When it just goes wrong

21.11.2013

Abu Dhabi and Macau brought one disappointment after another but it was not all negative as Kevin tells us.

Kevin’s season ran pretty smooth until the two final meetings of the year served one frustration after another. Stalling on the GP3 grid at Abu Dhabi main race had far-reaching implications, dropping Kevin from title contender and third in the standings to seventh in overall classification. Two weeks later at Macau F3 GP Kevin showed great pace and made no significant mistakes but this time technical gremlins raised their ugly heads and robbed Kevin of any meaningful results.

But as usual, there are things which camera can’t reach. Kevin tells us what he saw and felt.

Let’s talk about Abu Dhabi first. You wrote on Facebook that you pre-loaded car a little bit too much at the start and that was why the engine stalled. Can you explain what does it mean?

Firstly, we have clutch under the hand in GP3. The start procedure is like this: first you declutch, then give full throttle, keep the brake pressed as hard as you can and then release the clutch very slightly, to let the engine tense the car – that is pre-loading the car. Then you just have to release the brake to start when lights go off. But it was very hot in Abu Dhabi and red lights remained lit for a very long time. Five or six seconds, mega-long, usually they are on something between two and four seconds only. And then I felt I couldn’t keep it more. It was not only me, Nick Yelloly alongside was also moving-stopping, moving-stopping... So, yeah, I felt I can’t keep it more and grabbed the clutch again but it was too late already and engine stalled.

It was risk definitely but maybe you shouldn’t risk in that situation? Third in the championship turned to seventh eventually.

It is easy to say with the hindsight but I really wanted to end the season on high note. Yes, with Facundo Regalia so far back on the grid maybe I should have taken safe approach. If I had earned a couple of points while he was on zero I could have been second in the standings easily. For sure it is a little bit sad but so it went.

Then safety car helped you a little.

Yes, I could close the gap but the damage was already done. Actually it was quite a strange weekend. First race I started effectively form the very last place, overtook many cars and ended up as 13th. Second race I started from 13th, tires were slightly worse and we also changed the set-up, just to see how it works. It didn’t: tires went off after lap one and I had to fight hard to keep my position. OK, weather was different but set-up changes had so strong influence.

That was it with GP3. But only two weeks later you were in very different environment at Macau F3 GP. Did you have any objective this time?

I hoped to reach top-six this year. Last year I was a complete rookie but pace was more or less OK. This year pace was even higher. First day I was something like P10 in practice and P9 in qualification without any pushing and on worn tires unlike some other drivers who put new rubber on for Q1. Second practice also went OK [with fastest time] but the final qualification session was again disrupted by red flags, as we feared. I couldn’t find a single free lap. Even my best one was actually spoiled by backmarkers. First and second sectors were good but on the final sector I had to overtake two slow cars and by that time checkered flag was already out. At least I posted a decent lap and got P13 on the grid for qualification race. In Macau it is possible to hit even the front from that position, anything can happen.

Then it all went horribly wrong.

Beginning of the qualification race went well. I saw two goys going off, overtook somebody else and was P10 on lap 1. Esteban Ocon was in front of me, I got a perfect tow on the seaside straight and tried to overtake him on the outside under braking. But he closed the door and forced me wide which meant Carlos Sainz got past too. Jazeman Jaafar also went by and it became clear something was wrong. I got a perfect tow in his slipstream on five successive laps but couldn’t have a go. Then on the final lap my engine expired.

So it was not a surprise?

No. Towards the end my engine started to smoke heavily, every kind of crap flew into the air but I hoped maybe I still can reach the finish because I didn’t know if it was last or second to last lap. Entering the main straight I saw “LAST LAP” board and thought “Oh sh...” and parked the car.

P26 on the grid was not ideal place to start main race but it began rather well.

I got new engine for the main race. There were several crashes during the opening lap and I also managed to overtake some cars so I was P16 when safety car was deployed. But then, just as the safety car left and everybody started to speed up, the fire extinguisher on my car was triggered. I couldn’t accelerate and instantly there was a three-second gap in front of me. It was before the SC line, thus no-one could overtake and everybody went mad behind me. Later somebody asked what the stuff it was flying out of my car.

I ripped the tear-off away from my helmet and continued to race but extinguisher was still spraying. I guess I drove three or four laps and visibility became worse and worse. Still I was much faster than guys around me and could even overtake some of them. Tom Blomqvist drove in front of me and Esteban Ocon behind, they were 8th and 10th at the flag respectively, so I could have been able to reach P9 or P10.

Eventually the extinguishing foam dried up on my visor, there was just a tiny clear area. I had only one tear-off and had never pulled it away during the race so I was panicking a little bit. Then I tried to clean the visor with my hand but only smeared the foam all over the face and airflow kind of hardened it terminally. And I could do nothing with it!

So I pitted to clean the visor but only after I had outbraked myself into turn 1, I simply couldn’t see anything. Afterwards I posted some decent laptimes, my fastest lap was eight-best, but engine let go again on the final lap. Maybe, just maybe, I can’t be sure, extinguisher was triggered because engine became too hot behind SC, then extinguishing foam covered the engine and eventually it expired again.

So your season in over now?

Yes, Macau was the latest meeting this year. It was not that bad season as the two last weekends would suggest. Actually the year went pretty well but of course it feels better when your finish is strong.

Do you know something about the next year?

The main thing is to find a budget. Being with a good team I could be frontrunner in GP2, GP3, F3, WSR, wherever.

 

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