|Saturday, 29 November, 2008 |
Day 3 – Finalists decided at Rotax Grand Finals
With overnight storms, the track was very wet for the first of the heat races Saturday. Many of the junior drivers were spinning off track throughout the racing, including the front-runners. This saw the pressure on, as they all hoped to progress to Sunday’s finals.
Defending title holder Kevin Korjus (EST) started off grid 6 in the opening heat knowing he was slightly off-pace from the quickest drivers, says he almost couldn’t believe it when he watched as the first five karts in front of him left the track within no time and fell out of contention. After a battle with Keishi Ishikawa (JAP) for several laps, he resumed the lead that had fallen into his hands and took the win. Aussie Josh Demaio who featured strongly Friday when he chose to run on slicks unlike the majority, finished 3rd in heat 5 for Junior Max and will start on P2 for Sunday’s pre-final. As a result of his misfortune, Vincent Jewell (BEL) off row one would have to face the second chance race later.
The next heat was not so different to the one before, with the first three exiting the circuit in the lap 1. Excess water lying on the infield created a hazard in places where karts were going off and coming back on. Polesitter Axcil Jeffries was amongst a few who lost traction, but was luckily able to rejoin and continue, ending up way back in 24th by the chequered flag. Making it an Estonian double in juniors, Aavo Talvar took the honours from French driver Paul Fourquemin and Kay Van Kemenade of the Netherlands.
The second chance thriller is always an uncertain result until the finish due to the sense of desperation, with only six drivers going through to the finals. The very last corner saw the drivers in 6th and 7th come to a sudden halt when they collided, allowing their closest rival to claim the last available place on the grid. Eugen Sokolov (RUS) won the 10-lapper, with Euro Challenge Rookie Peter Hoevenaars (NL) 2nd and Mario Novak (AUT) coming from grid 15 for a deserved 3rd. Kevin King (CAN), Daniel Suarez (MEX) and Mika Laiho (FIN) rounded out the six positions filled at the back of the pre-final grid Sunday. One Grand Finals casualty who didn’t make it through was the vice champ from 2007 Ryuuya Fujie (JAP).
Fastest qualifier Martin Pierce continued his streak of bad luck starting on pole, when he tangled with Troy Woolston (AUS) going through turn 1 in the early laps, as the UK driver attempted to follow Hannes van Asseldonck (NL) up the inside for P2.
Unfortunately, it didn’t come off and sent Pierce back to beyond position 20 after going wide on the grass. He was however the still the quickest on the track. Woolston also lost his place and could only manage 7th, handing the race win to the Dutchman van Asseldonck. Michael Andersson (SWE) and Morgan Riche (FR) once again showed they are not to be discounted, taking minor placings as they had Friday.
The last of the Senior Max races belonged to Brit Ben Cooper, but not without a challenge from local driver Ricky De Donno. The Italian stole the lead, only to have Cooper take it back and not surrender. In the battle for positions, De Donno made the mistake of leaving a gap that Chris Lock (GB) and Josh Hart (NZ) soon filled. He had no further chance to catch Cooper, but De Donno pushed hard and was able to pass Lock back for 3rd. Hart was fastest in the race, setting the best lap of the senior heats today.
Coming from row 3, Niki Laa (AUT) only took several laps to overtake the front-runners for the lead in the second chance race, driving brilliantly to take a comfortable win. 2nd place was Daniele Maccini while Dario Santoro of the first row was 3rd. Michael Cool was 4th ahead of Paulo Gouveia (POR) and Clayton Snow (USA). Amongst those who wouldn’t race Sunday, were a few of the drivers that could have been expected to be standing on the podium this year, including former Rotax champion Cristiano Morgado (RSA).
The DD class is shaping up to be a great final, based on the level of drivers in the battle for the title. Canada’s Pier-Luc Ouellette is looking dangerously confident and proved far too good in the fifth heat for the category today. Damien Vuillaume gave it his best shot but was unable to catch the leader, although closed in over the 12 laps to bring the gap down to 4-tenths. He will join Ouellette at the front of the grid for the first of the finals Sunday. Starting on the first row next to last year’s champion, Leeroy Poulter lost ground to finish 5th, which meant he would start the pre-final a little further back than he’d hoped, on row three. Mirco Rossi claimed yet another 3rd place for Italy in his last qualifier, but having one poor result the day before would see him rank outside the top 10 overall at this stage.
The sixth DD2 heat was easily won by Dutch driver Maik Marten from Christophe Boisclair (CAN) and Friday’s race winner Ryan Urban (NZ). Barten held a clear lead for the duration of the session, given some breathing space by one of his European rival Denis Thum (GER), who started alongside him on row one, when he suffered a technical problem during the formation lap. Thum actually drove the race with one hand, including changing gears, having to secure the fuel line with the other hand for the 12 laps. Ralf Odendaal was originally running in 2nd place but was sidelined early in the race, narrowly escaping having to face the second chance race. Japan’s Kazuki Nishibayashi was the pacesetter back in p13.
It was a close race for the final six places in the DD2 pre-final, as the last event of the day again kept the race fans on their toes in the jam-packed grandstand. Following a set-back in his last heat, Curtis Cooksey (USA) came through for the win ahead of Euro Challenge Masters champ Dennis Kroes (NL), who has been struggling to be in contention. His steering wheel actually became dislodged in one of the races the day before. Ryan Fowler (USA) was pleased to take 3rd, then came Diego Alvara of Spain, Bela Szilagyi (GER) and Equador driver Henry Taleb who’d start on p34 Sunday.
Sunday begins with a short warm-up session on the new tyres, prior to the pre-final and final races.