Before I get into my Driver Diary for La Conca, I thought I would update everyone on how things are going away from the track.
Ever since the Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal last November my life has taken a huge twist. From landing a contract with one of the top teams on the European circuit, to moving to Italy, to my driving style. Literally everything in my life changed; I gave up my family and friends which are something I value the most, to get on the road to becoming Canada’s next Formula One driver. I miss my family more and more every day but I know that this was the only option if I want to make my dream a reality. Currently in Italy I live with a billet family.
Originally I was going to live in an apartment with all the other drivers, but due to me being so young and away from a family atmosphere, Mick Panigada the owner of Energy organized me to move in with a very trusted family of the Panigada’s. So far it couldn’t be going better with the family as they are really easy going. They speak a little bit of English, but honestly I’m glad they don’t speak much English because I’m learning Italian at an incredible rate. Another benefit to the family is we live quite close to the Energy Factory. So I’m at the Factory just about every day, and this is getting me closer than ever to the team. This is really important, you have to be close to the people you work 365 days out of the year with.
For friends in Italy I get to hangout with my 18 year old brothers friends, which is nice because it makes you feel less isolated. Also Mick Panigada is a family friend with the KTM Factory Dirt Bike team in Bergamo, Italy. So I have become pretty good friends with all the riders, and even have get the opportunity to train with them a few times a week on top of my own training.
Now as you know training is a big part of a European drivers program. In order to keep up to their pace, Mick Panigada has organized me a personal trainer for seven days out of the week. He is a former Olympian in Track and Field. Three hours every day he absolutely works me until I can’t stand. We work on a lot of interval training, which he believes is best for a driver because it enables you to recover faster during a race. Every day I’m home in Italy I go to the gym with him, no matter the circumstances. On top of that, one of my sisters in the family I’m with is a dietitian. I’m on a strict diet as well; if you haven’t seen me from last year you probably wouldn’t recognize me. I am without a doubt in the best shape of my life mentally and physically. It’s not just my body that is getting stronger, ever since the Rotax Grand Finals I look at racing different. I am a lot more confident in my ability to drive and my race craft. At this rate of progress I can honestly say you can expect big things to come. The start of my European season has been good, but there is a lot more things to work on in myself to be even faster. It’s amazing how much the driver can make the difference. Now I’m on a campaign to transform myself into something unbeatable, it’s a long road ahead and I know that. But with the people I have behind my program it isn’t impossible.
Only time will tell. It’s a new era to Parker Thompson Racing.
WSK Euro Series La Conca
The week started off with my flight Tuesday night. Mick Panigada picked me up from the gym at 4pm and we headed straight to the airport where we flew from Bergamo to Brindisi. We ate in the Brindisi Airport to save time, because it was pretty late. From there the team drove then from Brindisi to Ottranto about a ten minute drive from the La Conca International Circuit. The mechanics had already been at La Conca for a couple of days setting up and prepping the race material and the tent.
Wednesday Unofficial Practice
Wednesday was a slow day, because it was on and off rain. Energy Corse knew that the weather for the weekend and it was solid sunny conditions. So we refrained from running in the rain too much due to keeping our race material fresh. We completed one dry session to run in our race engine, and then we went back to the hotel to relax, and prepare our minds for the race week ahead of us.
Thursday Official Practice
Thursday the weather shaped up enough for us to run slicks the whole day, but the track was most definitely off race pace. From experience in the past I can tell you that it does not matter that much if you are off the pace. What matters are if you have an overall understanding of how the chassis and engine are performing and what you need to go faster. In European racing you test all the possible setups that have a chance of making you turn a quicker lap, and then in qualifying you bring all of the setups you liked into one ultimate setup. Thursday was all about finding the many setups that were good and then brainstorming for qualifying what would be the best ultimate setup. Thursday was also about a lot of feedback and data acquisition, and at the end of the day we were always right with the benchmark of pace and amongst the top ten. We had a bit of trouble in the last practice due to me taking too much of the chicane curb and bending the chassis. Other than that it was a smooth day.
