High res photos now available for download on our Flickr page, https://flic.kr/s/aHsjYwRayE . Next up in the Ultra4 European circuit is King of the Valleys, the event that kicked it all off. Looking forward to seeing everyone out there, maybe we’ll find another Smart Car to race around.
Two of the nicest guys you’ll find in the Ultra4 European circuit right here. I first met up with driver Walter Philippo and co-driver Tom Ramaekers at King of the Glens. In Walter’s Spider 9 powered Jesse Haines built Ultra4 racer, the course of the Glens swallowed him up like many others, his beautifully crafted machine was not made for such terrain. Then came King of the Mountains. Running their own race, focused more on just finishing rather than placing, when the dust finally settled Walter & Tom grabbed themselves a 5th place finish. They looked great out there, lap after lap, and managed to run the entire weekend with zero issue. Watch out for these guys in the next two European races, the right attitude and the right parts will get you far in Ultra4. Congrats on the finish guys!
Figured the day we talked about a Smart Car would be the day hell freezes over. Well, get out your winter jacket.
When I booked my Italian rental car, being the cheap… I mean frugal guy I am, I selected without hesitation the economy car. In the states, this typically means a Chevy Cruze or equivalent. You will receive no such thing with your economy rental in Milan, no sir of expensing very little, you will get a Smart Car.
Called the Smart Fortwo, this tiny shoe looking thing with wheels had me first laughing, than thinking, then worrying that I would shortly die leaving the parking lot of the rental hire (rental hire = rental car). About 10 minutes in, I still struggled to figure out how the back hatch opened, and after an exhaustive search came to the unfortunate conclusion not a single cup holder was present (not one, really?!?!). Oh boy, this trip is going to be short (no pun intended).
About a 2 hour drive to Parma, I oddly became more complacent, more comfortable, in this tiny little machine. While I thought I’d be crushed to death by speeding Lorries, the shoe fit only for some handled the 130 km/h (roughly 80 mph) highways with little effort. Not bad, but that cup holder thing…
But then came race day. The course was a long one, and traveling around would only be possible by vehicle before the track was hot, because it was the track you needed to use to get out to remote areas. Armed with only my Fortwo, I ventured off on race course into the depths of the King of the Mountains landscape and man, did this little thing deliver in a big way. Armed with a rear engine, rear wheel drive 1.0 L petrol engine and an overall length about a foot shorter than my JK wheel base (73.5 in wheelbase!), the Smart Fortwo was a hill climbing machine. We’re not talking about small inclines, there aren’t many 2-wheel drive low to the ground vehicles that could have pulled that off. We went everywhere in this car from one end of the race course to the other, up rutted loose rock inclines and down steep non-paved grass valleys, all without fail. Another testament, all be it in a very non-sexy kind of way, that simple lightweight design often prevails in just about any engineering feat. Even for the Smart Fortwo.
That’s it, no more Smart Car talk. You may remove your jacket.
It is only a matter of time before we see Sylvain Bessiere on the podium. He has, in his possession, a wonderfully crafted Spider 9 powered TC style buggy that just cries to go fast. When he’s on course running, he’s running fast, and making easy work of climbs and descents that follow his path. Unfortunately, as bad luck can play out on any Ultra4 team, he lost his motor shortly after the prologue. It wasn’t one of those “let’s fix it overnight” repairs. No, this motor decided it was done for the weekend. We do hope to see Sylvain back at it, no doubt with a happier motor next time.
Jaap Betsema made the trip down from the Netherlands to give his massive tire outfitted Ultra4, nicknamed the Fire Ant, a go at the freshly minted Italian terrain. The Fire Ant can move at speed, but it’s true advantage is in the rocks. As such, the course of King of the Mountains was an overall good fit for the Fire Ant, unfortunately a lost master cylinder by the end of the 2nd run caused their racing efforts to take a back seat. With no spare on hand, they were simply out of options. Playing for points, Jaap did start the 3rd and 4th runs, immediately parking the rig after taking off from the line. In the end, his team finished 14th out of the field of 23 racers, not the placing he was hoping for but still far from out on series points.