EKN Trackside: Rotax Challenge of the Americas – CalSpeed Saturday Report
DeLaO and Rocha dominate, Leesmann and Rudolph add to total in DD2
The fifth round of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas competed under sunny skies in Fontana, California around the CalSpeed Karting facility on Saturday. What was probably the best weather conditions all winter for the series, the championships in the seven categories for the international Rotax Max Challenge program took another step toward completion. Familiar faces filled the top of the podium, aside from the Masters category, which continues a tight battle for the title.
Buddy Rice Karting Senior Max
The qualifying session for the Senior Max was one of the more dramatic runs we had on the season, regarding the championship chase more than the pole position. Phoenix winner and defending series champ Phil DeLaO (Arrow) laid down the only sub-50 second lap of the session (49.962). It was a full three-tenths of a second quicker than the rest of the field. Championship leader Phillip Arscott (Kosmic) – working as driver and mechanic for himself on the weekend – was second in the order over Parker McKean (Kosmic), Andrew Zimmer (Energy) and Jake Craig (Kosmic). The drama came via Louie Pagano (Birel), the second place driver in the championship. On the out lap, he was forced to push his machine back to pit lane after discovering the flywheel nut was loose. He and mechanic Dave Thompson worked the pit lane, gathering the right tools to remedy the situation and were finally able to hit the track with just over two minutes to go. Moving to 11th on the first out lap, he was eighth on his final circuit as the checkered flag waved.
Arscott was able to take advantage in the opening lap of the 17-lap Prefinal. The 2009 US Rotax Grand Nationals champ lead the first circuit, only to see DeLaO retake the position the following lap. DeLaO continued running laps similar to his qualifying time, pulling out to a four-second win. Arscott settled for second alone, as a group battle for third. McKean, Mason Daughters (FA Kart) and Pagano mixed it up early on until Daughters tackled a cone and was forced to pull off and remove it, taking him out of contention. McKean took over the third spot and held it to the end with Pagano in fourth and Andrew Palmer (Kosmic) finishing fifth.
DeLaO was able to walk away with his second victory of the season in the 25-lap Final. He was untouchable, driving away to a four-second victory. Arscott was shuffled back to fifth in the opening lap, as McKean, Pagano and Palmer made up the early top-five. Arscott charged back driver by driver as he eventually retook the second position by lap 14. He and DeLaO matched lap times, with Arscott earning the fast alp of the race in the late stages, but it was DeLaO with the win. Arscott was best in class, regarding championship points with his second place finish and five bonus points for the quick lap. McKean completed the podium in third, keeping him in the title chase, along with Pagano in fourth. Jonathan May (FA Kart) showed well once again in CalSpeed, coming up to place in fifth over Palmer, Zimmer and Andrew Wiener (ART GP) up from 18th on the grid.
Dallas Karting Complex DD2/Billet Performance DD2 Masters
While just six total drivers filled the field for the weekend, all six were dead set on gaining the pole position. Fritz Leesmann (CRG) continued to run at the front and secured the top spot in DD2. Andrew Evans (Kosmic) was second and Bill Kann (Zanardi), putting down his fast lap of the session at the checkered flag, in third. Paul Bonilla (Arrow) used his home track advantage to edge out point leader Alan Rudolph (CRG) for the Masters pole position. Daryle Redlin (Zanardi) rounded out the top-three in the class.
Leesmann walked away with the victory in the 17-lap Prefinal with no issues. Once the green waved, he pulled a gap on the field lap after lap. At the checkered, his lead was over six-seconds. There were two fights on track, second overall between Rudolph and Bonilla, and fourth overall between Evans and Kann. Rudolph held the position for most of the race, with Bonilla making a late challenge to keep the point leader on his toes. Kann was able to score the second position over Evans, who made a slight error in the late goings of the race to slip back to fifth overall and third in class. Redlin was only able to complete a few laps, finishing sixth overall.
