Nathan Blok, the 18-year old 2011 Formula 1600 Champion, claimed his second consecutive Formula Tour 1600 Championship despite formidable odds against him. Motorsports can easily consume the largest budgets and Team Blok runs solely on sponsorships and economic conditions make season-long deals hard to come by. Nonetheless the young racer was determined to try and repeat his 2011 championship title even though he would have only one practice day to prepare himself for the new season.
Blok raced his #1 Van Dieman F-1600 in the Formula Tour 1600 Series class as part of the Spring Classic at Circuit Mont-Tremblant track north of Montréal. For Race #1 on Saturday, Blok qualified his car 3rd in a field of 20 competitors, a mere 0.3 seconds off the pole. From the drop of the green flag, Blok had a battle on his hands with Xavier Coupal, a talented driver from Quebec. Coupal went off the course on the 6th lap and Blok would lead the field until Lap 13 when he too left the pavement. Quickly rejoining the race in 7th place, Blok began his charge back up through the field, crossing the line in 6th place behind veteran racer Didier Scharenen.
On Sunday, Blok qualified his car in the coveted pole position for Race #2. On the start, Blok maintained his starting position with Coupal hot on his tail. The two young racers diced each other for the lead through the opening laps. On the final lap, Blok threaded the needle between two back-markers in Corner 8 in a breath-taking move. Coupal would challenge Blok one final time in Namarow but Blok successfully defended his line and took the checkers at the finish line.
The next race weekend took place at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as part of the Canadian Grand Prix. Blok started Race #3 from the third spot on the grid behind the father and son team of Michel & Olivier Bonnet. Blok and the Olivier Bonnet battled for the last 7 laps until the penultimate lap when Blok passed Bonnet for the lead in the hairpin corner, apparently under a yellow caution. The two young racers continued their duel down to the final lap when Blok passed Bonnet for the final time in the chicane before the finish line sparking a drag race to the checkered flag. Blok beat Bonnet by a mere 0.02 seconds but 4 hours after the podium celebrations officials penalized Blok, costing him the win.
On Sunday the grid for Race #4 was determined by the fastest lap time of the previous day’s race placing Blok on the second row in 3rd position once again. Another epic battle took place between Blok and Bonnet for the second time before an international audience. On the final lap, Bonnet moved to the left-side of the track and Blok charged up on his right but unexpectedly Bonnet moved back to the right-side and squeezed Blok on to the grass allowing Bonnet to cross the line just ahead of Blok. Sunday’s 13 lap race saw 17 passes for the lead of which Blok was involved in 16 of them. Prior to the podium the race officials penalized Bonnet for blocking (this decision was later protested) giving the win to Blok and the racer from Pembroke was on the top step of the podium for the second time of weekend.
The racers returned to Mont Tremblant for Race #5 and despite driving with a sprained wrist, it quickly became a 3-way duel between Blok, Matthew Di Leo and Michael Adams. On the final lap, Di Leo was in the lead when Adams attempted to pass Blok but was not able to complete the move. Blok and Adams exited side-by-side and remained that way all the way to Turn 7 when Blok came out ahead. Blok defended another passing attempt by Adams in the next corner and would take the checkered flag in 2nd place.
Sunday’s qualifying session for Race #6 of 2012 saw Blok a mere 0.02 seconds behind 2nd place Adams while Di Leo repeated his pole-position. Blok stuck with the leaders from the start and began pressuring Adams who put two tires off the road during Lap 3 and Blok capitalized on his mistake taking the lead.
On the 15th and final lap, Adams got by Blok in Turn 10 for the lead. Blok made two attempts to pass, under the bridge and again in the infamous Namerow Corner but was unable to make the move stick, settling for his second 2nd place finish of the weekend. Blok now led the 2012 Formula Tour 1600 Championship by 39 points.
Race #7 took place in Trois-Rivières during a heatwave but Blok had a good start maintaining his 3rd place position. Series newcomer, Brandon Newey of the United States, made his presence known by passing both Blok and Michel Bonnet in the hairpin. Blok took advantage of the unsettled Bonnet diving past and securing 2nd place. After gently brushing the wall coming out of corner 2, Blok began to pull away from Newey and began to gain on the leaders. The race ended with Blok in 3rd place.
Sunday’s Race #8 saw temperatures even higher along with increased humidity. Starting positions were based on the fastest lap times from Saturday’s race, placing Blok 3rd on the grid. The starter gave the green light but Blok did not get the best start, dropping him to 6th position. Blok steadily regained positions until Coupal aggressively crowded Blok off his racing line on the 13th lap yet Blok retook the position one lap later. Coupal locked up his brakes under the Arch, driving into the run-off area and Blok moved up into 3rd place. A full-course caution was declared shortly after that and the race ended under yellow with Blok once again in 3rd place.
Race #9 of the season took place at Calabogie, west of Ottawa, the scene of several of Blok’s accomplishments; his first race in a car (2009) which ended with his first podium finish, his first race victory in a car (2010) and his first clean sweep weekend – both poles, both wins, which sealed his 2012 championship. Blok is now the youngest champion and back-to-back winner.
The first F-1600 feature race of the weekend began well with Blok retaining his lead but Jesse Lazare (OFFC) quickly passed Leclerc in the first corner. By Corner 8 he had gotten by Blok for the lead. The two former kart racers battled for the next several laps, often side-by-side, with Lazare nipping Blok for the front position.
Blok and Lazare came up onto lapped traffic with Lazare diving to the right and Blok staying on the left, risking driving through an oil spill on the track. Blok regained the lead and maintained it until the checkered flag was thrown.
Sunday was Race #10 and Blok qualified on the pole again, 0.123 seconds ahead of Jesse Lazare. For the first three of 10 laps, Blok maintained his lead position but Lazare remained fast and competitive. Going into Corner 5 on the fourth lap, Lazare got past Blok but they remained side-by-side again for several following corners. The two young racers traded the lead on lap 5 and 6 when they once again caught up with slower traffic. Blok managed the slower cars to his advantage, maintaining his lead position until the checkered flag, 0.56 seconds ahead of Lazare.
This victory secured Blok’s second Formula Tour 1600 Championship after just five of six race weekends.
“At the start of the season, I would have never thought I would win the title again, let alone with such an excellent string of success,” said Blok. “Due to the economic times it was difficult to raise funding for a full season. At the beginning it was looking like I would only have 2 race weekends. But as the season progressed so did the sponsorship, giving me enough to cover 5 out of the 6 weekends. It was comforting knowing I would be able to race, but I was concerned one mistake would cost me the title. Fortunately, I had some good luck, and just enough points to take the championship at the end of the 5th weekend!
“It was extra special for me to win and capture the championship title in front of my home crowd at Calabogie. Its quite funny since its the same place I took my first lap in a race car, entered my first race, got my first podium, first win, and now my second title, back to back.
“As far as my driving is concerned, I think I’ve done the best I could have possibly done. I didn’t have any damage to my car all season. I was constantly a contender for the win in every race, and I finished 80% of the races I entered on the podium. This excellent season wouldn’t have happened without the help of my many sponsors and supporters who stuck with me and believed in me when the times were tough, this also includes my numerous new sponsors who came on board as the season progressed. I also must praise the incredible job that the Britain West Motorsport team did at the track and back at the shop by providing me with a flawless car every race weekend. They truly made my job look easy.”
For information on Nathan Bok and sponsorship visit www.nathanblok.com or contact Steve Blok at (613) 582-3867.
By Jim Leggett