|The fight for pole position was a close one in all three classes being contested during Fridayís official timed practice at the 2011 Rotax International Open hosted by the amazing 1700m International Circuit of Zuera in Spain. As the closing event on the RGMMC race program for this season, 16 nations were represented in Rotax Max Senior, Junior and the 2-speed DD2 classes where the Rotax Open Championsí titles with the opportunity to win free entry to the 2012 Rotax Winter Cup plus the entire Rotax Max Euro Challenge series were on the line. |
The lead-up to the qualifying saw some rain fall throughout the free practice Thursday, although Wednesday had been fine, so the competitors had the chance to test in both wet and dry conditions. In the Rotax DD2 category, the new European number 3 Jules Szymkowiak (Zanardi/G-Star Raw Racing) claimed pole position with 1:03.065 at the top of the time sheet, 0.053 seconds ahead of Switzerlandís Kevin Ludi (Birel/Spirit Racing), then closely followed by another factory-supported entry Antoine Lepesqueux (Sodikart/Sodi Junior Team) of France.
Only recently turned 16 years, Szymkowiak admits he was surprised to set the best lap knowing how close the times had been in the practice. ďI actually didnít think Iíd be on pole, even when I saw my times. I was hoping for a top 3 and there are some good drivers that are fast here. Now Iím starting at the front, but Iíll stay focused on the racing now because itís going to be difficult on this big circuit with the slipstream advantage down the straight and nothing much between some of us. Iím looking forward to it; like the Euro Challenge this year itís very fair and honest competition in the way it is organised and the drivers seem to respect that, which makes it great racing.Ē
The next timed session on track was Rotax Junior Max which was threatened by some spots of rain at the start before the wind picked-up in typical Aragon region style. Turkish driver Kaan Onder (Tonykart/Otomotiv Motorsport) working with the Protrain Racing outfit from Great Britain set the best lap of 1:05.559 with a gap of 0.110 seconds to Thomas Preining (Formula K/Formula K Europe) with 2011 Euro Challenge #3 Philip Morin (Kosmic/Paul Carr Racing) the next fastest on track.
It was however, the 14-year old pole-sitter Onder about to make the move even closer to his car-racing career in the near future, setting the pace from the first day of unofficial practice. ďItís a great result to start the meeting. Weíve been quick since Wednesday and even in the rain for practice yesterday. I like the track here in Zuera and the Tonykart has good balance, so hopefully now we can stay at the front in the racing. Itís very close amongst some of the drivers out there though.Ē
Rotax Senior Max was another cl0se battle for the premier grid position in the last of the qualifying sessions. It was a U.K. dual eventually won by the Scot Shaun Slavin (Formula K/Formula K Europe), who clocked the quickest time with 1:04.019 to the disappointment of Irelandís Charlie Eastwood (Kosmic/Paul Carr Racing) 0.134 in arrears, followed on by Slavinís team-mate Dave Blom making his Senior debut after narrowly missing out on securing a top 3 place in this yearís Euro Challenge series.
With the stage set for a showdown in the Max class, Slavin was feeling confident from the outset. ďThe whole team did a great job and so did my younger team-mate Dave Blom in his first senior outing. Weíve got some new gear this weekend and it looks like itís about being in the right place at the right time. Charlie Eastwood is fast as well and heís been up there all year in the Euro Challenge, so itís going to be close racing tomorrow. Iím looking forward to it!Ē
THE RACING GOES NECK-AND-NECK TO THE CHEQUERED FLAG
The fast and technical CIK-FIA homologated Zuera circuit is one of the outstanding venues on the international racing calendar in Europe, making it an ideal location for the final RGMMC kart event of the season. With a main straight of 180 metres, the slipstream effect is an unconditional major factor in the racing strategy, while the challenge remains to find the appropriate gearing across the 1700m.
Saturdayís qualifying heats were blessed again by streaming sunshine, as the racing turned on some extremely close competition... never over until it was really over! Pole-sitter Jules Szymkowiak in the Rotax DD2 2-speed gearbox category was unable to maintain his lead in the opening race and consequent heats as they unfolded, but managed to stay within the top 3 to start in the front row for the pre-final Sunday. The first victory went to Lucas Orrock, although he was not as successful in the following races. In his maiden DD2 race, Antoine Lepesqueux claimed two of the three qualifiers to start on grid 1 alongside the 16-year old Belgian, while Orrock would line-up behind them on P3 with Kevin Ludi beside him, who was looking strong until the last heat when forced to make repairs.
