Hurry up and wait... Nationals 2014
Initially published on http://www.insidetracknews.com
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.