Article By: PSL Karting
Photo By: Cody Schindel, Autosports Media Group
Though it seems the summer season in Canadian racing has just begun, the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship reached its halfway point on Sunday as the Rotax masses were contesting six classes at PSL Karting Trois-Rivieres. An even one hundred were on hand for race number three following a practice day Friday and a round of the Quebec Cup on Saturday. Staying true to the early form of the weekend, morning weather proved anything but predictable, and after wet warm-up and qualifying sessions, the clouds broke midway through prefinals and drivers had their first good looks at a dry track during very intense finals.
Opinions on the official number of corners varied, but one thing that was for certain was that karts spent very little time racing in a straight line. The tight and twisty confines of PSL Karting Trois-Rivieres kept drivers on their toes, and the added challenge of persistent rain gave areas surrounding the track an aquapark of their own! Many were caught out and took the plunge early in the day, while others kept their noses pointing forward and benefited with strong grid positions heading to main events. Fans and drivers alike appreciated the warm and welcoming confines of the upper lounge, complete with F1 and Indianapolis 500 coverage, and an elevated grandstand helped all stay in touch with the action. Championship favourites have begun to emerge, while others see their first shot at Team Canada 2011 beginning to fade away.
Many drivers will tell you, it’s not that they don’t like to race in the rain, it’s more they don’t enjoy a day where the weather can’t seem to make up its mind. They like full dry, or full wet, and that is what the DD2 class failed to get - more so than any other class in ECKC action. The day began with Pier-Luc Ouellette taking his first pole position of the season for CRG, followed closely by the Birel of Christophe Boisclair, the TonyKart of Darren White, and leading rookie Nicholas Latifi. From there a field of fifteen dropped in varying degrees, but it was nothing compared to one of the wildest prefinals in recent memory. With the track drying out in late morning, DD2 was the last class up, and the first with a serious decision on its hands: rain tires or slicks? Most chose rains - and most chose wrong.
Of course it is an easy call looking backward, while at the time drivers at the front of the field had to safeguard championship hopes and balance those with what they observed their closest of rivals doing. Thus it became the race of the underdogs, as five came scrapping from the back half of the field in the back half of the run. Through the early going the slickers just fought to keep karts on the island, but it wasn’t long before they began to see a payoff. Marc-Andre Bourgeois had cruised through to the lead by five, and by lap seven dry tires owned the top five positions on track. While the rain-rubber best was four drivers posting 59.7 seconds, Intrepid’s Cory Luciano turned a race best lap of 56.5 on lap nine, and Bourgeois was twenty seconds clear of any sign of rain when the checkers waved. Reid Arnold was on his bumper in second, followed home by the Tecno of Stefano Romano, Dominic Legrand, and Corey Walsh. Luciano retired on the final lap with a shifted axle, while Latifi led the rain brigade ahead of Ouellette and Boisclair. The final then had none of the weather concerns, yet proved just as thrilling and wrapped the event with the best finish of the day.
With many in the field starting from new and exciting positions, the run through turns one and two was wild with too many karts going too many wide! The CRG of Walsh got turned around and Luciano and others bailed out in taking to the grass. The bump and grind continued as the field wound through the Eastern hairpins and circled for home, and racing through the downhill interior Legrand and Boisclair already had a gap on Arnold, Latifi and Romano. Ouellette was looking like a caged animal as he sought any opportunity, and the field delivered it early on two. Once again working through the pair of hairpins at the East end, Boisclair took the lead while Ouellette capitalized three-fold and got the trio in front of him running just two corners! The qualifying order was beginning to be restored, but as early as four the race looked over. Boisclair was checking out while thanking the fight that went on behind, and while Ouellette had reached second quickly, he was already two seconds back of the lead Birel. Arnold took third spot a lap later, and the podium looked set - but the order was anything but!
