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November 28, 2012 News
EKN Trackside: 2012 Rotax Grand Finals – Wednesday Practice / Qualifying
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Zachary Claman-Demelo qualified sixth in the Junior Max category (Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)
Zachary Claman-Demelo qualified sixth in the Junior Max category
(Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)

The Rotax Grand Finals finally put in its first official timed session today when qualifying capped off the third day of on-track action. Held at the Kartodromo Internacional Algarve in Portimao, Portugal, this global karting event has brought together drivers from over 40 countries and, as it stands, it looks like Team Canada has presented a formidable force for this year’s edition. After a final morning practice run, it was time for all the Rotax Grand Final racers to take part in their lone qualifying sessions, setting the grids for the subsequent heat races, which will take place on Thursday and Friday. The qualifying sessions were 15-minute affairs and would finally give the paddock a true look at who would be the players in Saturday’s battle.


Up first were the Junior Max drivers and the field was once again broken into two groups, odd and even numbered karts. With clear skies, but a stiff wind blowing into their faces coming down the long kinked frontshute, the odd numbered karts were the initial karts on-course. Many of the racers elected to remain in the pit lane during the opening stages of the 15-minute outing, seeking to get some space on-course while at the same time saving their tires with shorter runs.

Among the Canadian contingent, Parker Thompson was the early pacesetter, sitting just outside the top-10. The Alberta native, however, kept working on finding a fast lap, and when the checkered flag had waved he had worked his way up to seventh. Quebec’s Zacharie Scalzo never found the true flying lap he had desired, ultimately crossing the line in 23rd. Out-front, Portugal’s Bruno Borlido ended the session with the quickest lap, despite a late challenge by Austria's Thomas Preining.

When the even numbered Junior karts rolled out for their qualifying run, like the earlier session, several drivers elected to stay in the pit lane for the first few minutes. Canadians Zachary Claman DeMelo and Tommy Lemaire-Ouellet promptly made the most of this strategy. DeMelo immediately jumped up to second on his first flying lap, while Lemaire-Ouellet was just outside of the top-10. Given many of the racers had gone out late, it was not surprising that the final three minutes witnessed the top of the speed charts constantly changing. In the end, Great Britain's Harry Webb was quickest, just edging the Netherland's Stefano Galen. Claman-DeMelo turned his best lap on his final tour, securing third place in the group, while Lemaire-Ouellet did the same, earning the 10th best time in the session.

Combining the two groups together to form the final Junior qualifying order, Borlido captured the pole position, ahead of Webb, Preining, Van Galen and Great Britain's Josh White. Team Canada positioned for some strong runs in the Heat races, with Claman DeMelo in sixth overall, besting Thompson in 12th, Lemaire-Ouellet in 23rd, and Scalzo in 38th.

EKN.ca Team Canada Driver Paddock Pass

Driver: Parker Thompson - #163
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta
Mechanic: Chris Freckleton
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Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:02.582 (3rd – odd number group)
Qualifying – 1:02.496 (7th – odd number group / 12th overall)

The morning practice run was solid for Thompson, as they continued to dial in their Birel. In qualifying, Parker told EKN.ca that he simply struggled to get in that magic lap and that he’s just really disappointed with his performance. He believes that they have a great kart for the heat races, having really dialed in the chassis. While the kart was quick, he battled in qualifying to get the right timing on his competitors when attempting draft passes on the straightaway, either catching drivers too quickly (before the frontshute kink) or too late to make a move into turn one. He was able to put down a good lap near the end of his qualifying run, turning a 1:02.496 to sit seventh in his group, and 12th overall. With a strong set-up and a row three starting spot for his heats, Thompson will be focused on good starts and smart racing when the heats get started on Thursday morning.

Driver: Zacharie Scalzo - #161
Hometown: Montreal, QC
Mechanic: Zolton ‘Ze’ Boraros (KMS Racing Team)
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Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:03.308 (25th – odd number group)
Qualifying – 1:02.823 (22nd – odd number group / 38th overall)

As a driver attending his first major event and first Rotax Grand Finals, Scalzo is doing his best to take everything in and to use the event as a learning experience. In the qualifying run today, Zacharie told EKN.ca that he just didn’t plan the session well, stating that they draft help he was hoping for just didn’t come. These qualifying sessions are certainly evolving opportunities, as drivers need to make the right choices as they work their way through the field. Scalzo was not able to find any draft help, and ended up posting a 1:02.823, which put him 38th overall.

