A Long Winded Happy Birthday.

Every day when I wake up, I look to my left. There, I see pictures from the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix in 2004, of a young version of myself with the biggest smile on my face. Decked out in Ferrari and Michael Schumacher gear from head to toe, she doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the next 15 years.

My memories of this are some of the clearest from my childhood. I loved racing, loved watching him as my family would sit down to watch F1 on Sunday mornings, as this was the era of pure Schumi dominance. My dad and I had taken the train to Montreal for the Grand Prix. My idol had just won the race, and I remember how cool it was that both him and Ralf were on the podium (even though after, Williams would be disqualified). After the race, standing in the pit lane with my dad, I’m hoping to get a glimpse of Michael.

Suddenly, I’m spotted by the team mechanics. They had been working on Michael’s backup car (because they were allowed then) but had come out and were starting to talk to my dad in Italian. Understandably my dad and I were confused, and it was a stroke of luck that the family next to us understood the language enough to say the words that would mark the best day in my young life:

‘They want to take her into the garage’.

Maybe something got lost in translation, but I didn’t know that they ‘want to take her into the garage… TO SIT HER IN THE SPARE CAR’!!!

Standing outside Michael’s backup car.

Standing outside Michael’s backup car.

Sitting in Michael’s car with the Ferrari mechanics.

Sitting in Michael’s car with the Ferrari mechanics.

So obviously, I’m going to frame those pictures and keep them beside my bed forever.

Also framed on my wall, there’s one of my most prized possessions. Having just turned 6, I wrote a letter to Michael and Jean Todt telling them how excited I was to start my karting career later that year (and of course, included the pictures from the grand prix). A few weeks later in the mail, I received back a signed postcard from Michael from his home in Switzerland. I thought I’d never hear back. I was also fortunate to receive a letter back from Jean, which inspired me even more to keep pursuing my dreams as he wished me the best of luck.

The best mail I’ll ever receive, ever.

The best mail I’ll ever receive, ever.

Schumi’s legacy will forever mean different things to different people, but this meant everything to me.  I know I would not stand where I am today without watching him every Sunday morning on the television.

As I head to Europe for the first time later this month, I get excited about the thought of being at tracks where he’s been, airports where he’s been, the little things like that. Michael Schumacher is my racing idol, not only for his immense talent and skill, but also from the kindness he extended to a small young racer with big dreams and ambitions. Like he said, ‘Once something is a passion, the motivation is there’.

Racing is not an easy sport and there are days that are grueling, to say the least. For those difficult days, I am fortunate to have an idol like Michael, and memories that allow me to relive the hope and excitement watching him race as I grew up. As I get older and learn more about how racing is not just getting into the car and driving, I also have a newfound appreciation for everything he endured and experienced from the media, other racers, sponsors, his team, as well as the tight-knit relationship he had with his mechanics and the car itself.

With today being his birthday comes an additional opportunity for reflection, and it has made me realize I have no words to express the gratitude I have for Michael and the role he has played in my life.

Happy 50th Birthday Michael! Keep fighting the good fight and thank you for being you.

#KeepFightingMichael

Taegen Poles
CKN Chatter - Sitting Down to Discuss the W Series

Originally posted on Canadian Karting News, by Cody Schindel.

I recently had an opportunity to speak from Cody at CKN about attending the W Series shootout later this month in Melk, Austria. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

http://canadiankartingnews.com/taegen-poles-chats-with-us-her-opportunity-with-the-w-series/


At the end of this month, Canadian kart racer Taegen Poles will travel to Austria to be a part of history. The Queens University student has been selected to take part in a shootout for a full season of competition the W Series, the first ever female only race series motivated help to elevate female racers to the top levels of motorsport.

Backed by David Coulthard, multiple Grand Prix winner, and Adrian Newey, the most successful Chief Design Engineer in modern Formula 1 history, sixty drivers will be pushed to their limits in order to qualify for the series, which will fully cover the costs for 18-20 females drivers from around the world. Contenders will compete in a mixture on-track testing, simulator appraisal, technical engineering tests and fitness trials, all judged by industry professionals, to select the W Series class of 2019.

The series will support the DTM championship in 2019 and compete on some of the most prestigious circuits in the world aboard equally prepared Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 cars. For many without the financial support to make it to the level of Formula 3 and beyond, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Along with Poles, fellow Canadian Megan Gilkes has also been selected to take part in the shootout. A former karter, Gilkes has already begun her car racing career, competing in F1200 this past season.

To get some insight from Poles, we caught up with the Automotive Engineering student during the holiday season to chat about the W-Series.

First off, what were your initial impressions when the W Series was first announced?

When the details of the W Series came out, I saw it as an opportunity to help increase female participation in motorsports through the medium of an all-female series. I have always been eager to see more women on track!

I also focused on what the series had to offer; the car, the series and of course the cost.

The Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 car itself looks remarkably powerful, and the aerodynamic and engine package is quite appealing. With the W Series racing in Europe in support of DTM, this is a fantastic opportunity for me to raise my profile. Racing is my passion and having the chance to drive on legendary tracks is incredible. Finally, we all know that budgets are tough, so having a free to enter series, with a prize pool, is also amazing, particularly for a Canadian as going overseas to race is quite costly – especially for someone trying to simultaneously get a university degree in mechanical engineering.

Overall, I was excited to see what the W Series had in store for 2019. As the first series of its kind, the W Series is a fantastic opportunity and left me with a very positive first impression.

Were you quick to prepare an application, or did you need a little time to digest the information and decide if it was right for you?

Really, it was a very simple decision. A great car, aero and engine package, a solid team backing the Series, and the opportunity to race without having to bring sponsorship or other money meant that it was obvious to apply.

The W Series is giving me the opportunity to bring my plan of racing professionally one step closer to reality. I wouldn’t dream of letting an opportunity like this pass me by.

Upon hearing the confirmation of your acceptance to the W Series shootout in Austria, what have you been focusing on in preparation?

Once I found out that I was going to Austria for the selection, I ramped up my regular off-season race preparation while still focusing on my courses and final exams at Queen’s University.

My top priority has been fitness and simulator time as it is just not in my budget to fly south or to Malaysia to get seat time in an open-wheel racer car before the shootout. I have been spending as many hours as I can on a simulator to get more comfortable with a paddle-shifting sequential gearbox. The DD2 and Shifter Kart experience helps, but there’s always more room to learn. Fitness is also going to be crucial, so I’ve been focusing my athletic routine on strength building, especially for my neck, and overall endurance workouts.

Do you feel any intimidation from the competition, given the wide range of age and experience levels you will be up against?

I think it would be ridiculous not to recognize the talent that my competitors bring with them. There are some incredibly distinguished racers who are going to be there when I land in Austria. I am sure that they are all going to be hungry for a chance for a spot in the series. I have never shied away from competing against the best, in fact, I look forward to it.

Ultimately, I cannot change my age or experience, nor can I change my competition. What I do have control over is my level of commitment and effort. I will give it my all, and since it’s a level playing field for the selection process, I am confident that I can do well and hold my own.

Finally, W Series or not, will see still see you in a kart in 2019?

Yes, I am sure I will find my way into a shifter kart with Energy Corse North America in 2019! Working with Darren White and the rest of the team for the past two years has been fantastic, and the Canadian karting community is like a second family; I couldn’t imagine not spending time at Mosport and Goodwood this year. Even if I find myself in Europe for most of the summer, I expect that I will be hopping into a kart whenever possible.


Taegen Poles
2018: Shifting Gears.

Every year, I sit down for an hour or two and decide that it’s time to do a thorough reflection on my racing season. Maybe this year I put it off later than most because I didn’t want to believe it was over. Last year, the karting scene in Canada got a huge shakeup. With the ROK manufacturer becoming the largest engine class, it provided some new and unique opportunities. After a year in a Rotax DD2, I decided I wanted yet another challenge in the shifter class. No, I didn’t want to race it at any major races, but I wanted another learning curve for the season. If there’s anything I have learned from myself from school, it’s that starting something new and jumping in head first is one of my favourite things. As such, I walked into the 2018 season with two engines in hand; a ROK Shifter and a Senior.

Knowing that the shifter would take some time to adjust to, I started out the year with something I was familiar with; a senior engine. Yes, racing in DD2 last year meant my braking foot was a little heavy and my lines were a little off, but after a few sessions ripping around Goodwood it was like riding a bike. Except…. the bike is only an inch off the ground, 250 pounds, going 120 kilometers an hour and fighting your every move. But yeah, like riding a bike.

I loved having the opportunity to catch up with my racetrack family after having been away for the year. At this point all the races and results have begun to blend together, and while I’m sure there were a handful of mechanical failures or flat tyres or bad days, I find myself looking back and being content with my time at Goodwood. It has been a track that’s given me plenty bad luck, but for the CRFKC and Pfaff Races, it also was a good start to the season.

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I also had the chance to take a trip down memory lane and compete at the racetrack in Hamilton, taking me back to where it all began. After having not been at the track for seven years, the configuration had changed, but the people there were the same and that’s what counted. I decided it wasn’t the best time to give the shifter a go, so I spent the CRFKC weekend racing in the senior as well.

