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CKN Driver Diary: Robert Wickens @ SKUSA SuperNationals XVII

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CKN Driver Diary: Robert Wickens @ SKUSA SuperNationals XVII

SuperNationals 17 marked the first time I was back in a go-kart since the 2011 Florida Winter Tour round in West Palm Beach. Furthermore, it was the first time racing in the SKUSA SuperNationals since 2003! I have been to multiple SuperNats in years past coaching and helping out my brother and his drivers, but needless to say, I was excited to pack a helmet and go into the weekend with the mindset of racing in one the best karting races in North America.

Preparation: Check out the Paddock!

It is always crazy to see how much the Karting world has evolved when you are out of it for a few years. I was shocked in 2011 and I was shocked again last weekend. I have raced for some Junior Formula teams that cannot match the type of professionalism that is undertaken within Maranello North America, and I am sure the atmosphere with other top teams as well.

Maranello North America team drivers: Brendon Bain, Robert Wickens, Stuart Clark and Fred Woodley (Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Maranello North America team drivers: Brendon Bain, Robert Wickens, Stuart Clark and Fred Woodley (Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Day 1: Setting up the Pit

I arrived Monday afternoon and met up with everyone from Maranello NA. They got straight into setting up the pit and building up the tent. It is always an adjustment as car drivers are spoiled in terms of physical labor outside of the car! I am pretty sure I spent more time in the way, then I actually did helping. Anyway, in an extremely efficient manner the tent went up with minor help of myself and we were able to get all set everything up before the sun went down.

Day 2: Getting Prepared

Tuesday morning included a long day of prep in order to meet Trevor’s expectations (he has very high standards). It was fun for the first little while, but I have to admit that the last couple hours of prep felt like an eternity! I am sure the lack of sleep from Monday night didn’t help, as I think it’s a law in Vegas to go to the strip your first night there. Anyway, thankfully the sun goes down early in Vegas in November, so the day was over pretty early.

Day 3: First Laps on Track

After a couple long days of set up it was finally time for the first on track session. I was very

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excited to get on track for the first time at 8:20am to see what I had gotten myself into for the week ahead. The track was really dirty but it was good to get a feel for everything. Following one full rotation of practice the track had cleared up enough to allow lap times to improve by 3 seconds, however the grip level was still lower than I had anticipated. It was easy to over drive and lose lap time. The rest of the day, the times would continue drop. I was pretty pleased with my first day back as I was expecting to fall somewhere between P8-P14. It was clear there was a lot to improve on, but all and all I was satisfied.

Wickens and his tuner had a hectic week with the weather in Las Vegas (Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Wickens and his tuner had a hectic week with the weather in Las Vegas
(Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Day 4: More Practice and Rain in Vegas?

The day did not start as I had wanted it to. I struggled to get a rhythm because I felt like I spent almost the whole session trying to find a clear piece of track without traffic. I was getting pretty confused with what direction I wanted to go with gearing. It seemed like drivers were using a variety of different gears. The 33, 34 and 35 could all do a competitive lap time. With limited track time you really have to make the best of your sessions. After some coaching from Trevor and a good debrief we felt like we had a good test plan for the rest of the day. For the second session we opted to try out the 35 gear to have some comparable data within Maranello. The session went well in terms of performance, but it was still unclear with what direction we wanted to go. Unfortunately the skies opened and the rain began, something I’ve personally never seen in Las Vegas. The third session was wet, and went pretty well. Trevor decided to pull all his Maranello karts off the grid for the fourth and final session on Thursday because the track was drying quickly. We all agreed it would be best to focus on a good prep for Fridays qualifying and first heat.

Day 5: More Rain and Qualifying

After rain all afternoon on Thursday I woke up Friday morning convinced that it cannot rain for more that a couple hours in Vegas, but sure enough the rain had not let up at all and it was pretty clear that Qualifying would be wet. After a strong final practice I was quietly confident that I could put myself in a competitive spot to start each of the Qualifying heats. There were so many World Class drivers in DD2, I would have been satisfied to be somewhere in the top-10.

Once the session started for Qualifying I was feeling pretty good. It was strange not being able to call in on the team radio to ask how much time is remaining in the session, something I again have been spoiled with the last few years in cars. I happened to look up at the stands to see Trev telling me to make a gap, I swear the guy can read my mind sometimes, but I guess its one of the perks of being brothers. After I made a good gap I put my head down and started a lap, as I exited the first corner I saw the starter waving the checkered flag so I knew I had to do it now. It was a strong lap, I knew it was going to be a personal best for myself, I cross the line with satisfaction that I found 6 tenths on my final flying lap. As I crossed the line I was just talking to myself (because I do that from time to time!) saying, “well… I hope that was enough to at least get me into the top 10.”

I had no idea I had actually gotten the pole until as I was taking my helmet off and one of the businesses best commentators and long friend Rob Howden threw a mic in my face saying “You got the pole…” I was pretty shocked and gave an interview that myself at 12 years old would have been disappointed with! But it was a nice surprise.

