The third Eastern Canadian Karting Championship begins today as top teams and drivers from the right side of the country converge on a fresh-faced Goodwood Kartways. Nine classes will take to the track, six under Official Rotax Max Challenge guise and three others bringing four-stroke racing into the ECKC fold full-time. After two days of practice Thursday and Friday, competitors face the opening doubleheader race weekend of the schedule with independent race days on Saturday and Sunday. Racing begins at 1pm each day, with finals scheduled to begin at 3:15pm.
Once again Team Canada will be on the minds of many, as this season the championship will award berths to champions in Rotax Junior, Senior, DD2 and new for season three: DD2 Masters. Rotax Micro-Max and Mini-Max classes will complete the full BRP Rotax engine lineup, just as they have in seasons one and two. New for 2012 is four-stroke racing that will follow the entire six-race schedule. Briggs and Stratton is supporting its purpose-built Option 206 crate engines with a contingency award for qualifying drivers, and classes will race to a points structure identical to that of the Rotax Max Challenge classes.
As it has in each of its seasons to date, the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship will see a full range of chassis supported in the paddock as each marque looks to put its best foot forward in North America’s premier summer Rotax Max Challenge. Nine different chassis have scored wins through the first two seasons of racing and fifteen different teams have had a driver on the top of the blocks. Intrepid, CRG, Tony Kart and Birel will each have team efforts from both Ontario and Quebec, and others will look to earn the top step of the podium as well: Tecno, LH Kart, Maranello and Kosmic to name a few. There are a number of drivers to watch for a variety of reasons this weekend, and in highlighting just a few, CKN presents its initial three-class roundup, CKN – Three to See.
Rotax DD2 – Three To See
Pier-Luc Ouellette, PSL Karting / CRG
Rotax has named a DD2 Grand Finals’ Champion six times, and Pier-Luc Ouellette has captured the title twice. Without a doubt, PLO is a world power in the paddle-shifting class, and is the immediate number-one contender when he lines up in the fastest class of Rotax. He famously won his first Grand Final by being P1 in every on-track session, and last year he earned pole, maintained it through the heats, won the prefinal and his second Grand Final. He qualified by winning the Canadian National Championship, and had already assured his berth after dominating the ECKC. Two wins and a podium from his first three starts had him well on his way, and after a second in the Mosport Sunday run Ouellette had sealed the Championship and a return trip to Al Ain Raceway and the Grand Final. He’ll look to begin another this weekend.
Ben Cooper, SRA Karting / Birel
When karting discussions turn to naming the best-of-the-best in the world of Rotax karting, Ben Cooper’s name invariably comes up as well. The transplanted Briton is the reigning Grand Finals Champion in Senior and it was his second, following his first Senior title from 2008. In three trips to the event, Cooper has finished tenth, Champion and Champion! Few, if any, can make such a claim. He made one ECKC start last season – a win at the finale – and followed his Grand Finals victory by beginning the current calendar year winning the Florida Winter Tour. Each came in Rotax Senior, but Cooper is now turning his attention to DD2. For those expecting a drop in form, don’t. By all accounts Cooper is equally adept when paddle-shifting, and he’s far from a one-trick pony having raced a number of classes during his ascent to the top.
Daniel Burkett, Karts & Parts / Lewis Hamilton Kart
While very few have tried it, Daniel Burkett is turning the double this year in racing both the Western Canadian Championship and the Eastern Canadian Championship. The Winnipeg native debuted on the National scene last summer and quickly made a mark in the Eastern half of the country. On hand at Tremblant last July, Burkett was on the podium in his first race and followed with seventh in his opening ECKC start the next day. He was also seventh at the Canadian National Championships, and earned a spot at the Rotax Grand Finals after the best run of his career to end his North American schedule: runner-up at the Pan American Challenge Championship event. Having sampled the style of being on Team Canada, Burkett wants nothing more than to make a return trip this fall.
Also have an eye for:
Zach Robichon, SRA Karting / Birel – won the 2011 season finale at Tremblant.
Tyler McEwan, Prime / CRG – reigning Pan American Challenge Champion.
Rich Hibbs, REM / Birel – making his return to karting after a year out of the seat.
Rotax Senior – Three To See
Marco DiLeo, Intrepid North America / Intrepid
Since the inception of the Eastern Canadian Championship, Marco Di Leo has made Rotax Senior his own personal playground. The class champion from both 2010 and 2011, Di Leo remains the only driver in ECKC history to score more than a single race win in Senior, and he’s produced four: Goodwood and Mosport in season one and a sweep of opening weekend last year. He’s also been on another step of the podium at Mosport, Mont-Tremblant, and PSL Karting, and he’s been in point position one of the class since round two – two years ago! He’s won championships across the continent, been a North American National #1 driver, and though many drivers claim to have a ‘home’ track, Goodwood is truly that for the Di Leo family. He won a tune-up race last weekend, and will be looking for four-straight beginning Saturday..
