EKN Trackside: Rotax Challenge of the Americas – CalSpeed Sunday Report
Arscott, Leesmann, Rudolph, and Rocha clinch titles with victory at series finale
The Rotax Challenge of the Americas completed the 2013 season at the CalSpeed Karting facility in Fontana, California. Championship Sunday brought on the best weather the series experienced in the three weekends that made up the season, providing the ultimate weather conditions to crown the seven Rotax Max Challenge international title winners. Four of the champs would not only add to their mantel, but earn the first tickets of the 2013 season to compete at the Rotax Grand Finals at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, with three others earning paid entry into the US Rotax Grand Nationals – set for the new Mooresville Motorplex in North Carolina. Two tickets were also granted to Mini and Micro Max competitors, to be part of the North American invitational event alongside the world championships.
Buddy Rice Karting Senior Max
With the championship in site, Phillip Arscott (Kosmic) knew he had to put in a solid effort to leave with the title and the ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals. The day began strong for the 2009 US Rotax Grand Nationals champ as he put down the fast lap in qualifying. He was the provisional polesitter early on with Saturday winner and defending champ Phil DeLaO (Arrow) a close second. Drivers darted into pit lane at the halfway point, with zero drivers on track at one time during the 15-minute session as they all were making changes to their machines. Once back out on track, Arscott was the only driver to better his time – ending with a 49.761-second lap. DeLaO remained in second, 55-thousandths off the fast time. Parker McKean (Kosmic) was third with Mason Daughters (FA Kart) and Andrew Wiener (ART GP) capping off the fast five from the first of two groups.
Arscott was able to walk away with the Prefinal win, adding to his point total and securing the pole position for the Final. He and DeLaO broke away from the rest of the field as the only two drivers into the 49-second lap times. Arscott took the win by over two seconds, with DeLaO a full four seconds ahead of third. McKean was able to hold off a charging Louie Pagano (Birel) – second in the standings who qualified eighth. Andrew Palmer (Kosmic) won the battle for the fifth position over Wiener, Jake Craig (Kosmic) and Daughters.
After the first attempt at a start was waved off, the field took the green flag for the last Final of the series. Arscott took advantage of the inside line and escaped with the lead through the first corner. McKean came through to steal second, briefly as DeLaO retook it in turn seven before the completed the first lap. Pagano and Palmer slotted in behind and quickly began challenging McKean for the third position. On lap two, Pagano and McKean went back and forth for the position, and as they began lap three, contact was made between McKean and Palmer. Both fell out of the top-10 and eventually retired. Out front, Arscott continued to lay down fast laps of the race, the only driver into the 49-second bracket. On the penultimate lap, slower karts nearly ended his race as one spun just in front of him as they exited turn eight. Narrowly missing the driver, he continued on to the checkered flag. The Rolison Performance Group driver put over three seconds between he and DeLaO to secure his third win of the series and the Senior Max championship. A great battle raged on for the third position until Craig secured the spot, leaving the rest to fight for fourth. Wiener, Daughters, Andrew Zimmer (Energy) and Carlee Taylor (Tony Kart) were in the mix, with Zimmer coming through with fourth, Wiener fifth, Taylor sixth and Daughters seventh.
Dallas Karting Complex DD2 / Billet Performance DD2 Masters
Fritz Leesmann and Alan Rudolph continued their run toward the season championship with the pole positions in the final round. Leesmann (CRG) ran a 49.394-second lap with Rudolph the quick driver in Masters, just over a tenth off Fritz’s time. Rookie Andrew Evans (Kosmic) was quicker as the session wore on, putting down a lap only three tenths off Leesmann to be third overall as Bill Kann (Zanardi) and Daryle Redlin (Zanardi) completing the field.
Rudolph kept Leesmann honest in the 17-lap Prefinal, as they ran 1-2 the entire time. The lap times were consistent and close, but no position change took place. Evans and Redlin were just two tenths a second off the top-two, as they ran third and fourth with Kann running in fifth.