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It was just a practice day at Mosport, but it felt like Christmas when I got to take the shifter on track for the first time. The acceleration was ridiculous, the tyres had an insane amount of grip, and it was honestly so satisfying to just go up the gears down a straight. It made me feel professional. It took a while to get the hang of a sequential shift stick, and by no means was I up to pace, but even so I was having a fantastic time.

It also meant I finally had the chance to do a coveted standing start come my first race. Waiting for the flag to drop with the kart rumbling below you is something like no other – yes, there’s the anticipation between the one-minute whistle on grid and going on track, but this is just staring down the flagman until he decides it’s time. Sign me up.

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There were some chances for me to race both classes this year too, which was by no means a calm experience. Especially on one of the hottest weekends of the year over Canada Day, between making sure both karts were good to go and making sure I wasn’t going to pass out from dehydration. Or there was the race in August where it was half-wet and half-dry, where we only had one set of wet tyres between the two karts. You know, the normal Mosport weather. It was certainly out in full force this year.

Before I knew it, it was the week of nationals. The summer had absolutely flown by, and it seemed like just yesterday that I’d taken the train home from Queen’s. With one big race to go, and because of my little experience in the shifter, I recognized that I wasn’t really at the level to race it at Nationals. That meant it was back into the senior for another week of racing.

We headed up to Mosport on Wednesday and Thursday for practice. It was going well, and I was showing pace, but then something weird happened. I was starting up the kart on the grid for one of the last sessions for the day, and it just didn’t want to cooperate. After a bit of troubleshooting, we realized that there were some internal engine issues which would mean that if we were able to get the motor going, I’d be breaking it in through to the first heat race. That wasn’t helpful if I wanted to walk home with a podium.

Maybe at this point, it isn’t weird for me to have an engine failure of some sort at Nationals. I think it’s happened maybe 6 times? Regardless, while this was common territory, not having another senior engine meant that I was at a bit of a crossroads. I don’t think I’ve ever changed engine classes the night before qualifying, but it was time to throw together the shifter kart and drive it out.

IKG_7923

After a whole 5-minute practice session in the morning, it was out for two laps of qualifying and onto the heat races. With Mosport weather unpredictable as always, we were throwing on the wet setup as we rushed outside. If you said I had minimal experience in the shifter in wet conditions, you’d be being nice. I’d had one session at most to get used to it. Fortunately, I was catching on quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch on quick enough. I whipped the back end out coming around a corner, stalled it in the grass and had to pick the kart up, throw it into neutral, turn it around, and push start it to keep on. At that point, I was happy to just not be a lap down.

Two more heat races come and go, and before you know it it’s Sunday morning and you’re standing in a line of drivers as the Canadian National Anthem is sung. But that day is the pinnacle of motorsport. It doesn’t matter what class you’re in, everyone is there to watch each race up until their own. Then you push your kart up and you’re literally off to the races.

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Now, Nationals have never really been my thing. The running joke under the tent is that I’ve still never been able to put together a result better than my first Nationals in 2008 – and ten years later, I would be damned if I didn’t get it done. Even if I had to be in a shifter to do it. And after not getting a penalty all year for having a drop-down bumper (new and included this year with your ROK shifter rule book!!!), it took me down from what would have been a 5th to an 8th place finish. But you know what? It was still better than before. So there. A new personal best at the Nationals.

I’m back to school now, nostalgic for the warm weather and the chance to spend days doing laps on track.  I know the year has one more race day left for me in store, but other than that it’s shaping up to be another year of writing lab reports and assignments. At least I’m at the part of the degree where some of the questions are race-car related… :)

Talk soon.

Taegen

UncategorizedTaegen Poles
2017: Part 1

Some could say that 2017 has been a year of change, and they would be right. After racing an OTK product since 2011, it was time to test something new that would push my ability to grow as a racer and learn a lot very quickly. And on top of that, I made the switch to Rotax DD2, because #nochainnopain… or so I thought. The first few races were an uphill battle. Both the chassis switch and the class change meant we were essentially starting from ground zero – the last time I raced something with shifting/front brakes was when I went out in the BGR F1600 in 2015.

My first day in the DD2 has probably been the hardest so far. It was a Ron Fellows race at Goodwood Kartways. It was my second day out on the track this season, after spending a year away at university (so I wasn’t exactly in the shape of my life), and I had no clue what to expect in the Energy Kart DD2.

In retrospect, maybe some practice would have been helpful. The practice session comes along, where I assumed I had some issues adjusting to having the front brakes. Once I was parked in the grass did I realize I was dealing with a tyre that had decided it didn’t want to hold air that day. Lesson learned: triple check the beadlocks before you go on track. Trying to diagnose the issue took long enough that I ended up missing my qualifying session, so my first problem free session was the pre-final. From there, the final didn’t get any less adventurous. With about three corners left in the final, running in 5th, the engine shifted and wouldn’t stay in gear. Determined to finish my first DD2 race, I ran to the finish line. Sadly, the transponder didn’t pick up, but it injected a bit of humour into an otherwise unfortunate outcome.

ECKC 1 Starting into distance

The weekend after was the first round of the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship for the year.  With wet weather in the forecast there was a lot to be learned in uncertain and changing weather conditions, but at that point it continued to add to the fun of the challenge.

Both race days were plagued with their fair share of mechanical issues. On Saturday, the only session that I finished was the morning practice, and didn’t even see the green flag fly in the final. Sunday started better, as we diagnosed the mechanical issues from the previous day and were ready to go. Come the final, I was confident that I could pull out a solid (potentially podium) finish.  Sometime between pre-grid and the one-minute whistle, the electrical wiring fried. I was left struggling for the final with an engine that only wanted to run at half power. It was a draining weekend, and one to be forgotten.

Radical

Thankfully, after a lot of help from Energy Course North America (especially Darren White/Marco Signoretti), I was ready to rebound and not let my season be defined by the steep learning curve. The next race on my radar was a few weeks later in Mont-Tremblant. It was another weekend of uncertain weather, but I am happy to report it went considerably better. Saturday saw me lead in a DD2 for the first time, as I had a great start from 4th. While I only held it for about 5 corners, it felt like a major milestone achieved. I went on to finish 3rd in the race, which marked my first podium in the class and second ever in ECKC. More milestones! Sunday was not as eventful, but I still brought it home in 4th as I focused on increasing my consistency in the kart.

podiuam

Since then, I’ve been doing local races to add up the seat-time wherever I can find it. I even have a win under my belt! I also raced in a CRFKC (Canadian Ron Fellows Karting Championship) race at Mosport this past weekend, where I brought home a 3rd and was happy to see my pace improve throughout the day. At the halfway point in the season, my focus is on the final round of ECKC, which will be held at Mosport, with the long-term goal of performing at my peak for the ASN Canadian Karting Nationals.

This year has stood out to me, and maybe that’s because I’m still in the thick of things, but especially because I’m having to be more patient with myself as I learn. But through the ups and the downs, and the lefts and the rights, I know that I’m doing what I love with a great group of people around me, including my family and my team. And I’ll be a better racer for it.

So, until next time, I leave you with this:

“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph”

– Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Yours truly,

Taegen :)

 

2016.

The 2016 racing season has been such a whirlwind that I have no idea where to begin. This is my softmore season in Rotax Senior, and while the number of entries is noticeably dropping, there's still an incredible caliber of talent. At any one time, so many people can win a race. It makes for a competitive and fun race day.

Things have changed this year, specifically to tyres, and this has made a large impact. At the ECKC level events, rather than getting a new set of tyres for each day, we are handed 6 tyres to use as we please. At the club level, there are two types of tyres that can be used: the vega compound, or the mojo compound. Until this year, only the latter was acceptable, but now the vega has become the popular choice as it can run anywhere from 4 tenths to a full second a lap quicker depending on the track. Another change is that the races held in Quebec use heat races, and then have both finals on the Sunday rather than the typical one race on Saturday/one race on Sunday.

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Logistics aside, it's the racing itself that is far more interesting. The season started off with ECKC Goodwood. While my performance on Saturday was nothing spectacular, bringing home a 7th, what I really remember was the comeback I made in the Sunday final. I had qualified decently, but in the prefinal had been involved in an incident which sent me into the wall in corner one. Refusing to let this deter me from another top ten, I worked my way through the field with another driver and finished 9th. It wasn't the way I wanted to start my season, but it would do.

Due to exams, I couldn't race the ECKC at ICAR, and rather spent some time to focus on some club level racing (and actually getting my diploma). In preparation for ECKC Mosport, I was often electing to run on the mojo tyres as that is the spec tyre. While I had the occasional podium, it was obvious there was a significant difference in speed.

Then, I had the weirdest club race of my life. The night before, I had been at my graduation ball, so I had talked to the race officials and told them that I would likely be late. I just made it in time to do one lap for qualifying - with my hair still in an updo with 40+ hairpins in it.  I qualified in 5th, but this was the rare opportunity where I could run on the vega tires. The session began as a test to see the difference, but suddenly I noticed I definitely had qualifying pace. At the end of the prefinal I was leading, until being taken out last lap. While I was definitely not happy with that, I knew I had the ability to at least make it onto the podium from a last place start. Also, how hilarious would it be that I showed up to a race late, with hair and makeup still done, and still pull off the win starting from last place? As it turns out, that's exactly what happened. I was thrilled, to say the least. It was my first race win in rotax senior, and to happen in the circumstances it did just made it all the better.