The pre-final was a nail-biter that came down to a photo finish between Szymkowiak and Lepesqueux to get the spectators to their feet, with only o.oo6 seconds separating them, while Orrock and Ludi locked into a lunge to the line right behind them. The first three drivers had all taken turns at leading the 12-lapper and through to the closing minutes it was a four-way battle for the win; Szymkowiak taking the race honours. Christophe Adams in 5th was the leading DD2 Masters driver, fresh from being crowned the European champ in the newest of the Rotax classes to be introduced.
As the temperature rose, so did the intensity for the final to follow! Orrock assumed the lead into lap 2 from Szymkowiak, who came under pressure from Adams as well to lose 2nd. By the next lap it was Lepesqueux in 1st place who went on to post a best time of 1:02.412 which was the fastest of the entire meeting. The Frenchman stretched the gap to more than 8 seconds by the line, as a last chance move by Szymkowiak on Orrock in 2nd with several corners to go, left the pole-man with a 5-second penalty that dropped him back to 3rd. Kevin Ludi narrowly missed out on a podium result ahead of Szymkowiakís 15-year old team mate Fred Alliksaar.
After running at the front of the field, Adams retired from the race on lap 10 leaving the door open for former Euro Masters winner Colin Davis on his return to international racing to finish the best of the Masters in 6th position while in the DD2 for the first time, closely followed by Lothar Winzen and Carlo Rinaldi. Davis will represent Great Britain once again at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in the UAE later this month.
Antoine Lepesqueux said Sunday was the perfect end to an extremely positive week for his debut in this class. ďIt was really a very good race package with a brand new Rotax DD2 engine out of the box fitted to the latest Sodi DD2 chassis. We started Wednesday with good times in good conditions that we matched again in the final; so everything was perfect. Even in the wet conditions Thursday we were fastest after an hour. The level of the drivers was very good and so was the competition - where everyone wanted to win. In the heats we just got better and better, so it was a good way into the finals and we were just a little better today than the others. Thanks must go to Sodikart, to my sponsors Intermarchť and Total, and everyone who has supported me to be able to achieve this great result.Ē
Rotax Junior Max
Nothing much separated the junior field over the weekend, taking into account the variation of experience on the grid that ranged from class rookies to seasoned champions. The Zuera circuit lends itself to this however, with sections that allow more speed, while other tighter parts demand no errors and overtaking opportunities that promote close racing. The ranking following the heats Saturday resembled the previous qualifying results, with the exception of Philip Morin taking a race win to join double-heat winner Kaan Onder on the front row, therefore swapping positions in the line-up with Thomas Preining off row 2 for the pre-final alongside Canadian champion Jesse Lazare.
Hope for a win in Sundayís pre-final soon diminished for the pole-sitter when Morin overtook him at the beginning of lap 2, before an issue with his brake system left Onder with no option but to leave the circuit just short of half-race distance . The battle for positions continued behind Morin, with Preining holding on to secure 2nd over the strong challenge from Lazare. A great drive by Shayur Harpal gave Morinís new team-mate a well-deserved 4th ahead of local junior Ricardo Garcia, who was racing together with Preining in Spain. Another Austrian, Felix Kotyk, finished 6th and set the fastest lap in his first race out of Rotax Mini Max, not far off Onderís qualifying pole lap from Friday.
An amazingly tight final concluded the crowning of the 2011 Rotax International Open champion in Junior Max, not only with the closest finish of all to determine the winner, but also turning on some heated racing. Morin initially led trailed by Lazare, until Onder stepped in on lap 2 to steal 2nd and thereafter Morinís lead. However, Lazare surprised them both and grabbed 1st, only to be overpowered by the pair with Onder out front. In an exciting showdown, there were 7 karts shuffling for positions in what could have ended-up nearly anyoneís race. In the dash to the flag, it was Onder by 6/1000ths to take the win from Morin, while a determined Preining pushed hard to narrowly deny Lazare 3rd place and almost break through the 1:05 lap time. In 5th was Garcia winning the fight for a top 5 finish from Kotyk then Harpal, also an early pace-setter.
