Paul Rodgers: Pro Tour II Winner

Paul Rodgers scored the biggest win of his karting career so far when he fended off William Yarwood to win Rotax Heavy at Melbourne's Pro Tour event last weekend. We spoke with the 22-year old about that, and other things.

KartSportNews: Would this be the biggest win of your career so far?
Paul Rodgers: Yes Mark, this is easily the biggest win. We have been to so many meetings where I have been fast or off pole and for whatever reason just never came away with a win so it was about time that I pulled through with the goods! I am very pleased to say the least.

Above: The elation of victory - Rodgers crosses the line at VACC Park
pic - Cooper's Photography

Walk us through the final, because you had to contend with multiple Australian champion William Yarwood pretty much the whole way.
I knew the kart would be good the longer the race went but when you have William Yarwood on your rear crash bar for the last 17 laps of the race it's never going to be easy. Once I got to the lead I concentrated on my driving, making sure I hit the same braking marker, turn in point and being easy on the throttle to look after the tires. If I did that then I should be okay at the end of the race. I got a bit nervous in the last couple of laps when I pounded one kurb that I shouldn't have and running wide at pit corner. I thought I was in a bit of trouble then because I knew that's what he was waiting for, a mistake, but luckily I had enough kart speed to be able to keep him away from making a move.

How did the lead up to the final go, as you didn't make an appearance in the second qualifying session?
We sat out Q2 to try and save the tyres a bit. We took the punt that no one would go faster after the first session with brand new tyres (in which Paul was fastest) and that proved to be the right choice. During the heat racing and the pre-final I felt that I was slowly losing out to the other guys around me pace wise and I also wasn't getting the greatest of starts which I put down to a little bit of inexperience. We made a slight adjustment to the kart for the final and that gave it its edge back.

You've done a lot of racing at VACC Park. Do you think that helped you at the Pro Tour event?
I think the only thing that helped me at the Pro Tour event was the fact I already knew the layout of the track. The track and kart felt so different to any other time I had been there and I would put that down to not having driven the track with lots of rubber on it before – and having never raced Rotax there before either!

The actual chassis you were using is pretty new as didn't you write the last one off recently?
Yes. That's the fourth meeting my new Intrepid has done now. I bent the old chassis at the Victorian Open. I qualified on the front row but dropped back to 6th half way through the first heat when the throttle stuck wide open going into the bus stop in front of the out grid. The only thing that was going to stop me was something solid and thankfully the tyre barriers did their job as I somehow walked away pretty much unhurt. I hit the tyres head on carrying a lot of speed. Tyres and rocks went flying – some drivers even said they got hit by rocks as they exited the bus stop! I was okay but the kart was a different story. We replaced the axle and the steering column which I bent with my knee hitting the steering wheel on impact and went out for carby the next morning but knew straight away the kart was bent. And that was my expensive heat race at the Vic Open.

How long have you been karting and how long in the Rotax class?
This is my 7th year of racing and I've only been in Rotax for 4 months now, so we are still learning all there is about the motor that’s for sure! This is actually the first time that dad has gone racing with something other than a Clubman in the 20 odd years he has been the sport.

Would you say the class suits your style as, when you were racing Clubman Heavy you were competitive, but maybe not to the level that you are running at the moment.
Clint and Pete from CC Racing always said to me that I was 'too smooth' for Clubman and that I should be driving a Rotax but I am of the belief that to be the best you have to beat the best and so Clubman was where it was at. But then this whole Rotax Pro Tour thing came about and I was getting to the stage where I had been in Clubman long enough and needed a change of scenery so dad and I sat down and discussed it and decided to give Rotax a crack.

Above: Rodgers, Yarwood, Pringle
pic - Cooper's Photography

What other factors have changed since running Clubman Heavy?
What's changed is my attitude towards racing. I used to put myself under a bit of pressure to do well. Especially when you see your mates winning races and the guys at CC Racing winning as well. At the end of last year I poled the Victorian Closed Titles but only came away with 2nd place and I was very disappointed and decided I wasn't having much fun. So this year I decided I would go out and have some fun, take the good with the bad and not get down about not getting a result. I am now more relaxed at race meetings and I just go out and do my own thing and not worry about what everyone else is doing and just enjoy going racing. It's worked so far that's for sure!

You're essentially an independent private customer team - a father/son combo that pits from their own trailer. It must have been good to beat some of the bigger names and teams.
It just goes to show that anyone can take it to the big boys. Dad and I work closely with CC Racing and the advice, support and even mentoring from them has helped me find those last couple of tenths to get me up right up there. At one stage during the heat racing the thought occurred to me that even if I don't win this weekend I would have learnt a helluva lot just racing wheel to wheel with the likes of Yarwood, Richert and Pringle so it was great to not only compete with them but to be able to get the win.

Above: Champagne drenched Paul and his father Peter after the podium celebrations
pic - Cooper's Photography

What are the plans for the rest of the year? Your dad was saying you probably wont do Raleigh's Pro Tour III?
Coming up there are the two remaining rounds of the All Star Series at VACC Park and Puckapunyal, the City of Melbourne Titles and the all important Rotax Nationals at Eastern Creek. Unfortunately it's looking like we won't make Raleigh at this stage. We didn't budget for a new chassis this year and dad and I have both stretched the friendship at work a little bit with time off for the Vic Open and both Pro Tour events in a short space of time. I will continue to push to find a way to get there though - I haven’t closed the door on that one just yet.

How do you rate the Rotax Pro Tour concept and the meetings so far - particularly when compared to the race meetings you normally attend.
It's an awesome concept. I wish I got that much track time every race meeting and having the best drivers in the country racing makes the whole thing worthwhile. Only having Rotax classes and CIK means that all classes but one are on the same tyre so you end up with a consistent track over the weekend. The first 2 events at Newcastle and VACC Park have been run really well and I think these types of meetings are really what karting in Australia needs. I think the Pro Tour will continue to grow as more events are run.