With three weeks between the second round of the European Championships at Genk in Belgium and the next round of the SuperKarts USA Pro Tour in Colorado in the United States this weekend, works GP Kart driver Daniel Bray has had plenty of time to reflect on a meeting which once again promised so much.Bray 213 genk.jpg
While he waited on a connecting flight in the United States we asked him to give us an insight into racing at the highest level in Europe.

Q) OK Daniel, Rnd 2 of the Euro Champs for KZ2 at Genk was another case of 'what might have been.' Could you run through how the event went from your perspective please.

A) "This year the CIK has changed the format slightly. We still have seven groups (A-G).  We still do six heat races, but instead of the field being cut to the top 34 for the Pre-Final then the Final (the old format), the top 68 get put into two Pre-Finals. The top qualifier is the Pole man for Pre-Final 1, second qualifier is pole for Pre-Final 2 and so on. I was fifth after the heat races, so I was third in Pre-Final 1. The top 17 from each Pre-Final then make up the final 34 drivers. It makes it better for those on the bubble of the top 30-45.  They have a shot at making the final. But it hurts the top guys who have a problem in the Preliminary Pre-Final, who may not finish and therefore do not make the cut for the Final.
"Unfortunately I didn't get a great start in my Pre-Final. It was the first time of the weekend that I was on the right side of the grid (my heat group, G, had been on the left side of the grid for every heat). When the lights went out I released the clutch a bit fast and bogged the motor down. I re-grabbed the clutch and slipped it properly this time, but I made a balls up of it really. I was lucky enough to be on the inside into turn one and came out of the opening few turns OK, only dropping one spot to fourth. My kart was super fast. I tried to make a move on Zanchetta, at the end of the back straight but he closed the door. No contact was made, I just dropped back about six kart lengths to the next bunch of drivers and within one lap I had caught the front three up again. A lap or so later Zanchetta made a move on Antonsen in to the final turn and I followed him through. Unfortunately this gave me a bad run down the straight, so the guy behind me pushed me a little at the end of the straight and into the braking zone of turn 1, which was a tricky corner as you were turning and braking at the same time. With this little extra helping speed the kart went into a four wheel slide under braking and I slid into the back of Zanchetta right as he was turning in. This turned his kart around and put my kart in the outside of his. The karts made contact again and broke a rod end in my steering, thus ending my race."

Q) Now, could you go back through practice, qualifying and the heats. It sounded like you were right up there in terms of set-up and driving wet and fine? 

A) "The first day of practice the track was amazing, it had a great deal of rubber down and was super fast. We also were very fast. We made some changes after the last practice on Wednesday, to keep up with the track but typical of Murphy's Law that night it rained and the track never got back to that amazing rubbered-in state. So we had to do more changes to the kart. We were pretty happy by the end of Thursday about our chances, heading into Friday and Qualifying.

"We woke up Friday morning and it was raining hard. Luckily for me we had 2 x 20 minute warm up practices before Qualifying. We needed them, because in the first practice we were two seconds off the pace. We worked hard to get the kart right and got it close by the end of practice. That said, we even made big changes going into qualifying and luckily they worked, because I was fifth fastest in my group. We were the first group of three. After the second group had finished I was still seventh overall, but the track was drying out. The third group went out and smashed our times. They went seven seconds faster, as now the track was almost dry. The CIK then stepped in and made the grids based on the groups. Because I was in the second fastest group and I was fifth fastest in that group, they calculated that I would be 14th overall.

"When the track dried completely for the two heat races of Friday, we were a little off. I couldn't get enough rear grip. I placed sixth and ninth in those two heat races. But again we made some changes overnight. When we came back Saturday it was fine...until we were walking to the grid for my first heat race at which point it started to rain lightly. My mechanic and I had a big call to make. I wanted dry tyres, Michael wanted wets. He won and we went out on wet tyres.

