The 2012 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals are finally underway at Kartódromo Internacional Algrave in Portimão, Portugal. Four days of being trackside with limited practice time for all the competitors completed, we were finally able to move onto official qualifying. Competitors were split into two groups based on their kart number. Odd number karts were in group 1 and even number karts in group 2. This made for interesting qualifying results as the weather conditions varied from group to group. Not only was the weather a factor, but finding the right group to slipstream with would definitely help decide the karter’s heat race starting spot.
Team Canada drivers, Ben Cooper and Pier-Luc Ouellette were first to take the track in Group 1. Both drivers patiently waited back on the grid as the qualifying session began. The strategy behind this was to wait for the track to fill up with competitors and then add yourself to the mix when you could find the correct slipstream group. Cooper was quick right away as his first hot lap time would place him ahead of majority of the karts that had already completed 5 or 6 laps. His 2nd lap would send him almost to the top of the time sheets. Belgian driver, Xen De Ruwe was extremely fast as he would hold pole position right from the beginning of the session and would never have to look back. Cooper was not able to better his time due to bad luck with traffic and would settle for 2nd. At this point, Ouellette’s battle had just begun. Struggling with motor issues, Ouellette was near the tail end of his group. Though never giving up, he was able to drive a near perfect lap and use the slipstream to his advantage to qualify 20th.
Group 2, even numbers was next to take to the track. Fellow Canadians, Nicholas Latifi and Zacharie Richard-Robichon were ready to leave their mark in today’s qualifying results. Latifi was visually quick right away as he got down to business immediately. Latifi would jump to 2nd spot mid session, then was bumped to 3rd and was not able to better his time as he approached end of the session. Robichon’s story was similar to Ouellette’s, where talent and determination were their only hope to a decent starting position. Robichon put his head down and landed himself in 19th spot in the 2nd group of qualifying DD2’s.
The final outcome of the Canadian DD2 powerhouse team when the qualifying groups were combined, Cooper and Latifi in 4th and 5th and Robichon and Ouellette were respectively 38th and 39th. Qualifying is always important, but it never defines your final results. The race starts of Kartódromo will be fast through turn 1 and 2, but the long straight section in between should give the drivers plenty of time to slot into position safely and then hopefully advance themselves to the top of the results.