While qualifying was a challenge, the Final was not for Leesmann and Rudolph. They both added to their championship leads with victories in the 25-lap Final. Leesmann led from green to checker as he secured his fourth win of the season and nearly clinched the title. Rudolph however would secure the provisional championship with his fourth victory on the year, earning enough points to lead the standings by over 120 points. Redlin ran a solid third overall, second in Masters class as the Canadian nearly edged out Rudolph for fast lap honors again. Evans was able to outlast Kann for the second position in DD2, placing fourth overall. Bonilla pulled off early, but was given third for his effort in Masters class.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
The championship chase going into round five for the Junior Max division saw two teammates at the top – Rolison Performance Group’s Luke Selliken (Kosmic) and Blaine Rocha (Kosmic). Just 17 points separated the two with Rocha cutting it by five after the timed session as he earned the pole position. The driver with the provisional position was Brenden Baker (ART GP) early, until both Selliken and Rocha took over the top two spots. Rocha laid down a 51.454-second lap to secure the position with Baker making a late charge up into second to break up the RPG drivers. Jim McKinney (KGB) was another late bloomer, jumping into second until Baker bested his time, moving him to third and Selliken dropped to fourth. Marco Eakins, making his debut with ART GP America on the weekend, was fifth in the session.
The early portion of the Prefinal was a challenge, as Baker took the early lead away from Rocha after the opening circuit. A four driver pack formed with those two, in addition to Selliken and McKinney. They ran calmly around until about the lap 10 mark when things got exciting. Selliken tried for a move pass both Rocha and Baker in turn eight, and it shuffled the group up. Rocha escaped with the lead and a gap on the rest of them as Selliken fell back to third with McKinney right there. A few laps later, McKinney and Selliken were collected in contact in the same corner. The result bogged Selliken’s engine down and stalled, and it took him valuable seconds to get it refired. McKinney continued on but fell outside the top-five. Out front, Rocha drove away with the win by nearly three seconds over Baker. Noah Grey (FA Kart) came up from sixth to finish third over Austin Kuehl (KGB) and Jake Boyle (CRG). Selliken ended up classified 18th with McKinney down to 15th with a 10-second penalty for the contact.
Rocha proved to be too strong for the Junior field as he went on to complete the sweep on the day, earning maximum amount of points and taking control of the point lead. Baker gave another early challenge, only to see Rocha retake the spot and pull away as the event wore away. Lap after lap, Rocha posted laps no one was able to match and ended up winning his third feature race of the season by over nine seconds. Baker and Grey fought for the second spot with Grey coming away with the position handedly as Baker completed the podium. Eyes were on Selliken, coming up from the 18th position. By lap three, he was within the top-15 and into the top-10 just a few laps later. He eventually advanced to the fourth position, and ran out of time in order to catch Baker for a podium position, salvaging points in the title chase. Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) completed the top-five, as he moved up from eighth on the grid.
CRG-USA Masters Max
It was a So-Cal convention at the top of the order in the Masters Max qualifying run. A number of drivers made their first series start on the year, including the first three on the board. Tyler Brooks (Tony Kart) was quick during Friday’s practice, and was there once again Saturday morning. He laid down a 51.600-second lap to earn the pole position, stealing the five bonus points from the championship contenders. Last year’s series champ Paul Bonilla (Arrow) was inching closer as the session wore on, but came up 77-thousandths short of the top spot. John Crow (Tony Kart) was third in the order, double Tucson winner Diego Pelosi (FA Kart) in fourth with Donald Durbin Jr. (Birel) in fifth. Durbin sits second in the standings, and has the slight advantage with championship leader Justin Peck (Tony Kart) eighth and Ken Maxfield (Arrow) ninth, who is five points behind Peck, meaning every position counts for the three drivers.
The top three continued to show the way in the 17-lap Prefinal with Brooks, Bonilla and Crow out front. Crow worked around Bonilla at the start, as Brooks slowly inched away from them as the laps clicked off. Toward the end, Bonilla took over the spot from Crow but the defending DD2 Masters Crow struck back on the final lap to steal away the position to start the main event on row one alongside Brooks. Pelosi was alone in fourth with Steve Dzurilla (Birel) moving up to fifth. Durbin was sixth with Maxfield seventh and Peck in eighth, keeping with the close battle for the championship. Two penalties on the field however moved the front row back a row, as both Brooks and Crow were penalized for a carb issue. That put Bonilla and Pelosi 1-2 for the main event start.
Brooks was quick to return at the front of the field in the Masters Max 25-lap Final. Pelosi held the lead once the green flag waved with Brooks slotting into second ahead of Crow and Bonilla. By lap four, Brooks was back into the lead and began pulling away as Pelosi fought off Bonilla and Crow. Both Crow and Bonilla worked past Pelosi for position, and swapped the second spot a number of times during the event. Brooks continued to pull out an advantage until hitting lap traffic, with the trio behind him closing in on the final two laps. Bonilla also took advantage, securing the second spot from Crow and closing to within a second of Brooks. It was too little too late, as Brooks scored the victory in his season debut. Bonilla finished second with Crow rounding out the podium. Pelosi finished third with Dzurilla able to hold off Durbin for the sixth spot. Maxfield was seventh with Peck dropping to ninth in the order, as Larry Hayashigawa (Tony Kart) took eighth. Scott Ripslinger – EKN Rotax Driver Rankings #1 driver for 2012 – finished 10th.