After taking pole position, Kaan Onder said his focus was already on the result that counted Sunday, although his plans for the upcoming season appear to involve a shift to drive cars with BMW Turkey. ďI had a problem in the pre-final and had to start rear of field, but the kart was perfect thanks to my team so I always believed I was able to win. It was a really tight battle in the final and Iím very happy with the result. Thank you to my dad, my team Protrain Racing and my sponsors for their support.Ē
Rotax Senior Max
The Senior Max qualifying heats developed into 2 races in 1, where you could literally throw a blanket over the first group while the remaining drivers were basically having their own race not so far behind. It was once again Shaun Slavin who secured pole for the pre-final after starting all 3 of the heats on P1, taking 2 wins and surrendering just 1 to Charlie Eastwood, who joined him on the front row Sunday. Ranking 3rd overall, Nicolas Picot split the Formula K - Paul Carr Racing doubles line-up with Dave Blom and Stefan Locsmandi sharing equal points to start on grid 4 and 5.
Slavinís dominance in the pre-final was broken down by Eastwood with just 2 laps to go, but it was Blom who made the move to secure the lead until late into the last lap. The dicing for positions saw Slavin drop back, although he fought his way up to 3rd, passing team-mate Blom in the dual for the line on lap 12. Eastwood savoured the victory ahead of Stefan Locsmandi, earlier shown the driving standards flag from contact with Picot, who was 2nd after the start. The French driver was fastest and still held a top 5 result. The best of the Max Masters drivers was Christophe Adams in 10th.
As the final wound down, Eastwood and Slavin changed places several times to lead the senior field until Blom joined in the game on lap 5 to take P2. Once Eastwood had overtaken Blom 4 laps later, he began to reel in Slavin out front with a gap of 0.5 seconds, who was pushing and soon set best lap. In the closing stage, the intensity of the battle increased, but this time it ended in disaster when Eastwood made the move to pass for the lead with the finish line almost in sight. Slavin tried desperately to hold his race line; neither one backed out as they tangled and slid off track. It was all to Blomís benefit though. The elated senior rookie took the win ahead of Picot and fellow French driver Kevin Minier. A disappointed Slavin recovered to finish 4th then Locsmandi, Eastwood and local Alexis Araujo, also making his Senior Max debut. 8th place went to Jeremy Painchault followed by Nicolas Morales of Columbia with Japanís Kazuyoshi Nishino rounding out the top 10. 2011 Rotax Max Masters champion Mikko Laine was the leading Masters driver in the final ahead of Adams.
Dave Blom said he played it safe during the heats and looked after his tyres for the pre-final. ďThis is my first race in seniors, so Iím of course very happy to take the win here at the Rotax Open. I was a little nervous in the last lap as the leaders were fighting, but itís really a good feeling to end the season this way. I want to thank Formula K, my mechanic, Nigel from HRS, my parents and team for their support.Ē
RESULTS 2011 ROTAX INTERNATIONAL OPEN (Zuera, Spain)
ROTAX SENIOR MAX
1. Dave Blom (NED) - Formula K/Formula K Europe
2. Nicolas Picot (FRA) - Tonykart
3. Kevin Minier (FRA) - Tonykart/MD Competition
ROTAX JUNIOR MAX
1. Kaan Onder (TUR) - Tonykart/Borusan - Otomotiv Motorsport & Protrain Racing
2. Philip Morin (SWE) - Kosmic/Paul Carr Racing
3. Thomas Preining (AUT) - Formula K/Formula K Europe
1. Antoine Lepesqueux (FRA) - Sodikart/Sodi Junior Team
2. Lucas Orrock (GBR) - Kosmic/Paul Carr Racing
3. Jules Szymkowiak (BEL) - Zanardi/G-Star Raw Racing
As event organisers and promoters of the Rotax International Open, RGMMC once again awarded as part of the prizes to all drivers who made the podium, free entry (including 4 sets of parc fermť race tyres and practice fees) for the 2012 Rotax Winter Cup to be held at Karting Campillos in Malaga, Spain next February. In addition, 1 competitor in every class at the Zuera event also had the chance to win free entry for the 2012 Rotax Max Euro Challenge for all four rounds of the championship.
*The winners of the 2012 Rotax Max Euro Challenge free entry are:
Antoine Lepesqueux (FRA) - Rotax DD2
Jesse Lazare (CAN) - Rotax Junior Max
Kevin Minier (FRA) - Rotax Senior Max
Christophe Adams (BEL) - Rotax Max Masters
Results from all track sessions at the 2011 Rotax International Open in Zuera can be found online at - www.rgmmc.com
2012 Ė RGMMC event calendar and information
Go to www.rgmmc.com for all information regarding the 2012 race season Ė the venues and more!