- Russell Soto
Northeast Super Series Rounds 1 and 2
After the US Open it was time to start racing for the Northeast Super Series title, with the first venue being our home track, Oakland Valley Race Park.
The track had been repaved in the off season, which is why our season started much later in the Northeast. The new track and layout makes a big difference, with longer lap times, and also generally easier on our equipment. The new surface provides more grip, and the tires - while not as grippy as the Vega tires we ran at the Open - are much grippier than the Mojo D2s we ran last year. This makes for a more physical experience, but the training regimen I kept to in the off season would help me a lot in this regard.
We started the Friday with a day-long test session in the rain. This was almost the same kind of rain and wind that I saw last year during my test with AKT Racing in Orlando in the middle of a hurricane. Rain was forecast for Saturday night (the first race would be a night race), so Nick and I had a great opportunity to concentrate on our rain setup.
Gradually we found the sweet spot for this chassis in rain conditions, and I felt super confident making Sofia dance in the rain. I have never felt more dialed in as a driver in rain conditions, and I guess my time with the Orlando hurricane paid dividends. I am not exaggerating when I say I completely smoked a shifter kart that came out to run a session with me, so we all had great hopes for the weekend. After the less-than-ideal experience at the Open, it was very satisfying to do so well in wet conditions.
Saturday finally came about. Our practice and qualy was marred by conditions that varied between dry and not-quite-wet. Our side of the PSL Northeast tent was praying for rain all the way, but it was not to be. It was an interesting situation, as most people had traded in their Rotax engines for new IAME X-30s, due to a trade-in program the manufacturer had for people who wanted to make the jump - the company that ran the Rotax Challenge in the United States stopped supporting Rotax, so most people scrambled to switch engines.
The X-30 seemed to have an advantage on the straights, but OVRP is a technical track, so us Rotax runners still had a chance as long as we were "on point" and made no mistakes. I managed fourth on the grid on a very full field. A bit of "sunshine" came for us when we realized I had out-qualified my teammate Adan Rylance, who was running an X-30, and who would be starting 5th. I had a good start for the pre-final, making up for the Rotax top-end deficit by staying consistent in the technical sections of the track, and finished third, with my teammate behind.
I did not have such a great start in the final, and found myself running fourth most of the way, but had a great duel with Dario Cangialosi, one of the very best Senior TAG drivers in the Northeast. We were literally going back and forth fighting for that last spot on the podium lap after lap, until I took him on the inside of a double-apex left hander towards the end.
The fight with Dario was very satisfying, as I know he's a very good driver. My teammate Adam Rylance (running an X-30) managed 2nd, which was good for our team. The field was very close up to 5th place or so, but the biggest disappointment for me was yet to come.
It turns out that the rules regarding fuel for the Northeast Super Series had changed. The fine print stated that Rotax runners could no longer use "pump fuel," which is 93-octane fuel that you can buy from any gas station. This really surprised everyone on the grid, since we had all been using pump gas for years and years, and that was what all Rotax runners were using that night. As the highest Rotax finisher, I was the only driver with that engine that had to go through technical inspection, and was therefore disqualified.
There was absolutely no performance advantage of any sort, using fuel with an alcohol content, and in fact it could even be a hindrance. I wonder if the Rotax might run more equal with the X-30 once everyone uses the race fuel, and if it may even see an advantage. Interesting thought.
Fortunately I was still the one to step into the podium, as OVRP's Club Series still allows pump gas for Rotax, so I still enjoyed receiving the trophy and recognition for having fought tooth and nail with Dario for that third place.
The next day we were running the correct fuel, to avoid any further problems, but still only managed fourth place overall, still quickest among the Rotax runners. Apparently the change in fuel affected carburation (jetting) on the Rotax, and so we were at a disadvantage. Still, these are valuable points for the Championship. We left with a lot to think about in the days ahead.