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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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… :)