Photo By:Cody Schindel, Autosports Media Group
The Eastern Canadian Karting Championship begins the second half of its six-race schedule this coming weekend as drivers and teams head to Mosport International Karting outside turn eight at the world renowned Mosport International Speedway. The second doubleheader of the schedule is on the docket, and when teams roll out Sunday night, the Championship contenders will definitely have been separated from the pretenders. Rotax Max Challenge classes are once again in the spotlight, as drivers in Senior, Junior, and DD2 close in on tickets to join Team Canada for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals.
The race weekend will also serve a secondary function as it becomes the third qualifying event for the newly-formatted Rotax Pan American Challenge. After stops at Homestead Karting and Michiana Raceway Park, drivers in Canada and the Eastern United States can use this weekend’s racing to qualify for the 2011 Rotax Pan American Championship Event at New Castle Motorsports Park in September. The double billing should add some international content to already stacked fields across the Rotax range, and just push Canada’s premiere Rotax Max Challenge Series to yet another level. There will be many drivers to watch as you head trackside, and among those are a stellar crop of rookies that kick off the third edition of ECKC Event Preview - Three to See:
Rotax Max Senior - Three to See
The top rookie in the Senior class thus far has been GreenSpeed TonyKart driver Austin Milwain, who currently sits fourth in the class championship and arrives having put each of his first three results inside the top five. He also has the distinction of never having gone backward to date, as he ran from ninth to the podium in his debut final; started fifth and finished fourth at race two; and came from eleventh to fourth at race three. Add to that he was blindingly quick at Mosport last season as a Junior, and the perfect storm may just be brewing for ‘Ozzy’ to stand on top of the blocks this weekend.
Of course one man looking to calm that storm is the reigning Great White of the senior shark tank, Marco Di Leo. The Intrepid Canada driver picked up right where he left off last season and followed his championship campaign by sweeping through the Goodwood rounds and finishing second at Karting Trois-Rivieres this year. With three races to run he has a drop in his pocket, and is heading to a track where he put both finishes on the podium last season, winning on Sunday in an epic duel. There may just be blood in the water as far as this championship is concerned, and Di Leo is on the scent.
Some may recall, the other man in said epic duel on Sunday was Pearce Herder. The PSL Ontario driver won the first senior race in ECKC history, and was one of just three drivers to have a shot at the title heading to Mont-Tremblant last summer. He’s fought through adversity early in the current campaign, but still sits sixth in the points and very much in contention. With prefinal points on offer, the weekend start count could actually be called four at Mosport, and Herder hopes to be knocking on the door once again when it comes time to head to the Laurentian Mountains.
Rotax Max DD2 - Three to See
The high rookie in Rotax DD2 matches Milwain in three different ways: Nicholas Latifi is also sitting in fourth position through three races; he, too, has put each of his final runs inside the top five; and just like Milwain, Latifi was a Team Canada member last year as a Junior. One big difference that has removed a lot of pressure on Latifi, however, is the fact he has already qualified to return to the World’s greatest Rotax event as he won the 2011 Gatorz Challenge of the Americas. Nevertheless, he still wants to top the blocks in ECKC, and after two fourths and a fifth, this weekend could see the PSL CRG driver finally reach the podium.
Tecno driver Stefano Romano has already been there. Twice in fact, and he was there when the series raced Mosport last season as well. This year Romano won the opening event at Goodwood, the second time in as many seasons a lead Tecno DD2 driver has accomplished the feat, and he followed with second at race two. Caught out by a number of factors at Trois-Rivieres, Romano still battled his way to eighth, and his 250 points see him second overall and just six back of the current man in charge. Romano was third and sixth in his Mosport starts a year ago, and will be looking for the points’ lead exiting on Sunday.
To get that, he’ll have to knock down Pier-Luc Ouellette, and the PSL CRG driver hasn’t missed the podium yet! He won the final at Trois-Rivieres, won race two at Goodwood, and may have taken the first start of the season but for water on the track after others crashed entering the final hairpin. He battled back from seventh in that start, and his 3-1-1 run in finals has led to 256 points. Racing Senior in his first visit to Mosport last season, Ouellette emerged victorious in the closest Senior podium in history as he topped Lorenzo Mandarino and Marco Di Leo, each crossing within three tenths-of-a-second. Michael Vincec was fourth in that race, and Darren White fifth.
Rotax Junior - Three to See
Another driver to take wins from Mosport last season was Zachary Claman-DeMelo. It was two days of utter domination in Mini-Max, and this year the TonyKart driver is the leading rookie in Rotax Junior, and currently second in points - just two shy of the lead. He’s never been far from the front, rain or shine, and is the only rookie from the ‘Team Canada’ classes to score a win this season. After being served a rocky start to his championship in race one, Claman-DeMelo won prefinal and final at race two and was right back on the podium at race three, finishing second. After attending the Grand Finals as an observer last year, he wants in this year and this weekend’s twin bill could well produce the ticket.
Another looking for that Team Canada ticket is Intrepid driver and points’ leader Jesse Lazare. Last season Lazare got his season on track at Mosport, and it was on rails: he won race two at Mosport, the famed Monaco de Trois-Rivieres, and then completed the championship in winning at Mont-Tremblant. A broken chain derailed his Team Canada hopes a year ago at Nationals, and it’s been the only thing able to slow him and tuner Steven Chapman down recently. After finishing second at race two, Lazare then won three straight: races one and two in the Quebec Championship and the third race of the ECKC season. A week ago in race three of the Quebec schedule he snapped a chain in the prefinal, but still managed to cross fourth in coming from the back. He’ll be looking to get back to P1 beginning Saturday.
A driver who enters with that spot on his mind is Olivier Bedard. Slow out of the blocks as he came to grips with a new SRA Birel package, Bedard has been dialled in of late and produced three podiums in his last four starts, including a win last weekend at SH Karting in the Quebec Championship. He opened at Goodwood just inside the top ten before opening the Quebec schedule with third and second. Fifth then came from his second start of the weekend at Karting Trois-Rivieres before he topped the podium at SH. Bedard is currently fifth in Junior points, and looking to move forward in the back half of the schedule.
Other class leaders entering event three and races four and five at Mosport International Karting include: Paul Carvalho in DD2 Masters, Alexander Mankovski in Masters, Jeffrey Kingsley in Mini-Max and Antonio Serravalle in Mirco-Max. This weekend will also see the conclusion of the Honda Challenge presented by Vega, as Honda Junior, Senior and Masters return to the schedule for the second half of their ECKC season. Each class was swept in the opening doubleheader as Trevor Rancier won Junior, Dalton Jewell won Senior and Ron Henrie won Masters.
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 hosts 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.