GRAND FINAL 2008 - Day 30.11.2008
The rain that fell during the final moments of Friday’s on-track action turned into a major storm over night. The winds were so intense that some of the pit canopies, which had been firmly anchored to the ground, moved up to half a meter and certain teams found that some of their of their equipment had blown away.
Sunday at the La Conca International Circuit dawned bright with a cool, crisp feeling in the air. Everywhere around the paddock the low murmur of voices were heard as the teams quietly set about the day’s preparations. One could easily sense the energy of what was about to take place, for this was the most serious of days at the 2008 Rotax Max Grand Finals.
The morning track action started with the Junior Max warm up to be followed by the Max class and DD2. For most drivers it was a time to do last minute checks and make adjustments to settings. However, there were still many teams making wholesale changes to their karts in an apparent Hail Mary to find more speed. While a few teams we talked to said their kart was fine, they just wanted their drovers to take a few laps to burn off some nervous energy.
The Junior Pre-Final got underway exactly on time and featured what is arguably the most talented field of young drivers in Grand Finals history. In the 12-lap race none of the leaders ever had a safe margin to second place. And at the checkered flag, the top three were covered by less than a second. Those three that will lead the final are Rio Haryanto of Indonesia, Kevin Korjus of Estonia and Japan’s Keishi Ishikawa.
After winning all three of his heat races, the United Kingdom’s Ben Cooper had the pole position for the max Pre-Final. The 18-year-old from Kent was looking to pull a “Ouellette” and win all of his races on the way to a world championship. By the end of the Max Pre-Final he certainly looked on his way as he led unchallenged for all 16 laps. Just over three seconds behind Cooper were Holland’s Hannes van Asseldonk and Chris Lock of the UK.
In a way it’s a shame the DD2 Pre-Final wasn’t the Final because the battle for the front was one of the best we’ve ever seen at the Grand Finals. From pole position led the defending champion, Canada’s Pier- Luc Ouellette, followed closely by New Zealand’s Ryan Urban and Frenchman, and fellow double heat winner, Damien Vuillaume. Just before halfway Ouellette signaled Urban past and followed closely while Vuillaume gained ground. A few laps later Ouellette once again took the lead right before Vuillaume made his charge for the front. With Vuillaume leading it looked like Ouellette was content to conserve for the final but with two laps to go he re-took the lead going down into turn one. From that point the two drivers passed and re-passed each other a handful of times before the end of the race with Pier-Luc prevailing for the win by a scant 0.057 of a second.
Between the Pre-Final and the Final is a chance for all drivers at the event, those still in competition and those out, to don their driving suits and make way onto the front straightaway for the drivers parade. This is one of the biggest moments of the week as it creates a very colorful spectacle.
After the festivities of the driver’s parade were over, it was time to get down to what everyone had anticipated all week, the Finals. Leading the pack of 34 karts in to turn one was Rio Haryanto followed on his tail by Kevin Korjus. For the next 20 laps, we were treated to one of the best 4-kart races for the lead we’ve ever seen. Nobody had enough fingers and toes to count all the passes among the top four.
Impressively, Facundo Chapur of Argentina had worked his way up through the pack and by halfway had taken his share of the lead. Not to be outdone, defending champion Korjus took it off him in a daring move into turn one the next lap. On the final lap a minor bumping session separated the top four a bit and the order ran out, Chapur as World Champion, Korjus second and Paul Fourquemin of France for the final podium spot.
After winning all his heat races and the Pre-Final, all eyes were on Kent, UK’s Ben Cooper to see if he could sweep ever race he ran. Although his fellow countryman Chris Lock kept him honest for the first few laps, by lap 6 of 24 Ben had separated himself from the pack and was off to his first Rotax World Championship. Also impressive was Martin Pierce’s run through the field in the Pre-Final and Final to finish on the podium in third and win the Max Masters championship.
It would appear that there are era’s for Rotax Max Grand Finals success. First it was South Africa, then Holland. Now we’ve seen wins by British drivers the last two years. It’s worth noting that this year, all three podium finishers in the Max class were of British origin. But, before we hand over the torch to the UK, South Africa is back on the rise as Johannesburg’s Leeroy Poulter came victorious in DD2.