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The next major event in my schedule was the ECKC race in Mont-Tremblant, which wasn't initially on my schedule for the year. With ECKC ICAR being reduced to one event due to severe weather conditions, I thought it could be my drop for the year and I could complete the championship with 6 races. Unfortunately, Tremblant had other plans for me. While the weekend looked like it would go well with a 5th in qualifying, from there it just got worse (in retrospect, my engine blowing up on Friday practice was not a good sign). Aside from a 6th in one heat race it was miserable, with rain, and there were mechanical failures galore. Seriously, there would be downpours that made you feel more like you should've been out swimming with dolphins or rowing a boat. As for mechanical issues, in the last heat, I didn't get to even make the start as my chain was thrown in the warm-up lap. Not something that could happen twice, right? Wrong. Both of the final races were on Sunday, but luck would have it that my kart couldn't make it to the start yet again with another chain thrown. I brought home a 7th in the second final, but it wasn't exactly the weekend I was going for.

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The last ECKC event was held at Mosport. I was hoping for a really solid weekend where I could make a statement and perhaps even get my first ECKC podium. In qualifying on Saturday I ran relatively well, coming out 5th. I was confident in my driving, and maintained that position through the prefinal consistently keeping up with the leaders. The final was not so kind to me and by the end of the first lap I was far behind the leaders after significant contact from behind in turn two. While this was not how I wanted Saturday's race to go, I still had one race left to show my true potential.

Waking up Sunday morning I knew it was a good day. The air seemed electric and all I wanted was to get on track after having a track walk before drivers meeting. Practice was nothing special, but I still had my two new tyres left to use in the final so I wasn't worried. Rolling up to the qualifying grid, I realized most of my competitors had put on their two new tyres. This meant my expectations were lower in qualifying, especially with my tyres in the used state they were. I went on track and was astounded to see that I ran two consecutive laps that were 3 tenths of a second, if not 4, faster than I'd run all weekend. I assumed that the track had to have gotten faster, but was thrilled when I pulled into the scaling area and was told I need to go to technical inspection as I had qualified 2nd! This was a first for me, as until that point the best ECKC qualifying spot I had achieved was a 4th. I was excited beyond belief, and couldn't wait for the prefinal. While the nerves definitely set in, it was also a huge confidence boost to have a result that showed genuine speed. Unfortunately, in the prefinal, I fell back to 5th after having a difficult start (being on the front row is hard!), but still stuck with the leaders and was optimistic for the final.

Then it rained while we were on grid. And it didn't stop.

When the final before us finished, the officials went to inspect the track to decide whether or not to declare it a rain race - as if it's not declared, no one can run on wet tyres, but if it is its drivers choice. Time was passing and no answers were being given, so to say the least there were definitely some miscommunication. Finally, it was declared a wet race, and we had 15 minutes to decide what to do. The radar indicated that it was going to end, but for the time being the rain was pouring. The safe call was to put on the wet tyres, but at the same time, I wanted to think outside the box (practice for studying engineering, I guess?). With three minutes to go, after the wet tyres had been mounted, I threw caution to the wind and we were going dry. Honestly, I don't know why, but it was one of the more stressful decisions I've ever made. Rolling up to grid, there were 4 other people on dry tyres, so at least I wasn't alone. All I had to do was keep it off the grass in the opening laps, and hoped it dried up. While the first three laps were definitely making me question my decision, I fell back to 11th, suddenly I realized I was starting to get a lot faster, and the track was no longer wet. I was making my way through the field and there was a breakaway of four karts... That I was a part of. While I wanted to be conservative enough to finish on track, I still really wanted a podium. There was so much dicing back and forth for the rest of the race, and I had gone from 2nd to 4th on the last lap. I was not willing to take that, and made the pass for 3rd to stay there. With it was my first ECKC podium in a set of crazy circumstances, and I've never been happier.

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The weekend’s excitement didn’t stop there. The following day, I was back at Mosport, but on the car track this time. As part of a fundraiser for the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, I was given the opportunity to instruct drivers as they took their street cars around for a track day. It also meant there should be occasional instances where the owner of the car would ask for a professional to drive (which was me)! While I was too short to take the Smokey and the Bandit car out, I had a great day lapping in an Audi R8 and a Dodge Hellcat. I’d also like to give an incredible thank you to Alan Sanders for inviting me out to the event as it has certainly been a highlight of my year.

After having two weekends off, the first in a long time, I went to the Champions Ron Fellows Karting Challenge. Finally, now that ECKC was over, I went out on the (faster) vega tyres, and looked to be competitive. While I qualified off pole by only 6 thousandths of a second, I was confident that I was going to be quick all day and work forward. Sadly, my prefinal didn’t get off to the start I was hoping, and I was pushed back into fourth. From there it was a matter of working forward. I was back in second mid race, but would not go any further forward than that. The stewards later decided that the competitor in front of me had done excessive blocking, thus being penalized a position and giving me the pole position for the final. After there it was no contest, from the first corner I lead the race and started putting in consistent laps to build a gap. Twelve laps later, I had won my first CRFKC race and set fast lap by three tenths of a second. At podium, I was honoured to receive the award for the PFAFF Motorsports Senior Driver of the Day, which nicely paired the victory I had secured. The following day I raced in the Briggs Summerfest, which was a low-stress day but a lot of fun. Although I spent my fair share of time driving through the dirt, I also got to run near the front of the pack which was a pleasant surprise given my lack of experience. While a flat tyre ultimately ended my day prematurely, it was definitely something I’d consider doing again.

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I have one more weekend off and then it’s back to Tremblant for the Canadian Nationals! After the Nationals are complete, I will move into residence and begin my first year of university... and it's all coming so fast that I hope I can savour every moment.

 

UncategorizedTaegen Poles
Taegen Takes on F1600

You know that feeling from when you were a little kid the night before a big day? Not being able to sleep and anticipating all the possibilities of how the next day would unfold? While the weekend of September 11th to13th might not have been my birthday, the first day of school, or Christmas, it was a weekend I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I was going to finally make my debut in the Toyo Tires F1600 series.IMG_2361 I know it’s not typically accepted to miss the second day of school, but I had the best excuse. I arrived at the track for the Friday practice and the weather was great and the time on track was even better. I improved and learned more every session, getting more and more excited for the weekend to come. Of course, the nice weather was too good to be true. Race days were cold, rainy, and downright miserable. If it had been any other weekend, it might’ve dampened my spirits, but the excitement was undeniable.

For first practice, the rain was on and off, making the Mosport circuit a bit more difficult than it was in the dry. However, it gave me a good starting point for the weekend, as that was the forecast for the entire day. So I went through, short shifting and watching my brake pressure. Qualifying was difficult, and I was around mid-pack. It wasn’t too bad for my first race, but naturally I wanted more.IMG_2452

Before the race, I was nervous. Pacing around until I finally got strapped in, all the testing and fundraising and work I’ve been doing seemed worth it; I was officially about to be a racecar driver. Driving up to pit lane, I was getting ready for my first start in the F1600 series. When they let us on track, I was coming around the last few corners, filed up in 1st gear like I had been told, and was anticipating the drop of the green flag. Now, it turns out I was too far back to actually see the green through the spray, but I heard over the radio that it was time to go.

Navigating my way through the first few corners was difficult, but I was around a bunch of great racers. A few laps went by, and just as I was settling into my pace I made a rookie mistake. I locked up my front tyre while braking into Moss corner and went straight into the gravel pit. I was devastated, the year long buildup feeling like it was all for naught. Luckily, I did get towed back onto track and completed the race, albeit a few laps down. The car wasn’t damaged, meaning that I could bring it around for the finish and work towards a better day on Sunday.

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The BGR team (myself included!) didn’t go out for morning practice, not wanting to risk the car with the ever-continuing rain, so it was a long wait until qualifying after lunch. Finally, went out on track, where I qualified again around mid-pack. I was satisfied. For my first weekend it was definitely a good start. Determined to redeem my rookie mistake of the day before, I focused on keeping all 4 wheels on track and did a relatively good job. Navigating my way through some chaos in the first corner, I got to do some racing in the first few laps before the field spread out, where it turned to survival of the fittest. I was having so much fun, despite it not being a wheel-to-wheel race it was unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. And, for the record, it was the best 7th place I’ve ever received. Jumping out of the car, I was so excited to see my family and the BGR family because the exhilaration just had to be shared. At that moment I knew that being a racer is what I was meant to be.

I’d like to give a huge thank you to anyone who has helped in any way to my racing career, whether itwas by contributing to my 2015 racing campaign (which you can still do!) or even moral support. Seeing the car decorated with your names made the experience all the more special. As well, my sponsors,

Arai Americas, Inside Track, JRP, Sparco and Tonto Designs have supported me the entire way, and have been a huge part of getting me to where I am now. I wouldn’t be where I am without you guys.

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Micra Cup Runneth Over
During my time at the track, something I've noticed is that the media and the drivers are two separate groups. And that makes sense, there are two completely different mindsets required for each role. Rarely do you have a reporter who possesses the necessary racing license to participate in the event.

