As part of CKN’s massive coverage of the 2014 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals we bring you a four part series by 3-time Rotax Grand Finals Champion Ben Cooper. Recapping his most memorable experiences at the Rotax Grand Finals, Cooper gives CKN an inside look at the highs and lows of his six trips around the world to compete in the ‘Olympics of Karting’.
Part 2: My First RMCGF Title
By: Ben Cooper for CanadianKartingNews.com
The Previous Year:
In 2007 the RGF was held for the first time in sunny Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. I had qualified for that event by winning my first European championship earlier in the year at Genk. I remember first arriving to the track which literally was in the middle of the desert just outside of Al Ain thinking to myself that I can’t believe where I am and how there was such an amazing facility there. What was just as surprising was that some very familiar faces were running the track, Guy Shefield and his father Roger Shefield. These two guys were very influential in my early karting days, with Roger being with me for my first real time driving a kart at an indoor track and he was also with me helping through my kart license test in the UK at Sandown Park kart track. Roger also runs and still does to this day the Formula 6 championship, which is the championship where I first started to compete on most Saturdays throughout the year in 1998.
I was fast that year qualifying second in my group and eventually placing myself second for the start of the Prefinal. This at the time was such a big concern as most people who started from second there quite often came out of the first turn back in fourth or fifth, which is the last thing we wanted. As it turns out I came out in third after turn one and so the race was on. This RGF event was my second and I was very nervous and shall we say a little impatient at the start of the race. On lap two I was still in third with the leader at the time Mike Simpson pulling out a little gap, and second place defending like crazy. Rather than waiting and staying calm I tried to force the issue for second place going down into the hairpin. As I went for the move, second moved over to defend the corner, but I was already creeping alongside and as he moved over his rear bumper went into my front tire tearing the valve in half. Obviously I couldn’t continue so I pitted at the end of the lap and had to start last for the final.
“I know many people have their ifs and buts stories, or should I say everybody has their ifs and but’s stories, BUT that is the one and only race I truly believe I would have won if I had started from the front of the grid.”
Starting from last is always fun as you no longer have the pressure of being at the front on your shoulders. Naturally you just go out there to have fun because you now have nothing to loose and this was the case for me. I also wanted to put on a good race, as it was my uncle, who lives in Dubai, first time ever seeing me race. He arrived just after the pre final so he witnessed the disappointment but I wanted him to see what a good kart race was like.
I remember thinking to myself on the grid that it was a very long way to the front, but I had made a goal of making the top 10. If I’m honest I don’t remember much or really nothing about the race other than the last few laps where I was watching the battle for the lead. When I was looking across the track to see the front two drivers, I noticed that I was pulling in on them and that I was much quicker. At this point I had reached my goal and I was in seventh position, which is where I would finish come the end, but seeing that I was much faster than the leaders made my heart sink.
At the end of the race I was very happy because I drove well to come through the field to seventh, but when I found out that I had the fastest lap by three-tenths and was on most laps half a second faster than the front pack I couldn’t help to think, what could have been if I had been a little more patient at the start of the pre final, but you learn from your mistakes and move on.
I know many people have their ifs and buts stories, or should I say everybody has their ifs and but’s stories, BUT that is the one and only race I truly believe I would have won if I had started from the front of the grid.
Racing La Conca:
As most people know La Conca in Italy is a purpose built karting facility and what a facility it is. I had raced there twice before, but neither was in Rotax. The first time was the first ever WSK round in 2006 in ICA where I finished second, the second time was earlier in 2008 in KF1 where I didn’t have such a great time. This was also the first time that the Rotax Grand Finals had been in Italy and for me it was my first Grand Finals in Europe. The kart that year for senior was a Maranello chassis, which wasn’t too bad for me as I had been racing a CRG for a while and there were some obvious similarities as CRG built the Maranello.
“In all honesty, I really did think my racing was going to be coming to an end that year as I knew it was almost impossible to study and race competitively…”
La Conca 2008 was my third Rotax Grand Finals having competed in Malaysia in 2005 and Al Ain in 2007. For those two RGF’s I had qualified through the Rotax European Championships and for La Conca it was no different, I had qualified again through Euro Max by finishing second in the Senior Max Championship.
