It’s not often that one can achieve something as big as winning the World Championship in the KZ category in such fashion. Especially when looking closely at the names forming one of the most-prestigious starting grids in the karting world.
Despite the likes of former champions like Paolo De Conto (CRG), Bas Lammers (Alpha Karting) and Jonathan Thonon (Birel ART KSW) among many others in the 30 driver-packed grid, it was written on Sunday that Patrik Hájek (Kosmic Racing) would suffer no opposition to grab the supreme title.
A long-awaited reward
A victory and, most of all, a relief for the Kosmic guy after finishing runner-up in the European Championship for the last two seasons. A big achievement accompanied by the fact that he is the very first driver from Czech Republic to do it.
« I was honestly a little bit upset last year when we finished second in the Europeans for the second time in a row,» Hájek admits. «Because I knew we had the speed to win the championship. This year, after a difficult European season, I would never have said that something like this could ever happen. »
With a seventh place in Salbris, France, as his personal best result in this year’s European competition, it’s fair to say that Patrik Hájek did not show up on the World stage at Genk as the driver one would bet his money on.
« The championship was very difficult for us, » the Czech driver confirmed. «We were fighting with the tyres and we couldn’t find the speed. We did some test in Genk before the race but we didn’t know how it was compared to the others. So we were coming to the race ready to fight for every position but I guess that nobody from the team would have said before the race that it would go like this. »
On Friday, an eventful qualifying session due to a sudden loss of water from De Conto’s engine sent some of the Top Guns out including the overall pole-sitter Fabian Federer alonside the De Conto and Pedro Hiltbrand (CRG). Hájek managed to get through to set the third fastest time after completing eight rounds of the 1.3-kilometer belgian circuit.
« We knew that Qualifying would be very important because if you don’t start from the front rows in the Heats, you can easily get into trouble, »Hájek recalls. « When we were in third position after Friday’s session, we were satisfied. To start from the first row for every Heat to come, it felt perfect. »
Pushing on a Sunday afternoon
And both Saturday and Sunday morning would confirm these glimpses of momentum as Hájek made his way up to the Final scoring an undisputed hat-trick, including two wins by passing both Marijn Kremers (overall second, on pole for the Groups B vs. C opposition) and Fabian Federer (overall pole-sitter, on pole for the Groups A vs. C race) before the first turn.
« During the Heats, I had good starts and first laps but, in the end, the speed was not as good as we needed, » he explains. « So, we knew that we would need to change something for the Final. It looks like we made the right choice. »
Despite a secured pole position, the hardest part was yet to come as rising-star from the neighbouring Netherlands Marijn Kremers would start alongside him on the theoretically-fastest line on the way to turn 1. But things went ugly for the Birel ART driver when a contact with Tony Kart’s Simo Puhakka sent both of them further back in the field after less than one completed lap. An incident which let local hero Rick Dreezen put himself in the chaser’s boots in second place to constantly keep the pressure on Hájek’s shoulders.
« Already in the Heats, there were a few drivers like Rick [Dreezen] who were very fast and I know that in such a long Final it could be dangerous. But I also knew that by starting from the pole, I had a little advantage. »
If the KZ World Championship’s Final proved to be eventful in the midfield with big names like Anthony Abbasse (Sodikart) and Jonathan Thonon going both out after a contact, or Paolo De Conto’s desperate comeback from P15 on the grid, Patrik Hájek did not tremble holding the lead thorough 23 laps to salute the chequered flag as the newly-crowded KZ World Champion of 2018, the very first one from Czech Republic to receive such an honour.
« It feels good, very good, he says. I received so many messages from people all around the world. When you know that you did it, that nobody will take away it from you and also that all the hard work for many years has finally paid off, it gives an amazing feeling. »
« I still need some time to realize, » he adds. « For the future, there are different options and I don’t know yet what is the right one. But if I continue to race in karting, the next goal is to win the world title again ! »
Interview & Text: Guillaume Alvarez
Photos: Alex Vernardis
Design: KV Design