Rotax Max Junior pilot Coltin McCaughan has joined us here at CKN to provide a daily blog from his trip to the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals. Be sure to check back daily to see how each day in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA goes in the eyes of Alberta’s Coltin McCaughan.
Friday November 15
– Heat #3
– Last Chance Race
– Kart Return
Today we arrived at the track hoping that “lady luck” would be on our side. It had already started to rain, so we immediately started to switch the chassis over to a rain set-up. I’ve had a fair bit of experience racing in the rain, so I wasn’t worried. Although
I’ve had good success in the rain, managing the Energy chassis in wet conditions would be a challenge. It took a number of laps to get the feel of the set-up, but I was confident that we could work out the kinks if the rain continued all day.
I entered the third and final heat with a total of 40 points. It appeared that anyone under 50 points would not have to participate in the last chance qualifier (LCQ). So, I needed to finished within the top 10 to avoid the LCQ. Prior to entering Parc Fermé, we lined up in the staging lane with our wet set-up. The rain had stopped, but the humidity was very high and the track surface was not drying very quickly. The talk amongst the tuners and drivers was all about the chance of going to a dry set-up. By the time they opened the gate to enter Parc Fermé, teams immediately started to switch their karts over to a dry set-up. It was a race against the clock. They have a time limit placed on how long you have to install your tires and fuel tank. In this case, we also had to change the front hub spacing, toe-out and rear track width. Generally we make more changes than that, but we couldn’t risk not making it into the grid area before they closed the gate. Tough rules, but hey, this is the Grand Finals!
“It seemed really odd, knowing that I would have to watch the final races from the stands. But it truly shows how quick a week can change when luck isn’t on your side.”
Once again I started in P2, with Kyle Kirkwood in P1. I was feeling really relaxed, even though we had just gone through a stressful situation in Parc Fermé. On the warm-up lap the kart felt balanced and the engine was responsive. I noticed that the only dry area on the track was the racing line. This would benefit me on the start, as the racing line is in the outside lane. After one false start, the race began. As thought, the outside lane had the traction required to handle the kart in turn one. For a few brief seconds I had gained the lead, but I lost that when a kart clipped my back bumper and I went sideways. The real damage came when I was t-boned in the right front tire. This ended up bending the steering column, spindle, tie rod, and king pin. All this damage caused my kart to pull severely to the right, but I did my best to finish the race. I ended up with a 29th place finish. At that point I knew I would be in the LCQ.
After making all the necessary repairs to the chassis, we entered the grid in 20th position, with only the top 6 get a transfer spot into the pre-final. I was concerned whether I could make it to the front, since this was only a 7-lap race. When the green flag dropped, it was every man for himself. I felt like a ping pong ball being slammed and banged from all sides. Everyone in this race was super aggressive and not many made it through the first lap. I gave it my best effort, but I could only manage an 18th place finish. It was a very disappointing way to end my week, especially since I had such a strong start. It seemed really odd, knowing that I would have to watch the final races from the stands. But it truly shows how quick a week can change when luck isn’t on your side.
I’d like to thank Ryan Perry and my Dad for wrenching on my kart all week, as well as my family & friends that made the trip to NOLA to cheer me on. I’d like to send an extra special thanks to all those who made 2013 such an amazing year for me. It was truly an honour to represent Team Canada, and I hope to have this opportunity again in the future.
In closing, I’d like to acknowledge Apollo Motorsports, Black Racing Engines, Canadian Karting News & Pro Sound Audio Services for their continued support.
Thursday November 14
– Heat #1
– Heat #2
Today ended up as a pretty rough day. We started off with a morning warm-up with the same chassis setup as yesterday. Once again it was a cool and overcast day, so it took few extra laps for the tires to come in. Although this was a useful practice session, we decided that we would rather save our tires as I needed them for the next three heat races.