With most eyes glued to the action taking place in the midfield, PLO was slowly creeping in on Boisclair. It took the middle stages of the race for the advance to become noticeable, but by thirteen there was noone on the property craving the Last Lap board like Boisclair. When it finally went up, the CRG was on his bumper and the final lap proved epic. Boisclair held through the East end and down through the middle, but in the twisty final sector Ouellette produced the master stroke. Altering his line entering the right-hand turn that faced karts back toward the grand stand, he created a side-by-side drag race to the final right hander, and capitalized with the inside line. From there it was a matter of track management, and Ouellette had his second consecutive win of the schedule! Boisclair was second, also maintaining a perfect podium record, and Arnold was third in completing the awards ceremony. Latifi crossed fourth, and Luciano was fifth in coming from the back for a second time on Sunday.
Rotax Max Senior
The new Birels continue to impress in ECKC action, and Jean-Francois Lafontaine gave the SRA marque its first series’ victory when he completed a perfect sweep of Rotax Senior earlier in the day. After edging his way to pole from the CRG of Pearce Herder, Lafontaine operated with surgical precision in the prefinal. Holding from pole, the top ten spread early and the only change came just before half as Kevin Monteith began to move. He took third from Boisclair, then created a Birel 1-2 by passing Herder on the next-to-last lap. Boisclair and Herder had a great scrap for an inside starting spot, with Herder emerging, Boisclair fourth and points’ leader Marco Di Leo fifth. Rebounding from being bounced to the back after qualifying third, Steven Szigeti carved forward to sixth in the final wet run the Seniors would see.
Lafontaine held at the wave of the green with Monteith slotting second in the main event that afternoon. Boisclair was looking for any way past Herder in the run to the East end, and as the chase group fought for space the lead pair got a little gap early. The scene repeated in the second run to the sign, with Boisclair again looking desperate to move. He shot to the inside of Herder at the East hairpin and in the ensuing battle of the brakes the pair perfectly executed synchronized spinning - allowing for Di Leo to cruise through to third with Marc-Andre Levesque and Luke Chudleigh in tow. It was then quickly apparent that Monteith was the new prey, and Di Leo was going hunting. He got the spot working the end of lap four, and Chudleigh worked past Levesque on the same lap. Just one later Chudleigh also got by Monteith, but the latter wasn’t prepared to see his podium spot go. Fighting to land a counter blow, Monteith got an inside run into the East hairpin that was very reminiscent of the attempt Boisclair made on Herder. In fact, too much so - as the pair were lost out wide and the door opened for those behind. Chudleigh fell to fifteenth, while Monteith emerged in the eye of a storm. Levesque went by, Szigeti went by, and Kevin King and Austin Milwain nearly did the same in splitting the wounded Birel. It all solidified two steps on the podium, as Lafontaine and Di Leo were then long gone.
Szigeti took third in short order to cement his spot on the blocks, while the remainder fought for precious points the rest of the way home. In the end, Milwain had taken fourth, Levesque fifth, and King sixth. Boisclair ran back to cross seventh, just in front of Monteith, Massimo Scotti and Reid Arnold. Di Leo flexed his muscles late in erasing the gap to the lead Birel, yet left discretion as the better part of valor in prioritizing championship goals over a last lap gasp for the win. For his part, Lafontaine was Sunday perfection, completing a sweep to the top step in his first ECKC start of the season.
Rotax Max Junior
And in this corner... the Junior crowd continued to keep ECKC Officials on their toes in once again generating penalties and protests - six from qualifying alone! When the dust settled, or perhaps mist is more appropriate, Olivier Bedard had Birel on pole from Zachary Claman-DeMelo and Anthony Tolfa. A pole time of 1:05.697 had been put down by Jesse Lazare, but he was tossed for having a number plate taped to and guarding his rad in the wet. Claman-DeMelo lost his best lap for jumping the track entry line, and the juniors also produced dings for scrubbing tires, being too wide, and passing under yellow both before and after the checkered flag! They followed that up with multiple spinners on the warm-up lap of the prefinal, and the first start being waved off!
