Rotax Challenge of the Americas – Tucson – Saturday Report
McKean, Leesmann, Jones and Selliken dominate round one
The first round of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas program completed Saturday with a full day of action at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona. Well below average temperatures, including below freezing overnight, put the over 130 competitors to start thon the edge early on as the day began. Despite sunshine throughout the day, temperatures made everyone feel as if they were in Canada, rather than the Arizona desert. The competition however was heated throughout the day in all seven categories, four of which began the battle for New Orleans with the Rotax Grand Finals up for grabs. All four saw dominant performances for the victories to start the season off.
Buddy Rice Karting Senior Max
It was thought we could see the Senior Max qualifying session end up similar to the Junior Max earlier in the round, as Jake Craig (Kosmic) set the mark in the opening group with a 51.449. His time however did not last long with the second group eclipsing his time early on. Mason Marotta (FA Kart) was the first driver to take over the pole position, with a host of others posting times quicker than Craig’s lap. As the session went on, Marotta continued to hold the top spot with nearly the entire group coming in for work on the hot pit with roughly five minutes to go. A few came close but Marotta lay down and even quicker time on his final circuit to score the pole position. His lap of 51.078 seconds was nearly two tenths clear of the field. Buddy Rice Karting’s Alejandro Fernandez (Energy) posted his quick lap as the checkered waved to end the session to move into second, dropping Pre-Qualifying quick driver Parker McKean in his Rolison Performance Group Kosmic to third. Tucson driver Augie Lerch was fourth aboard the Pure Karting Tony Kart while 2009 US Rotax Grand Nationals champ Phillip Arscott (Kosmic) was fifth, putting two RPG drivers into the top-five. Andrew Palmer (Kosmic) qualified sixth in the session but came in the scales just underweight, moving NorCal driver Alex Keyes (CRG) to outside row three for the Prefinal.
With a full 35 kart field, minimal damage occurred through the opening corners of the 17-lap Prefinal as Marotta secured the top spot through the opening corners. McKean (pictured above) was able to move to second as Fernandez fell down to fourth. Arscott moved to third with Alex Keyes (CRG) up to fifth from seventh. Arscott showed he was the fast driver on the track as he posted fast laps of the race to work around McKean and closed up on Marotta. Lap 11, he moved by Marotta for the lead and the two ran nose to tail the remainder of the race. On the final lap, Marotta tried to work by Arscott, but was unable to lock up a pass through turn four and coming to the final few corners. Arscott took the win by two tenths over Marotta with McKean a close third. Jake Craig was the big mover inside the top-10, jumping up early from 12th to end up fourth after hounding Keyes for much of the race. Fernandez dropped to sixth at one point but was able to pass Keyes for fifth on the final lap. Palmer recovered well from the tail of the field to finish the race in 12th.
With the 35 karts on the track for the Senior Final, contact was expected however we did not predict it to be at the front of the field. As they entered the first turn, Arscott and Marotta were sent sliding off the outside along with a host of others. As they escaped the corner, it was Fernandez with the lead ahead of McKean, Keyes, Louie Pagano (Birel) and Palmer from 12th. Arscott fell back to 32nd along with Marotta toward the back of the field. McKean and Pagano made quick work of Fernandez to take over the top two spots and broke away from the field. With those two out front, attention turned to Arscott to see what he would do in 25 laps. By lap seven, he was already into the 18th position, and into 11th at the halfway point. With such patience and ease, he took every spot he wanted until the closing laps, when the competition grew stronger. Meanwhile out front, McKean exchanged fast lap with Arscott as the race went on, and the RPG driver extended his lead lap after lap. At the checkered flag, McKean secured his second Challenge victory by over six seconds ahead of Pagano. Fernandez crossed the line third ahead of Keyes, but Keyes was penalized ten seconds for contact in the opening corner and dropped to 14th in the order. On the final lap, Arscott was attempting to move into the top-five with one final move but got crossed up inside Palmer, and they made contact. This allowed Dakota Dickerson (FA Kart) to slide into fourth and Will Owen (Arrow) completed a solid drive from 19th to fifth. Palmer continued on to cross the stripe in sixth, with Marotta following Arscott through the field and ending up in seventh. Nick Rivellini (CRG) was eighth, Canadian Nathan Kelly (CRG) ninth, and Arscott ending up 10th.
