Thomas Nepveu went through an intense week after a superb, attacking finish last Sunday in the ROK Cup USA series. After two days of testing in the USF2000 series at Barber Motorsport Park near Talladega, Alabama, on Monday and Tuesday, Thomas Nepveu then headed south for the first two rounds of the SKUSA Winternationals series (Superkart! USA - X30 Senior class), run at NOLA Motorsports Park (New Orleans, LA). After being forced to retire in the Saturday Final, Thomas Nepveu and the team finished on the third step of the podium in the Sunday Final.
Thomas Nepveu and his PSL Karting team were back on a karting track they know well, with its 17 corners spread over 0.95 miles. The layout combines a long straight with a series of slower corners that force the team to make a pivotal decision on the final drivetrain's fixed ratio: too short and you lose time on the long straight, or too long and you lose acceleration coming out of the tight corners.
Round 1 – Saturday, March 27
After five short test sessions on Friday, Thomas Nepveu and the team regained the efficiency of the former's driving, without however having recovered the slight lack of speed of the machine which is costly in terms of results. Thomas Nepveu is still some 0.3 seconds behind the quickest drivers, which complicates his work over the weekend.
Starting 22nd for the 10-lap Pre-Final, Thomas Nepveu lost 9 seconds in a fifth lap incident, and fought his way back from 31th place, 11 seconds behind the leader after the incident. He came back up to 18th place at the finish, still 11 seconds behind the winner. This means that Thomas Nepveu drove the last 5 laps of the race at the same pace as the leader and eventual winner - quite a feat in the heavy mid-pack traffic. After the race, the officials discovered that the bumper was bent from the fifth lap incident and added 3 seconds to Thomas Nepveu's total time for the race, which dropped him to 19th position in the official results.
"In the Pre-Final I had an incident after a good start and having gained two positions in the first four laps. I hit a kart while trying to overtake it when the driver decided to shut the door later. After the race, the officials added 3 seconds to my total race time due to a penalty. However, I drove well and got the most out of the kart until the end of the race," explained a motivated Thomas Nepveu ready for the Final.
"In the Final, I got a good start from 17th place and passed people until I was 15th on the fifth lap. I was then involved in an incident where the responsibility was shared 50-50. I ended up against a protective wall and was forced to retire with a damaged kart," concluded a driver disappointed with the turnout of round 1 of the weekend.
Round 2 – Sunday, March 28
The preparation for Sunday really began on Saturday evening when the team had to rebuild the damaged kart with a new chassis and rear axle, and then reset it to its pre-incident settings. Sunday started out with a broken throttle cable which prevented Thomas Nepveu from taking part in the morning warm-up.
Thomas Nepveu then had to qualify without having driven the completely rebuilt kart and qualified 3rd, ready for the Pre-Final. Starting from the second row in the 10-lap Pre-Final, he finished 5th after a faultless performance on his first outing of the weekend on a wet track. This result confirms the renewed health of the #324 kart.
Third on the grid for the 20-lap feature, Thomas Nepveu successfully defended his position, before the rain interrupted the activities. When the race was restarted, he fought for the first place before falling back to fourth at the end of the race and coming back to third at the flag. It was a great race to cap off a weekend where the driver and his machine made it back to the front of the pack.
"We changed the whole 'tube' (chassis) on Saturday night in addition to the rear axle. We made a few set-up changes, but came back to our base settings. I took the pole at the beginning of qualifying and had a good kart for the Pre-Final.
In the Final, the weather was questionable and the officials decided to run the race as normal (Dry) race, and we all took the start on slicks. After a few laps, we were a group of three at the front when it started to rain harder and we came to a fast corner with a painted run-off area. I crashed into the wall and hurt the kart again. The race was stopped as everyone was crashing. The officials decided to do a full restart as per qualifying, so I started third after 45 minutes of repairs, still in the rain and on rain tires, but without being able to change the settings for the rain, like the final drive. I'm more than satisfied with this very good day," concluded the driver, who is very happy with his return to competitiveness.