Debut Win For Kaizen As Phantom Racing Secure TitleTweet
from Ian McMah
Raleigh International Raceway is widely regarded as one of the toughest tests of equipment and competitors in Australian karting and so it proved yet again in the final round(s) of the Queensland and New South Wales Track Safety International ProKart Endurance Championships, which also doubled as the 4th and final round of the ProKart Australian Endurance Championship. 30 entries contested this final round of the series, held on Saturday November 10 at Raleigh International Raceway, approximately 15 minutes south of Coffs Harbour, NSW.
A number of teams went into this race with a very real chance of clinching the series’ titles. In Queensland, MF-Tech led the #152 kart of Phantom Racing by 47-points. This left Phantom Racing with a need to finish at least 7 places ahead of MF-Tech should they win the event, or 9 places if they didn’t.
In the New South Wales Championship, eWishingWell.com.au (formerly known as Bell Pipes Racing) held a slender 18 point advantage over second placed Starkey Motorsport. If Starkey Motorsport could secure the win in their #46 entry, eWishingWell.com.au’s #23 entry would need to finish in 2nd place to secure the championship. Regardless of finishing positions however, the #23 entry of eWishingWell.com.au needed to finish within 2 positions of Starkey or better. It shaped up as an enthralling battle and remained that way all through the event, with the championship ultimately being decided by only 20 points, remarkable when the winner amassed 1434 points throughout the 8-round season.
The National Championship wasn’t as close, but the stakes were higher given this race would determine which team would become Australian Champions for 2012. Queensland’s Phantom Racing looked likely to secure their first-ever Australian National Championship, however last year’s National Champions ARK-KW Racing (Kart #1) went into the event with a very real chance of winning, particularly if they could secure the race win.
With inclement weather and a lack of recent racing at the venue, the Raleigh circuit offered little grip; a situation exacerbated as the heavens opened and the circuit was deluged with rain for the majority of Friday’s practice sessions.
Qualifying was scheduled for Saturday morning, held over a ten-minute session at the end of a 90 minute practice session. With 30 entries, track space was at a premium as all karts endeavoured to outpace the other. Times were considerably slower in 2012 than they were when the series last visited Raleigh in November 2011; most competitors attributing the variance to heavy rains that had flooded the circuit in the days leading up to the event.
At the end of Qualifying, New South Wales teams had dominated the Top 10 in contrast to last year when it was an all-Queensland front row.
On pole were the #11 team of ‘Those Basstards’, almost 2 tenths of a second quicker than the #1 Kart of ARK-KW Racing. The #21 kart of Walko’s Racing were 3rd and well placed for a strong race.
The race started at 10am and it was the #11 kart of ‘Those Basstards’ who took the early lead. It wasn’t long before it started to rain and teams started pitting to switch from slicks to wets. Not all teams pitted however, as early indications were that the rain was a passing – albeit heavy – shower and would clear within 30 minutes.
The #152 kart of Phantom Racing took the lead as most teams pitted, Phantom Racing’s Simon Ham determining that they would see out the inclement weather and remain on slicks, saving a pitstop but dramatically increasing their chances of a spin or similar as the rain increased and grip deteriorated significantly. No one recognized it at the time, but this was a defining moment in Phantom’s race and one that could and would generate championship implications.
The rain persisted for a while but ultimately stopped; leaving the circuit wet and with little chance of drying quickly given the amount of cloud cover. Most teams who had already elected to switch to wets early on remained on the treaded tyre, with teams in pitlane frantically referencing radar maps on their mobiles in an effort to second-guess the weather.
By this point, the team from ARK-KW Racing were doing all they could to secure the win and with it, increase their chances of defending their Australian title. By remaining on slicks, Phantom Racing had thrown the dice, relying on the fact that the weather would clear. This plan nearly went awry when their kart speared off the circuit on the run up the hill, team driver Nicky Laskazeski frantically pushing the kart up a steep slope in the pouring rain, her efforts to get the kart back on the circuit eventually successful.
With a number of front-running teams pitting early, current national series champions KW Racing led the race from the 777 kart of Horsepower Racing. The team from KW Racing moved back into the lead where they would remain until a contentious call made under safety car to pit and change tyres.
Until this point, Phantom Racing were well back in the pack and it was by no means certain they could reclaim 7th position or better – the position needed for them to win the Australian Championship should KW Racing win. It was looking increasingly likely that KW Racing may yet retain their Australian title.
ProKart regulations do not allow for pitstops under safety car conditions and the pits are deemed ‘closed’. Chasing the championship and seeking every advantage possible, KW Racing took a gamble, believing that by pitting for tyres under safety car conditions they’d receive a drive-through penalty but make considerable gain by changing tyres in less time than it would take for the safety car to complete a lap. This would also allow them to potentially remain on the lead lap and provide the opportunity to rejoin the circuit under safety car conditions. If they could join the end of the queue behind the safety car, they could likely serve the drive-through penalty at the race restart without losing a lap.
This was a defining moment.
Not only had the team misinterpreted the regulations, they had missed critical wording which detailed an over-riding rule in which the Race Director could set any penalty at his or her discretion, essentially matching any breech of the regulations with a suitable penalty.