Dallas Karting Complex DD2 / Billet Performance DD2 Masters
The two DD2 categories took to the track for qualifying at the same time with the expected names we would see at the top of the order. Defending champion Fritz Leesmann (CRG) secured the pole position by a comfortable margin with a lap time of 49.819. Rookie Andrew Evans (Kosmic) jumped ahead of Colorado driver Cory Milne (Arrow) for the second spot. Bill Kann (Zanardi) and Sean Owens (Sodi Kart) rounded out the fast five. US Rotax Grand Nationals champ Alan Rudolph (CRG) took the pole position late in the session as Mike Jones (Sodi Kart) held the position for most of the session. Rudolph’s time of 50.814 put him just ahead of Jones by 55 thousandths of a second with defending series champ John Crow (Arrow) in third, putting three Team USA drivers inside the top three. Brent Harper (Sodi Kart) and Trevor McAlister (Sodi Kart), making his first DD2 start in capped off the fast five.
After some early trouble, Fritz composed himself and controlled the DD2 Prefinal. The defending champ drove to a 20-second victory in just 17 laps. Evans ran second over Bill Kann (Zanardi) with Milne fourth. The DD2 Masters run was a three driver battle as Rudolph, Jones and Crow fought for the win. Jones eventually took over the lead and scored the win, demoting Rudolph to second and Crow following in a close third. Harper struggled in fourth with Scott Falcone (Arrow) in fifth.
The battle for the win in both categories during the main event was uneventful, with Leesmann and Jones scoring comfortable victories. Leesmann drove to a 37-second margin of victory in DD2, with help from a race long battle for second. Kann took the position and had a comfortable advantage until the rest of the field ran him down despite their continuing shuffling for position. When they caught Kann, more shuffling took place and contact was made through the turn two-three section. Kann, Owens and Milne were involved, allowing Evans to slide through for the second position in his first DD2 race. Owens continued on to finish third with Kann in fourth as Milne watched from the sidelines. In Masters, Jones took advantage of the pole position to drive away early on, establishing a comfortable gap over Rudolph and Crow. They battled for second until Rudolph secured the spot and tried to run down Jones. The top two drivers matched lap times during the race, despite Jones almost getting caught up in the DD2 second place battle. The Dallas Karting Complex driver went on to earn the victory by nearly four seconds over Rudolph. Crow completed the podium with Falcon and Daryle Redlin (Zanardi) completing the top five.
CRG-USA Masters Max
The qualifying session for the new contenders in the Masters Max category went down to the wire between Ryan Casner (Energy) and Diego Pelosi (FA Kart). Pelosi seemed to have the momentum toward the end of the session and looked to do better than the early time set by Casner, but it was the California driver securing the pole position with a 52.837. Pelosi settled for second, just ahead of Justin Peck (Tony Kart) and Ken Maxfield (Arrow) with Paul Hohlbein (Energy) placing fifth in the session.
The field was shuffled up at the start of the 17-lap Prefinal as the second row got sideways as they entered the opening corner. The two front row drivers, Casner and Pelosi, drove away as Donald Durbin Jr. (Birel) took advantage of the skirmish in turn one to slide up from seventh to third after the opening lap. Casner drove away with the victory, pulling out to a three second advantage. Durbin was able to keep Pelosi in site as they ran second and third. Peck drove to fourth after the opening lap issue with David Pergande (Arrow) holding off Maxfield for fifth.
It was a three driver fight in the Final for the Masters group as Durbin grabbed the holeshot from row two to lead the opening laps. Casner, the top qualifier and Prefinal winner, eventually worked his way up to the point with Pelosi coming through as well to drop Durbin back to third. Casner appeared to have a sweep on the day but as the race came closer to the checkered flag, Pelosi closed in. Coming to receive the two to go, Casner spun as he exited the final corner and went off into the dirt, the result of no brakes left on the kart. This gave Pelosi the lead and he went on to score the win. Durbin finished second with Peck up to third to complete the podium. Maxfield and Pergande rounding out the top five.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
The cold temperatures made the qualifying sessions interesting, especially in the Junior Max field with the class split into two groups. Sonny Cervelli (CRG) led the way in the opening group as he laid down a lap of 52.389, posting it on his 11th circuit in the 15-minute session. The drivers in the second group ran lap after lap, chasing the mark Cervelli put out for them to go after. Austin Versteeg (CRG) was close, getting within a tenth of his time as did Noah Grey (FA Kart) in the final minutes of the qualifying run. As the checkered flew, drivers jumped up the order but no one was able to drop Cervelli off the top spot as the NorCal driver held on for the pole position. Grey was second, just 27 thousandths back with Versteeg the same distance behind in third. Fast driver in Pre-Qualifying – Blaine Rocha (Kosmic) – was fourth with Rolison Performance Group teammate Luke Selliken (Kosmic), who seized an engine in morning warm-up, rounding out the fast five.
