Rick Dreezen runner-up of the World Championship at Genk? Few in the paddock would have expected to see the 27-year-old Belgian step on the podium of the most-prestigious race of the year in the KZ category, not even himself! But that’s what happened on Sunday 9th, September when the new Kart Republic driver crossed the finish line less than two seconds off Patrik Hájek to become the 2018’s Vice-Champion of the World on his home track.
“I was a little bit disappointed straight after the finish to just miss out on the World Title”, Dreezen admits. “But that feeling quickly went away when I saw my family, all my friends and fans clapping and screaming for me when I was called on the podium. It felt amazing!”
A result that didn’t come with ease for the Belgian after deciding to leave his previous structure of Birel ART KSW to team up with Kart Republic. A surprising move made official in the days following the second and final round of the FIA Karting European Championship KZ at Lonato, Italy. But for Dreezen, to join KR meant above all getting back to the legendary Dino Chiesa, the man with whom he was crowned European Champion back in 2014, the same year he finished on the third step of the World Championship at Essay. No matter the change of name, which used to be Zanardi, the people and the passion are still the same!
“Dino is the reason why I decided to come back,” Rick confirms. “He made me European Champion back in 2014 when nobody believed in our project. I know what he’s capable of and I trust him blindly.”
A race against the clock
The timing of the decision suggested that Dreezen had been planning the move for a while in order to prepare correctly for the Worlds in Belgium. Still, as for a race, time flew very fast between Lonato, mid-July, and the biggest weekend of the year, in the beginning of September.
“There hasn’t been a real preparation,” he explains. “We did the DKM race for the German Championship just before the Worlds so I could get a feeling with the material. With the data we gathered from that race, we tried to build a package as best as possible.”
“Of course, every team wants to win but the structure with Kart Republic to achieve that is very different,” he continues. “Dino [Chiesa] is the leader and he takes all the decisions and all you need to do is have faith in him and follow his ideas. At Birel, I often felt that nobody really knew what they were doing and, as a driver, you have to take that unsecured feeling with you on track, which is not ideal.”
This short timing for preparation did not discourage the former European Champion for one bit as the expectations kept growing with the big weekend approaching. Especially when the competition returns to the “Home of Champions”, a track you’ve been driving on since your early childhood and that you might know better than anyone else.
“This track has no secrets for me,” he laughs. “It felt like an extra motivation to perform at my best because the track is just five minutes away from my home. The confidence definitely did grow after the DKM race, two weeks before the Worlds, where I finished second. At that point, I started to dream that something magic could happen.”
Stay out of trouble
Performing well at a World Championship requires not only to be faster than your closest opponents but also to work with your head to stay out of trouble. Following three days of practice on the 1.3-kilometer track of Genk, Dreezen started smoothly with the 8th best lap time at the end of an eventful qualifying session on Friday afternoon. After a couple of laps in, Paolo De Conto (CRG) lost water from his cooling system which trapped some of his fellow drivers including the likes of Fabian Federer (SRP Racing Team), who would keep the pole position, and Pedro Hiltbrand (CRG) among others.
On Saturday, Dreezen kicked off with a perfect start by winning his first Qualifying Heat, then finished second to Marijn Kremers (Birel ART Racing) in the next race before running into some bad luck in the third confrontation.
“I knew that if I would stay out of trouble, I always would start in front for the Final,” recollects Dreezen. “So when I took the start of the third Heat, I chose to stay outside to avoid contact with others but for some reason, some other driver decided to go very aggressively into my side, even if he had enough space to stay in his place. Luckily, I could continue my way without damage and the speed was so great that I could secure my third starting place for the Final.”
The last and most important round of the weekend had all the ingredients in hands to offer a spectacular show in front of more than 4.000 spectators. Starting from the second row of a full champion-packed grid, Dreezen had the pole-sitter Patrik Hájek (Kosmic Racing) just in front of him but, as for the Czech driver, would have to deal with starting on the right and dirtiest side of the straight line on the way to the first corner. But things got a little bit ugly in the first lap.
“At the end of the first lap, because of the contact between [Simo] Puhakka and [Marijn] Kremers on lap 1, there was already quite a gap,” he says. “The final was 23 laps long so I didn’t want to burn my tires straight away in my hunt to chase Patrik [Hájek]. But my pace was similar to his, which made it difficult to make him nervous. In my opinion, I did a perfect race in the Final but so did Patrik. So all I can do is to congratulate him.”
Despite the new material, the short preparation and the relative unknown conditions both him and Kart Republic dived into for this KZ World Championship round, Rick Dreezen managed to climb on the second step of a well-deserved podium, missing out for the title to Patrik Hájek for just 1.7 second under the chequered flag! A defeat on paper but a great achievement that won’t be left unfinished.
“For next year, I don’t have a program ready yet,” Rick concludes. “I will continue of course with Kart Republic but I have to wait for all calendars to come out to see what races I can do in combination with my coaching work. One thing is for sure; I will come back to hunt for that World title!”
Interview & Text: Guillaume Alvarez
Photos: Alex Vernardis