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August 12, 2008 News
EKN.ca Trackside Live: Canadian National Championships - Rotax Senior Report
 

Marc-Andre Levesque earned the qualifying pole in Rotax Senior and stayed on the front row through three heats (Photo: Cody Schindel - Autosports Media)
Marc-Andre Levesque earned the qualifying pole in Rotax Senior and stayed on the front row through three heats
(Photo: Cody Schindel - Autosports Media)

Mixed among the storylines at the National Karting Championship in Grand-Mre last weekend was the fact that six Rotax pilots were going to complete the 2008 line-up for Rotax Team Canada. Five had already earned the right from various events across North America in the past twelve months, and the champion and vice-champion from Rotax Senior, Rotax Junior and Rotax DD2 were going to complete the roster. The three classes therefore earned top billing at the event, and Rotax Senior was racing in the lead-off position all weekend.

Rain reeked havoc on the early part of the championship as from Wednesday to the Friday morning timed session the track rarely presented a repeat condition. A mix from light to heavy rain was most common, with dry conditions a rare delicacy. No surprise then that 48 competitors took to a wet track for the Official timed session, split into two groups. SH/Tonykarts led in both as Jean-Phillippe Raymond was quickest in group one with a 55.573 second lap followed by Massimo Scotti of Team pslkarting.com, and defending National Champion Christophe Boisclair for SRA/Arrow. Group Two then took over when Olivier Sirois put PSL back on top of the chart with a 55.451 second lap which was pipped for pole when Marc-Andre Levesque earned top spot with a 55.448. Raymond and Scotti remained third and fourth, with Jean-Francois Valour earning fifth ahead of Bosiclair. Hugo Mousseau, Marco Di Leo, Alexandre Laboissonniere and Gerald Caseley completed the top ten.

The importance of the session was surely less than during a traditional race format, as the field was then divided into Groups A-D for two days and three rounds of heat racing. In A vs B, Sirois took the win followed by Gelinas and Levesque before penalties moved and reinstated Sirois, and DQd and reinstated Gelinas, who then had a three-position penalty allowing Boisclair to third. See the Forum thread for Paddock Update details as the day progressed. In C vs D immediately following, Mousseau led Scotti and Raymond to the line. Round two Saturday morning saw Valour lead Levesque and Laboissonniere in A vs C; and Scotti win from Sirois and Di Leo in B vs D. The third round had Levesque win from Scotti and Valour in A vs D; and in the final heat of the rotation Sirois took his second heat win with Boisclair in third. Jonathan Daigle-Bleau was second, and it was the first time in any heat race that a driver from outside the original top-ten from qualifying reached a top-three position, yet he wasnt far in eleventh. The biggest mover through the heats was Lorenzo Mandarino and his Pserra Kart. After qualifying 35th, Mandarino posted an incredible heat trio of 7-4-4 to advance all the way to P7 for the prefinal. It was a sign of things to come, yet first up was the Senior LCQ to close Saturday action.
 

Sirois leads Mandarino, Laboissonniere and Gelinas in the four-pack at the front Sunday (Photo: Cody Schindel - Autosports Media)
Sirois leads Mandarino, Laboissonniere and Gelinas in the four-pack at the front Sunday
(Photo: Cody Schindel - Autosports Media)

In do-or-die race conditions, 27 drivers took to the grid at the end of the day looking for one of 12 coveted transfer positions to the National prefinal. Thirty-six points was the magic number for automatic transfer, and though Matt France had the total, he lost out in a tie-breaking process to Michel Legrand, who had a quicker time from original qualifying. Benoit-Phillipe Rondeau was off-pole yet the only driver with the pace of the overall class leaders once the green waved. Rondeau posted a quick lap of 44.193 seconds and advanced to Sunday followed by Etienne La Salle, Frank Launi and nine others.

After a promising dry spell Saturday afternoon, Sunday was warm and sunny with blue skies bringing bonafide dry racing to all prefinals. The atmosphere was electric as the paddock went into race mode. Rotax Senior continued to lead the rotation, and when the green waved on the prefinal just past 10:30am Olivier Sirois led out of turn two with Massimo Scotti second and Lorenzo Mandarino third. Alexandre Laboissonniere, Jean-Francois Valour and Christophe Boisclair followed, and the top six were immediately clear of the field with the remainder fighting their way through the opening half lap. Mandarino worked to second on two, the lead group held through three and by the end of four Sirois and Mandarino were working clear. Mandarino put his Pserra out front on five, and when the lead pair began swapping the spot the front once again became a line of six. They consistently lapped at identical pace and swapped positions lap after lap. Through it all came Philippe Gelinas, turning laps two-tenths quicker on his TonyKart and reeling in the entire line. By the final flag, Sirois and Mandarino were ever so slightly ahead of the three-four pair of Valour and Scotti, with Laboissonniere and Gelinas completing the top six. Boisclair was isolated in seventh, meaning all karts in the top seven spots had started within the top nine.

Following were the movers-and-shakers among the bunch, led by Derek Michaud in eighth. The Arrow driver stormed forward from P20 on the grid and set the fastest lap of the weekend in the process. His 43.633 was fractionally quicker than the pace Gelinas had in running down the leaders, and a sign of what it took to work toward the front. Christopher Ernst was ninth, Marco Di Leo tenth, and Gerald Caseley eleventh all the way from P21. Completing the front six rows headed to the National Final was LCQ winner Benoit-Phillipe Rondeau!
 

Team pslkarting.com completes a 1-2 and books a pair of trips to Italy this fall (Photo: Cody Schindel - Autosports Media)
Team pslkarting.com completes a 1-2 and books a pair of trips to Italy this fall
(Photo: Cody Schindel - Autosports Media)

With 22 laps separating two drivers in the field from Italy, Mandarino led from turn two followed by Sirois and Scotti. The pack was three-wide behind them into three as drivers looked to make hay. Onto the back chute the lead trio had a gap while Gelinas, Laboissonniere, Di Leo and Boisclair took up chase. Mandarino took the lead on two and Sirois countered on three as the prefinal began to repeat itself. The front settled in to a 2-2-2 formation with Sirois-Mandarino leading tandems of Scotti-Laboissonniere and Gelinas-Di Leo. A major moment came early as Scotti and Laboissonniere touched exiting the final hairpin allowing both Gelinas and Di Leo to jump forward. The lead continued to change hands, and with the field approaching half distance Sirois led Mandarino while Laboissonniere had regrouped and run down the leaders with Gelinas in tow. Heading into the second half it was a four-pack at the front and noone else was going to win this race.

The defining moments of the race came in the closing stages when Laboissonniere took second from Mandarino at turn two. It was the first time the Pserra had dropped outside of first or second, and on the next lap Gelinas took third at the same spot. While Mandarino took the position back quickly, the short exchange allowed the lead pair a gap that would secure Italy and the World Finals for both. Sirois took the National final with Laboissonniere second and in no mind to challenge with a bigger picture in mind. Gelinas took third once again to complete the podium while Mandarino was fourth. Valour had worked to an isolated fifth, just a tenth of the pace of the leaders. The back half of the top ten began with Arrow mates Boisclair and Michaud, followed by rookie senior Christopher Ernst and all the way from the LCQ to the top ten was Rondeau - with the fastest lap of the race in the process.

Sirois and Laboissonniere now join Western Challenge Champion Marc Arsenault as the Senior trio to represent Canada at the RMC Grand Final in November. Check back often this week for further race reports from the 2008 National Championship.
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