That's why I was so intrigued when I heard about the opportunity presented by the Nissan Micra Cup series, where two journalists have the chance to race a car designated specifically for the media on track at the same time as the series regulars. Thanks to Inside Track, I managed to meet the journalist/racer criteria. Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself taking a break from training for the Canadian National Karting Championships, and instead on route to compete in the Nissan Micra Cup series' round in Saint-Eustache on August 15th.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I figured that in comparison to everything I've driven, it was probably relatively close to the manual car I use for everyday driving. Not even close – the car was a lot freer in the chassis, and experienced much more wheel spin than I had expected. Even while trying to deal with that, I enjoyed my time on track.

This series is quite unique in that it provides a great deal of seat time – most series I've seen don't give the drivers much time and it's probably one of the most frustrating things about the sport. Each session I managed to learn something new, whether it be about the car and how it handles or the track and how to attack it more

Two races were scheduled for the day. Sadly, disaster struck during the first race while on lap 18. Contact with another car sent me on a trip through the grass. I came back onto the track sideways and into the racing line. Another car couldn't avoid my spin, and then it was back into the grass.

Unfortunately the damage was bad enough that I couldn't finish the race and the turn around time was too short for the suspension to be fixed in time for the second race scheduled for that day. Instead I had to watch Race 2 from pit lane.

While I may not have been as quick as I was hoping, I did get experience as part of the media presence. Once I got over the nervousness of doing my first video interview, I'd like to think I got the hang of it quickly and could provide a unique perspective. Asking questions, and sometimes dealing with language barriers, I figured out how to compare my experience on track to those of full-time series drivers. Some of them, like Oliver Bédard (who won both races) and Kevin King, are even people I've karted with in the past.

For more coverage on my adventure in Saint-Eustache, stay tuned to the Inside Track website and look for an article in the next print edition. There will be videos of my interviews with Oliver and Kevin, along with a few others including championship contender Thanaroj Thanasitnitikate and racing rookie Chris Sahakian.

The list of people I have to thank for making this opportunity possible is endless. They were great to work with, very well organized and took great care of me over the weekend. Didier Marsaud, Roxane Barry, Eric Cote, the whole Nissan Micra Cup series and Inside Track all deserve a huge shout out, because without them I wouldn't have had this great experience. Many thanks to Arai Americas and JRP for outfitting me for the race, along with everyone who has contributed to my 2015 crowd funding campaign, because without you I wouldn't be racing.

- Originally posted on InsideTrackNews.com

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Mid-Season 2015

The Canadian National Karting Championship, the peak of my karting season, is just over a month away. In the upcoming days, a lot will happen, but for now I think it’s time for a bit of a debrief for 2015. Four of the eight rounds of the Eastern Canada Karting Championship (ECKC) series have been completed, two at Goodwood and two at ICAR. Rotax Senior has proven to be more of a learning curve than I had anticipated, but even so I’ve achieved two top ten finishes, along with an 11th and a 14th. MIKA level racing has also been competitive with reasonably sized fields as many teams are preparing for the Nationals at that venue, but I’ve brought home some podiums and hope to get some more.

As far as my season as a development driver for BGR in the Toyo Tires F1600 series goes, I’ve spent some more days on track with BGR. Getting up to speed down the Andretti Straight at Mosport is a feeling that I’m pretty sure cannot be matched; probably the closest thing you can get to flying while being in a car. I must admit that being a development driver has its downside; after a great day of practice on the Friday in the BGR Piper Honda DF5, it was heartbreaking to watch my teammate race on Saturday and Sunday in it. Following problems with his car on practice day it was decided he would switch to my Piper as it was available. I would have much preferred to be out there on the track with everyone else, rather than watching my car whip around the track and finish with podium results as I sat on the pit wall.

On my days off, I’ve been focusing on raising funds for my 2015 season. It’s tough, but it’s something pretty much all racers have to do and it will be worthwhile. If you are a follower of my social media, you will know that one initiative I have started a crowd funding campaign. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it, please go to http://www.taegenpoles.com/team.asp to learn more and help me achieve my goal for the year.

The 5th and 6th rounds of ECKC are this weekend at Mosport. I’m looking forward to seeing how I can put this year’s experience to use! Working with Kevin Glover and the REM team, I’m excited to race with some teammates, share racing data and try to improve on personal best lap times which I set while practicing a few weeks ago. The last time I was out bits of asphalt were flying everywhere following some patch work, but I understand that has been redone in the lead up to this weekend. Minor modifications have been made to the layout of the track since last year that will make for some interesting passing opportunities this weekend.

Like always, you can keep up to date by following my social media pages to see how things are going on and off the track.

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The Commencement of 2015

The May long weekend has just wrapped up, but the racing season is only beginning. I’ve been out for kart testing and races practice days in the F1600, and followed the Brian Graham Racing crew during the Victoria Day Speedfest as a development driver. This week is the major start to my karting season – ECKC Round one and two will be taking place at Goodwood Kartways. I started the year off with a few test days with Brian Graham Racing at Shannonville and the Mosport DDT track, where I became well acquainted with my teammates: Ben Hurst, Mikhail Goikhberg and Reid Arnold. As a team I think everything is coming together nicely. We’re getting along well and helping each other out during the driver debriefs at the end of each session. As well, I was on testing with some of the other drivers I’ll be competing with later this season and it looks to be a good mix of experienced and rookie drivers.

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When it came to testing the karts, everyone knew I’d been in the BGR Piper when I got into the kart, because of the way I was driving. I hadn’t actually realized that there’s a difference between the two, but apparently my turning was early and braking was much harder than it should’ve been, because I was used to driving a 1000-pound machine rather than a 220-pound kart. I’ve figured out how to go back and forth more so now, and despite having been in a car last, I think I’ll be able to hop into a kart easily on Thursday. So far, the karting season has brought me a 5th, a 3rd and a 6th, some of those races being before trying the new 2015 Rotax engine modifications. I’ve also gotten to test out the new layout at Mosport kart track. While I haven’t decided if I prefer it or not, it will make for some good passing during races.

One experience of note was shadowing the BGR team and testing at the Mosport ‘big track’. I’d never driven on it before, but I’d heard some great stories and people had told me that I’d love it… they were right. The F1600’s have an average speed of around 170km/h on the track, peaking at 200km/h down the back straight. I only got three sessions on the Friday test day, but for the two that were in the dry I started to get used to the track layout and knock a few seconds off my time. At Mosport, when it rains, it pours, so the third session gave me time to experience full wet conditions. It was a lot of fun, a great way to end out the day, and I set the fastest lap in the group that went out. From there, I hung around for the race days, where I had a bunch of exciting experiences, from riding shotgun in the pace car to participating in the F1600 autograph session. In the eyes of the young kids I saw a version of myself, and it was awe-inspiring.

I’m not scheduled to be out with BGR until later this June, but it’ll be at Mosport again this season and I can’t wait to get out on track with the best of them. In the meantime, I’ve got karting on my mind. Rotax Seniors, I’m coming for you!

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[N]ice Racing

Originally published on page 62 of Volume 19, Issue 2 of Inside Track Motorsport News IMG_0775

The Canadian winter is a time I’ve come to dread. Months without being in a driver’s seat of a kart or race car have been pure torture. In my nine off-seasons, I’ve never found anything that could satisfy my need to race; for once I didn’t have to. Welcome to the world of ice racing! My new partnership with BGR Team Grote has opened up a myriad of opportunities. My first real race in cars was certainly a far cry from what I’d envisioned, but I think it was a very uniquely northern way to do it – in a ‘91 Honda Civic with -24° C temperatures in the CASC Ice Racing series, held in Minden, Ontario.

When I arrived at the track for my first weekend, I had absolutely no clue as to what I should expect. I figured I would have to channel my inner Kimi Raikkonen and adapt to the track and changing conditions quickly. After heading out to registration and attending my first drivers meeting (to my dismay it was outdoors), I got in the car with Brian Graham as my passenger for practice. Now that’s a low stress way to start the weekend having never had a passenger giving me instructions, let alone a team owner!

Before I knew it, the green flag dropped and I was out for my first race. Lack of visibility was the first shock. Plumes of exhaust from the other cars and blowing snow killed any chance I had of seeing where I was going and the windshield wiper switch was barely within reach. I was struck by the realization that I had a substantial lack of grip as I wasn’t running on studded tires. In hindsight, I probably should have thought about that in advance. Trying to keep one tyre on the snow to have some semblance of control over where the car was going when it was so sensitive was a challenge in and of itself, and then figuring out what the line was from lap to lap was another matter entirely.

Learning all of this on the fly led to a parallel relationship between time on the track and time in the snow banks that outlined the track. Having had my G1 for only a few months, the skill of reversing is still a little foreign. Long story short, getting out of the bank was a little more of an adventure than I was hoping for. Despite this, spirits were high in the paddock and getting to have a quick mentor session with Craig Willis was definitely a useful experience. I continued to improve in my other races throughout the weekend and the next weekend’s races proved I was more competitive. I even managed to catch up to, but not quite pass, one of my former driver coaches who was racing as well!

I know I still have lots to learn, and next year I’m hoping that I’ll do a full season in the series to work on my skills and try to get a win or two. Hopefully I won’t accidentally be sent out with the group of cars on studded tires again - talk about being a fish out of water.

