and landing in eighteenth. From there he would continue advancing to twelfth, but struggled with pace in the late stages of this wet race and fell to fifteenth when the checkered flag flew. For the first time in this reigning World Champion’s life, he would find himself not making the cut for the finale. A very upsetting moment.
Friday’s action is now wrapped up and Saturday’s pre finals and finals were now in the scopes. Saturday will have the drivers hit the track for a morning warm-up and pre final before the official drivers ceremony. Following the driver parade, the Rotax Micro-Max demonstration race, Rotax Junior will kick off the official Rotax Grand Finals.