"On the warm up lap it was the WRONG call. But as we were sitting on the line waiting for the lights to go out, it started raining hard. We had made the correct call and I won that race by four seconds. It was a great start to the day. The track dried out and our changes to the kart had also worked. I won the next heat race, was second in the fifth heat and won the last one as well. When all the heats where combined I was the fifth qualifier."
Q) Now, go to the Final itself and could you tell us a bit about the drivers who ended up on the podium. For instance, the Italian, Tiene, with a CRG. Was he and Emil from Norway fast....or just lucky?
A) "Felice Tiene was very fast and deserved the win. He was in the top 5-10 quickest all week with us. But in Qualifying he broke down on the warm up lap, so had to start last in all the heat races. Felice was two-tenths faster than everyone in the Final. It was a great drive to watch. Emil was fast and consistent throughout the weekend. He was the driver I finished second to in the fifth heat race."

Q) Better tell us how you felt at the time.........and how you still feel now?
A) "Very disappointed with what happened as it was a lap four  crash in a 15 lap race. I was thinking it would not happen at the front of a Pre-Final, more the 9th-15th places like what happened to me in Germany. I'm gutted for the team as we have had such great pace and good finishes in the heat races, just none in the Final.

Q) Following along from that, how do you handle the disappointment of getting so close.........then having to pack up and head somewhere else to race?
A) "That is the hardest part, packing up at the end. When all you want to do is hop in the truck and go! But it takes about 4-6 hours to pack everything away and pull the tent down. We have six days to make a mess and a few hours to pack it up. Then drive 11 hours in the truck, while playing it over and over in your head. You sure get to think about it a lot.

Q) Speaking of which give us a potted history of your Euro racing for the past two years. Quick and leading KZ2 final last year at Sarno when Max Verstappen took you out, quick at Rnd 1 at Wackersdorf this year but punted out (over) in the Pre-Final................?

A) "There have been a lot of 'what-ifs' when you look back. Sarno last year is the biggest of them all - won five of the six heat races, was the top qualifier for the Pre-Final and finished second, then leading the World Cup and crashed out from behind...

"Then in Germany this year we had two mechanical DNFs and a racing DNF in the heat races, along with two thirds and a fourth. We put ourselves is a bad spot there, starting 19th in the Pre-Final and only 17 go through to the Final. I knew it was going to be hard but made it to ninth in the first few corners and thought I was safe from all the crashing, but nope, I was wrong. Spun out and driven over."
Q) Bottom line though Daniel the speed actually isn't the problem? Is it? Particularly at Genk where you were one of - say - three or four top dogs through Qualifying and the heats. Is that good? Does that give you a good feeling? Or just make not getting to the finish line even more frustrating?
A) "Yes exactly, we have great pace just need Lady Luck to come back on our side. Felice Tiene and I where chatting after his win and he said to me: "Man you're so fast, just can't get out of trouble's way. Let's hope its better in France for the World Cup." 
Q) That actually leads to my next question, what does everyone (the people who race each other in Europe every weekend) think of you? Are you now on a factory team's radar? And could we see you in a 'works' team? next year? 

A) "We are definitely on their radar. We are one of the four drivers that you time in the session to see if your driver is fast or not. Negro and Antonson are the others in my practice group who you time. Other drivers from the previous sessions are coming to the fence to time the fast four as well. "  

Q) On the same token what did your team GP Karts think? And what about the KZ class? Any aspirations to move up to that?

A) "Gian and Beppe (GP Karts) are happy with our speed, but just like me gutted and disappointed with the end result. People in Europe and the rest of the world are standing up and see that the GP Chassis is a really good chassis and that Sarno was not just a one-off. The phone is now ringing with people buying karts from what we are doing on track.
In Germany there were four of us under the GP banner and yes, at Genk, we had myself and Philip from Russia. He had just moved to our team as he had struggled by himself in Germany and had not made the Pre-Final cut. He drove well in Genk, made the Pre-Final and was in the top 17 for the cut for the final, until he made a mistake and dropped to 21st. But in both cases, yes I was the fastest driver.
"KZ is a different ball game. I can move if I want to, but you have to be driving in a kart for 20 days a month and live in Europe. I have my business N-Zed Motorsport, which is the importer of the GP kart into New Zealand. I have my customers in NZ to care about as well."

