The 2015 season kicked off for me with Round 1 of the Rotax Max Challenge at Rotorua on the weekend of 31st January and 1st February.
On Thursday the WKS Kartstore team and myself flew up to Auckland to collect the van, which we’d left up there after pre-season testing as the first 3 races are in the North Island.
Arriving at the circuit I did my usual thing and walked the track to get myself reacquainted. Rotorua is a long and very grippy track, probably the most like the European circuits I’m used to from all of the other tracks on the New Zealand calendar. As the van had been in Auckland we had a lot of work to do to get the karts prepped for the weekend and since our last test session there had also been an engine upgrade for the DD2 class which meant we had some work to do on my engine with no time to test it which wasn’t ideal.
Heading into testing on Friday the weather was warm and the track conditions looking good. The DD2 field was split into 2 separate classes of Masters and Lights. As I am in the Masters class we are 7kg heavier than the lights, which for me means I am carrying 32kg of lead. The decision had been made to field both classes on the same grid with the Masters class starting behind the Lights regardless of if you were faster. Testing went really well on Friday with both my team mates James Blair and CJ Sinclair setting the pace in DD2 standard which meant I had a benchmark to aim for even with the extra weight. Towards the end of the day we developed a small engine problem, which we worked hard to solve over night.
Arriving at the circuit on Saturday morning rain was coming down and the track was wet. Qualifying was tricky in the wet conditions but I came away P9 overall and P4 in my class so a strong starting position for Head 1. The conditions throughout the day were changeable with warm temperatures drying the track before rain came again so setting the kart up was a challenge as we weren’t sure if each Heat would be slicks or wets and as you are only allocated 1 set of each tyre across the weekend we couldn’t afford to burn our wet tyres up in a Heat in case the final was wet on the Sunday.
Both of my Heats were slick tyres but on a greasy track, which is normally a set up I struggle with given my size and the amount of lead I have on my kart. Unfortunately in changeable conditions I got caught up in first lap crashes in both heats, which dropped me down to the back of the field and meant I had a lot of work to do to fight my way back through. My pace was good but with the incidents I had too much work to do and finished both of the Heats in 5th place.
Sunday morning the conditions were very similar to Saturday, warm then showers with a damp track. In warm-up my pace was strong so we were hoping for a better day than Saturday but unfortunately before the pre-final the rain came down again so the track conditions worsened but not enough for it to be wet tyres so it would again be slick tyres on a wet but drying track.
Heading into the roll up lap for the pre-final the engine problem that had been causing me issues throughout the weekend came back worse than before. As we were finishing the roll up lap the pack got up to speed ready for the start and I got swamped by the entire field, dropping back to dead last as my engine lost drive. As it had been throughout the weekend though the issue was intermittent so once it got back to speed I was able to make my way back to 6th place.
Heading into the final I would be starting P6 in Masters and 16th overall. This time around I made a good start but then got hit from behind and pushed off the track onto the grass as we came round the first corner. My engine stalled and once I’d fought to get it restarted I was half a lap down on the rest of the field. I fought hard for the rest of the race and after some good racing made my way up to 9th.
All in all it was a pretty tough weekend and definitely not how I’d expected to start the 2015 season, especially after the success at the World Finals. That’s motor racing though I guess and it’s these sorts of weekends that build strength and I am determined to have a better weekend at Round 2 in Hawkes Bay on 14th and 15th February.