The heat races work on a points system, where points are awarded according to your finishing position. In this case your looking to score the least amount of points possible. In Heat 1, I started in P2 along side my teammate Jeffrey Kingsley. Although this wasn’t the most desirable position to be in, I was confident that I could hold my own on the outside row going through turn one. When the green flag dropped, I shot over to the inside of the track, but unfortunately a driver had moved to the inside of Jeff, forcing me to go three wide through the marbles. Although I kept control of the kart, I settled into 8th position and eventually finished the race in 9th. I was not content with this result, but I knew how important it was to at least finish in the top ten. For my 9th place finish, I was awarded 9 points. My teammate Jeffrey Kingsley won the race and was awarded zero points.
Prior to the second heat race, we made a few adjustments to my Energy kart in order to get some extra speed out of the chassis. With that completed, we headed off to Parc Fermé to retrieve our tires and fuel tank from the holding area. This process occurs every time you enter and exit the track. This way the fuel and tires cannot be tampered with. When the grid gate opened, I once again rolled my kart into P2. After some last minute coaching tips from my tuner, we were released onto the circuit. Our first two attempts at a green flag start were aborted for unknown reasons. Once the green flag dropped, I had an excellent start and I held my 2nd place position through turn one and into turn two. Myself and the lead kart managed to pull away for a brief period of time, until a three kart train drafted together and closed the gap. Then as I kept the lead kart in sight, I was blatantly rammed from behind entering the “bus stop” launching me 30 feet into the grass.
By the time I dragged the kart back onto the track, the whole field had passed me and I was in last position. Because of this on track incident, we immediately filed a protest with the Stewards office. This required submitting a written protest of the incident, along with a $675 protest fee. We were extremely confident that our protest would be approved, due to the on track cameras that captured the incident. After a lengthly wait, the Stewart agreed with our protest and issued a penalty to the other driver. Although the driver denied running me off the track, the video footage captured the real story. Even though the protest ended up in my favour, my final result was a 31st finishing position. I really need a strong finish in the last heat race on Friday, in order to avoid having to race in the “last chance” qualifier (LCQ).
As seen so far, these major events have many ups and downs. So it’s very important to learn from the negative incidents and stay positive throughout the event. Every driver here has earned a spot to race amongst the best in the World, and it’s a privilege for me to represent Canada at this awesome event.
Hoping for a rewarding day tomorrow….
Wednesday November 13
– Final two rounds of Practice
– Official Qualifying
As Tuesday ended on a low note, I made it clear to myself that I had to pull up my socks today into order to achieve the results required to run with this tough and talented field of drivers. On the schedule Wednesday was two warm up sessions and Qualifying, which didn’t give us much time to get in the proper position to run with the faster drivers. For those that are unaware, qualifying determines the starting position in all the heats, which then determines the starting position for the pre-final. When we arrived at the track this morning the weather had changed dramatically. It was extremely windy with a cool temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. But the sun was shining and I was ready to take on the day.
Prior to the first warm-up session we decided to try a different gear, as yesterday’s last selection wasn’t favourable. Other than that, we were confident that we had the chassis close to where we need it to be. As I rolled on to the track for the first session of the day, I quickly got up to speed and started working on getting some fast laps. With the cooler temperatures, it took a few extra laps to get some heat in the tires. My goal in that session was to try a few different lines and see if our gear selection had made a difference. Overall, it was a solid session and I earned myself some decent lap times.
In my second session we took a different approach and decided to start in the middle of the pack, hoping to hook up with some of the faster drivers. I was hoping to catch someones draft to better my lap times, but it didn’t turn out as expected. Instead I got bunched up with numerous karts that weren’t as fast as I’d expected them to be. I couldn’t catch a clean lap and I paid the price for it, resulting in a 58th overall position. Obviously I was disappointed with my results.
