|World Junior Max champ Ukyo Sasahara has taken a brilliant victory to be crowned the winner of the 2010 Rotax Winter Cup in Spain in his first race with the Austrian-based Intrepid Force Rotax team, making his debut into European karting an instant success.|
The tiny 13-year old from Japan literally ran away with the 12 lap final within moments of the start at the Karting Campillos circuit in the magnificent southern Andalusia region. Starting from grid position 3, Sasahara closely followed the polesitter through the first of the tight corners on the highest section of the track before making his move for the lead and never looking back. As the pack behind battled for places, it gave IFR’s only junior contesting the Winter Cup the advantage of stretching the gap to over 6 seconds by the chequered flag.
For Sasahara, winning the Winter Cup title only two weeks after winning the first ever Rotax Winter Cup in Japan was a great double to begin his 2010 assault. “I’m very happy to win here in Spain and want to thank all my special personal sponsors, EIKO Japan, Team IFR and my family for all their support. There are many very good drivers in this field that I have really enjoyed racing against. The qualifying was not my best, but the final was easier than I expected. I am also very happy to win the free entries to the Euro Challenge and thank RGMMC. Now, I cannot wait for the racing!”
The youngest of the IFR line-up clocked the 3rd fastest time in the field of 41 karts in Friday’s official timed practice for a front row start in the group qualifying heats, where he set the best lap in two from three races. After one disappointing DNF, Sasahara started 12th for the pre-final and drove a strategic race to come through to secure 3rd. This gave him the ideal position for the following final.
The weekend had been plagued with some of the worst weather to hit Spain in 60 years, resulting in the racing being postponed Saturday afternoon and a revised timetable issued, which meant the last of the junior and senior heats was also scheduled on the Sunday prior to both finals. However, the challenging track conditions along with different tyres, an unfamiliar track and still adapting to the switch to an Intrepid chassis, didn’t affect Sasahara focusing only on the end result.
“I got very close to another driver during the qualifying that slowed me down and there was also a little rain on the circuit. The engine was a bit too cold so I didn’t have total power, but the Intrepid chassis was very good and I’m enjoying it. It has good handling and braking… which I really like!”
Working closely with his trusted Japanese mechanic, Ninja (HRS Japan) throughout the event in handling the obvious pressure of expectation that comes with being the highest ranked in the World in your class, showed why the partnership successfully claimed every local title during 2009. Sasahara will now compete back home with additional support from Intrepid Japan and return again to join IFR in France for the opening round of the 2010 Rotax Euro Challenge.
HUNGARIAN CHAMP JOINS IFR
In the Senior Max category, the Intrepid team had just two drivers racing after the last-minute withdrawal of the ’09 Winter Cup polesitter Karol Dabski following the reoccurrence of a rib injury while competing in Japan in January. Both the remaining drivers for IFR in Spain, Ferenc Kancsár and Maximillian Gunkel are in fact rookies to the open Max class and are well aware that the step-up to seniors at this level of racing may not be an easy one, yet each qualified through to Sunday’s finals.
Also a new member to the IFR Euro squad and celebrating his 15th birthday today, Ferenc Kancsár had an impressive result at the RGMMC event to finish 13th amongst a very strong international line-up. The Hungarian clocked a top 10 best lap to be 9th quickest in his group in the 61-kart field in Friday’s qualifying, which gave him a row 5 start for the heat races having ranked 18th overall.
The qualifying heats were split between two days due to the inclement weather, which left the seniors with a jam-packed day Sunday after the morning warm-up, with two qualifying races before the second chance eliminator and then the finals. Luckily, the weather improved temporarily so the racing was in cool, greasy conditions and not drenching rain as was the case a day earlier.
Although Kancsár has driven the Intrepid kart on occasions before, he was still getting used to a changed environment inside a new team and also gelling with his Italian technician Aldo Fattore, who is one of the Intrepid factory mechanics. One of the tallest on the grid, Kancsár drove well in the wet conditions, although not his preference, to take 5th, 7th and 19th therefore giving him a start grid of P15 for the pre-final. He struggled to go forward in the reduced lap race, but made up for it in the final when he went from P27 to 15th within the first lap. The #218 kart consistently made progress to reach the top 10 with one lap to go, but unfortunately lost several places in the fight for positions to the line. It was a great comeback for the senior newcomer to the team, showing a lot of potential.
