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Fontanetta’s fandom driving his ambitions

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Numbers game: Mike Fontanetta, in action during the Dockyard Grand Prix, has modelled himself on four-times IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti

To understand how racing runs through Mike Fontanetta’s veins, simply ask him about his kart number.

The Shifter class driver’s #27 is an homage to his hero, Dario Franchitti, a four-times IndyCar Series champion.

And the Bermuda Karting Club treasurer’s fandom does not stop there: his helmet design is a mix of the American and Italian flag in the same way Franchitti’s depicted his Scottish and Italian dual heritage.

“Twenty-seven was originally the number of my favourite IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti, and it was also Gilles Villeneuve’s number when he raced for Ferrari in the late Seventies and early Eighties,” Fontanetta said.

“But I chose it for Franchitti and I’ve also done my helmet [like him]. Franchitti celebrated his dual heritage and I have something similar — I’ve taken inspiration from that.”

The 37-year-old from Long Island, New York, is preparing for the third race day of the season at the Southside Rubis Raceway in St David’s on Sunday and he remains amazed at the island’s thriving karting scene.

Now in his eighth season since arriving in Bermuda in 2009, Fontanetta believes the standard has never been higher.

“The first year I came, I couldn’t believe somewhere as small as this island could find a spot to do karting,” he said. “The club was in rough shape when I came on the committee in 2010. About a dozen races were cancelled, there was a lousy run of weather and membership had dwindled a little bit.

“Jason North was president and it was sort of a rebuilding year. I couldn’t believe membership had been that strong ... until they started coming out again that year.

“The amazing thing to me, and I am still perplexed to this day, is that I am amazed at how competitive the guys are from here when they race in the States considering the pool from which we draw from is so small.

“I don’t understand it, but I can only chalk it up to the competitive nature of people from this club. It’s impressive.”

Fontanetta, a father of two who works in finance, began racing in a Formula Car with his brother at the Skip Barner Racing School at Lime Rock Park, Connecticut, back in 2001.

After moving to California, he switched to karts, racing in the Rotax class before taking a hiatus while attending school in Washington DC.

With new wife Lisa, he made the move to Bermuda and, unbeknown to him at the time, was about to become an integral part of the karting club.

“I acquired a kart from the guy I took over, Jason Correia, who was the treasurer at the time,” Fontanetta said. “He talked me into being a treasurer and buying his kart. I’m not sure whether I should thank him or not!”

Eight years later, Fontanetta believes his driving skills have improved immeasurably with a number of second places and, his personal highlight, a podium finish at the 2014 Dockyard Grand Prix.

However, he has one significant bugbear: he still has not won a race.

“I’m still trying to knock down the door,” he said. “The issue is I keep getting better but the competition keeps getting so much steeper. I used to beat half the field, this year we have smaller class but, right now, the guys I’m up against, there’s no one who is not good!

“So when I make progress they’re making progress as well. I’d say I’m getting closer and if you ask the guys at the club they will say I’m getting a lot faster but it doesn’t mean I’m placing better.”

He added: “Of course it bugs me. I like to think I’m as competitive as everyone else, but I try to turn it into motivation and keep going.

“You can have fun in these karts just doing laps. But I like to think I’m cut from the same cloth as a lot of these other guys that unless I’m racing against other people, it’s kind of like what’s the point? So, yeah, I’m not happy with not winning but it makes my progress that much more satisfying.”

Ryan Lopes stole the show last race day, while Scott “Skitchy” Barnes is an established driver in the Shifter class and Ryan Rebello also has speed. Fontanetta, though, vowed to keep them honest.

“The good part is that it’s made me a much, much better driver just because of the competition,” he said.

“Generally, the karting community is friendly but it’s very competitive and hostile sometimes — I don’t get that in Bermuda.

“Whenever I ask people for help, they are willing. It’s such a family atmosphere and it’s still competitive. It doesn’t take the edge off that.”

He added: “We are always looking for new members. Now is probably an easier time to join the club in that we have classes, like the LO206, with which we can accommodate weekend warriors as well as those who want to take it more seriously.

“Plus, we have a robust junior programme that is going well that, once I get the green light from my wife, I’ll be taking advantage of with my son and daughter!”

Sunday’s racing starts at noon.

For more information on how to get involved and what the club offers, including rental karts, e-mail bermudakartingclub@yahoo.com or go to the club’s Facebook page. Alternatively, call Scott Barnes on 505-1611

Mike Fontanetta