Jesse Lazare, Chapman Racing / TonyKart
He’ll spend his last two days as a fourteen year old at Goodwood this weekend before turning fifteen on Monday, but make no mistake: Jesse Lazare is ready, willing and able to run with the biggest of boys in the world of karting. The point was driven home over the winter in Florida where in the toughest Rotax field on the planet Lazare’s lowest qualifying position was eighth! He qualified in the top three four times, and won the prefinal in his very first outing. He was on the podium there in his first final, and at the second event was the fastest man in the field. He scored a dominating win on Saturday, and after starting at the back on Sunday carved his way forward to cross ninth. He can race from the front, he can race from the back, and the reigning Canadian National and Pan American Champion is ready to race again.
Steven Szigeti, SH Karting / TonyKart
Another reigning Champion who takes to the grid this weekend is Steven Szigeti, and his title comes in this class. Szigeti dominated at Tremblant last August on his way to the Canadian National Championship and is a perennial power on the Canadian karting scene. But for a wet and wild final in race four last year, he may very well have been the ECKC champion as well. That race was the only one where he finished outside of the top five, and he won the very next day. All told, he was only nine points shy of the title at the end of the season. Szigeti also showed fine form over the winter, as through six rounds in Florida he never took a backward step from qualifying to prefinal to final. He scored a win, was on the podium three times, and was beaten to the title by just thirteen points and the reigning World Champion.
Also have an eye for:
Kevin Monteith, REM / Birel – tied for the class championship in last season.
Austin Milwain, SH Ontario / TonyKart – finished second last weekend at Goodwood.
Luke Chudleigh, Prime / Maranello – swept opening weekend as an ECKC junior driver.
Rotax Junior – Three To See
Zachary Claman DeMelo, ZCD Autosport / CRG
Possibly the most active junior driver in the country is Zachary Claman DeMelo, the reigning Rotax Junior Champion. Last season he reeled off a Sunday win at Goodwood and four straight podiums on his way to the title, and had enough points to skip the finale. Now a part of the CRG SpA Factory effort contesting the WSK Euro Series in KF3, he’ll be making regular trips across the Atlantic this year while looking to defend the title. In his European debut he was ninth in closing the Master schedule, and was equally impressive opening the Euro schedule with another ninth in Italy. Back on home turf now after the second Euro start, Claman DeMelo took pole and won the prefinal in the opening Coupe de Quebec race before having to depart, and last weekend he was blindingly quick in winning an ECKC tune-up race at Goodwood. Put simply, he’s ready.
Cameron Morrison, SH Ontario / TonyKart
A breakout junior a year ago, Cameron Morrison was front and centre after winning the season-opening race at Goodwood and he was on the podium again one day later in third. In fact, through the first five rounds of the 2011 championship Morrison had finished no lower than fifth, and he rode the points haul to second in the final standings. He also dipped into Shannonville midsummer to claim two Ontario Grand National Bears, sweeping his way to the TAG Junior crown on opening day and earning the Rotax Junior title on closing day. He began the current season a week ago after a nine-month layoff and was promptly P2 on the final podium in a field of 29 at Goodwood – the same way he began his season a year ago. Morrison arrives this weekend primed for action, and would like nothing better than a repeat of a year ago.
Olivier Bedard, Max Karting / Birel
There were six pole positions available during ECKC competition last year and Olivier Bedard won three of them – on three different tracks: PSL Karting, Mosport and Mont-Tremblant. Terrifically quick over a single lap, Bedard came into his own last year in taking it the distance after coming to terms with a new chassis. He was arguably the hottest junior in the country during the middle portion of the schedule, and scored back-to-back wins at SH Karting (Coupe de Quebec) and Mosport (ECKC). He rounded out the ECKC schedule with another podium en-route to third in points, and became Quebec Champion after winning the finale at Grand-Mere.
Bedard is one of seven on this list that has had a taste of being a Team Canada member, and he has already stated that his goal for the season beyond all others is to make a return trip.
Also have an eye for:
Samuel Fontaine, PSL Karting / CRG – won the Mini-Max National crown here in 2009.
Jeffrey Kingsley, SRA Karting / Birel – reigning Mini-Max ECKC and National Champion.
Alexandre Fortin, PSL Karting / CRG – junior race winner at Mosport last year.
CKN staffers Cody Schindel, Tanya Beaudin and Jason Holland are on hand at Goodwood Kartways this weekend for the second edition of CKN Live! Be sure to ‘Like’ Canadian Karting News on Facebook for comprehensive updates and photo galleries throughout the weekend, follow the team on Twitter @CKN_Live for the latest information from trackside, and visit canadiankartingnews.com for in-depth race reports on quests for Rotax Team Canada beginning Monday!