Driver: Zachary Claman-Demelo - #120
Hometown: Montreal, QC
Mechanic: Chris Green
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Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:02.319 (1st – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:02.405 (3rd – even number group / 6th overall)

Coming off the track from the morning practice session, Zachary Claman-Demelo was holding back what looked to be big-time confidence, happy with the set-up and feeling comfortable with himself and the racetrack. He was quickest in his group and ready to take on qualifying. When we arrived at his pit after his 6th place overall run in qualifying, Zach was disappointed in himself, stating that he would have approached the session differently. Claman-Demelo settled into a quick group during the qualifying run and they laid down great laps, but he believes that he should have moved past them and went searching for a quicker draft partner. Regardless, he is now looking forward to the first two heats tomorrow, knowing that he’ll be strong with a set-up he notes is ‘really good’. ZCD will start on the second row for his heat races, including two on the inside line. It’s win or take all in the final anyway, and the journey to the top of the podium has only just begun.

Driver: Tommy Lemaire Ouellet - #146
Hometown: St. Jean, QC
Mechanic: Yves Demers
Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:03.260 (18th – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:02.626 (10th – even number group / 23rd overall)

It was a rough start to the week for Tommy Lemaire Ouellet, battling engine issues while he attempted to learn this challenging new track. It’s been a steep learning curve, but also steady, as the young pilot has been quicker and quicker with each session. He was able to find a full second between yesterday’s final practice and this morning’s run, and he continued this incredible progression by dropping yet another six tenths of a second to qualifying 10th in his group and a stunning 23rd overall. Tommy was not able to get a really clear lap in during the session, and in fact, had his last lap balked by a fellow driver in the final corners. He’s making less mistakes on-track and should be strong in the heats, where he’ll start on the sixth row.


Jesse Lazare was quickest in Group 2 for Senior Max, placing him eight in the final classification (Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)
Jesse Lazare was quickest in Group 2 for Senior Max, placing him eight in the final classification
(Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)

The Senior contingent was up next in qualifying, with the opening odd numbered kart racers facing an increasingly difficult headwind down the long front straightaway. With no Canadians in the group, the top-time came down to the closing few laps, with the multiple drivers who had elected to go out late swapping the fastest lap. When the checkered flag waved, Australian Pierce Lehane was quickest, in front of Great Britain's James Singleton.

With the head wind getting worse, none of the drivers in the second group elected to go out in the opening five minutes of the qualifying run. When karts began taking to the course and got in a flyer, it was quickly clear it would require a special lap to better the fast times from the first group. When the Canadian trio of Marco Di Leo, Jesse Lazare, and Bryce Choquer did venture on-course, they were quick to post a fast lap, with Di Leo and Lazare initially seventh and eighth. Lazare was, however, just starting to build speed, as with three minutes left to go, he took over the top spot. While he time came under attack late, Lazare retained the P1 position all the way to the checkered flag, edging Ireland's Charlie Eastwood. Thanks his best lap right at the end, Choquer was scored in 14th, while Di Leo end the run in 17th.

Combining the two Senior groups together, Lehane secured the pole position, ahead of Singleton, France's Alexandre Finkelstein, Great Britain's Harrison Scott, and the Netherland's Jordi Van Moorsel, all of which were in the first group. The top Team Canada racer is Lazare in eighth, well in front of Choquer in 40th, and Di Leo in 47th.

EKN.ca Team Canada Driver Paddock Pass

Driver: Jesse Lazare - #240
Hometown: Montreal, Quebec
Mechanic: Steven Chapman
Fast Laps:
Practice #4 – 1:01.737 (8th – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:01.274 (1st – even number group / 8th overall)

It’s been a strong overall start to the Rotax Grand Finals for Jesse Lazare, who had remained in the top-8 in his group throughout the day. This positioning continued on Wednesday morning, as he hit the track for the final practice looking to fine-tune his gearing after making a change heading into the 15-lap run. It was determined that yesterday’s gearing was a better choice, which meant it was a successful test. Lazare was not able to get much of a draft during the session so he didn’t get an ‘aided lap time’ to push him up the charts, as was the case for the quick driver in the session, who was in the draft for his entire fast lap. In qualifying, he hits his marks and was also able to position himself to leverage his fellow driver’s perfectly, drafting to a 1:01.274 to lead the ‘even number’ race group. The time would put him eighth overall and will put him on the outside of the second row for all three of his heat races. It not going to be the best place to start, but Jesse seems very confident in his set-up and will only need to stay out of trouble.

