CKN Driver Diary: Ben Cooper at Florida Winter Tour WPB
As always there was a lot of excitement and anticipation for the first race of the 2013 Florida Winter Tour, but for me there was more of those feelings towards the new team KMS North America. I had been doing a lot of the organizing prior to the first round for the team and that was a whole new experience for me, which meant that I was worrying about making sure everything was organized well. This actually meant that I completely forgetting that I was racing. Anyway when we got the Palm Beach International Raceway everything went well with the team and on Wednesday I could start to focus on the driving.
After just making one outing on Tuesday to make sure the new kart was all ok and as my dad says, “to make sure nothing falls off,” Wednesday rolled around and we could hit the track properly and do some real testing. With so many drivers participating in the FWT this year, it meant that we were only limited to four 10 minute practices a day, so we had to work fast and dial the kart into the track quickly. The practice on Wednesday went well and I was missing a couple of tenths to my team mate Kevin Ludi on the day but I was happy that we were both setting the pace proving that the Birel Rotax DD2 chassis was working well. So the week was starting to look good. Thursday was pretty much a repeat of Wednesday as I was still missing a couple of tenths to Kevin but we were both clear of the field in times. Thursday night was a late night though as our Junior drivers were made to make the night practice as they were all lacking a bit of pace, so we watched and helped out all of the Juniors to help them improve their times and it was a very productive night as all of them set their best times of the week so far. So after cleaning the karts and packing everything away, I think it was after 9:30 before we left.
“I could not believe that there were no DD2 drivers from the US competing in what is the biggest series in the US. Also the fact that there are two tickets available in DD2 for the World Finals in the US this year…”
Friday was qualifying day so it was time to continue on with our speed and this happened with Kevin quickest in all the sessions that day taking pole for both Saturday and Sunday and myself taking second for both days.
Finally after a long week Saturday was here, and it was time to race!!! The morning warm up was in the dry and for the first time in the week I set a faster time than Kevin but I had a clear track and Kevin was in traffic so it was a little bit of a false reading in the morning with the times, but none of this mattered as we were all soon changing for wet tires as the rain poured down. So we hit the track for the Pre Final with none of the grid knowing the wet lines as none of us had ever drove the track in the wet conditions. I got the jump on Kevin at the start and we both pulled away quite comfortable from the rest of the pack, but Kevin kept me honest all through the race only ever falling a couple of kart lengths back. Across the line it was myself from Kevin 1 and 2, but after the race we noticed that Kevin’s rear bumper had taken a hit and had exploded on the first lap. He was then excluded in tech, but that was later changed to a 2-position penalty. This meant that he would start fourth for the Final, which meant that I was able to get a gap at the start of the Final whilst he was coming through from fourth. Once I had the gap it was a comfortable race from there until the end, with both of us again taking a 1-2 finish for Birel and KMS North America in its first weekend as a new team.
The new team had had a good day with Luke Varley scoring the win in Seniors only to be given a 1-position penalty for defending on the opening lap. Luke went on to win by over 12 seconds to prove the Birel was a good chassis in the Senior category to. So a 1-2 in DD2 and a second in Rotax Senior due to the penalty was a great achievement for the first days racing as KMS North America. It was a late night cleaning the karts due to the weather conditions and we were all hoping for a dry Sunday.
So it was dry for Sunday and once again I set the fastest lap in the warm up but the track was still a little damp from the day before so once again it was a false reading and we were going to have to wait for the Pre Final to see what everyone’s speed was.
I was starting second alongside Kevin and I managed to stay there after the first corner, but going into the bumpy new chicane I lost a place and dropped down to third for a lap which gave Kevin gap out in front. When I got into second I set about catching Kevin and slowly but surely I got onto the back of him. I sat and followed for a lap or so and then took the lead at the top end of the track. Then with two laps to go I defended a little and held on to take the win.
The Final however was a much more interesting race. I jumped into the lead but was soon down to second on the first lap. I jumped into the lead again with Kevin now behind me. Kevin was much quicker up the straight than me so he overtook me at the top corner and I sat a followed him for a few laps to try and pull away together, but this wasn’t happening so I took the lead again from Kevin and then with Kevin pushing me away at the front of the pack we got the gap we needed. Kevin re-took the lead and I just sat there until two to go when I made the pass for the lead. I got into the lead and then went into defensive mode and coming into the last corner on the last lap I defended heavily and Kevin was able to take the wide line. I tried to over slow the corner but Kevin was just able to do the switch over and win the drag to the line by 0.038. I was actually happier about finishing second than winning the day before because I had had a great race with my team mate and put on a show for everyone.
The weekend for myself went well only losing the Final on the Sunday, but I was slightly disappointed by the number of drivers in DD2 (12). I could not believe that there were no DD2 drivers from the US competing in what is the biggest series in the US. Also the fact that there are two tickets available in DD2 for the World Finals in the US this year and yet people a more than willing to battle away in Senior were there are over 50 drivers competing for one ticket. I find that a little disappointing but hopefully it will change over the next few races.
I just want to say a big thanks to every one at KMS North America for all their help over the weekend and to Birel for the support. I also can’t forget my dad for mechanicing over the weekend for me.