Race Report for Viking Racing, Kart #464. US Rotax Grand Nationals July, 2010
Finally the much anticipated date came up where we were to compete in the US Grand Nationals. The event took place at New Castle Motorsports Park in Indiana and although we are spoiled having Infineon International Karting Center as our home track especially the facilities in New Castle were a nodd up compared to what we are used to.
The track itself is 1 mile with two very long and fast straights where drafting is huge, fast sweeper corners, tight hairpins as well as banked corners. Or in other words it got it all. A little bit narrow and hopeless curbs/rumble strips but all in all a great track. Furthermore there is on-track restaurant, bar, VIP lounges with panorama view over the track excellent service and RV facilities.
Like the track the weather in Indiana also offered everything! During the week we encountered several thunderstorms, monsoon like rain (keeping us up from 3am to 6am one night just to save our equipment) as well as a very warm and humid climate.
My coach and mechanic Kris Shaw and I arrived arrived early to have 3 days of unofficial practice to get to know the track as well as the perfect setup. The first challenge to note was that unlike Infineon this track builds up a good amount of rubber meaning that the fast line is running on actual rubber on top pf the asphalt. This was a new experience and we had to get far in to the event before I really comprehended this new feeling. Not only was the rubber line key to being fast, it will also kill all momentum out of the corner if you are not hard on the throttle basically before apex.
We brought 2 identical race prepared karts with full data acquisition and onboard video and spent most of the 3 days experimenting with lead and follow sessions, data and video analysis as well as tuning of chassis and engines. It came became clear early on that Kris managed to build a killer engine that would pull away from most people even if they were behind in the draft and that served me well throughout the rest of the event.
After the 3 days I got to a best time of 1.07,6 roughly half a second slower than Kris. Considering Kris has been a National Champ and raced karts for many many years I was relatively content with that and hoped I would be fast enough to qualify within top 10. Finishing the event within top 10 was our goal although we knew it would be a stretch to finish a US National in top 10 in our only second year of karting.
As it is a big event the race format was very different than I was used to. There was basically one day of official practice, qualifying, 3 heat races where we had to start in our qualifying position each time, a pre final where we would start on the average finishing position of our heat races and at the end a final where we would start where we finished the pre final. All in all a lot of racing!
We finished the second last practice session Wednesday night at 10th so we were happy with that and felt ready for Thursday's qualifying session. During qualifying my lap timer did not work, which was frustrating and probably stole more focus away than it should have and I put down a fastest lap of 1.07,8 - only 2 tenths of my previous best time following Kris, but only enough for 18th position on the grid... It was a very tight field with basically 26 karts within tenths. 2 tenth's faster and I would have been in top 10.
There was still a lot of racing to do but we also knew starting mid pack at 18th position would be difficult as there is almost always trouble in corner 1 in fields as big as this. Anyway we went out to the first heat race Thursday afternoon determined to improve as we knew we were better than 18th. I took it easy in the first corner to stay out of trouble, followed the pack and started to work my way through the field. I passed 4 karts in the 10 lap heat race and ended 14th. Satisfying result before Friday's two heat races.
We went out for Friday's practice session focused and determined to improve throughout the day. The kart felt great and I was able to hang with several top 5-10 karts and I was literally pushing the 4th place driver around the track so it looked promising. Entering corner 1 in the start of the first heat race of the day almost everybody crashed and in order to avoid hitting the pack I had nowhere to go but the grass so I did, spun and was the last guy to get on the track again several seconds after the last(!) guy in the field. I charged like crazy and was able to catch and pass 5 karts and ended 21st. Very disappointing outcome.
In the 3rd heat race I managed to stay out of trouble in to corner 1 and settled in with the pack and started to pass people. I made my way to 12th and the sum of the three heat races compared to the results of the other drivers' would determine the place on the grid for Saturday's pre final. We knew the 21st from heat 2 would kill us, and we were right as we had to start 17th on the grid. Only positive thing about this was the I would now start on the inside!
I got a great start in the pre final on the inside and once again started to pass people. At a race like this there are no really slow drivers so each pass is a battle. I made it to 13th, which was a great result for the final and we would only have to pass 3 karts to end up in top 10. However entering the tech barn we would learn that once again the marginals were not on our side. I had been penalized 4 positions for an "incorrect pass". We got very frustrated with that - as the pass in question were a 100% text book example on how to pass on the inside in a hair pin and there was not even contact. We got it on video, which just confirmed our case but the race director refused to change it. I negotiated the penalty down to 2 positions so we had to start the final from 15th.
Once again we did a solid start, settled in and started to pass people. I passed 6 karts with a lot of good passes drafting down the straight as well as in the tight corners. Going in to the last banked corner before the main straight position 10 and 11 were battling and they went wide. I went on the inside and found myself in 9th! I thought I had clear track and went full throttle just as they both collided slid down and once again in order not to hit other drivers I had nowhere to go but the grass and once again I ended up coming on the track dead last. I managed to catch a few guys and that was the end to the Nationals 2010.
Overall a lot of challenges and disappointment but after getting the pulse down to normal also a lot of good things to take home. We were consistently only a few tenths of the very fastest, we once again got confirmed that we got the race craft, the equipment as well as fast engines. We burned through around 30 new tires during the event as well as hundreds of laps so I definitely came out as a faster and better racer.
The only major mistake we did was qualifying, as had we started further up the field we are convinced the end result would have been different. In the final we made it to above our objectives with a decent gap to the drivers behind and only an accident between two other drivers kept us away from meeting our objective. On top of that even with 2 karts on the track for the first 3 days as well as 5 races we did not encounter one mechanical defective causing a canceled or ruined session. So all in all we are relatively happy with our performance but disappointed with the result. We are now just even more determined and focused to go home and work even harder to improve at the next years' nationals!
We will upload photo's and video's from the event soon. Next challenge up is the 5th race in the NorCal Rotax series at Infineon International Karting Center July 25th.
We would like to thank our sponsors for making this season possible!