- Russell Soto
Shaking down the new kart - the Birel ART S8B
Joining the new PSL Northeast team meant we had to sell the Tony kart and get into a PSL-assembled Birel ART RY-30 S8B chassis (S8, for short). The money from selling the Tony, together with the discount we received as official PSL team members meant we could actually afford it new, from PSL.
The kart arrived at my team mate Adam Rylance's house in Connecticut - we live in a small condo in Jersey City, so we don't have the space - and we got together on a Saturday to actually mate the Rotax engine to the chassis and adjust the pedal and steering column position. It is a beautiful chassis, and the first time I've ever raced with a brand new kart.
In fact, it's so impressive, that I've decided to do what Sebastian Vettel does with his F1 cars, and give it a name. It's very red, very Italian, and absolutely beautiful - SOFIA. So there you have it. I think it's a great name ;) Many thanks to Nick Frangoulis, my coach and tuner, and the Rylances - Andy and Adam. It was definitely a team effort, and it made for an awesome afternoon.
We were finally able to take the kart out on track for a "shakedown" - getting to know its characteristics and learning how it behaves and how to best set it up. For that we spent a day at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Unfortunately, we had engine issues, but were still able to do some good work at their short track, and learn quite a bit about the behavior of the MG "Yellow" tires, new in the Northeast for 2017.
It is certainly a new look for 2017, and Sofia is easily the best chassis I've ever had. Still lots to learn, coming back to Birel after the Tony chassis. After a weekend at NJMP, we went to Oakland Valley Race Park for further shakedown and practice with Vega tires for the Rotax Grand Nationals, back at NJMP.
Our engine woes were traced back to a faulty clutch in the Rotax engine (that we had rebuilt over the winter), which was easily corrected. We were able to finally drive this new kart in anger, and it felt fantastic.
OVRP was hosting the ROK Cup that weekend, so there wasn't a direct comparison on-track that day - the practice field consisted of people running ROK engines on MG tires, and were on a Senior Rotax with Vega Purples - but our times were obviously faster than any of the ROK runners, so Nick and I finished the day with great confidence for the Rotax US Grand Nationals the following weekend.