When they got down to race business, Claman-DeMelo got the jump from the outside with Bedard right behind into one. The pair quickly worked a gap on the field, and the top two spots on track were never going to be challenged. As it unfolded, Bedard stayed in chase mode through the first half and after taking a few peeks over laps seven and eight, he moved to the lead on nine and wiggled free coming home. Claman-DeMelo crossed alone in second, Tolfa was third and, apparently unfazed by starting at the back, Lazare was fourth! Already P10 through one, the Intrepid driver was eighth through two, and sixth through three. From there he had some ground to cover, but was fifth through seven and fourth through eight. Nothing changed from there - until the calls came in post-race. A fresh batch of three altered the order: Claman-DeMelo’s being the most significant in that his great start was deemed a little too great, and a five-second penalty assessed. The altered order had Tolfa move alongside pole sitter Bedard, and Claman-DeMelo moved to the outside of Lazare on row two.
When the final took the green, on attempt number two, the Juniors went at each other like gang busters and stayed two and three wide from the start into the East end hairpins. As they made the turns for home, Claman-DeMelo led from Lazare, and they already had a gap on Cameron Morrison, Marc-Antoine Cardin and Tyler Kashak. The front three didn’t change from there to the late stages as the war was waged for positions four, five and six. Artem Korolev took fifth working lap five, he being another driver to surge from the back, a broken chain in qualifying his downfall, but Cardin took the spot back working lap nine and by then Bedard was back on the scene as well. They also closed on Morrison late in the race, and Cardin took the final podium position from the TonyKart driver with two laps to go! Korolev retired with chain guard issues on the same lap, giving free pass to Bedard. Up front, Claman-DeMelo had looked to be sneaking away but Lazare did his best lap on ten and pounced on eleven! Diving inside at the next-to-last right hander in front of the grand stands, Lazare got through to his first lead of the day and it became significant when Claman-DeMelo dropped his left side wheels on the exit. From there Lazare was alone, Claman-DeMelo was alone, and the Cardin moved to podium position two laps later.
The Rest of the Show
In Rotax Mini-Max Jeffrey Kingsley was on pole position and scored a commanding prefinal win as he romped fifteen seconds clear of the field in just ten laps! A dry final then produced a much closer affair, as Karter Hickling grabbed the lead through one and had some early breathing room as the others diced for position behind. When the chase pack got organized in the twelve-lap run, they ran down the leader and into the late stages Hickling led a line of karts including: Kami Moreira Laliberte, Kinglsey, Tyler Ripani and Austin Versteeg. It all came down to a last lap showdown and the order was rocked at the far end. By the time they got back to the line, Kingsley was back on top with Ripani in second and Versteeg third! Laliberte and Hickling crossed fourth and fifth.
In Micro-Max, Antonio Serravalle once again swept the day. On pole in qualifying by over a half-second, Serravalle then held the edge in winning the prefinal by the same margin over Joe Soranno and Dylan Tavella. The final was drama free as the Tecno driver ran well clear of Erik Hovesen and Jacob Ewaniuk. DD2 Masters was a much closer contest as Francis Mondou took pole from Dany St-Hilaire. They reversed positions in the prefinal when St-Hilaire won by five seconds from Mondou and Michel Legrand, and in the final St-Hilaire repeated the effort in edging his Intrepid Quebec teammate Mondou by just two-tenths, with Goodwood winner Paul Carvalho coming forward to finish third. Martin Jensen was the winner in Masters, consistently the quickest once things dried out. The series now heads to Mosport International Karting to begin its second half.
The 2011 Eastern Canadian Karting Championship alternates between Ontario and Quebec. After beginning at Goodwood Kartways May 7-8 with races one and two, Karting Trois-Rivieres hosted race three on May 29. Races four and five are slated for June 25-26 at Mosport International Karting - a race run in conjunction with the Pan American Rotax Max Challenge - and for the second-straight season the finale will offer a preview of the Canadian National Championships as the Jim Russell Karting Academy at Mont-Tremblant hosts drivers on Sunday, July 17. For more information, please visit eckc.ca.