I thoroughly enjoyed my debut in a car and can’t wait to get back in a cockpit of some sort soon. Thanks again to Brian Graham and Frank Neilsen (who provided my #48 for the weekends) for making these past few weekends possible – and awesome! Arai Americas deserve a shout-out for always having my back (…or is it my head?) by making sure I was equipped with the right helmet for this transition to cars.

This experience has also led me to a conclusion that you know you’re meant to be a driver when you are willing to tolerate -24 °C for a drivers meeting!

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My experience in cars

Initially published on http://www.insidetracknews.com The last time I got in a kart feels like ages ago, but the past few times I’ve gone out driving in recent weeks have definitely been some of my favourite moments of the season. I’ve participated in the Bridgestone Racing Academy and done two test days with Brian Graham Racing, one of which was a part of the Toyo Tires F1600 Karts to Cars program. To put it in a single word – it was incredible.

Credits: Cody Schindel

The Bridgestone Academy was probably the best 16th birthday present that I could have ever asked for. Friday morning, I showed up at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park Driver Development Track eager to learn and ready to get on track. After some class time I hopped in the cockpit of the F2000 Van Diemen, got fitted in the car and had a fantastic time. The weather wasn’t warm or dry, but it was still a time to remember. I had expected a huge difference in the driving a kart and a car, but surprisingly the only substantial I had to deal with was the clutch and working a gearbox. I mean, suspension was nice for a change, but I was focusing on figuring out how to start moving from a stop. It took a while, but I got it eventually, having had only one chance to practice driving car with manual transmission before the Academy. Three days later and there was passing, racing, and experiences I’ll never ever forget. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I wouldn’t protest whatsoever… it was that great of a time. The facility was fantastic, the track layout was a great combination of technical and high-speed corners, and the teachers did a great job of getting everyone up to speed.

After that experience, I was lucky enough to be one of three candidates selected by Move Motorsports and CASC-OR to be a part of the Toyo Tires F1600 Karts to Cars program. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I had with them. I had some PR sessions, learned more about the series and met the people behind it, before getting some seat time.

Credits: Andre Poles

Besides shifting and feeling the brake balance a lot more, I was surprised how it wasn’t all that different from a kart. Maybe that was due to the less than ideal weather conditions, and it’ll be different later, but for the time being some of my initial worries have been set aside. I’ve also done an additional test with Brian Graham Racing, where I got comfortable in the Piper 5.0 at Shannonville. Although the weather was also not ideal, both days have been life-changing experiences for me. Until recently, even though it has always been my goal to transition into cars, it didn’t feel as if it would come to fruition. Now that it’s in sight, I’m more driven than ever to make it work.

As the end of my season comes to a close, there are of course some people I have to thank that have made my racing endeavors possible. To my dad, I’m sorry I made fun of having you as my mechanic all year but given that you helped me win the MIKA Championship; I guess you did a good job.  As well thank you to the rest of my family, for being ever supportive of my goals, along with not hating the 5am wakeups too much. My sponsors, Inside Track, JRP and Arai Americas, also deserve a huge thank you for all they’ve done for me.

I am so appreciative of their support, because without them I wouldn’t be able to purse this dream of mine. And to anyone else who supports me, whether it is a friend, colleague, teammate, or follower. For every time you’ve got my back, I’m so incredibly thankful. As I move into cars, your support will be more important than ever.

With the snow falling occasionally, it’s indicative of my 2014 season being over, and I’m pretty sure it was my best yet. For 2015 I look to be a contender in the Rotax Senior division, do some more testing in the F1600 and who knows what other exciting things are in store. I guess only time will tell… see you on track!

 

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The Encore

The Nationals and ECKC have come and gone, and with it the perceived climax of this year’s karting season. Alas, that was not the case as there was still Mosport Karting Club racing to be had and a few other extra surprises. Going into September, I had very nearly clinched the MIKA championship for Rotax Junior, just needing to take the green flag of one more race to get the last 7 points I needed to put me mathematically ahead of everyone else for the championship. I didn’t need a perfect day, or to drive away in every session, but I wanted my perfect day to go out with a bang. And I got it! Although it all came down to the last corning, being a little closer than I’d hoped for in the final, I led every lap in that race to take my victory that a) closed out the championship, b) was my last time driving as a Junior, and c) meant that it would be a great time to have my friends spray me down on the podium.

Taking a week or two to get some downtime, preparations were set for a very busy end of September and October. Before I knew it, it was time for one last trip to Mosport for my last race of the year… as a Senior. It was so different from Junior! I think there were at least 5+ screams of excitement in morning practice just because it felt so cool. The tyres were better, the acceleration was better, and the experience itself was just better. I loved it! Adjusting quickly, I qualified third and rounded out the day in second. It was a great way to end the season, and retire my long-standing use of the number 207.

Finished P2 and on the podium in my first Rotax Senior race

The excitement didn’t stop there! Later this month, I’m excited to announce I’ll be doing at least one test day in an F1600 car with BGR, I finally turned 16 so now I can drive on the roads as well as a track (getting my G1 on my birthday like a typical teenager would), and best of all, this weekend I’m doing the Bridgestone Racing Academy at Mosport in a F2000 car to qualify for my car racing license. It’s going to be fantastic. This is my encore to what seemed like the end of 2014 racing… but it turns out the curtain hasn’t come down quite yet on racing for 2014.

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Hurry up and wait... Nationals 2014

Initially published on http://www.insidetracknews.com 2014 Canadian National Karting Championship Final Race - Corner 4, Lap 1

The Nationals have come and gone, and like last year my inner journalist has provided me with many topics to touch upon and analyse, similar to how a driver analyses how their kart handles in a session to report back to their coach before crossing scales.

So with that said, where to begin? Perhaps the topic many people would want to hear about is the results, but what I've been itching to talk about is the new format. Qualifying was moved to Thursday with a fast 6 SuperPole, two progressive result heat races on Friday, one more heat race on Saturday and then the final on Sunday, completely eliminating the pre-final.

I was less than thrilled when I heard about this initially, mostly due to the lack of the pre-final. In my experience, I've never had good results in the heats (this year being no different, two 14th's and an 8th), so having those points accumulated to result in a final starting spot meant less of a chance for recovery. True, it means there's a higher chance to lose your position in a first lap incident if there is a pre-final but if all the drivers are smart they won't be as daring and a little more patient.

Also, the lack of on track sessions spread over even more days resulted in excessive downtime between sessions, and there were days when I was done before noon. In my opinion, this could've been changed by adding additional practice sessions, a fourth heat race, not moving qualifying from traditionally being on Friday to Thursday, something (I don't like waking up early to go on track for two sessions). I will admit the SuperPole idea was good, sending the fastest six in standard qualifying out 8 seconds apart so it proves who can put together the best lap technically, rather than having the benefit of a draft.

Traditionally, the best way to improve an on-track performance is to improve the way the driver drives the track with the aid of a driver coach or by making adjustments to the handling of a kart with the aid of a mechanic. However, more recently, athletes from all sports have found sports psychologists to help out with the mental game, namely to improve focus and drive for success. I inadvertently found myself around a such a person for two days, and it taught me that at this point it isn't something I think would help me in ways it may help others.

When I was around him, I felt like I had to "walk on eggshells," and monitor what I said because I felt as if I was being analysed and judged. I'm not trying to diminish the creditability of psychologists, but the experience made me wonder if it does really help performance, especially if being around one makes you experience the feelings I mentioned. Frankly, those are feelings I dread, but for someone who doesn't like to hold back on their opinions (i.e. me) it was a bit of a distraction.

Most notably, when I would want to point out a chassis problem, I would have to do it in a way that didn't sound like blame because I didn't feel like hearing the phrase "you can point one finger, but there's three pointing back at you" all the time. With so much downtime built into the schedule, there was that much more time to overhear such phrases. Maybe it would have been different had this not been my first experience being around a sports psychologist.

If it helps other people and works for them then that's great, but it was a learning experience that taught me that at least for now it's not for me. If any doctors were to come to the track this weekend, I'd like an actual one because I managed to get sick during the event!

Now, onto how the event actually went. Starting off with a good note, unlike last year... and the year before, and the year before that, I didn't switch engines the day of the final. But let's backtrack a bit more, to the practice days. Unlike every other race that I've been to this year, Chris Freckleton came up to help coach. We worked on getting me up to speed, hoping I'd be able to post a good time in qualifying. Unfortunately that didn't happen, and I had tyre problems from the start.

Although the event staff insisted the oil leaking out of my tyres was totally normal despite being one of only two drivers who seemed to have the issue (???), I had a huge vibration (similar to the tyre crisis of 2011 where they were imbalanced), couldn't get the grip and it resulted in a bad qualifying session. Starting P14 for the first heat, I had ground to make up if I wanted to have a shot at a good starting spot for the final. I had to dwell on how I'd go about that until the next day (too much downtime), but I got a decent amount of sleep leaving me energized and excited for the day to come.

