The House of Speed: NESS Rounds 3 and 4 at Canaan Motor Club in New Hampshire
Rounds 3 and 4 of the Northeast Super Series would be quite a change from what we're used to. The 1.3 mile long Canaan Motor Club track is a track designed for cars, but it is also home to the New Hampshire Karting Series. We would race together with the NHKS folks, who are running for their own championship series, while NESS participants would be scored separately.
The track may be a short lap for a car, but in a kart it's about a minute and a half, and most of it flat out (full throttle). This places great demands on the engine, and requires tricky chassis and gearing setup. We were hoping that the X-30, with its supposed superior top end performance, would shine here.
We had spent a decent amount of time breaking in the engine and running practice sessions with it, and it definitely feels different than the Rotax. Where the Rotax requires smoothness and rolling the throttle, the X-30 - like the Leopard - likes you to step on it with a little less finesse. I have to admit that finding the correct carburation setting ("jetting" in the Rotax) is tricky and takes some getting used to.
It was a very long trip to New Hampshire from Jersey City, and after getting to the track in the evening, we were happy to just chill in the hotel and prepare for the next day. Nick met us at the track and we proceeded to get to work.
A nice addition to the team was a third driver, Haley Lederer, who is an experienced driver having driven dirt karts in ovals. She is a rookie in sprint karting, but we expect great things from her as she already has some mechanical knowledge and car control skills. My team mate Adam Rylance opted to run his Rotax engine, and we did see a decent amount of people running their Rotax engines instead of the X-30. We did not have that luxury, as our budget only allows us to own and maintain one engine.
It had rained overnight, and the high-speed track was very damp, with humidity in the air. The organizers decided to let us have a little fun, and opened the track up for anyone to take their road cars and help dry the track out by running *very slow* laps. I took the wheel of the family Subaru Crosstrek and did my part, getting into a friendly dice with my teammate, who was at the wheel of their GM truck.
The sad story of the weekend is this: The gearing at this track (whether it's Rotax or X-30) requires a 13-teeth drive sprocket. We swore we had a 13 installed, but in fact only had an 11 - so we actually spent practice as much as a second off the space, and scratching our heads, as to why where the time was.
So we had to go out and qualify before we even had time to correct the problem - us NESS runners had to share the grid with the regulars, and that combined with our inadequate gearing to leave us a very distant 9th to start the race. With the mix of NHKS regulars and my NESS rivals, I'd need one of the best drives of my career to even podium and grab valuable points.
Finally, it was a scramble to source and install the proper drive sprocket, and we almost literally did not make the start of the race. It was a "LeMans Style" start, with the karts arranged side by side and angled in qualy order. I would have rather liked the usual rolling start or an F1-style standing start, as we were all moving very slowly because of our gearing, and in a state of general confusion. I for one could have ended up 2nd or even in the lead if I hadn't misunderstood what was happening in front of me.
But the kart was transformed with the proper gearing, and we were quickly on the pace after a couple of laps. I absolutely loved being able to let the kart stretch out and run, and the engine felt nice and strong. A new thing was feeling just how strong and significant the draft was at this track, as you can start well outside striking distance from the kart in front and wind up well within position to make a pass very quickly because the draft is sucking you in like a vacuum cleaner.
The race was also a bit different - it was a single, 40-lap event instead of heats. I basically spent it passing and re-passing people, as the draft effect meant that I would pass someone for position, but immediately be under threat as there would likely be someone almost riding my rear bumper. Smoothness was required, as we were dancing around at around 80 MPH, which is as fast as most us have gone in a kart. Lap times were separate by hundredths, and we were mostly "fastened fang to tail."
That being said, I'm happy to say that I really did put on an overtaking show, with some pretty amazing passes all race long. I was seeking to take any advantage I could by being aggressive and focusing on losing as little time as possible. Particularly impressive was a pass that I made on the outside of an extremely high speed kink, which I am told made people's hair on the back of their necks stand in attention. With this I was able to hang on and place 3rd in NESS (5th overall). It was unusual to be approached by total strangers at the end of the race to compliment me on my driving and those overtakes. One local gentleman in particular said he'd never seen anyone in all his years of racing there attempt and make the passes I was making that day. Once again, I did not get to the top step of the podium, but definitely made the highlight reel!
The next day it was more of the same, although we started 4th this time, and had more pace than on the previous day. I kept the same position through the first laps. I was able to make a good pass for 3rd, but immediately put a wheel wrong after that, which put me straight down to last, on a field of about 17 people! I was glad that didn't end up in a DNF, as at this track - if you have an off - you are beach for a very, very long time.
I would have to work my way up the field again, but Sofia seemed unaffected by my mistake, and I was progressively making up ground on my way to 3rd overall (and 2nd in NESS behind Rylance), but I had an unfortunate incident. The only change made to this road course for the sake of karting was a chicane at the end of the back straight, which you have to approach with an aim to get a good exit for the next high speed section. Three laps from the end, the person behind me executed what we call a "dive bomb," which is literally diving into the inside of your approach into a turn from a great distance. This tends to be dangerous, because nine times out of ten there is contact, since the driver in front does not expect to have to give room because the passer is so far behind. Sure enough, on this particular instance the passer forced me off the track, and it was all I could do to avoid a harmful situation for the both of us.
"Dive bombing" is definitely not sporting, but it is also not that unusual. What bothered me about this person is that he is supposed to be a very experienced driver who is racing formula cars now and is doing these regional races just for fun. In this case it was completely unnecessary because with the way the draft works at this track, he would have had a good shot down the following straight anyway. A driver of his experience and caliber definitely should know better, but over the years he has also acquired a very bad reputation for this kind of thing. I definitely want to avoid that sort of reputation (we simply wouldn't have the budget for that sort of driving, anyway!). Everyone knows my aggressive overtakes sometimes are on the edge of that, but they also know that I always make sure that I am being sporting, within the rules and definitely not putting myself or others in dangerous situations.
That aside, I was happy to podium once again, and the third place is certainly a good points haul. What I am most happy about are two things: 1) My pace was just as quick as anyone else's in the field, sometimes faster over the course of the race - significant because the times were so close and 2) I was once again "the one everyone talks about." It is great to become known as someone that not only drives the kart fast enough, but also provides some clean, racing excitement for everyone to enjoy. :)