My Preparation for the Grand Finals:
Back in 2008 my racing had slowed down in terms of number of races we were doing. I had started university studying motorsport engineering in September and the UNI lifestyle had started to take place. Partying pretty much every night and sort of studying through the day wasn’t the best way to keep in shape in the lead up to the Grand Finals. In all honesty, I really did think my racing was going to be coming to an end that year as I knew it was almost impossible to study and race competitively, as I am not the sort of person who can just read something and remember it, I am the sort of person who will have to study and work my ass off to just pass. Obviously with the partying, the working my ass off part didn’t come very easy. I also had started to realize how hard it was for my parents to keep me racing and paying the bills and I didn’t want to carry on putting them through this.
My warm up race for the RGF that year was a club race at PFI kart circuit in the middle of October in the pouring rain. It was not the ideal practice, but it was seat time, which was important. I didn’t have the best time in the race as I spun in the final while running top-three, so my preparation was complete you could say.
Now I don’t know what it was at the Rotax Grand Finals that year, but I was fast. I don’t remember having many races like that before. The moment I hit the ground on practice day I was quick. There was only one hiccup during the weekend and that was in one of the practice session when another driver went of the track in between turn 1 and 2, to then come back on the track just as I was coming past destroying my axle and putting me hard into the tires. I remember being so annoyed with the other driver as it cost my dad 350 Euros for a 150 Euro axle, with the silly inflated prices at the RGF.
“After the podium ceremonies I went back to the tent to gather my things and start to prepare the kart to be returned to Marenello, when my dad came up to me to show me a little something he had kept from the year before…”
I went on to qualify in third as on qualifying day there was a strong head wind and I didn’t get the perfect lap with a good slipstream. So I started two heats off of second and one heat off on pole. I went on to win all the heats of which two were in the dry and one in the rain. I guess the wet club race at PFI helped me in that heat, as I didn’t spin this time. I also went on to win the Prefinal by some distance.
I don’t remember being very nervous for the Final. I had been so fast all week that I knew if I had a good start I would be good. After the first few laps where Chris Lock in second pursued me closely I started to creep away and I went on to finish comfortably ahead. I remember coming across the line to take the chequered flag with such elation that I don’t really know what I done to celebrate. It’s only after the race having seen pictures that I remember what I did.
It didn’t sink in at all what I had just done and that I was a World Champion for the first time. One of my first memories was when I exited parc ferme to see my Mum and Dad and Big Nige of HRS. Obviously my Mum and Dad were a little teary eyed, but Big Nige was the most surprising. I remember seeing him on the phone to his wife Sue and crying telling her that I had just won. For those of you that don’t know, I actually raced for Nigel when he had the HRS team with Tristram Oman who was my mechanic in parc ferme. They had never won the RGF before and I felt such pride in helping them to achieve this goal.
After the podium ceremonies I went back to the tent to gather my things and start to prepare the kart to be returned to Maranello, when my dad came up to me to show me a little something he had kept from the year before. It was the valve that had been ripped out from my wheel in the pre final in 2007. He had kept that with him all year until this moment where he could put it in the trash. I couldn’t believe he had kept something like that in his bag all year just to wait to trash it when we won. I wonder now if I had never won the GF’s, whether he would still have it in his bag.
At the end of the day after all was said and done, we went out to celebrate at a small pizzeria on the coast. We had eaten there a lot during the week so the guys in there knew us well. When we arrived we were seated and the guys asked how we had done, so we told them that I had won and so on. The next thing we knew the restaurant owner had brought out a huge bottle of champagne on the house to celebrate.
During the dinner we were reminiscing about the day and how the week went on when Tristram started telling us a story that actually happened at the start of the final. As you know, most mechanics like to position themselves well on the mechanics stand so that their drivers could see them. Nowadays most mechanics have a whole range of signs and signals to try and aid their drivers. Tris wasn’t one of those mechanics, but he had been sitting in the same place of the stand since the start of the racing, which was in the corner at the far end of the mechanic stand. For the start of the final however as I had been getting ready for the start he had been arguing with another mechanic fighting for his place. One of the other mechanics had taken his place and Tris was not willing to give it up. They had a little argument when another mechanic explained that Tris was my mechanic and that he had sat there all weekend and that he should let Trist take his place. It was soon resolved and Tris took his spot so that he wouldn’t jinx the race I guess.
In Part 3, Ben gives you an inside look on his second and third Rotax Grand Finals titles. You won’t want to miss it!
Through the month of November CKN has full coverage of the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals and Team Canada. CKN will be trackside in Valencia, Spain from November 23-30 to bring you all the action on http://canadiankartingnews.com and on our social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.