Kancsár has his sights set high and for a young driver, he takes his racing very seriously, but like everyone else on the grid is looking to achieve the best possible results. “In the qualifying, there was a bit of rain and all the drivers went out at once in case it got heavier. I don’t really like the weather like this because it’s cold and raining, and the track is dirty. We set up the front of the chassis after the second practice in the morning and it was better to drive, so the result was okay. I was hoping the racing would be good. In the final, the Intrepid set-up and HRS engine the team gave me was competitive. This year I’m aiming to reach the top three at the Euro, but I know I will have to work for this. Thanks go to Team IFR and to my family for their support of my racing.”
MASTERING THE MAX
Following his first season at the Euro Challenge last year, IFR’s Maxi Gunkel soon discovered that the move into the Senior Max was going to be tough, especially racing against some very competitive national champions like himself from more than 20 nations at the Winter Cup. Together with his new younger team-mate, the decorated German had the benefit of a two-day test the weekend before the meeting after the chilly European winter break left him with little chance to drive. Although the end result finishing 29th out of 61 drivers may not seem outstanding for the recently turned 16- year old, it was actually seen as a very positive one for IFR, considering the level of talent in the class.
Qualifying saw Gunkel take P25 in his group and qualify with the 52nd best lap overall. Following an unavoidable crash at the beginning of heat 1 that left his kart slightly damaged, he did well to take 14th in the next race, only to be penalized 10 seconds for a driving incident. The last heat was the best, as Gunkel drove an encouraging race to take an excellent 4th behind the son of his mechanic [Mike Simpson] who’s also the current British champion. Facing the repechage is never fun, but the likeable German ploughed through from grid 11 to the lead in 2 laps, which he maintained under pressure until the closing stages when he dropped to 5th, where his lack of experience with the front brakes came into play. His best lap of the race also ranked him amongst the top 5.
The finals were challenging, but the IFR driver managed to gain 7 places in the pre-final after progressing up to 19th only to be shuffled back as the racing got more intense. The earlier incident began to take its toll for the deciding race, but Gunkel still gave his best to finish the 16-lapper totally committed. Working as well with a new technician for the first time, the combination turned out to be a good one, so the planned testing will only help this to become another great partnership for IFR. Maxi Gunkel admitted he was feeling quite satisfied knowing that he can only learn from this event.
“The chassis and engine package was good in the qualifying, but I made a mistake with the front-braking which I have not used until this year. I was fighting with another driver also, that may not have really helped me. Normally I’m very fast in the rain, but with the Senior Max it’s very different; more weight and front brakes made it difficult to adjust to at first. In the first race it was raining and some other guys crashed in front of me and went over my kart so I had to stop after two laps, but the next heats were much better. I went well in the second chance race and after three laps I led, even on my old tyres. Then I had a bad start to the pre-final with another collision. It was still okay for me and we know what the problem was in the final. Now I need to do some more testing to get used to the front brakes before the Euro. I would like to thank all my sponsors and everyone who followed me on the live timing over the weekend.”
Race Team Manager, Ernst Penninger Jnr, knew that it was the first real opportunity all the IFR drivers had as a team to find their feet and also get their measure on the competition. “I’m really proud of our team to arrive at an international event like the Rotax Winter Cup without any testing in the lead-up and be able to have all our drivers qualify for the finals, plus win one category. Of course, we must congratulate Ukyo and Ninja on their fantastic victory. It’s so important to make effective decisions for the heat racing so we keep moving forward and we achieved this. We also brought together a new group of dedicated people who have worked extremely well as a team this week, and that makes all the difference. For us, it’s a great start to 2010!”
Results from the Winter Cup can be found by going to the LIVE TIMING link at www.rgmmc.com and selecting “download results”. Follow the RGMMC TV link as well to check out the track action videos.
More news and updates can be found at www.intrepidforcerotax.com & www.racetogetthere.com