In this case, ProKart determined that the penalty should be commensurate with the time the team gained by breeching the regulation and ultimately the team had to bring their #1 entry to the pitlane to serve a 3-minute stop-and-go penalty, effectively crushing their title hopes and aspirations of a race win.
Strategies varied considerably, but as the race progressed a few trends developed. The #11 entry of Those Basstards continued contesting the lead with the #777 of Horsepower racing, whilst in the pack several teams were working hard to secure their chances at Championship glory.
Phantom Racing persisted with slick tyres, running just outside the Top 10 for much for much of the event as their strategic decision to remain on the same set of tyres throughout saw them gain at times and lose considerably at others as on-track conditions varied wildly.
In the Queensland series, MF-Tech were managing a set of tyres that provided no grip. The team uncharacteristically off the front running pace yet still managing to run strongly in the Top 5 through consistency and strategy. They looked strong to win their first Queensland Championship.
In the NSW series, the battle was intensifying as both eWishingWell.com.au and Starkey Motorsport were running competitively. On differing strategies, it was easy to think that each of these teams had the ascendency at various points in the event, however whilst early on it seemed that Starkey Motorsport were putting up a mighty challenge, eWishingWell.com.au were doing all they needed to do in order to win the NSW title at that point.
Another wet deluge ensued and most teams who had returned to slicks reverted to wets. This time the deluge was even heavier than before, ultimately persisting to the end of the race.
Frantic pit activity followed but by this point Phantom Racing’s Simon Ham realized he had committed so far to the existing strategy of remaining on ‘slicks’ that they’d need to persist. Consequently, as almost the entire field reverted to wets, Phantom and one or 2 other teams remained on slick tires – in what could only be described as torrential conditions. This was a massive gamble – recognized by the team themselves – and required precision and control in atrocious conditions.
Many teams faltered as the race moved towards its final hour. The front running teams of Horsepower Racing in their #777 entry and particularly the #11 entry of Those Basstards, who had been leading strongly throughout much of the event, all encountered technical failures. The #11 entry snapped a chain and had to pit for repairs, handing the lead to MF-Tech.
The team from MF-Tech had been quietly moving up the leaderboard and were running in the top 3 throughout most of the 4th hour of the 6-hour long event. Their lead of the event was to be short-lived however, as team driver Shane McMah radioed the pits to advised that one engine had shut down and that he was pitting “this lap”.
Knowing their strategy only required one more stop in the event and that it had to be taken in the final 60 minutes of racing, the team from MF-Tech checked timing with race control and determined that there were still 90 seconds until the race moved into its final hour. With each pit stop taking approximately 40 seconds and determined to not pit more than needed (and consequently give away not only the race lead but valuable time), the team instructed their driver to do one-more-lap; a lap that ultimately cost them any chance of a race win as the other engine failed half-way around the lap, leaving the kart stranded for some 4 laps as driver Shane McMah endeavoured to restart the engines and get back to pitlane.
MF-Tech weren’t the only championship contenders experiencing engine problems however, with the #23 entry from eWishingWell.com.au stopping on-track numerous times in an effort to correct an ongoing issue. Ultimately a seized engine cost them any chance of a podium or strong finish and with their championship efforts in tatters, their only hope was that the #46 entry of Starkey Motorsport would befall similar difficulties and finish within 7 positions of them, thus ensuring they remained sufficiently ahead on points to secure the title. As it turned out, this wasn’t to be and they ultimately finished 13th, 11-laps down on the leaders and 5 places shy of the position needed to secure the NSW Championship. It was a difficult end to what had been a stellar season for the team.
Having replaced their broken chain, the #11 entry of Those Basstards was back on track and flying, at times almost a full second quicker than any other kart on track. Their final-hour efforts would ultimately reward them with a well-deserved podium, but it remained clear that for them this race was the ‘one that got away’.
Having run strongly all day, Kaizen Racing took the lead in the final hour and were never headed, taking the chequered flag under safety car for a very popular win from a hard-charging and fast-finishing Starkey Motorsport, rejuvenated in the knowledge that they were now on track to secure the NSW championship.
In 3rd were Those Basstards, with Bang Bros Racing and Phantom Racing rounding out the top 5.
In finishing 5th outright, Phantom Racing had done more than they needed to do in order to secure the 2012 Australian Championship. Having won 2 rounds of the Australian series this year – which equates to 50% of the 4-round series – whilst also having won the prestigious 24-hour event, Phantom Racing were most certainly considered deserving Australian Champions in what was undoubtedly a popular win.
Rounding out the Top 10 were MF-Tech (#5), RPM (#24), Custom Decals (#34), KW Racing (#1) and the team from AC Delco Racing (#87).
With their remarkable determination in running what was essentially a full-wet race on slick tyres, Phantom Racing won the Australian Championship in style.
By finishing immediately behind Phantom in 6th place, the team from MF-Tech won the Queensland Championship and as noted above Starkey Motorsport won the NSW Championship whilst also finishing on the podium in this final round.
The 2013 ProKart championships will commence at Sydney’s Eastern Creek Raceway in February next year, with the first National round scheduled for March.