Ben Cooper recaps his trip to Orlando, Florida for the final round of the 2014 Florida Winter Tour.
Homestead and Ocala:
At the start of this year my original plan was to race in Senior Rotax starting with the FWT of course and then moving onto the Euromax. As I had already got my world finals ticket in DD2 at the Supernats there was no pressure on me for that.
After the first two rounds however the season’s plan had soon changed. I really struggled coming back into senior on all sides, engine, kart and myself. In a way I feel like I was very naive to think I could jump back into an extremely competitive Senior field without any testing or races before the start of the FWT. I actually hadn’t driven a Senior competitively since the last round of the FWT in 2012.
A move back to DD2 was on the cards, as I wasn’t going to be able to race as much as I should and test as much as I should in the Senior. Also for the Euromax, Birel and I were keen to try and defend our title from last year, so the decision was made to go back to DD2 for the last FWT to be ready for the first Euromax round in Genk, Belgium.
Feeling comfy back in the DD2:
From the moment I sat back in the DD2 on Tuesday I felt at home. I had two karts to test on Tuesday to decide what we would use for the rest of the week and the Euromax. In both karts I felt comfortable, even just sitting on the grid before driving I felt good. At the end of the day on Tuesday we had made our choice on the chassis and now it was onto the real testing
on Wednesday and Thursday.
Testing went well and we felt fast from start to finish. It was nice to drive the DD2 again, with the extra speed, braking and grip now with the new Mojo D3 tires.
It was very difficult to keep up to the track conditions. Every night throughout the week the track had rental karts out which meant that every morning the track was around 0.5-1 second slower than the day before. This meant that the first session each morning was almost a waste. It was very difficult to access how the kart was compared to the day before. Not only was the track tough because of the rentals each night, but also due to the high temperatures during lunch each day, the track would change from the morning to afternoon. The track would almost become slick as the rubber on track would get hot and almost soft so there was not the same amount of grip as the morning.
The Business End of the Week:
Qualifying went well finishing in the top-3 for both days, third on Saturday and second on Sunday. Sundays qualifying session was not a good session for me as I had a lot of traffic and on my two fastest laps I had to overtake. So Saturday’s qualifying we worked more on finding the
right position on track to get the best lap. We had made a change to the kart for this session, trying to anticipate the track conditions as this session was after the lunch break. The change wasn’t so affective and we struggled in this session, but still managed to be third, two-tenths off the two front guys.
33’s or 32’s?
For those who don’t know much about the gear ratios in DD2, they make a big effect on the power of the engine. It is not like going up a one-tooth sprocket in Junior or Senior. When we change the gears in DD2 it is like changing seven sprocket sizes at once, so it is very critical to get this right.
On Saturdays pre final after a hectic first lap or two with a few silly mistake on my part I was able to go on to finish third setting up for a good Final. At the start of the final I slotted into third with the two OGP drivers pulling out a gap. After a few laps I caught second and overtook him with my sights now on Nick [Neri] out front. He had a big gap so it was going to be tough to reel him in. After a couple of laps in second I was pulling Nick in, but even with a crazy lunge on the last lap I was unable to get close enough to make the pass. I had been fast in the middle of the race, but to Nick’s credit he drove a good race and kept his pace consistent all the way to the end, whereas I think I had pushed too much in the middle so I was unable to make a meaningful attack at the end. It was however apparent that I was on a different gear ratio to Nick and Jonathan, so the plan for Sunday was to try that gear.
We tried the other gear in the warm up on Sunday and I would say that it wasn’t quite as fast as the gear I was running, but I needed to run it, as it was easier to race and overtake with.
A little tense for three laps in Sunday Final:
I made a poor start from the outside of the front row for the pre final dropping back to fifth, but within a couple of laps I was back into second trying to hunt down Nick for the second time over the weekend. The kart felt great, as I was able to set my fastest lap on the second to last lap, so I knew for the Final that I would have a good shot as long as I made a good start. With that in mind coming to take the flag I decided to slow down and take third instead of second.
That start went well and I slotted straight into second from third, but Nick was very fast on the opening laps and he was able to open a comfortable lead. Just like the pre final however, I was getting quicker and quicker through the race and again like the day before I start to catch Nick. This time I was able to get close enough to make a move.
Going into the first hairpin I made the move, but Nick was able to get me back on the exit. Now however we were nose to tail, which meant for a fun three laps where we almost overtook each other each corner. Soon the rest of the pack got involved in our battle, which allowed me to make a break as Nick was overtaken by Simas. For those three laps I remembered why I enjoyed DD2 racing so much. There always seems to be moments like that in a highly competitive field.
Once the race had settled down for the last five laps I was able to manage the gap from Nick to take a much needed win for myself and the team.
I would like to thank everyone at KMS North America, Birel, Ronni Sala, Peter Kalman, GKS, SRA Karting, R’s Design, Arai Helmets and Position 1 Fitness for all their support over the weekend and the whole FWT.
Also to everyone involved in the organization of the Florida Winter Tour for putting on a good series as always.