CKN Driver Diary: Ben Cooper @ Rotax Euro Challenge
Earlier this year I decided that I wanted to go and race the last round of the Rotax Euro Challenge in Salbris, France. Originally, the plan was to go there in Senior Rotax to practice and get ready for the World Finals, as the Euro Challenge is the hardest series for Rotax racing around. But, as is normal in kart racing, things changed. As I had been racing DD2 in Canada I felt like I had moved on from Senior Rotax racing. So, when offered the chance from Rotax to transfer my ticket for the World Finals from Senior to DD2, I decided to take it, as I have really enjoyed improving myself and my driving to become competitive in DD2. So that then meant that it would make more sense for me to contest the last Euro Challenge round in DD2.
I flew out from Montreal on the Monday night before the race weekend. As usual, a flight back to Europe from Canada is a night flight, so the aim was to get as much sleep as possible. Out of a 7 hour flight I think I managed to get around an hour’s sleep, so it didn’t work out too well. I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris around 11am Tuesday morning and met up with Parker Thompson and his father, then off it was to the track to register and start preparing the karts for the next two days of testing. I was really looking forward to getting to the track as I hadn’t been back in Europe for a while and I was looking forward to seeing some old friends.
“Also, I was remembering how strict they were with the rules there. One of those rules being that if you get a warning when you’re out there, whether in the official practices or qualifying or throughout the races, then you’re next warning would be a black flag and a penalty.”
Morning was the start of testing. It was great to hear the karts being started on the stands and warmed up before the start of their sessions, as in Europe there is no stupid quiet rule to abide by. My first two test sessions were used for running in two engines and making sure the new kart was running well and nothing was falling off. After those two sessions were done it was on to testing and getting the kart dialled in. We had plenty of track time on these two test days with eight test sessions a day, so there was no rush in getting the kart and engine setups sorted. For the last session of the day we put new tyres on to see roughly where we were and how the kart would handle. It turned out that it was very fast, gaining eight tenths to do a time of 60.9 seconds. It turned out this would be the same time that I would do in qualifying two days later. The following day was an exact re-run of Wednesday with eight test sessions to really get the kart sorted before the two official practice sessions and a qualifying session Friday. During Wednesday and Thursday testing I was one of the quickest, but I didn’t really know how quick I was in comparison to others as there were no transponders on the karts yet.
The morning started bright and early with the drivers’ briefing for the DD2 drivers and Junior drivers together. Sitting in the briefing room with Parker I started to remember how good the Euro Max challenge is run by the RGMMC organisation. Also, I was remembering how strict they were with the rules there. One of those rules being that if you get a warning when you’re out there, whether in the official practices or qualifying or throughout the races, then you’re next warning would be a black flag and a penalty. There is no messing around in the Euro Challenge, as it doesn’t matter who you are or who your team is, you will be getting a penalty. So, after the briefing came the Technical inspection and handing in of log cards for the engines. This involved taking your kart, both engines, helmet and suit to the technical inspectors to check everything over to make sure it was legal. That is something that is quite different to the North American racing where you just give in your tech sheet. In the Euro Challenge they check all your engine numbers before you start racing so it gives you a chance to alter any mistakes made. Something that I have always said about the Euro challenge is that every organiser or official there is there to help you race and not there to try and catch you out. Anyway, after all the mandatory things were done it was on to the track action and the two timed sessions before qualifying. We put new tyres on for both sessions and went quicker than we had in the previous two days with a 60.8 second lap. That put me top in both sessions by a couple of tenths so it was on to qualifying. Qualifying did not go to plan, and let’s just say I made a rookie error and it cost me pole, so I ended up in third place with almost identical times as the front two. After looking at the data, it showed that my mistake cost me three tenths of that lap, which would have put me on pole.
“After the race on Sunday a lot of people were asking me about the level of racing in Canada, especially in DD2, and I had one answer for them. At the Canadian Nationals in DD2 we had three Rotax World Champions on the grid. Where can you get that anywhere else around the world?”
Saturday began with a five-minute morning warmup in which I was quickest. Then I had a two hour break until my first race, so this gave me an opportunity to go and watch all the Senior and Junior heats. Watching those races, it really did make me remember just how hard the racing is there. It’s so aggressive and competitive. So much so that you can be fighting so hard for you position, even if it’s in 20th place. Soon, the time came around for me to go into parc ferme to put my tyres on and get onto the grid for the first heat. In this heat I took the lead on the first lap and led the whole race from there. The second heat was a little different as I received a 10-second penalty after the race for contact at the start causing the pole man to spin out. This was accidental contact that I couldn’t do anything about, but as normal, in the Euro Challenge, if you do something wrong you get punished for it. So that penalty put me from 1st to 15th in the standings. Then it was onto the third and final heat and after a small battle on the first lap or so I got into the lead and stayed there to win the heat. So at the end of the day I had had two wins and a fifteenth. This put me on 3rd for the Prefinal the next day.
Finals day. The day started off the same as the day before with a five- minute warmup in which I posted the quickest time again. When the time came round for the Prefinal it was quite interesting in parc ferme to see what people were opting for with their tyres. In the Euro Challenge you get a new set of tyres for the finals and it is up to you to choose when you want the tyres on, whether it will be for the Prefinal or the Final. A few of the drivers who were in a battle for the championship positions opted to put new tyres on whereas I decided to save them for the final as it was the only race that mattered for me. Starting in 3rd was good, as at the start it was easy to jump into 2nd by the first corner. Then by the end of the first lap I took the lead of the race and went on to win with no real pressure from behind. For the Final, starting on pole position it was good as it was the first time I was able to dictate the speed of the start. In doing this I managed to take a jump at the start and get a comfortable gap, and then start to build on the gap. After six laps of the race the red flags came out and the race was stopped because of a big crash on the back straight. So the gap that I had been able to build up went down to nothing. After around a 15 minute break to tend to the injured driver the race resumed with a single file restart. Once again I could dictate the speed of the start and in doing this I must have got the best start I have ever had in DD2! I managed to get over a second gap by the time I got down to the second corner, and from there it was on to a win with a three-second advantage over second.
The weekend was another great experience for me as it was the first time I had raced DD2 in the Euro Challenge. After the race on Sunday a lot of people were asking me about the level of racing in Canada, especially in DD2, and I had one answer for them. At the Canadian Nationals in DD2 we had three Rotax World Champions on the grid. Where can you get that anywhere else around the world? I would just like to say thanks to everyone at SRA Karting, Academie de Karting Jim Russell, Kalman Motorsport, HRS Racing Engines, Rotax, Birel and my mechanic for the weekend, Norbi, for making the weekend and the win possible.