As is becoming its custom to end the racing season, PSL Karting was very well represented at the recent Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals as it had nine drivers from three countries in action, and was active across all four Grand Final classes. Six of those drivers advanced to the main events, where Nicholas Latifi produced the highest PSL result when he crossed twelfth in Rotax Junior. The only rookie on the PSL roster ran strong throughout the week, and when all was said and done he finished right where he started, and well ahead of his goal heading in.
“The practice days went very well and I think we were always running in the top 15,” he said of the early stages of the week that set the tone for what followed. “For qualifying, I knew I had to place somewhere near the top because I did not want to start in the middle for the heat races. I found my place on the track and drove hard, which resulted in a 12th-place overall.”
That number, of course, was cut in half when the field was divided into four racing groups, and from there the fifteen-year-old from Toronto impressed when heat racing began. Latifi posted a pair of top tens in his first two runs, and eleventh in his third to pass directly to the prefinal.
“The heat racing was really intense and aggressive, a lot different than what you would find here,” he said when looking back at his first Grand Final. “Starting on the outside, I just wanted to get through the start cleanly and have high, consistent finishes. After the point accumulations, ending up 8th made me and my team really happy. My goal when I showed up was just to make the final and we exceeded that by a lot.”
While he was happy to pass directly, he would have been even happier to be up or back one position in doing so, as the outside start positions created a lot of work for the young driver in both the prefinal and final. Working to find his way to the inside, Latifi dropped spots in both, and was then forced to take back what he could once the race lines had settled.
“In the prefinal, starting on the outside once again really hurt me because I got caught on the outside in the first three turns, watching trains of karts go by me,” he said. “Once I settled down I managed to pass some karts back and was relatively fast, but it was already too late. For the final, I once again started on the outside and lost a couple of positions on the start. Battling early on in the race caused me to lose the top-ten pack, and I just couldn't catch them. I was pretty much driving alone the whole race.”
“Overall it was a very great experience. Everything was well organized and the paddock was really a remarkable sight. It was nice too see all the teams working together doing the sport they love, and the facility was amazing. The track is now one of my favourites, and the food at the track was delicious. Twelfth in the world is amazing and I'm really, really happy with it.”
Latifi was definitely a driver in Italy that started the week well and just built on the momentum, but another PSL driver had a polar opposite experience as DD2 pilot Kyle Herder realized quickly that he had a serious issue bolted to his CRG.
“Oh, man. I had a turd of a motor for all of practice and qualifying!” he said of his start to Grand Finals, “but this is the way the event works. Everyone has to draw a number for a kart/motor and I just didn't get lucky. I was missing about 1000rpm at the end of every straight, and spent the first two days outside Rotax's Tech Support tent. I qualified 36th with it, and felt even that was a miracle lap!”
It was then that he and Team Canada finally got their message through to Rotax Tech, and though Herder was headed to Heat 1 with a new motor, he and father Lon were only just beginning to tweak the chassis after all the motor issues. Still, the knowledge and experience of the pair paid off in spades, as Herder became one of the biggest movers in the event following the heats, advancing an incredible 21 positions in the field, and then took even more in the prefinal.
“I was extremely happy with my three heat race results,” Herder said after coming forward in all three, the last two reaching inside the top ten. “Heat one wasn’t the best as I had to go really wide to avoid a wreck in turn one, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Then in Heats two and three I was near or at my best. I was running extremely strong in the infield, then fighting to hold my position on the straights. That put me 15th for the prefinal, and I drove fairly conservative as I just wanted to have a good starting spot for the final. I finished 12th with another gain of three spots, and for the Final I was the top starting North American driver and I felt that I had a good chance for a top 8.”
The cautious optimism came with the knowledge that although the new power plant was an improvement, it still wasn’t the pick of the litter that could put Herder on the podium. Then, in a cruel twist at the end of a long season, more pressing matters came to the fore.
“In the warm-up laps for the final, something wasn't right,” Herder said. “The motor was sputtering and it would not consistently accelerate strong or even respond at times. It had the symptoms of a bad battery, though it was too late to do anything. I had to make best of what I had. I had a great start and avoided all the trouble in turn 1 and was up to 10th in the opening lap. But once the chaos settled down, I was fighting to try and keep pace and would lose a spot every few laps and gain the odd one when others had contact. It was heartbreaking to finish 16th after working so hard, but overall to finish that far up with my issues was great.”
The rest of the crew in DD2 had varying fortunes. Kyle Stevens was eliminated in Heat racing while both Nathan Mauel and Rudy Camarillo were eliminated from contention after the Last-Chance-Qualifying race. Luc Sauriol qualified tenth in DD2 Masters, and after a pair of top tens in Heat racing he started the prefinal P15 and finished one spot better. He, too, would have a disappointing final after being involved in a first-lap contact. The remaining PSL trio were in Rotax Senior, and all three were being noticed - one perhaps too much so.
Brothers Pier-Luc and Hugo Ouellette had timed third and fourth respectively but PLO had his three best laps taken away from the session after contact, dropping him to fourteenth. Jesus Rios Jr., was the third PSL driver in Senior, and each produced two great heats with problems in a third. Hugo opened with a win and a third before finishing 30th, Pier-Luc opened with fifteenth and followed with fourth and a win, and Rios opened with 21st and finished with sixth-sixth. All three then moved directly to the prefinal where Pier-Luc advanced to off-pole, Hugo to P14, and Rios was knocked to P23 after being caught up in a turn one crash.
Sadly for Rios the same occurred in the main event, leading to a 26th, and Hugo was involved in the same turn one fracas before finishing 31st. Pier-Luc jumped to the lead when the lights went out and battled for podium position throughout, only to be issued a ten-second jump-start penalty that led to a fall to thirteenth.
PSL Karting is now preparing for the Florida Winter Tour and the 2011 season across North America. For more information, please visit www.pslkarting.com.
PSL Karting Results from Rotax Grand Finals - La Conca, Italy
12. Nicholas Latifi
13. Pier-Luc Ouellette
26. Jesus Rios Jr.
31. Hugo Ouellette
16. Kyle Herder
41. Rudy Camarillo
49. Nathan Mauel
70. Kyle Stevens
Rotax Masters DD2
29. Luc Sauriol
Photo Credit: Gregory Lussier, www.babelphotos.ca