~ by Daniel ‘#412’ Demaras ~
Since I began karting in 2014, I’ve competed in many series across Ontario. TRAK, MIKA, CRKC, CRFKC, MRFKC, ECKC, CKC, IKC and the newly formed KartStars Canada series. But the one major event in which I’ve never entered is Nationals. In 2020, I made my debut in the KartStars Canada National Championships.
The event started on Wednesday with open practice, and I was there at the crack of dawn, four days before I’d race in the Final. The morning sessions were largely unproductive with a very green track causing times to be several seconds off the usual race pace. As the day went on, lap times fell by a second a lap each session. By the end of the day I was setting the same lap times I’d normally set in a club race.
Thursday’s schedule had five practice sessions, with the field being divided into 2-stroke and 4-stroke categories. We skipped morning practice to swap in a newly serviced race motor after running last year’s practice motor on Wednesday. After spending the first timed session driving alone, Leonard told me that I needed to start running with the top drivers in my class, in order to understand their strengths and weaknesses. I watched the veterans of Briggs Masters play mind games on one another, refusing to let the other driver follow behind and learn their line. I had the chance to follow Dave Anderson and watch how one of the best Briggs Masters drivers in Canada navigated Goodwood Kartways, and how he dealt with other karts on track.
The first Official Sessions were held on Friday, kicking off with morning warm-up. I wasn’t able to pair up and draft with anybody, but still managed a lap within two-tenths of Anderson in P1, who had drafted with KartStars rounds 1 and 2 winner Marc Stehle. Qualifying had a unique format; drivers were split into groups of four, then sent on track individually, spaced out to prevent drafting. Drivers were given two timed laps to try and set pole position. I struggled on new slicks and was only able to manage P6 in a session where pole was decided by 0.001 of a second.
The day concluded with the Heat Race 1. I got a poor start, stuck on the outside of the track. I ran as low as eighth on the first lap, and from that point began a charge through the field, passing Nuno Branco on lap three, then chasing Leavon Beaudin, starting a pass in turn nine and finishing it off in turn one. Eli Yanko and Steven Chen were running further up the road, nose-to-tail in 3rd and 4th. In the closing stages of the race, I caught them, making a risky move on Chen into Turn 6 and passing Yanko a lap later in Turn 5. After a poor qualifying and a worse start, 3rd place was a result I felt great about.
Saturday. Race day. After three days of hard work, it would all come together on Saturday. After being mere hundredths off the top spot in morning warm-up, I started heat two in sixth place again. Though I dropped a spot to Branco, I was gifted 5th place when Chen and Beaudin made contact in Turn 4. After passing Branco, I chased down third place Eli Yanko and overtook him at Turn 9 on lap 8 of 10, finishing 3rd once again.
Starting 4th in the Pre-Final, I managed to keep my position off the start, but made a mistake in turn seven and dropped down to 5th. Late in the race I was locked in a tight three-way battle for position. I managed to cross the line three-hundredths of a second ahead of Leavon Baudin and Eli Yanko on my bumper.
The Final. The culmination of half a week’s hard work. Starting 3rd, my highest starting position of the weekend so far, with only Dave Anderson and Marc Stehle ahead of me. The green flag flew, and I slotted in behind Anderson and hooked on to his bumper, passing Marc Stehle in the process. Though I had an opportunity to pass Anderson, I instead worked with him to try and build a gap to the racers behind us. My plan was to wait until the closing stages of the race to attack, but Yanko’s plans were different, and on Lap 6 he passed both me and Anderson, with Stehle following him through! Now in 4th and a sizable gap to the leaders, I started pushing Anderson again with hopes of catching Marc and Eli. After two laps, I decided that I had better pace in the infield and was not closing in on the leaders rapidly enough. The better strategy was to give Dave my tow, and I went to his inside in Turn 4, taking 3rd place.
Now with five laps left, I had to catch the dueling leaders and pass them. Having done many laps with Anderson in the days leading up to the race, we were aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses on track, and he pushed me down the straights, allowing me to close up with two laps to go. With Yanko in 2nd, I knew I had to fully commit to an overtake on him as I have previously made the mistake of allowing him too much room to defend. On the final lap, the opportunity presented itself on Turn 4 and I dove to the inside, out-braked Yanko and completed the move without contact. I crossed the line to take the checkered flag in 2nd place at my first ever Nationals.
Parking my kart with the other podium finishers on the main straight, I saw my whole team, friends and family at the fence cheering for me. Though I didn’t get the win, I drove as hard as I could, and I think everyone recognized the hard work that went in to getting a podium at the biggest event of the year, and I loved seeing how happy people were for me.
Without the work of Leonard D’Arrigo, Anthony Simone, Max Preston and Liam Rhodes at New Speed Motorsports, achieving a podium at Nationals would never have been possible. Their support and expertise powered the No. 412 kart to the front of the grid and I’m so thankful to be part of the team. A result like this at an event this big seemed impossible a year ago, and the feeling is every bit as incredible as I hoped it would be.