|by Mark Wicks||2 November 2016|
Melbourne’s Lee Mitchener became the first Australian since Ben George in 2006 to win a class at the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals. KartSportNews spoke with Lee about his victory and what’s on, and not on, in his future.
Above: Lee being interviewed by Jen Wade after his big win (pic - Coopers/Facebook)
Firstly, 2016 was a BIG year for you in Rotax DD2 Masters.
Yes. I ended up winning every State Title this year (VIC, NSW, QLD & SA) plus the National series and now the World Title.
At the Grand Finals, was the only time you led all weekend on the last lap of the final?
Yeah, and that’s probably a bit because of qualifying (Lee qualified 7th, 0.331s off pole). I was out of the gate first so I had no traffic in qualifying. It meant I didn’t get a tow, but with no traffic was able to do a decent time. Also I was not fast at the start, but was quick late in the heats.
Did your pace see-saw in the opening laps of the final – would that be an accurate observation, or just circumstance from what the other drivers were doing?
Before the final it had rained and so the track was not as good in the final as before, and also the tune wasn’t 100% at the start - it was not coming off corners as I’d like it. Then, on about lap 5, it dropped out of second (gear) and into neutral as I went across the line.
That would have been a worry!
Yeah! But it was okay and had enough pace. In the end, the timing of everything turned out perfect.
It appeared the Canadian, Scott Campbell, made contact early in the race?
Yeah, big time – he almost took me out. He ran into me, but then he had a go at me after the race, saying I ruined his race!
You never threw a challenge to the Finn (Antti Ollikainen, who was leading) all race, until the final lap…
…because every time I got near him he’d start to baulk. That would have slowed us down and I didn’t want the guy in third to catch up.
You raced on Formula K locally the entire year, then for the Grand Finals everyone is on Sodi Kart. How did you find driving and setting up an unfamiliar chassis?
It was fairly easy to adapt to. I think the hardest part was getting used to the track. Half was old surface and half new, and grip was substantially different on each. But the Sodi guys were really helpful. They gave everyone a setup they thought would be competitive and we weren’t far off that.
So, how far away from that setup were you?
We just changed the front end a little bit and that was about it. We did have a seat crack though, and we had to change that over. They even make sure that you only use the Sodi seat washers. The rules are very strict - you can’t really change much.
Were you on the same tyre as what’s used here?
I think they used a different rear, but I didn’t really notice any difference. A lot of people were whinging, but I think it was more the track.
Did you feel much pressure once you’d qualified in the top ten?
People were saying to me “you’re gonna get this. You’ve got the pace to win this” that sort of thing piled the pressure on. It was great everyone had a lot of faith in me and believed I could do it. But it’s a world championship, with world class drivers, and I had to keep composed about it all. I’m humbled everyone thought that way.
This was not the first time you’ve had karting success overseas.
Correct. I’ve won an X30 World Title (X30 Masters at the Bruno Grana X30 International Trophy in France in 2010).
And you’ve enjoyed success from an engineering perspective too, in Formula Student / F-SAE.
I was Team Leader and one of the main drivers in 2006 and 2007. So I can say I’ve won four of the six World Championships I’ve been in.
Above: Full video of the Finals Day live stream. Lee's DD2 Masters race runs from about 5:15 to 5:49. Podium presentation, including the famous Shoey, is at 8:36 to 8:41. The Finals Day race report & photos were published HERE.
You had your dad there in Italy with you, but not your mum.
I also had my wife, Amy, there too. We had our first-year wedding Anniversary while we were over there. For Dad, it was his first time overseas. Actually, there’s a bit of a story to that. I had retired from karting at the end of 2014. I had done a lot and just thought it was time. Then Mum passed away early 2015. I said to dad, “Do you want to do the first Pro Tour round at Todd Road”. We did that and ended up getting back into it for 2015, then got really into it this year, partly to give Dad something to do. I really wanted to take him overseas. (For the Grand Finals) he went over for a tour earlier, and then we all met up at the track for the race.
When did you start karting?
When I was 13, at the Eastern Lions club.
How did you get involved?
Dad and I were going out to buy a tennis racquet, so we could go play tennis, and we passed a hire kart track. By the end of the day, we owned a kart - he went and bought one that night! By Christmas, I had one too and we were racing.
Ever do or have ambition for car racing?
I’d absolutely love to but unfortunately it’s about how much money you’ve got. I’d love to do something like Porsche Carrera Cup. I did start making plans once to have a stab at V8 Ute racing, but work was becoming too demanding and it had to take priority (Lee has his own business, Leevertek, which specialises in steel fabrication work).
You’re a World Number One – you get to thank all those who helped:
Above: Lee with mechanic Paul Gallo and the winning kart on the grid before the final (pic - Coopers/Facebook)
And the winning kart will live on…
Ian Black has bought the go kart I used in Italy and is having it shipped back here as memorabilia - on the same race tyres, not cleaned, the exact kart, as is, tyre marks and all. I’m wrapped about that.
So, what’s up for the rest of the year and plans for 2017?
I’ve actually retired now. For good. I will be going to the Golden Power series round at Puckapunyal (which is this weekend) because it’s a Pink Ribbon event, so I’m going up there to support that. But not to race. I’ve ended racing on a good note.
Congratulations Lee, and all the best for whatever your future holds. Despite you being adamant you’ve retired for good, we hope you aren’t. The sport needs people like you at the race track.
But then, there is a baby Mitchener on the way now, set for a February 2017 release. Surely you’ll take him/her shopping for a tennis racquet - and get side tracked on the way...