Driver: Marco Di Leo - #278
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Mechanic: Leonard D’Arrigo
Fast Laps:
Practice #4 – 1:01.814 (10th – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:01.877 (17th – even number group / 47th overall)

Toronto’s Marco Di Leo has done an impressive job working himself in to the front half of the Senior Max grid this week, slowly finding speed, balance and a comfort level with the circuit. In the morning warm-up, they made a rear ride height adjustment in an effort to improve braking stability, but the end result was a loss of lateral grip. For qualifying, however, Marco struggled to put together a good lap. Despite a kart that he believes has a pretty good set-up on it, he just wasn’t able to link together all the corners as slower karts kept damaging any flyer that he was working on. With the draft being so important, especially with the stronger headwinds today, qualifying was very much a crapshoot. Come tomorrow, it will be all about racecraft once again, and we’ll be sure to keep our eyes on Di Leo, as it will be a treat to watch him work his way forward in the heat races. He’s got work to do to transfer straight into the final (top 28 in points after the heats), but if he indeed has a kart with the speed, Marco will find a way.

Driver: Bryce Choquer - #222
Hometown: Langley, British Columbia
Mechanic: Don Choquer
Fast Laps:
Practice #4 – 1:00.953 (20th – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:01.745 (14th – even number group / 40th overall)

It’s been a steady progression throughout the week for Bryce Choquer, as he becomes more comfortable with the track and the handling on his Sodikart. The driver and his crew have focused on data, and Bryce spent a great deal of time on Tuesday night watching in-car video to analyze his lines and corner approaches. Choquer improved his time by two tenths of a second in the morning practice, and continued his improvement in the qualifying run, dropping another two tenths to post a 1:01.745, which puts him 40th overall in the field of 72 to start the heat races. If he maintains his steady improvement and can stay out of trouble in the three heats, he’s got a great chance to qualify into the main events on Sunday.

DD2 Masters

Former Rotax Grand Finals champion Scott Campbell will begin the heat races sixth overall after qualifying (Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)
Former Rotax Grand Finals champion Scott Campbell will begin the heat races sixth overall after qualifying
(Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)

The highly anticipated fight for the DD2 Masters title commenced with the odd numbered karts qualifying session. Unlike the two previous groups, a large portion of the field immediately set about going after some fast laps. That being said, Team Canada once again held station in the pitlane initially. When they did start after some fast times, Quebec’s Luc Sauriol and Ontario’s Stuart Clark were immediately among those fighting for the top-time, going third and fourth fastest on their first flying lap. Sauriol steadily improved his fastest lap, remaining inside top-five until the closing stages. As expected, the final order was not resolved until the final few tours. Leading a French one-two at the top of the timesheets, Florent Lambert was quickest ahead of his teammate Guy Pansart. Sauriol ended his strong run P4, just in front of Clark in seventh.

Realizing the conditions were steadily deteriorating , the virtually all the DD2 Masters racers in the even numbered group went right upon the green flag waving. Former World Champion and Saskatchewan native Scott Campbell wasted little time posting a good lap, first going P2, then subsequently taking over the lead position. In contention for the pole until the closing stages, Campbell ultimately just came up short with the third quickest lap. Argentine Henry Martin led the session, besting Australia's Hamish Leighton.

When the DD2 Masters groups were combined, Martin earned the pole position, in front of ahead of Lambert, Pansart, South Africa's Cristiano Morgado, and Leighton. Campbell led Team Canada contingent in sixth, ahead of Sauriol in 16th, and Campbell in 25th.