HoleShot Drive Systems Mini Max
Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) entered last year’s finale with a chance at the Mini Max title, only to see it drive away as the weekend went on. Today, he began on the right foot by earning the pole position in qualifying and five bonus points. Jacob Blue Hudson (Energy) was the provisional driver in the position until Robb dropped the fast lap with four minutes to go. He entered the track late with a keyway issues on the left rear tire. After some quick repairs, Robb made it on track and laid down his fast lap on the second circuit. He improved that to a 53.823-second lap for the pole position and five bonus points. Hudson was second with championship leader Horatio Fitz-Simon (CRG) in third. David Rafailov (CRG) was fourth Chase Farley (Energy) in fifth.
Robb drove a perfect 13-lap Prefinal to go wire-to-wire for the win and another 10 points toward the championship. At the checkered, he held a two-second advantage over the field. Fitz-Simon slotted into the second position but slowly fell back as the race progressed. Farley was the driver on the move as he advanced to second, where he finish alone as the rest of the group fought for third. Hudson would earn that spot over Ryan Schartau (Top Kart), moving up from sixth. Fitz-Simon was sixth at one point but was able to work past Roy Fulmer IV (Arrow) for fifth by the checkered flag.
The championship took a turn for the worse in the case of Fitz-Simon as he was unable to keep up to speed during the warm-up laps and the opening circuit of the Mini Max Final. The championship leader was forced to pull off with barely any power in the engine. On-track, Robb and Farley were the early leaders in the 18-lap event, each taking a turn at the point. Robb secure the position and kept Farley at bay, but were welcomed by Fulmer who was able to close in and make it a three driver battle. They ran nose to tail for much of the race until the final few laps, when Farley began to look for a way around Robb. After a couple criss-cross moves, Farley made a move stick into turn four on the final circuit, dropping Robb to second. Trying to run a defensive line into the tight turn nine, Farley went wide on the exit and Robb pulled alongside as they entered turn 12. With the preferred line, Robb took back the point as they ran down the hill to the checkered flag. Farley drag-raced to the line, but it was Robb there first by four-hundredths of a second. Farley settled for second provisionally with Fulmer earning a podium finish in third. Farley however was penalized three seconds for a starting infraction, taking him off the podium and back to fourth. That moved Fulmer to second and Rafailov up to third after starting eighth. Schartau was classified fifth after the penalties were handed out, finishing just behind Rafailov on track.
Overdrive Motorsports Micro Max
With the invitation to the Grand Finals on the minds of the Micro Max drivers, qualifying was an exciting start to their weekend. Filip Niemkiewicz (Energy) turned in his best qualifying performance of the year to win the pole with a lap of 57.614. Payton Durrant (Birel) was second quick, ahead of Max Wright (Energy), who bounced back courageously after a flip in Friday practice. Marco Kacic (CRG) and Cole Thompson (Sodi Kart) completed the fast five in the timed morning session. Championship leader Liam Letzsch (KGB) was sixth, putting him a little behind the eight ball in protecting his small point cushion.
In the Prefinal, Niemkiewicz jumped out to the early lead, although Durrant locked himself onto the rear bumper of the leader’s Energy chassis to pull away from the field. On lap two, Durrant would go past the point man to assume the lead. Anthony Willis (DR Kart) got a great start and quickly advanced to third after starting eighth, thanks to a penalty from Friday practice. They would finish this way, and would quickly restart the battle in the Final.
Willis got the best start in the 14-lapper and rocketed to the lead, but it wouldn’t take long for Durrant to get past and control the point. The lead trio of Durrant, Niemkiewicz and Wills would run together early, but over the course of the duration, Durrant stretched away as his challengers battled each other aggressively, and with a little contact. Durrant ran away to a 3.078-second triumph, his second consecutive series win and making him the only Micro Max driver to win at all three circuits this year. Niemkiewicz and Willis joined Durrant on the podium, who now leads the points heading into Championship Sunday. Letzsch finished fourth, keeping himself in the title hunt, while Jacob Yesnick (Birel) rounded out the top-five with a great run, his best performance of the season.