Before making any changes, my tuner (Ryan Perry) and I reviewed the data and watched the GoPro footage. Between these two sources of information, we determined that the chassis was fine and any errors were simply found in my driving. The time had come for me to dig deep and drive the wheels off the kart! When the green flag dropped many of my competitors chose to stay on the grid while I decided to start turning qualifying laps as soon as possible. It became more and more difficult as drivers slowly entered the circuit creating more traffic. This made it difficult to produce a clean lap. As the laps counted down, I was unaware that my best lap time had me in 13th position, but an awesome final lap propelled me into second place in my group. As I rolled up to the scales, I was ecstatic to hear that I had finished 4th overall. It was a great confidence booster leading into tomorrow’s heat races. I’m very excited to see what tomorrow has in store for me…
Tuesday November 12
Today was official practice day at the Grand Finals. We had three practice sessions to dial into the track, as well as learn the Energy Kart chassis that was assigned to me. The schedule had us arranged in odd and even groups based on your kart number. I was kinda disappointed to find out that I was the only Junior Rotax driver from Team Canada that had an even number. This left me with no teammates to work with during our on track sessions. It sucks, but there’s nothing I can do about that. My goal entering these sessions was to drive every lap consistently, so I could get a realistic feel for the chassis and provide solid feedback to my tuner. In other words, no mistakes. This is very important, because we have very few practice sessions and laps are limited, so every lap counts.
“It was obvious that our gear selection negatively affected my final result.”
In the first session, I got stuck with a less than favourable spot in the middle of the grid. Having driven the track before, I knew that I had to get to the front in order to score some clean air. Fortunately I was able to do so on the warm-up lap, and I turned some decent times. Unfortunately though, I had to leave the track for what turned out to be an issue with the chain.
Prior to my next practice session my tuner (Ryan Perry) and I reviewed the data from the last session and made the appropriate adjustments for round two. After reviewing the data, we concluded that there was room for improvement in my driving and entry into some of the corners. This time when I arrived to the grid, I got a good spot behind some fast drivers. In this session, I was able to pick up another half a second from last time, but the rest of the field did so as well. This left me with a 16th place finish in the even numbered group, and a 28th place finish overall. Although I wasn’t pleased with this result, I knew that there was still lots of room for improvement.
As we approached the third and final session of the day, we made a decision to move the seat position in order to help balance out the kart, as well as a gear change. This was all done after a discussion with a couple of my teammates and their tuners. As I arrived to the grid, I was fortunate once again to have a front row starting position. Even though I had a fast kart ahead of me, I wasn’t able to stay in his draft and make the most of the session. It was obvious that our gear selection negatively affected my final result. I capped off the day with a mandatory drivers meeting, which you don’t want to miss. Just ask one of the junior drivers that missed yesterdays meeting and were issued a €150 penalty. Ouch…
As I look back at how the day went, I know that I need to really work on my driving as well as my consistency to make tomorrow a much more productive day.
Monday November 11
Monday To-Do list:
– Drivers meeting
– Kart Raffle
Monday started off with a drivers meeting followed by a kart raffle. A kart raffle is where drivers get called up to draw a number out of a box, and the number that is drawn corresponds with a specific kart lined up in front of the stands. When I was called up along with my tuner Ryan Perry (Ryan Perry Motorsport), I pulled “lucky” number 3 and was escorted to the chassis by a Rotax representative. After a few photo opportunities, we proceeded to the supply area where we were handed tools, tires, and Rotax lubricants. Next stop was at the Energy tent to pick up a seat and purchase some optional accessories.
Now that we had everything we needed we went back to our pit stall to disassemble, then reassemble the kart to make sure that everything was properly aligned and tightened to our satisfaction. Sorting everything out, including getting the seat positioned right, we are ready for tomorrow first practice sessions.
At this point, I’m feeling confident that I will adapt quickly to the Energy chassis and get the most out of the 5 practice sessions I have ahead of me. Good luck to all of Team Canada as they prepare to take on the world. I look forward to a very positive and productive day tomorrow.
Sunday November 10
Sunday To-Do list:
– Safety Equipment Scrutineering
– Welcome Party
After months of anticipation, the big week has finally arrived. It didn’t seem quite as strange arriving in New Orleans, since I was just here one month ago for the Pan-American Challenge. Even though the facility remains the same, I’m very impressed with the amount of preparation that has gone into making this facility a world class venue. One of the biggest differences from a drivers standpoint, is the removal of two very controversial curbs. They were hot topics during the Pan-Am Challenge. Since these curbs were removed, numerous drivers are concerned that they may have lost one of their competitive advantages. From a spectator standpoint, they recently installed a large capacity grandstand that makes viewing all corners of the track a lot more enjoyable.