EKN.ca Team Canada Driver Paddock Pass

Driver: Scott Campbell - #414
Hometown: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Mechanic: Dave Campbell
EKN.ca One-on-One: Click Here
Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:00.471 (6th – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:00.198 (3rd - even number group / 6th overall)

With a strong baseline from which to work, Campbell has been slowly dialing in his chassis to hit that elusive sweet spot. They made minor adjustments each session to close in on the right balance, and in this morning practice session, they elected to run the full distance without a pit stop, essentially a simulated heat race run. A tire pressure adjustment was made for the final practice, and Campbell’s Haase kept getting quicker through the 12 laps that he ran. In fact, his final lap would have been is fastest by a couple of tenths had he not been balked by a couple slower karts. Heading into qualifying, Scott was relaxed and happy with his kart’s balance. As the timed session unfolded, his initial plan was to work with a couple drivers ahead of him in the pack, but they had trouble cleared the group, so Scott elected to drive through and go it alone. Running in clear air with no draft, he was turning consistent 1:00.2s and dropped a 1:00.198 to take sixth overall. With the draft being worth between two to three tenths of a second, Campbell is very optimistic about his chances. As the most seasoned Grand Finals driver on Team Canada, he also knows that it’s still a long week.

Driver: Stuart Clark - #417
Hometown: Campbellville, Ontario
Mechanic: Trevor Wickens
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Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:00.934 (9th – odd number group)
Qualifying – 1:00.634 (7th - odd number group / 25th overall)

For Stuart Clark, the morning session was the worst of the four, if only for the fact that the traffic was rough and he was not able to get into any type of rhythm. Early contact with another driver actually shifted his axle and caused it to rub the brake rotor, effectively ending the usefulness of the run. Prior to the contact, in the laps that he did get in, they were able to confirm their set-up approach, giving Stuart confidence heading into qualifying. Things didn’t get any better in the 15-minute timed run as his Haase lacked front-end grip, making it tough for him to roll corner speed in the tighter turns. In having issues ‘turning to the apex’, Stuart was tentative on the brakes, which further hurts lap times. Mechanic Trevor Wickens is making a significant front-end adjustment in preparations for tomorrow’s first and second heat races.

Driver: Luc Sauriol - #453
Hometown: Laval, QC
Mechanic: Denis Dubreuil
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Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 1:01.047 (16th – odd number group)
Qualifying – 1:00.419 (4th – odd number group / 16th overall)

Sauriol’s morning practice session resulted in a position on the time charts that was quite different from yesterday, much lower down the order. An issue with his power valve and a decision to try lower tire pressures hindered him from finding more speed, although the tire pressure experiment will be useful in identifying his set-up for qualifying. In his timed run to determine his starting spot in the heat races, Luc teamed up with Stuart Clark to work the draft. As Clark battled with handling issues (detailed above), Sauriol leveraged the draft as much as he could and eventually needed to pull away from his teammate in search of a quick time. Luc ended up with the fourth fastest time of his group, and sixth overall.


Defending DD2 race winner Ben Cooper led the Canadian contingent as he qualified fourth (Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)
Defending DD2 race winner Ben Cooper led the Canadian contingent as he qualified fourth
(Photo: Gregory Lussier - babelphotos.ca)

Qualifying concluded in Portugal with the DD2 drivers heading on-course in cooling temperatures and the odd numbered karts out first. As expected, a good portion of the field elected to sit and wait when the green flag waving. While selected karts went out in the opening five minutes, it was until just before the halfway mark of the 15-minute session that any of Team Canada drivers rolled onto the racing surface. Setting the stage for what would be a strong run, Quebec resident Ben Cooper was immediately among the leaders, taking over the top-spot for the first of several times on his third lap. Things, however, were not going according to plan for Pier-Luc Ouellette, as he struggled to generate any speed, fighting for an unrepresentative place outside the top-20. Cooper remained part of the fight for the best time in the group and potentially the pole position until the checkered flag waved. When the starter signalled the end of the session, Belgian's Xen De Ruwe had gone quickest, just beating Cooper. Ouellette was classified 20th.

The last session of the day started with a mix of DD2 drivers immediately going on-course in search of a quick lap, although many still sat on pitlane content to wait it out. Team Canada utilized both strategies, with Zach Robichon going out early and immediately slotting his name inside the top-eight. While this proved to be the high of his run, Nicholas Latifi ensured Team Canada remained among the scoresheet leaders, jumping up to second his first fast lap and holding a place inside the top-five the end of the session. With rain beginning to fall as the final checkered flag of the day waved, Austrian Simon Wagner was fastest, ahead of Great Britain's Shaun Slavin. Latifi was a strong third in the final run, while Robichon ended up 19th.

