Luca was so excited all week about racing in his new ItalCorse chassis this weekend. After the first practice session, his only comment when getting back to the pits, apart from the huge smile on his face, was “the handling is incredible! Unbelievable!”
“Dad, I love my new chassis! Love it.” The kart’s superior handling obviously impressed him, by far exceeding his expectations – the chassis upgrade also showed where it counts, in his improved lap times over the course of the weekend.
Our deepest thanks and gratitude goes out to all our friends and supporters who made this moment possible. We literally could not have done this without you. Luca’s dream is to drive Formula 1 – know that there will be pit passes for you at Monaco when he realizes that dream. We will never forget your generosity and support as he takes these first few steps along the challenging road ahead.
We have not been able to sell the old kart to purchase the new Mini Swift engine as of this writing so Doug Creesy and Paul made a sterling last minute effort in getting the Comer 80 engine over to the new chassis in time for the race weekend. While disappointed to not be racing with the new engine, we would have to make do with what we have. Racing is racing after all! At the very least, we would be able to compare the upgraded chassis against Luca’s improved lap times.
Arriving at the Speedway circuit, Luca’s first ritual is to walk the track with Jason Reichter, discussing the racing line, the breaking zones, where he could make late breaking moves to overtake and where he needed to be careful when accelerating out of the turns. Luca really looks up to Jason who has been mentoring him these last couple of races and with good reason. He just won the Formula 16oo Western Division Championship 2016 and is moving up to the Formula 2000 Division. He also signed for Dave Freitas Racing Team today, the 800lbs gorilla in the paddock, for the 2017 season. Jason is a down to earth 17 year old kid, with a very bright racing future, who loves to share what he knows with those who want to learn. I am very appreciative of the time he gives to Luca.
Luca would start the Saturday practice sessions slowly at first as he got used to the new handling, gradually going faster over the course of the entire weekend. Each time he came into the pits, he was beaming, sharing what he needed with his mechanic Paul to improve his performance, to tweak it, trying different configurations until he was happy with the kart set up for the races on Sunday. I could tell that each 10 minute practice session wasn’t long enough – Luca just wanted to stay out longer every time.
Driving home Saturday evening, I asked him if he thought he could go faster and he responded without hesitation “Absolutely! I didn’t want to push too hard first time out because it’s a whole different kart. I know that I can drive closer to the edge, it’s just much further than what I am used to so I have to go looking for it. I didn’t want to do it until I was perfectly comfortable with the new feel of the kart. I just want to drive it as much as possible so that I can really begin to explore how far I can push it. It really is amazing Dad, the difference. It is so smooth and responds to my slightest touch. It really is fantastic. I love it. Absolutely love it. Thank you dad.”
That last bit made my heart overflow …
Sunday Race Day is always special for me. I really enjoy that pre-race tension in the pit area – the mechanics busy with last minute tuning around the karts and the drivers excited in anticipation of the racing to come. Luca is surprisingly relaxed yet I recognize a quiet focus in his eyes. I’ve seen it before. I know he’s excited to get on track but there is an equanimity that descends upon him as he prepares for the challenge ahead. He’s getting ready for the racing, visualizing the track against the racing line he wants to take. He seems to instinctively dismiss the tension around him … almost like he belongs.
It’s a cold day, overcast with an elevated probability of rain. I tell him to take it easy at the beginning of the last 2 practices before qualifying as the tires are cold and it will be slippery on track, at least until they warm up. He gets quickly up to race speed in preparation for the qualifying session running 3rd fastest.
Qualifying consists of 4 laps, run in under 4 minutes with the drivers having to pull their fastest lap without the luxury of any errors. Today’s qualifying turns out to be quite the challenge for Luca after an elementary mistake. When Paul kick started the engine, Luca over pumped the gas pedal, flooding it. We don’t get that problem in modern cars these days as the computer controls the starter. Karts are much more basic. With the engine flooded, the motor stuttering, he had no power as he drove around the track. I could see Luca pounding the steering wheel in frustration as he saw his qualifying window close around him. Suddenly, the kart jumped forward, at last responding, ready to race just as Luca came out of the last turn onto the straight. He floored it, crossing the start/finish line at top speed – he had 2 laps to make his mark.
I could see he was driving angry, pushing hard to catch up the perceived time he thought he had lost. He had not realized that he only needed one fast lap. He pulled it out of the hat. Even with all that anger, he drove very smoothly to qualify 3rd on the grid, more than a second ahead of the 4th placed qualifier. He had performed under pressure, although self imposed by his impatience to get on track, learning another important lesson – never give up!
With qualifying out of the way, it’s time to race. Once again, I am too taken up by the drama on track to take video or photos with the races themselves just an emotional blur.
For Race 1, he gets a good start, hitting the first turn in 3rd and keeping his position for the entire race. He’s driving smoothly and it’s obvious he’s enjoying it. He’s still not pushing as hard as I know he can. He’s not using all the track, taking a more conservative racing line based on what he told me the night before. He is still coming to terms with the unfamiliar handling of the kart and he doesn’t want to risk it unnecessarily. In fact, he doesn’t need to as he finishes comfortably in 3rd position and 1st in his class.
Race 2 is an exact rerun of the first race except for the few drop of rain that started to fall mid race. On a concrete track, rain is unforgiving. He drove very carefully, getting the result – 3rd overall and the top step of the podium in his class. That’s 5 wins out of 6 races. Another great race weekend and still on for Las Vegas Rookie of the Year 2016. Well done Luca.
Next race weekend, the last one of the season, is on December 10th & 11th.