The start went well and relatively contact free, and working my way forward I was in position to pass for one last spot on the final lap. Committing fully to the pass, I guess the driver didn't see me and we made side pod to side pod contact. Although he got off with just a scuff on his decals, I lost all the positions I'd made up and finished in 14th. But it didn't end there... waiting to scale my kart I was given an official warning for contact for that pass, because "I'd penalized myself enough by losing the spots".

Everyone that watched my GoPro footage thought it was at most a racing incident because I'd easily made turn-in and had my inner wheels on the curb leaving lots of room on the outside, and the warning wasn't warranted. Even so, it wasn't worth raising the issue with the officials at that point in the weekend, as sometimes you just have to shake it off. This wasn't my last encounter with the stewards for the weekend, but I had to put it behind me for the second heat. Another rough heat (I was overly aggressive and to the driver who lost out from that I'm sorry) meant I ended up 14th again, and had to make another comeback to hope for a good starting spot. Heat three meant I finally got that done, coming back to 8th after keeping it clean and going fast. I was up to pace and starting in 12th for the final.

The final deserves a paragraph of its own. I was feeling really optimistic, given a good performance in morning practice, and a good finish was definitely in sight. And it was going well, excluding the waved off start, until the fourth corner. Then a driver (the same one who I'd been given the warning about in heat one) went in really hot into the hairpin and spun around. With it being a narrow part of the track, there wasn't much space and despite trying to get to the inside of his spin I went right into his front tyre. This bent my chassis by 6mm (it doesn't sound like much, but karters know it's pretty substantial), bent a tie rod, and bent a nosecone bar.

All of that meant the kart and engine didn't work well and I was sputtering around for most of the race. Falling back to 14th, it was right back where I started, and not what I was hoping for from the weekend. But the most memorable moment came from after the race. The irony is, although I said earlier I hate walking on eggshells, I have to do exactly that here for fear of violating Section 6.6 of the ASN Canada FIA Sporting Regulations, which extensively limits my ability to express my personal aggravation about this. I'm getting tired of having to take the high road when it seems no one else seems to, but better safe than sorry.

So, in regards to the incident that happened on lap one, there was a verbal confrontation between me and the other driver prior to scaling our karts, which resulted in officials separating us until we had the chance to make our way to our respective tents. He felt me responsible for his spin (pictured above) and for once, I didn't ignore the comments (particularly as this driver has tried to blame me for incidents he gets involved in when I'm ahead of him and he runs straight into the back of me), but rather spoke out and defended myself when I felt blame was wrongly placed on me.

Yes, the drama continued on social media later that day when I tried to show my point of view, but in the wise words of Queen Elsa from Frozen, I have to just let it go. Haters gonna hate, right? Racing doesn't come without its complications and rivalries, and being the only girl seems to make me an easy target for blame. No matter what actually happened, it's always somehow the fault of the female (then again, you've got the people saying we shouldn't even be allowed on the track... another story for another time).

Oh well, with that brings an end to my racing as a Rotax Junior at a national level, three and a half years later. I've still got a race or two at the local level to clinch the Mosport Championship, but after that I'm making the switch to Senior! I know it's going to be a lot tougher and people will have much more experience than I, but minus the extra 40 pounds of lead needed to make minimum weight that have to go on and better tyres, it can't be all that different... Or so we'll see.

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2014

What a year it’s been, and there’s still five months to go. There’s been a lot of change so far, both on the track and off. I’ve moved out of the GTA, will be switching schools come September… but most importantly now live a lot closer to many of the tracks I race at, meaning fewer 5am wake ups, something I know I, and the rest of my family, appreciate tremendously. And then there’s the racing season itself, it started with a team switch, a broken chassis, injuries, mid-race flights and one road trip to Quebec and back, and I know there is much more in store. Now I’m a member of Kevin Glover Karting and am driving on a FA Kart, have raced at some ECKC races and the MIKA series, along with testing and other fitness training. With all of that in mind, the Nationals are nearly here and I feel it’s the perfect time for reflection on the season thus far. Racing at the MIKA level has always been something I enjoy doing, not only because it’s a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere, but there’s still the competition to make the days interesting. I started off the season strong with a second place finish, but the best was yet to come. Before heading off to the Canadian Nationals this week I raced at the third MIKA double header of the season to get a little more seat time in the kart before it becomes time for serious business. Although a win would always be nice, the focus there was getting points and bringing it home in one piece. Instead I brought home two solid second places, but I was satisfied given the state of some of my equipment (aka very old tyres). With nine races in the championship completed, I’m currently leading the championship race with four wins, four seconds and a fifth place finish.

Unfortunately things haven’t been going as smoothly as I was hoping for in the ECKC series, where when things started off so well but haven’t stayed the same. Round one saw me qualify and finish the pre-final in 4th, but going into corner three of the final I was hit from behind and knocked off track, causing race-ending damage to my kart after such a good day. Mechanical issues in qualifying for round two meant I didn’t set a good time after being sent out late, and started ninth. Dropping back to 11th in the pre-final, I then ended the day with a top-ten finish. Not what I’d been hoping for after a weekend seeming so promising but all that I could manage on what was later found to be a cracked chassis. ECKC Goodwood saw challenges of its own, as I was getting adjusted to a new kart as my old one had been damaged beyond repair. The first race day had me starting last for the final after a lap one pre-final incident, and by the end of the race I’d worked back up from 28th to 12th. The next day I managed to keep it clean the whole day and score an 8th place finish, which was far from what I was hoping for but it was my best finish in four races I’ve done, and not bad while learning an entirely new kart.

On the grid ECKC 3

This week I’ll am at Tremblant for the Canadian Nationals, where the track is being run in reverse direction for the first time in competition, because why not? I did some testing there earlier this month and I like the track… it’ll be a very competitive event with who-knows-what’s in store for the weather in typical Tremblant style. I’m looking forward to having help from my coach Chris Freckleton and team manager Kevin Glover, and together I think we can pull together a great package and overall have a great experience. I definitely wouldn’t protest with winning a ticket to Spain to race there too… ;)

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Year 9

Thus far, the 2014 season has definitely been interesting and I’d say it’s also been successful. I spent a winter of intense physiotherapy to deal with injuries sustained in last year’s crash at the Nationals, which also prematurely ended my 2013 season. With Summit GP’s change to the Energy chassis, I tested for a day but decided I was happiest with the OTK products; As a result I have switched teams and am now racing with Kevin Glover Karting. After a brief test day to make sure the kart was still functional, I went to my first race at Goodwood and it showed us typical track weather; dry, wet, half and half. Basically it was crazy, but it was going really well. I’d been running in the top two all day, but the final brought a twist of events. This time it was absolutely torrential rain, to add to the fun. After stalling the engine on the start and crossing the line more than 3 seconds behind the leader, I had to work my way back to the front. I’d worked my way up to third and was running more than half a second a lap faster than the two karts ahead of me and had closed to within 2 tenths of a second when my chain simply snapped, so I couldn’t finish what I’d started.

After another test day I was back at Mosport for a double-header weekend prior to the first two races of ECKC the following week. Overall, I think it was a success. Competition was tough as everyone was practicing for ECKC with a larger field as some of the guys from Quebec had arrived early, which made it a better experience. The first day I qualified third, fell back to fourth in the pre-final but made that up and then some in the final to finish second. As it was only my second race, I was pretty pleased, but naturally I wanted more. Making some changes to see if we could make up a little bit of extra time, we learned a lot of things the following day and though it resulted in a fifth, it gave me more time to get used to the dynamics of KGK and get to know my new teammate Zach Scalzo so it was a lot more fun under the tent. It was a successful weekend overall.

ECKC was another great weekend, and even though I didn’t have final results to prove my speed, it was there throughout the weekend. Practice day ended well, sitting in a tie for P1, and that gave me confidence for the following day. The speed carried over, and I qualified fourth. The pre-final was going well; I’d gotten myself up to second when a racing incident sent me back to ninth. From there I kept on going forward, working back up to fourth where I’d started. Unfortunately the final didn’t work out as well; I didn’t make it past the third corner as I was hit from behind under braking, resulting in a DNF after what looked to be a promising day. The next day was a bit more of a struggle. Mechanical issues in practice and qualifying had me stuck mid-pack, and by the end of the day I managed a 10th place finish. It was still an improvement on the DNF from the day before, but disappointing nonetheless considering the pace I had.

Back at Mosport for a regional day, I was looking to turn my luck around. Taking my pace from the weekend before, I was on pole for the pre-final and looking to stay there. After one false start, the race was on. Contact from behind spun me around in corner one, leaving me with a large time deficit to make up. I got back up to third, so I still had spots to make up but it was better. In the final I did just that, and took the lead from the first corner and stayed there. Although it was very close at the end with a drag race to the line (0.031 seconds to the driver behind!), it ended my long winless streak and made me even more confident for the remainder of the season.

Back on the Top Step

With ECKC Goodwood coming up, I then went to a regional race there where I was looking to continue the streak to two wins in a row. I qualified off-pole, but a pass with two laps to go in the pre-final meant I’d start from pole in the final. From there it was looking good with me running at the front of the pack, but it wasn’t meant to be as contact during a pass attempt on me resulted in another chain loss and a DNF after what had looked like a promising day. Regardless it was still good test for ECKC, which is coming up in a few weeks! I’m looking forward to getting back to national-level competition.