Poulter’s win, while not shocking, did catch some people off-guard. Leeroy had been lurking at the front all week long while others were taking the glory with heat race wins. As such, most people were expecting either defending champion Pier-Luc Ouellette, Ryan Urban or Damien Vuillaume to stand on top of the podium when all was said and done. However, Vuillaume never got the chance, having gotten turned around on the first lap.
This left Poulter in the lead with Ouellette on his heals. Pier-Luc did manage to get by for the lead once but Poulter was not to be denied and re-took the lead on the next lap. At the finish the Canadian did make an attempt for the top spot but Leeroy was ready for it and made sure the road was blocked. At the finish Poulter was DD2 World Champion by .271 seconds. Holland’s Maik Barten came third on the road but was penalized 1o seconds for a jumped start. This put American Stuart Marsell into third, the best Grand Finals finish ever for his country’s team. Unfortunately for Stuart, the change in positions took place after the prize giving, so he did not get to taste the champaign. However, we’re sure he’ll enjoy his accomplishment for years to come.
The DD2 masters title went to Dennis Kroes of the Netherlands in his second Grand Finals appearance. Second was America’s Curtis Cooksey. The two actually got to fight for the title on the track as both drivers were spun on the first lap together. They then spent the rest of the 24 laps fighting with each other for the Masters title.
The final event of the 2008 Rotax Max Grand Finals will be the wrap up party to be held tonight at 9:00 PM. Lots of stories will be told. Some will celebrate victory while some drown their sorrows. Also, worth looking forward to is the final of the Tire Changing contest. For all the team members, it will be one last chance to say goodby to new friends and vow to be back next year, ready to challenge for Rotax glory again.
P I T B I T S
Leeroy Poulter, the newly crowned DD2 World Champion, started racing 18 years ago at the age of eight. During that time he has seen a lot of success in racing, including a podium finish in the very first Grand Finals. He also was a competitor in Viana, Portugal in 2006.
Back home in Johannesburg, South Africa, Leeroy has a kart shop that sells Birel chassis. He also races touring cars in the South African National Series. When asked about racing heroes, Leeroy was the only one this week to name a non-F1 driver. He said he’s always admired World Rally driver Sebastian Loeb.
The 2008 Grand Finals had two female competitors this year. One of them was 20-year-old Alexandria Asmasoebrata. Alexandria has been racing since 2001 and is in her second Grand Final having also competed in 2005 in Lankawi, Malaysia. She says her favorite track is the Shanghai circuit in China.
In addition to Karts, Alexandria also competes in Asian Formula Renault but still plans on running karts again in 2009. Like many of the drivers here at La Conca, Alexandria gives credit to her father for getting started in karting, as he was also a racer himself.
Mikhail Mitrokhin hails from St. Petersburg in Russia and has been racing karts for 20 years having started at the age of six. This is his second trip to the Grand finals, his previous effort was in 2006 when he finished third in Viana do Castello, Portugal in the Max class.
This is Mikhail’s first trip to Italy and he says he’s really enjoying the experience. As for next year, his plans are to stay in karts even though he does have some recent experience racing Formula BMW in Germany.
This is the third trip to the Grand Finals for Gravesend, Kent UK’s Ben Cooper. The 18-year-old driver has been racing for 10 years and is currently working on a Master’s degree in Motorsports Engineering at Oxford University, having already received a national Diploma in the same subject.
When asked about his future, Ben said he’s always looking forward to the next challenge, but like many races he’s hamstrung by the lack of proper funds. There’s no doubt he has the talent to go far in racing having just become the2008 Rotax Max World Champion. We are hoping that this result will gain him some extra credit back at Oxford!
Dennis Kroes of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is the 2008 DD2 Master’s World Champion for drivers over the age of 32. He’s raced karts since 1995 and his girlfriend, Marjolein, also raced for Holland in 2006 in Portugal.
He said they actually met at Zandvoort in Holland when they were both reading the same book about Ayrton Senna. Dennis says he remains a huge Senna fan and still places the Senna “S” logo on his helmet. He added that to become World champion was a hard-fought battle and wishes to give thanks to his whole team.