Molecule Labs

Race Report #5 for Viking Racing, Kart #64.

Saturday July 18th was the day for the fourth race in the Jim Russell Northern California Rotax Challenge hosted at Infineon Raceway this time with the Sprint Track Configuration. This track configuration was new to us in race conditions as last race here was in the wet. This configuration is very technical challenging and physical demanding since there is basically no straights and as a driver you are either braking, accelerating or turning. No time to relax what so ever. Once again the weather in the Wine Country showed itself from its best side with almost clear skies and sun.  

We had the base Kart setup ready as we had been on the track quite a bit during the last weeks and we felt very well prepared both in terms of our pace, driving line as well as engine and chassis. In order to maximize the outcome of our coaching efforts we have gone out with our coach Kris Shaw on days with little traffic, which has proven valuable. On the flipside it is difficult to predict the race speed on practice days with only a few karts, little rubber on the track and minimal grip. So both coach and driver were excited to compare our pace on race day. Without question the coach was more confident than the driver! We agreed that if we could get to a low 52 second time on new tires, we would be very satisfied with the results of all our coaching/practicing. The best we had done in lead/follow sessions was in the low 53’s. With new tires and a lot of rubber on the track we knew we could do better…

We started the first session Saturday morning as first group out. The track was slippery and cold but even at really worn tires we were able to put down a time in the mid 52’s (our main objective for the day!) and we were really excited as we knew the track would become better and we still had the new tires left. We had chosen a low gearing and suffer a bit down the short straights as pulling fast of the corners on a really tight track is essential. As we had not practiced a lot on new tires we decided to mount the new tires for the second practice session in order to get used to the feeling and thus optimize everything for the qualifying session to come up after second practice. Despite each practice session is 10 laps we decided to push hard from the first lap and only do 6 laps as in qualifying, pull in and monitor tire temp and pressures. Once again to optimize everything for qualifying. 

We went out behind our closest competitors and pushed right away as planned. On lap 3 we passed the guy in front of us (that we are normally a second behind) and we put down 3 laps in a row under 52 seconds with a fastest lap of 51.597 seconds! Even though we felt the kart and track was just getting better and better we were true to our strategy on pulled out after 6 laps. Both driver and coach was very happy with the results and our expectations to both qualifying and race rose a notch. It turned out to be with reason as we had put down the 3rd fastest time in our class. All drivers around us (both behind and ahead) are very experienced drivers with many years experience and some of them racing semi professionally cross country on very high budgets. So with that in mind we were very happy that we could pull this off with less than a year of Karting and only 3 races.

We used the same tactics as in practice to place ourselves behind the closest competitors when we pulled out for qualifying. This “rabbit” method oftentimes pulls a few tenths more out of the driver. However very fast it turned out that we could not keep up with the competition and 1 lap in to the qualifying session the motor blew up… VERY frustrating! The rules are clear, when you change engine you have to start from the back of the pack and with two classes running together, a total field of around 20 karts and a very tight track everything now looked difficult. The only good about the situation was that the engine was covered by warranty – something very unique in the racing world and as far as we know Rotax is the only company offering this. On the flip side since their main business is aircraft engines this is expected (although we are insecure what a warranty replacement engine could do for you if your aircrafts’ engine blew up in the skies…)

We started the Pre Final from last position and gained a few positions in the first corner and we patiently engaged in our pursuit through the field. For obvious reasons we did not have a lot of exercise in this art and it proved difficult. Not the least because the spare engine was at least 0.5 seconds off the first engine. We probably passed 8 karts and made it to an in-class 5th place and got stuck behind a slower (but 40 pounds lighter) kart from the Light class. Despite we were faster and he had nothing to gain as we were in different classes he fought very hard for his position. Although being overall slower it is very difficult to pass a 40 pounds lighter kart, as it will obviously pull faster out of the corners. Very determined to pass we finally passed the slower kart in non elegant fashion but a pass is a pass! However the guy could still not get that we were in different classes and he kept hitting us and in order not to end the race in the dirt, we decided to let him by again and end the race at P5, which would be an acceptable starting position for the final.     

We started the Final from P5 in class (probably mid pack overall), and like in previous races we had a good start and gained a couple of positions in the first corner. However already in Corner #2 (S-chicane) another Kart did not feel the need to brake before the corner, but used us instead and we were literally flying off track and in to the dirt. We lost half a lap to the back marker and like in the Pre final we had to start chasing. Learning from the Pre as well as input from Kris made the passes easier this time. We were able to follow Karts in front of us very closely, determine their weaknesses and out-accelerate them out of the tight corners.

Even with a half lap down we were able to make our way up to a 6th in class position, meaning that we probably passed 6-8 Karts. As it is very difficult to predict the outcome of a race we had set a lap time as a goal (rather than a race result) before the race. We met this goal by a huge margin, and as such it was hard to be too disappointed. An overall 6th place was not what we came for but with a blown up engine, a slower spare engine, starting from behind and a lot of traffic from the other class a 6th place was an acceptable outcome. In the championship we kept our 5th place, and are now only 10 points from 4th.

Yet a learning experience where got confirmed that we are very close to the top with the right amount of practice and marginal (luck). We also learned a lot about passing and probably also the need to be a bit more patient in the races instead of pushing too hard in the first corners and put the race at risk. This is a part of the race craft and experience and not something we will learn at practice days. Next race up is August 29th at Infineon – this time at the National configuration.

 We would like to thank our sponsors for making this season possible!