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2013 Canadian National Karting Championships: A Nationals to Forget

Initially published on www.insidetracknews.com If there was a word to sum up the 2013 Canadian Nationals, it would be drama.  It was everywhere you looked, and in my opinion it even took away from the thrill of racing, which was really unfortunate.  Maybe it was the fact that the Nationals underwent a change in venue from Mt. Tremblant, Québec (where it’s been held for the past three years) to Goodwood Kartways in Uxbridge, Ontario but the atmosphere was completely different.  It actually went by very quickly, which came as a surprise to me.

Taegen with mechanic/driver coach Dave Conquer Courtesy Isabel Conquer

On Wednesday, I was getting really excited for the week to come.  In practice I was looking fast, learning more about the track here and there, and putting down times to be in top-5.  Then, in the second-last practice session of the day, my day ended with a bang... literally.  Coming up on a very slow kart on the apex of corner one breaking-in their engine, I went wide to avoid, ending up on the marbles which drove me backwards and into the concrete wall a few feet away from the corner.  From there my kart pinwheeled around, where I proceeded to fly out of the kart over the nosecone.  I was definitely done for the day with injuries to my ankle and my knee, but I was determined I’d finish out the weekend.  I went home rather sore and swollen, but still excited for the week to come.  Thursday was mostly adjusting to my knee and ankle, even making adjustments to the kart to get more comfortable.  Thursday night as I went to pick up my tyres, it set in that the next day was when everything, every session actually matters - no pressure or anything.  I went home and got a lot of rest, in preparation for the three days to come.

I went to the first of the three drivers meetings, and then suited up for Friday morning practice, when I knew I had some work to do.  I’d been further back in the pack than I had all week, which I was not satisfied with at all.  In the practice that separated us into fast-group/slow-group, not much improvement was made, I was fourteenth.  There was about 20 minutes where I was really stressed, mostly because I was either going to be the last one making it into the fast group... or the first in the slower, which would have made a huge difference.  Thankfully the odds were in my favour, and I was relieved to see I squeaked through.  Determined I would be in prime condition for the ever-important qualifying, I iced up my leg, ate a bunch of bacon and was ready to go.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really work.  I qualified again in 14th, not only putting me mid-pack where all the lap one chaos is, but also on the outside row - just generally not a good position.  The first heat race was later that day, and I was determined to make it work, although sadly it didn’t.  I got involved in a first lap incident, placing me at the back of the pack.  I got a few extra positions, but nothing to really be proud of.  This was also the first longer session, and it tested how I could push through my injury, which was just feeling worse.  Going home with a disappointing 19th in that heat, I was determined to perform better on Saturday.

The next day didn’t go as planned.  In the second heat race, I got caught up in yet another first-lap crash.  I was pushed up onto two other karts, and when I got back on track I was 2-seconds ahead of the leaders bearing down almost lapping us as it took some time to clear the incident.  Being lapped, despite it taking them 10 more laps to catch me, is never a fun experience, especially when I was running times so close to theirs even with a bent steering mechanism.  It is what it is I guess, but a 20th meant I had to pull off something stellar if I wanted a good starting position for the pre-final.  Although in the last heat I finally survived the first lap, my result was only good enough for a 13th, meaning I started in 19th for the pre-final.

The final day brought lots of anticipation, it was finally time for the Canadian Champions to be crowned.  I think it’s safe to say that the pre-final was my best race of the whole weekend.  We took a gamble in morning practice to test out our other engine, with the understanding that the engine we removed would be quarantined if we made the choice to switch for the pre-final.  To me, I thought the engine was an improvement compared to the other, so the decision was made... based on only four minutes of practice on it.  Hoping we were right with the decision, we gridded up for the pre-final.  From starting in 19th I was deemed the driver on the move, finishing in 7th position, a total gain of 12 places.  Most importantly, I was placed on the inside row for the start of the final.  In my opinion there was no way the race could have gone better, I definitely used the 20 laps to the best of my ability.  Finally, I was producing actual results that I was satisfied with, although of course I wanted more.  Then, it was time for the long awaited final.  Gridded up on the inside of the fourth row, I was feeling the butterflies.  As soon as the race stared, I knew my kart was feeling great and that I was competitive for a top-five finish, perhaps even a podium.

Unfortunately, while running in 5th, my race was ended prematurely when contact with the 6th place kart sent me all the way to the back.   The drama continued after the race as the stewards sorted through the on track incidents and assessed penalties, ultimately moving the person who crossed the finish line first off the podium.  I understand there may still be ongoing appeals of the final race results at this time.

Even though the weekend didn’t end how I wanted it to, I still really want to thank all my partners through this weekend; Arai Americas, Inside Track, JRP and most importantly my family, my mechanic/driver coach Dave Conquer and all my friends.  Without your support, I wouldn’t be where I am now.  I’ll be back next year at Mt. Tremblant, I hope you’re all ready.

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ECKC 2013 Rounds 3 & 4

On Canada Day weekend, it was time to get back out on track!  This time, it was for rounds 3 and 4 of the ECKC series, this year held at Goodwood Kartways. Since this is also where the Nationals will be held later this season, I knew I needed to get some time on track before these major races.  Although I didn’t have the benefit of days and days of testing, I think I managed to do a good job of finding pace. Friday, the practice day, was a day of constantly struggling to find our pace.  I didn’t get to go out for the first practice session because there seemed to be something wrong with my brakes. This would be an issue that would continue to plague me until we finally figured it out prior to the final on Sunday, thanks to the help of Mr. White.  When we did get out on track though, we were struggling nonetheless.  It was definitely a frustrating day.  Along with doing a lot of tyre changes, bleeding brakes... a lot, and carb adjustments, I was also struggling to find that pace I needed to run to be with the front of the pack.  By the end of the day, we were 16th, which while it was an improvement, was still nowhere near where I wanted to be or what I expected of myself. I was hoping that I would find the pace I needed overnight by going over data and GoPro footage, analysing where I could gain time.

The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn, ready for what the day had in store.  It appeared that for once this season, the weather would cooperate and I would have a day full of dry weather and not have to worry about changing to rain set-up.  For once, that was actually the case.  However, in the morning I was still struggling.  Only 21st in morning warm-up, I was in the “slow” group for qualifying, theoretically meaning I had the disadvantage.  After a pep-talk from my friend Mr. Conquer prior to the session, however, I was in a whole new state of mind.  I managed to pull together my best lap of the weekend in qualifying, and would start 12th for the pre-final.  Although I still knew I could improve, there was a bit of optimism for the day ahead, especially when I knew I messed up on my fast lap.  The pre-final consisted of me trying to get even higher up in the standings, which I did to a reasonable extent. By the end of the race, I was up to ninth, which I was content with, although I was still hungry for a better finish.  As well, I had found the pace I was looking for, so I was happier there too.  After one waved off start, we finally got the green for the long-awaited final.  I was into 7th by the end of the first lap (which included a brief trip into the air), where I would start to hunt down the driver in 6th.  Then, I saw my opportunity going into corner one, even though there’s often a chance those passes will end with a trip to the concrete wall and barriers.  Nonetheless, I stuck my nosecone in and got the position, which was probably the high point of my race.  I continued to drive my hardest and started to catch the driver in 5th, but I ran out of laps.  In the end I secured my 6th position, and my best ECKC finish in Rotax Jr to date.  I was definitely looking forward to coming back the next day, because I knew if I could get myself into the quicker group for qualifying and get a better position then, I could be in contention for podium finish.

Unfortunately, Sunday started off rough as well.  As I went out for practice, it was looking good... until about the fourth corner.  I threw my chain, didn’t set a lap in practice and was therefore back into the slower group for qualifying.  I knew I still had the pace to qualify at least where I was the day prior, if not higher, though, so it wasn’t too abysmal... yet.  Qualifying didn’t go nearly as I had hoped.  I failed to set a clear lap, so it was back to the middle of the pack for me.  I would start 16th for the pre-final, but even then I knew I had the speed to make a comeback.  Even then, emotions were running high under the SummitGP tent, because I was rather frustrated with myself.  Sadly, the pre-final didn’t help.  I was doing rather well after the first lap, and had gone from 16th to 11th.  A few laps later, when I had gotten up to 9th, it all came crashing down.  I was making a pass into a corner, and it didn’t end well.  I lost essentially all I had gained, and was down into 14th.  After the race, I was also stuck with a position penalty for front-to-rear contact, so I ended up having to start the race in 15th.  It was definitely a lot of work for only one position, but there was nothing I could do about it.  Determined going into the final, I was ready to make a serious comeback and prove that I was fast and a front-runner.  One thing I’m certain about after this weekend was that I did a good job.  Steadily working my way up, I was gaining positions rather quickly.  By lap 5 I was already 8th, and with lots of laps left I was hoping I could work up to a top-5 finish.  Although afterwards I didn’t gain as many positions as I hoped, I was in 7th with 3 laps to go.  Again, doing one of my favourite passes into corner one, I placed myself in 6th, where I would end up finishing.  Improving from my starting position by nine positions definitely a result I was happy with, considering how abysmal the day was looking.  In the process, I also set 3rd fastest lap, showing major improvement throughout the whole weekend.  I’m really thankful to the support I got from my mechanic (who continues to be my dad) and SummitGP, because without them I wouldn’t have been able to get the results I did.  The weekend definitely ended on a positive note, despite the negative notes.