Cervelli led the field to the green flag for the 17-lap Prefinal and paced the field early on in the race. Selliken got a great start, moving up from fifth to second in the opening circuit and sat right on the bumper of Cervelli. He made his move on lap six, and pulled away to a 2.1-second margin to score the win. The battle behind him was for second with the fight for third catching Cervelli, and dropping him down the order. Brendan Baker (ART GP) worked his way up from eighth to the second spot and held off Grey to the checkered flag. CRG-USA’s Versteeg finished fourth, pressured by Jim McKinney (KGB) in the closing laps, who feel victim to Rocha who posted the fast lap of the race on lap 16, making the pass for fifth and dropping McKinney, who started 11th, to sixth. Cervelli ended up dropping to ninth in the order behind Jake Preston (FA Kart) and Scott Huffaker (Energy).
Selliken continued through the Main Event on cruise control to secure his first victory of the 2013 season. Clean through the first turn, the rest of the field shuffled behind him as Grey jumped to second with Preston up to third, Cervelli fourth and Versteeg back to fifth. Baker dropped outside the top-20 with Rocha also falling outside the top-10. While not recording the fast lap of the race, Selliken was the most consistent as he stretched out his lead lap after lap in the 25-lap run. At the checkered flag, he held a 2.7-second margin. Grey, making his Junior Max debut at The Challenge, drove a solid race to earn himself a runner-up result. Versteeg completed the podium as he advanced up to third. The drive of the race was put in by Rocha, a winner last year in Tucson. He fell nearly outside the top-20 early on in the race but with the fast laps of the race, continued moving forward lap by lap. In the closing stages of the race, Rocha worked by Preston to earn the fourth position, gaining a strong points results as Preston completed the top-five.
Holeshot Drive Systems Mini Max
Mini Max began the day with a very close battle in the qualifying session, with three drivers fighting for the pole position. Early on, Horatio Fitz-Simon (CRG) secured the position but was challenged by SoCal driver Trenton Sparks (FA Kart) and Idaho’s Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart), last year’s runner-up in the series championship. Horatio held on to the end with a 55.654-second lap. Sparks was just 48 thousandths off with Robb another 10 thousandths back of him toward the end of the session. Canadian Griffin Dowler (Energy) and David Rafailov (CRG) rounded out the fast five. Following technical inspection, Sparks was removed in the results for an engine issue and Dowler for an infraction, dropping both to the bottom of the results.
It was a five kart lead pack in the Mini Max Prefinal that saw a lot of shuffling taking place. Two drivers saw their chance at the win come to an end as contact in turn five dropped Chase Farley (Kosmic) and Fitz-Simon out of contention. This gave Robb a clear run to the win with Rafailov and class rookie Sophia Price (Kosmic) just behind. David Ilavia (Sodi Kart) jumped to fourth with Roy Fulmer IV (Arrow) up from tenth to fifth. Dowler recovered to finish sixth with Sparks up to eighth from the tail end of the field.
The Final was one of a kind as Fitz-Simon went from zero to hero in the 18 lap event. Starting shotgun on the field, he drove his way with consistent lap times from the back to the lead for his first victory in the series. Robb led the field to the green flag and broke away with the lead early on in the race. Fitz-Simon was inside the top-10 early, and with strong lap times, found his way moving forward as the race progressed. He eventually worked his way around Robb and pulled out to roughly a one second advantage for the victory. Robb settled for second with Rafailov rounding out the podium. Farley finished fourth with Price in fifth.
Overdrive Motorsports Micro Max
Canadian Marco Kacic (CRG) became a top contenders entering the weekend, one of only three drivers returning from last year. He led the way in qualifying with a 1:00.308 aboard his CRG-West entry. Payton Durrant (Birel) was just 23 thousandths of a second off the mark when the checkered flag flew to end the session. Filip Niemkiewicz (Energy) was third with Arizona driver Anthony Willis (DR Kart) and Liam Letzch (KGB) completing the fast five for the qualifying session.
A great battle in the 10-lap Prefinal saw the top-five from qualifying all right there with multiple lead changes and swapping for position. Despite lap traffic breaking them up some with a few laps to go, they were all together on the final lap with Letzsch scoring the victory at the line just ahead of Willis and Durrant. Niemkiewicz and Kacic followed behind to finish the top-five, all crossing within six tenths of a second.
The Final in Micro Max saw four drivers going after the win after Durrant spun in the opening lap to take him out of contention. The youngest drivers at the event put on a great show and the fight came down to the wire. Willis and Letzsch were able to get around some lap traffic while Kacic and Niemkiewicz were held up. The top two went back and forth in the final corners, going side-by-side to the checkered flag. At the line, Willis was just inches ahead of Letzsch, but officials placed a three-second penalty on Willis for a starting lane violation. This gave Letzsch the win, and bonus points for fast lap of the race, putting Niemkiewicz to second and Kacic to third. Willis was classified fourth, one step off the podium, with Durrant able to recover for a fifth position.
Complete coverage can be found in the EKN Event Page, with live broadcast of Sunday’s action available at www.ekartingnews.com/live