Molecule Labs

Race Report #3 for Viking Racing. Claims first podium finish in championship

Saturday May 2nd was the day for the second race in the Jim Russell Northern California Rotax Challenge hosted at Infineon Raceway this time with the Sprint Track Configuration. Unlike Race #1 the weather was not optimal for racing. It was windy and the rain was pouring down. We had been on the track for a test day before the race and had found an optimal setup for the kart. Unfortunately due to the rain nothing from this setup could be used.

Prior to the race we had engaged with Kris Shaw from Marin Karting, whom we also use for driver’s coaching. Kris recommended some new settings and we started to change the kart setup for a full wet race. This included stiffer rear axle, rain tires, chassis ride height, brake bias, front end alignment, gearing and steering geometry – or in other words not trivial stuff. All the way up to Friday it was still insecure whether it would be a wet race or not, so we had not implemented the changes beforehand but was doing it at the track Saturday morning. The net results was that we missed first practice session, which would have come in handy since we had never raced (or driven) in the wet before!

Second session came up and it was raining heavily. We had a few laps to get ready for qualifying. It was very difficult conditions with almost no visibility, very slippery track and banks of water everywhere. We spun several times but managed to stay on the black stuff (the track) unlike many others who ended up in the brown stuff (the mud). Going in to qualifying the objective was simply not to spin and damage the kart. We succeeded in the objective and qualified on an overall 9th position in the 17th kart grid (consisting of two classes). Not too bad for a first time wet race qualifying with literally no advance practice although 8 seconds off P1…! 

The Pre Main came up and the rain was still pouring. We lost a couple of positions in Corner 1 as there were karts everywhere and we did not want to end the race here! We slowly got more familiar with the wet conditions and started pushing more and more and it ended up being a very competitive and close race throughout the heat – especially with Jerry Pretty in kart #0. Halfway through the race he passed us, but we passed him back a few corners later and did not let him by again. We passed 3-4 karts during the race and ended up at a 7th place in class/8th overall with no spins or damage to the kart.

For the Main event weather behaved a bit nicer, it had stopped raining and with the wind the track had started to dry out but still with small pools of water in some of the corners. Everybody was watching the other classes where some had started out on slicks, but they more than lost the time in the water than they gained in the dry so 20 minutes before the Main the conclusion was still to go on wet tires. Literally a few minutes before the grid line out Kris advised us to mount slicks as at this point in time the track had dried up so much that slicks would be advantageous. We made a best effort attempt to swap the rain tires with slicks and rushed the slick mounted wheels and tools to the grid – but too late. The race director informed us that we were not allowed to change at this point in time. 

So the end result was that around half the grid was on wet tires and half the grid was on slicks and everything pointed towards a very exciting and strategic race. As we knew that the track was only going to dry up even more we lowered our tire pressures a lot to prevent over heating in the second half of the race. We also knew that we had to make a close to perfect start and gain a lot of positions if we were to improve our place in the field since the tires would work best in the first half where there was still some water on the track.

Although risky we decided to apply an aggressive start strategy and try to execute on that. We had kept our (high) gearing from the wet race and when the green flag was given, we shot through the grid and went from 8th place to 3rd place in Corner one without touching anyone! During the course of the race we were only passed by one other driver (from the other class) and thereby kept our 3rd position throughout the race. Once again it was a tough and close race but our strategy on gearing, tire pressures and start paid off to the fullest extent, which shows that racing is much more than just steering wheel and throttle. Our wet tires were completely burned out with absolutely no tread left on the surface. 5 laps more and we would have been out of the race.

We went in to this race with no expectations and we went out of it as winners. A very good day that moved us up to a 4th place in the (Masters) Championship well within our top 5 objective. Next race is up June 6th also at Infineon Raceway and in the Reverse National Track Configuration. Due to the bad weather we unfortunately do not have any photos and videos from this race.
We would like to thank our sponsors for making this season possible!