Q) You've raced here, in the US and Europe so what is your opinion of the different driving environments and styles (i.e. over 100 serious drivers entered into KZ2 at Genk).  That must have been epic just to be a part of let alone be one for the fast guys? And in the States, you've already won their premium title (S1 class) once. How is the States different to Europe and how are both different to NZ?
A) "They all have their differences. In New Zealand we are definitely on a way smaller budget. We may use one set of new tyres in practice for a big race weekend. In the US probably two  or three sets for practice. In Europe it is four-to-five sets of practice tyres and two-to-three chassis. The motor side is also different. In Europe you have to lease motors. The engine builders don't let any secrets out, so they don't build motors for customers - you just lease the motor for the weekend. The price to lease a motor is close to what it is to buy a new one. The motor you lease is three-tenths a lap faster than the 'off the shelf' motor."

Q) Also, what is the driving style/standard like in Euro right now compared to at home? Are the stakes higher? Who are the best drivers right now, and where have they come from and where are they going (i.e. staying in karts or heading to cars)?
A) "The level is always high. The style in KZ right now is going through a real change. They used to drive really aggressively on the tyre but now since we are having to do so many laps in the heats on the tyre, the driving style is changing to more of a KF style, smooth and fast. Before it was more a 'hard on the brake, stop, rotate and go' sort of style.

Q) Better wrap this up Daniel. On a brighter note, what was the best thing about the Genk weekend? And overall what's it like racing karts in Europe at this level. i.e. different food, different people, different languages etc etc, or is racing fundamentally the same everywhere?
A) "Best thing of the weekend? Three wins and a second on the Saturday proving that my performance at Sarno was not a lucky one-off. Food wise, I must admit I have enjoyed an American Cheeseburger today here in San Francisco. I do enjoy eating pasta but I did miss my fresh fruit and New Zealand meat. Nothing quite like a New Zealand roast dinner."

Q) On the same lines what's next and when? And when are you back here?

A) "I am currently in San Francisco getting ready for the next round of the USA Championship, the Pro Tour. We have a week's testing lined up and then have a 20-hour drive to Grand Junction, Colorado. We are racing over the July. 21-22 weekend. Then it is straight home to get ready for the next round of the RMC/Pro Kart, in Hawke's Bay."

Q) On that subject:  why did you decide to keep pursuing a career in karts rather than jumping into a Formula First at 12 or 13? And depending on that answer, would you encourage other Kiwis to follow your path and head to the US and/or Europe to race karts instead of or at least before a final move to cars?  i.e. what are the pros and cons of the two paths. If so why? and if not why not?
A) "You have to be realistic. Do you have millions of dollars to throw at a career that if you are lucky you will make it? and if not, what then?  I have seen too many of my mates do that and not have the money to continue. Why would I want to drive a Formula First which takes a life time to get from 0-100km when my KZ2 can get there in just under three  seconds. KZ2 karts are one of the most physical and hardest racing vehicles to drive.

"Also, I have been very lucky to work with the right people in karting. In the US we met the right guys, Rob and AJ. Then in Europe I was able to work closely with the factory GP team and then I got the opportunity to drive with them.

"I would encourage a lot more people to stay in karts and try to race in America and Europe. I don't see karting as a stepping stone to car racing, I see karting as a big sport, for everyone aged 6-70."
Q) Finally is there anything else you'd like to say?

A) I just have to thank the people who have helped me. GP Racing, TM Engines, Tec-Sav, N-Zed Motorsport, R&R Powersport, Dave Bray Chassis Shop and Aluminos."

CAPTION: Kiwi Daniel Bray (213) racing at Genk. Credit GP Racing.

Prepared by FAST COMPANY on behalf of KartSport New Zealand. To find out more about Kartsport in New Zealand contact Ross MacKay on 021 677 919 or via e-mail on ross@fastcompany.co.nz









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