Oh Canada!

On Saturday, March 23rd, 2019, qualifiers from K1 Speed locations around the world made their way down to sunny Irvine, California to compete in the inaugural K1 Speed E-World Championships. I had the honour of competing as K1 Speed Canada’s representative and got to take part in a truly incredible event.

On the Friday before the big event, the US Championships were decided. A dozen US drivers from as far away as New York, North Carolina and even Hawaii competed, These were among the best drivers from across the U.S. and they came to represent their state in a K1NG of Speed tournament. I got to watch these elite drivers setting super quick times on the reverse configuration of Irvine Track 2. The event ended in surprising fashion, with wild card qualifier Peyton Philips winning and becoming the US representative for Saturday’s World Championship. After watching such a competitive event, I knew I needed to bring my A-game.

The Championship would be decided by racing at three different K1 Speed tracks in Southern California. All three tracks were run in reverse of the normal direction, meaning no driver would have any sort of advantage over the others, no matter how many practice laps they’d done. The races featured one practice session, two qualifying sessions from which each driver’s best time from either session would be chosen, and a final race. This meant drivers would quickly have to learn the racing line, adapt to the different grip levels, and compete at top speed right away.

As soon as I got on track, I was met with a surprise. Unlike the slippery concrete surface of K1 Speed in Toronto, the track in Ontario, California had a sticky, grippy asphalt surface. I’ve driven on asphalt countless times on outdoor tracks, but now I had to adapt to driving the heavier electric kart around a tight, twisty circuit with lots of grip; an unexpected learning curve. After finishing practice in 3rd place, I improved to qualify 2nd, only 2 tenths off pole.

I got a poor launch on the standing start in the final, allowing Mexican champion Luis Caballero to get a run alongside me through the 90 degree right corner leading into the left handed hairpin that starts the lap. I managed to fend off his attack. Puerto Rican ace Antonio Arias made the pass for third, and was soon breathing down my neck. As he began his assault, I defended hard, which allowed the leader to speed away, unimpeded. I knew which sections of the track I was faster, and where he was catching me, giving my bumper a tap to let me know he was there. I held the inside line as we approached the finish, protecting my position and finishing in second place.

Off to Anaheim for Round 2. When we arrived at the track, I was amazed at how much bigger the circuit is. The track was as long as both tracks at Ontario combined. It even had a bridge for spectators and two tunnels for the karts to pass through.

The top three drivers were separated by only a tenth of a second each. I qualified third, but was very confident in my chances. As the green flag fell, I got a great start and had a look up Antonio’s inside into turn one, but had to avoid running into his kart as he closed the door. Once again, Luis from Mexico was on my bumper. He had a run on me into the second corner, first of two hairpins. I kept him behind me and focused on chasing down the top two. As the American and the Puerto Rican fought for the lead, Luis tried another pass on me, this time into a flat-out right hander under the bridge. He went for the move, but there was less than a kart width between me and the wall. The contact sent us both slamming into the outside barrier. The time lost in the ‘racing incident’ was insurmountable, I finished in fourth, but I knew there was still one more chance to fight for a win.

The final race was held at Track 1 in Irvine, where the US Championship had been held the night before. I had a chance to talk with Daniel Z., owner of my home track, K1 Speed in Toronto. He’d flown down to California to watch me compete. Having heard about the incident in Anaheim, he gave me some serious advice. Forget about the past. Just go out there, drive clean, and beat these guys straight up.

The competition was tough! For this deciding round, the US driver took pole position, Puerto Rico in second, and me in third, I had a good start, and was on the inside line for the first corner. I went for the pass, but was denied the position. After the aggression of the opening lap, things settled down and drivers maintained the gaps between themselves, drove cleanly, and finished in the qualifying order.

American Peyton Philips swept the series, and took the championship, with Antonio Arias securing second place for Puerto Rico. I fought hard and got Canada onto the podium with my third-place finish in the first ever K1 Speed E-World Championship. Up on the podium, even with the champagne burning my eyes a little, I could see my mom, dad, and sister Michelle cheering me on. I could see my friends and supporters like Daniel Z who had come out to support me. There were dozens of American competitors from Friday’s event who stuck around to watch the finals. I was proud of my achievement and thought about how I was going to carry the Canadian flag to the top step of the podium next year!

The K1 Speed E-World Championship was a great success, and it was the best event I’ve ever taken part in. To critics of the event, you’re right. These are not the fastest karts in the world, or the biggest fields, yet. But it doesn’t matter. This event is the start of something big. The K1 Speed E-World Championship took drivers from all around the world and pitted them against each other in an event where nobody had any more experience than anybody else, or any better equipment than anybody else. When future events are held at the K1 Circuit, an outdoor electric kart racing track with banked corners and elevation changes, it’ll take it to a whole other level. I just want to say that I am very grateful to K1 Speed for the opportunity to compete, and I hope to see more Canadians attempt to qualify for next year’s event.

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