In combining the DD2 groups, De Ruwe scored the pole position, besting Wagner, Slavin, and Canadians Cooper, and Latifi. Robichon and Ouellette were 38th and 39th, respectively.

EKN.ca Team Canada Driver Paddock Pass

Driver: Nicholas Latifi - #336
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Mechanic: Coy Arbour / Alex Vincenc
Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 59.713 (3rd – even number group)
Qualifying – 59.338 (3rd – even number group / 5th overall)

The day got off to a tough start for Nicholas Latifi, who has helped lead the Team Canada DD2 contingent thus far. After making a minor change to the kart that actually put the balance a little off, he was still able to turn the quickest time of his group with a 59.713. But the low point would come midway through the session when he blew his powerplant. This meant qualifying on a new engine, an unknown commodity. Yet despite the new factor in play, Nicholas delivered a strong qualifying effort and was fifth overall with a 59.338. When asked about grip levels, Latifi commented that even with new tires, his kart was loose. The cool weather here this weekend is certainly playing a role in minimizing the amount of grip being developed by the amount of Mojo rubber going down on the track. With this qualifying effort Latifi will start all three of his heat races from the inside of row two.

Driver: Pier Luc Ouellette - #343
Hometown: Terrebonne, Quebec
Tuner: Bolla
Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 59.889 (10th - odd number group)
Qualifying – 1:00.086 (20th – odd number group / 39th overall)

After an evening that saw he and his mechanics work with Rotax tech officials on his engine and with the Mach 1 staff to get his brakes prepped, Pier Luc attacked the morning practice session to see if all this attention had provided him with an improved race car. They had also made some adjustments to the front of the kart to improve stability. The result was a 59.889, a lap just over three tenths off the quickest time set by his Team Canada stablemate Ben Cooper. PLO said that the brakes and the chassis were much better, although he is certain that an issue remains with the engine. Heading into qualifying, the plan was to make another small adjustment, see where they ended up in the order, and then head into heat racing in an effort to ‘drive’ back to the front.

Driver: Ben Cooper - #319
Hometown: Mt. Tremblant, Quebec
Mechanic: Gabor ‘Gaga’ Galas
EKN.ca One-on-One: Click Here
Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 59.508 (1st – odd number group)
Qualifying – 59. 322 (2nd – odd number group / 4th overall)

Ben Cooper’s program for this weekend is moving along with absolute focus. He has methodically improved his pace and is very pleased with his kart’s handling. They are now only making small adjustments to slow down the steering response. A 59.508 in the morning practice session made Cooper believe that a 58-second lap might be a possibility, at least a flat or a 59.1. When qualifying was completed, the 59-second barrier was not breached, and the pole went to Belgian driver Xen De Ruwe with a 59.010. Cooper flirted with the pole lap but was held up at the most inopportune time during his flyer, and was then forced to drive the wheels of his Mach 1 to posted a 59.332 on his final lap. This put him fourth overall and will give him the outside of the front row for all three of his heat races.

Driver: Zach Robichon - #346
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario
EKN.ca One-on-One: Click Here
Fast Lap:
Practice #4 – 59.884 (7th – even number group)
Qualifying – 1:00.059 (19th – even number group / 38th overall)

In the morning practice, Robichon had an ‘up and down session’. While he feels that he has the track down, he experimented with pushing his braking zones and subsequently began to ‘overdrive’ many parts of the track. The speed was there, but it trying to find the extra tenth, he actually went backwards, laying down a 59.884 to sit seventh in his group. After comparing data with teammate Ben Cooper a new plan for attacking a few corners was devised. Heading into the qualifying run on new Mojos, the handling on Zach’s kart was off with the grip of the new rubber, snapping loose at corner entry. This issue was multiplied by the fact that he was not able to position himself to take advantage of any draft, leaving him to go it alone, which left him with a time of 1:00.059 that dropped him to 38th overall. They’re looking at a front-end adjustment to cure the loose condition, and they Robichon will need to get aggressive in the heat races to work his way back up the order.
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