For the first heat I really didn’t know what to expect. Apparently the officials did not like my starts because after two aborted starts I got put back to P5. I guess I was doing something wrong, so my time starting from pole was pretty short lived. Of course with the field in the hands Bas Lammers of the Netherlands, the race was underway first try! I had a good start and was actually able to get up into the lead by turn 4 before the red flag flew for a first corner accident. After things got restarted I again had to start P5, the second start was not as good as the first, but I was still able to finish lap one in P2.

After Ben Cooper made very short work of me he set his sights on leader. I enjoyed my free driving lesson and able to keep with Cooper as we both ran down leader. I was just following his every move as we moved up to P1-P2 and broke away from the rest. Unfortunately once we caught up to some lapped traffic I made an amateur mistake and did not read a situation correctly. Cooper had to suddenly slow for a lap kart in front him and I was not expecting it. The end result was that I sent Cooper spinning and was left feeling reprehensible. The one thing I told myself before the event was to learn and hopefully gain respect from the worlds best karters, therefore the incident that occurred in the first heat of the weekend was definitely not the best way to accomplish that. Regardless, I was able to take the win for Heat 1, but it was less enjoyable due to how things played out. I knew I had to drive better for the next two.

After two good heat races, heat 3 saw Wickens spun in turn one, but a drive back through the field put on smile on Robbies face (Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

After two good heat races, heat 3 saw Wickens spun in turn one, but a drive back through the field put on smile on Robbies face
(Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Day 6: More Rain and More Heat Racing

Two more heats on Saturday set the grid for the Final in Sunday. I was actually sitting in a good spot as a lot of front-runners had issues in the first heat. After leading the opening laps of heat 2, Lammers made good move in order to take the lead into turn 2. I knew he had a DNF in heat 1, so I felt like my best option was to try settling for P2 in the heat. Our pace was good and the gap between the top-three seemed to stay the same for the reminder of the heat. I would finish the heat P2.

I had a feeling the final heat could get chaotic, but I was just hoping to avoid any commotion! Unfortunately it was turbulent, and it did involve me. Once the lights went out and I hit the brakes for the first corner, I knew it was going to be interesting… After spending the whole braking zone with my rear wheels off the ground I was sent into a spin before I even made it to apex. Luckily I was not hit by anyone and rejoined in the 40’s. After making good progress on the rest of the first lap, I was staying optimistic that I could still sneak into the top-10. Unfortunately though, in the first corner at the start of lap two, a driver misjudged his braking and tagged me just after apex sending me into a spin again! So I had to start all over again. I felt pretty deflated after the same thing happening again, but I had to put it behind me and just have fun, driving a very well balance Maranello kart. I had no idea what spot I was in or even how my pace was. I just had a blast battling with some great drivers. At the finish I ended up P14 on track but P12 within DD2. Before I took my helmet off I had to wipe my little grin off for having fun and put on my disappointed face just because I felt like I had to!

All and all it was a good three heats and I would line up P4 for the Final.

Missing the setup just a bit kept Wickens from battling for the victory on Sunday (Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Missing the setup just a bit kept Wickens from battling for the victory on Sunday
(Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Day 7: SuperSunday and Sunshine!

After a great night on the strip with some amazing people it was time to focus on the final. After three days of straight wet running, it finally dried which meant there were some hectic times for myself and my mechanic Wes Schindel changing the kart over from wet to dry. After some swift work by Wes we were able to get everything back over to Trevor’s suggested dry baseline set up. The session went well, and we were inside the top-5, which was encouraging for the final ahead.

I had a great start from P4 and was able to finish the opening lap in P2. Cooper again made short work of me at the start of lap two, as it became pretty clear I did not do a good enough job bringing my tire pressures up, and I was really struggling for grip in the early stages. I dropped down to P6 after about 8 laps and the leaders seemed to be out of reach.

Around lap 10 I was able to find some grip and the tires seemed to start working well. I was able to run down Xen De Ruwe and overtook him for P5 around lap 20. The final 5 laps were probably the cleanest laps I had ran the whole weekend and my Maranello NA package was handling amazingly well. In the end I crossed the line P5, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 25 of 25 at 46.218.

Overall: Successful Week

At the beginning of the week I never would have put money on myself saying that I would have been the fastest in the wet (qualifying) and fastest in the dry (FL in the final).

All and all I am very happy with the weekend, of course as a driver you want to win every race you enter, but with a grid with that many World Class, and World Championship drivers I would have been happy to just compete and hopefully come out of the weekend with a top-10. It was an honour and a blast to race again some of the Worlds best karters. I couldn’t have done anything without the help of SRA Karting, MaxSpeed Group, my great mechanic Wes Schindel, my team mates at Maranello NA, (Bain, Woodley and Clark) and of course my brother Trevor the mastermind behind everything that goes into Maranello NA. I really hope I can come back for SuperNats 18 next November!




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