Friday was a combination of practice, qualifying and for some drivers a heat race, depending on the group you get placed in after qualifying. All drivers get two fifteen-minute sessions for practice to fine-tune your setups and driving style before they are thrown into a ten-minute qualifying session with no hot pit. Then the only group that doesn’t have a heat race is group A. Qualifying groups are determined by the place you earn in Qualifying. For example 1st is in group A, 2nd in group B, 3rd in C, 4th in D, and 5th in E. Then the order repeats itself until everyone is in a group. The group represents the row you start from for your heats. Group A will always start on the inside, group B will start on the inside against all other groups except A. Group C will start on the inside against D and E and on the outside for A and B. Group D will only start on the inside once against group E and group E will start on the outside row in every heat. Both my practices went problem free, but we lacked speed. In both my practices we were sitting top ten in the odd numbered KFJ drivers, which was okay but I wanted more. In qualifying I went out alone which was a mistake, in European racing you need every part of the tenth you can get, and it helps when you have someone to chase to give you that little bit of extra time. Also in qualifying I attacked the corners too hard, I was too aggressive with my breaking and corner speed and the chassis could not handle it. You have to ease your breaking points and get on the throttle earlier. This prevents upsetting the chassis by carrying too much roll speed through the corner, and it betters you coming off the corner. It also keeps the RPM of the KFJ engine package up, which is extremely important. That is what I missed in qualifying, and it lead me to miss Superpole, which is the top-12 overall advancing to a shootout to decide the official pole sitter and remaining 12 drivers. This would mean I would start all my heats in 8th and I would be on the outside every heat. This was a tough blow, because La Conca on the outside is a death sentence. It proved just that in the first heat after qualifying on Friday as on the start I fell back to mid pack because of the outside position, and then in the third corner I got smashed of the track. Fell to dead last and fought my way back up to thirteenth but thirteen points in the first heat race is not what I wanted.
Saturday Heat Races
Saturday was a tough day. Every heat race except one was a disaster because of drivers having no respect for each other on the start. Heat two the exact same thing happened as in heat race one except this time when the driver behind me tried to punt me off, I was on the brakes hard enough that he went over me bending the material. Again I resumed the race in last and drove back to ninth. Not bad for the situation I was put in. Heat race three was the only miracle in the weekend because I didn’t get touched at all, and managed to come out of the start in fifth and that’s where I would stay for the remainder of the race. Miracles only happen once though, and that applies to this situation as in the final heat I got slammed off again and would come back to finish eleventh after falling to last. Saturday was a really bad day, and it was my birthday too. Probably the worst birthday I’ve ever had, I missed my family and friends a lot and then I had a chain of terrible heats. I was not a happy driver at the end of Saturday, lets just say that. Then to put the cherry on top of my fantastic day I would be starting tenth for the pre final. One row behind where I started all the heats and crashed on all the heats. It was disappointing because I knew we had really good pace in the pre-final. But we were always hindered by our starting position. I just kept a positive mindset and tried to come up with a plan to get through the start.
I was worried about Sunday; I wasn’t confidant I could make it through the start. I couldn’t be too aggressive because one penalty at ten seconds could put you outside the top seventeen if you in the top five. If you’re out of the top seventeen when you cross the line you don’t make the Final. I put a lot of thought into what I was going to do on the start, but honestly my end result was about the same as the heats. One of my strong points is starts, and I reassured myself that I should do what I always do because it has worked very well for me in the past. Sure enough, when it counts I placed the kart perfectly through the first three corners of the pre-final and came out seventh from tenth. From there I advanced as far as fourth but with a group of us having quite an intense battle I finished in the end sixth. Not bad for starting tenth. Only problem is that since our group posted a slower lap time than the other group, we would be on the outside. That means I would have to start p12 on the outside. The main thing I was happy about was I had my confidence for starts again and it proved to be a big thing.
In the final on the start I went from twelfth to seventh. On the second lap there was dirt all over the first three corners due to all the crashing that went on during the first lap. I’ve had enough experience in KFJ to know you have to take it easy on the starting corners of the second lap. This proved to be excellent as I advanced to third from seventh by taking it easy and expecting some debris. At that point though it was a battle. I was overtaking or getting overtaken for the first half of the race at least once a lap. In the middle of the race I was sitting third and it started to calm down. I had a big gap with three laps left and was waiting till the last lap to make a move on second but the driver behind me had astonishing pace and within a lap got by me. When he passed me, he did it in a terrible spot both losing us a lot of time, but me more than him. That’s when fourth managed to get around me a lap later and I was left to finish fifth with all the dirt on my tires from the unusual pass put on me. I was pretty happy with the end result but was bit disappointed because I had a shot at another podium. I can assure you I am pushing myself harder than ever in training will come back to the next WSK Euro round ready to take home a win with Energy Corse. I can’t thank my mechanic Marco Sigilini, engine tuner Gordon Finlayson and team owner Mick Panigada enough for sticking through with me on the tough weekend and supporting me through the way till the end result. There are big things to come with this group of people this year.
This all could not be possible without the partners of Parker Thompson Racing. Thank you very much Sylvan Lake RV, RLV, Bell Racing Helmets, Tillett Racing Seats, CanadianKartingNews.com, Racing Against Cancer, Panigada European Transport, GFR Engines, TM Racing Engines, Douglas Wheels, and Energy Corse.
For more information check out www.parkerthompsonracing.com or Parker Thompson Racing on Facebook and Twitter @parkertracing.