So overall in this ECKC series I’ve got two 6th place finishes at Goodwood and two 10th place finishes at Mosport a month ago - it appears I’m consistent! I’ll definitely be looking forward to running even higher with a bit of luck.  This weekend also has me looking even more forward to the Nationals, so just general excitement for the remainder season to come!

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ECKC 2013 Rounds 1 & 2

I’m back on track!  2013 has brought another karting season upon us, full of twists and turns (both left and right... clearly I’m watching a NASCAR race as I write this...).  Racing in Rotax Junior again this year and a part of the renamed SummitGP, much has changed - I’ve got my dad as a mechanic this year – for the first time in four years.  So far, I’ve done some local races, but what I’m here to talk about were my races on June 1 and 2, the first and second ECKC races at Mosport.  One major factor that was over the whole weekend was the incredibly indecisive weather.  One minute it would be clear skies, and before you knew it there were rain clouds headed your way and a subsequent torrential downpour. The Friday before the races was official practice day, where my dad and I would fine-tune our set-up.  By the end of the day, we had pretty much nailed a set-up for the dry, and were P6 in timed practice.  This also led me to be rather optimistic for results over the weekend, although with rain still in the forecast there was also a mystery factor as they kept changing the chance of precipitation and expected rainfall accumulations.

The next morning, it was 5am wake-up to get to the track, but of course it was worth it.  Morning practice didn’t produce the results I wanted, because my rear bumper was knocked off, slowing me down.  Despite this, I still managed to post a reasonable time, and headed back to the tent to fix my bumper in time for qualifying, where I was looking to be quick.  Unfortunately, I’ll never know if I was.  On my out-lap, I had gotten myself some space to set a good time - but then on the last corner my chain fell off!  That meant I was starting from last - 27th, and had a lot of ground to make up during the pre-final and final.

I blame my mechanic for this one - yes dad I am looking at you

In the pre-final, it didn’t start out great.  I got caught up behind an accident on the first lap that blocked the track, which reduced my ability to make up ground.  Even though I was setting fastest lap after fastest lap, I only got up to 20th, which was not what I was hoping for.  Then the weather became a factor.  For the first time all weekend, I was going to be driving in full wet conditions... and did I mention this would be the first time in years my dad had set me up for driving in the wet?  I have to admit, he did a pretty good job.  Besides a minor gearing error, my kart handled great all race, and I ended up finishing in 10th.  Considering the bad luck I had early on, I was satisfied, but it made me even more driven for a better result the next day.

After a brief fog delay (it was really bad) Sunday morning, we were back at it for another day of racing.  I had high expectations for the day, considering the pace from yesterday.  Apparently, it hadn’t gone away overnight.  I qualified in P4, my best qualifying effort in this series to date.  Now, I was really excited for the pre-final, because I was hoping to put myself in contention for the win.  But during lunch, the tables turned... when it started to rain.  We got the kart all set-up for a rain race, and then we realized something while watching the DD2 race - the track was drying.  After another complete set-up change (minus gearing again), we were ready to go back out on track.  While the start didn’t go as I had hoped, the race was still looking promising for a good starting spot for the final.  Then, I tried to make a pass that didn’t end well, and I hit a puddle, spun and lost everything and fell back to 18th - with one lap to go.  After driving the most aggressively I had all race, from making passes on the outside, inside or middle of corners, I got myself back up to 13th by the chequered.  For once, we outdrove Mother Nature, and the skies opened up between the sessions.  Before the race, we were forced to make another decision, and again we went with dry set-up.  I had a good start, and started to work my way back up to the front.  After a bit of racing in a pack, I managed to secure 10th, and started to hunt down the driver in 9th.  I ran out of time to successfully pass him (although I did make an attempt, I would have been kicking myself if I hadn’t made the effort), so it was another 10th place to end the weekend.  While I was looking for a better result considering my speed, it was a decent result (and I do have to admit, my dad did a pretty good job... and no I was not told to say that at all).  I’m definitely looking forward to the next ECKC races at Goodwood in a few weeks time!

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2012 Canadian National Karting Championships

The 2012 Canadian Nationals are now ‘in the books’ according to the commentators, and I don’t think I’d be the first to say it would be quite an interesting book. On the weekend prior to the Nationals, I had a local double-header race at Mosport that we were using as a shake-down. On the first race day (Saturday), I didn’t get out for practice since my battery was dead! This meant qualifying would be my first session on track that day. Once I got on track, all seemed to be working fine, however, on a “downstroke”, the connecting rod in my motor catastrophically failed sending pieces of metal through the casing and cracking the cylinder! I didn’t get out for qualifying, and I was without a motor. I borrowed a spare to finish the day, but I didn’t know what I would do for the Nationals without a motor. Fortunately, I had a new motor built for Sunday thanks to my grandparents who paid for it, as we didn’t have any room left in the racing budget for a motor. I would have to break it in throughout the race day, but at least I could go to the Nationals!. Somehow, I still qualified 4th!  At the end of the day, while still breaking in the motor, I won a hard fought battle for third place - my first podium of the season!

The Tuesday after the double-header was the day we (me, my dad, my mum and my little sister) drove down to Mt. Tremblant. This was the third year in a row that the Nationals would be held there, so I was familiar with the track. This meant that starting from essentially the first practice session, my driver coach/tuner, Curtis Fox, would be working on getting this new engine to work. From the first session and through the rest of the day, we could never get that perfect set up to have the engine working. The problem was, the motor wasn’t revving properly. While it was supposed to be revving up to around 13500 RPM, it was only hitting about 12700 RPM, which makes a huge difference on the straights. Since there was a very long straight with an optimal passing spot just before the next corner, hitting 13500 RPM needed to happen. Otherwise, I would be eaten alive with no way to really defend. We knew there was another practice day on Thursday, but it was frustrating knowing that the engine was what was making us slower.

Thursday was another frustrating day. Whatever changes we made to try to free up the engine - jet, gear, float height, you name it, it never made the engine problems better. Sometimes, it even made it worse! I knew I had the racing line down, but it was so important that the whole package would work so I could qualify the best I could the next day. We were all hoping that since it was a new engine, maybe it just needed time to free up and it would all just come together. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

On the Friday, it was the first official day of the Canadian Nationals. In morning practice, it was evident that the motor still would not work. Some laps, it would work better than others, and then there were other laps it just didn’t work at all! Curtis and I tried to work together to see if there was anything else we could do. The second practice was critical because it separated the drivers into the fast group, and the slow group. I really worked hard in that practice, but it still wasn’t enough, so I would qualify with the slower group of drivers. I was determined to qualify better, since where I qualified would be where I started for the three heat races. Unfortunately, I didn’t do well in qualifying either! I would start 21st for each of the heats, one of which was later that day. I was excited to see if I could make up positions in the heat, because one bad race adds a lot of points to your total. The goal is that you have as few ‘points’ as possible, by having better finishes. The better your finish, the fewer points you have, and the fewer the points, the higher your start position for the pre-final. In the first heat race, however, I was spun from behind and had to make up a lot of ground on the people ahead of me. Working together with another competitor, I was able to finish 24th. It wasn’t a great finish, but it was better than finishing last, or not finishing at all.

Saturday, would be the day of the two remaining heat races. I was excited for the other heats, because it gave me a chance to try again. That night, however, we were contemplating renting a never-been-tested motor, just because I was losing so much speed on top end. At the end, we decided that we would stick with the new motor for another day and give it one last chance. The next day, after the daily drivers meeting, I was ready to go complete my heats and show that I can drive even with the continuing motor issues. In the warm-up session, it seemed those issues were not getting better. We tried another change in the engine, but it didn’t help either. I made it up to a high of 18th in the first of the days heats, but I was still losing a lot of ground on the straights. The issue was the same in the third heat. I got up to 15th from starting 21st, but I lost most of that again, and I finished 20th. This meant that I had a total of 65 points, and would start 22nd in the pre-final.

By the end of Saturday, however, it was decided that we would test the rental engine in the Sunday morning warm-up. The thing about this engine, however, was that it hadn’t been tested as a Rotax Junior, so we didn’t know if it would work any better than our current motor! Unfortunately, morning warm up was only 3 minutes long, so I definitely had to be on my A-game to make the most of it. Even though I didn’t have a great lap time in the warm up, I felt that the rental engine was better than the engine we had just bought, so we decided to use it for the pre-final and final. After all, there really wasn’t anywhere to go but forwards. In the pre-final, I had a great race and got myself up into 14th! I made up 8 positions, and this engine felt a lot better on top-end than the other one. I was really excited (and relieved), because I thought we had made the right choice with the engine. In the final, I survived all the chaos that comes in this ultra-competitive class even though I got shuffled back a bit at the drop of the green flag, and started to work my way up. From a low of 16th, I got up to 11th and was one of the three fastest drivers on track in the race! I would have liked to have that one last pass so I could have been in the top ten at the Nationals, but I was satisfied considering the challenges we had to overcome. Seeing as I never seem to have the best luck at the Nationals, it was nice to finally have a good result. And maybe next year, I’ll do even better!

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