Both Leesmann and Rudolph followed through in the 25-lap Final to clinch their positions on Team USA for 2013. Leesmann, dropping his fast lap on the 24th circuit, pushed his PSL Atlantic entry the entire weekend to take the win by over five seconds. Rudolph ran second, holding the Masters victory in hand the entire time, but was pressured for the overall position by Evans. Rudolph gave the rookie a good lead-follow session, and the young gun even completed a pass on the veteran. Rudolph would eventually secure the second spot overall to take his Team WRS entry to the top of the Masters podium. Evans ran second in DD2, earning the same position in the championship standings for a great first season in the category. Redlin ran fourth overall and would earn second in the Masters standings with Kann placing fifth in the race, and third in DD2 standings.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
As he showed all day yesterday, Blaine Rocha continued to pace the field in the Junior Max qualifying session. The championship contender put in a perfect score on Saturday to take over the point lead, and gained another five points with fast lap in qualifying. Jim McKinney (KGB) was the quick driver out the gate, securing the pole position in his out lap. Rocha however placed his Kosmic machine in the spot on his fourth circuit, with a number of the drivers placing their fast lap on the same number. Late in the session, Rocha went quicker, posting a 51.072-second lap, with Phillippe Denes (ART GP) making a late run to steal the second spot. That dropped Austin Kuehl (KGB) to third with his best qualifying effort of the season, Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) in fourth and McKinney down to fifth. Title contender Luke Selliken (Kosmic) ran his fast lap of the session as the checkered waved to move up to the sixth position.
It was the ‘Rocha Show’ in the Prefinal as the Rolison Performance Group driver led the entire way. Running fast laps a full two tenths quicker than anyone else, Rocha drove away with a near seven second victory. Denes held the second spot through the race, as he was trailed by Austin Versteeg (CRG), up from ninth on the grid, for most of the race. Kuehl ran third but he was shuffled back as the race progressed, eventually finishing 10th. McKinney was part of an opening lap incident, dropping him to the tail of the field. This allowed Selliken to advance forward to the fourth spot with Brenden Baker (ART GP) following him through for fifth.
While we see it mostly in the Senior and Masters categories, a full weekend sweep is rarely seen in the competitive Junior ranks. Rocha put that to bed in the 25-lap Final with another dominant performance, driving away to an astonishing 11-second victory. Rocha completed the day-sweep, and the weekend-sweep to secure the Challenge title along with the Team USA ticket – his first. Behind him was a great battle for the second position. Versteeg was the early driver as he led a train of drivers. Baker took his turn at the position on lap three with a total of six drivers in the hunt, including Brooks, Selliken Josh Kurtz (Kosmic) and Denes. Things heated up in the second half as the shuffling got more exciting. Eventually, Selliken was able to secure the position with Brooks coming through for third – coming back from a spin early in the Prefinal to end the day on the podium. Baker finished fourth over Kurtz, Versteeg, Denes and McKinney trailing the group.
CRG-USA Masters Max
Familiar names were at the top of the order in the Masters Max division. Saturday winner Tyler Brooks (Tony Kart) began the session in the provisional pole position, with defending series champ Paul Bonilla (Arrow) challenging for the spot. Brooks had about two tenths on him until Steve Dzurilla (Birel) broke up the party. He came within a few hundredths of a second to Brooks’ time, when most every driver hit pit lane to measure up where they stood. Making changes, Brooks went back on track and was quicker, laying down a 51.189-second lap. Dzurilla was happy with his time and settled for second. Bonilla went quicker, but was unable to improve his position and would start the Prefinal from inside row two. Double Tucson winner Diego Pelosi (FA Kart) was fourth as Larry Hayashigawa (Tony Kart) ended up in fifth.
Brooks continued his streak leading the Masters class with the win in the 17-lap Prefinal. From the drop of the green, Brooks set the pace for the field as Bonilla moved to second, Pelosi up to third and Dzurilla back to fourth. Pelosi charged to the second spot on lap five, with Dzurilla challenging Bonilla for third. On lap eight, he tried too hard in corner eight, clipping the inside barrier and bending up the front end steering components, ending his race. Pelosi matched pace with Brooks, but was unable to close in any as they reached the checkered flag. Bonilla ran third as Donald Durbin Jr. (Birel) led the three championship contenders, finishing fifth. Ken Maxfield (Arrow) was sixth with Justin Peck (Tony Kart) eighth, behind Hayashigawa.
In the Final, Brooks proved to strong for the competition as he completed the weekend sweep on the Masters category. Sizing himself up for a run at the Rotax Grand Nationals later in the year, the weekend was a measuring stick to see where he would stack up. The result may put him as one of the contenders come August in North Carolina. He ran consistent fast laps to lead Pelosi by over two seconds after 25 laps. The fight on track was for the final podium position and the championship. For Durbin, he was able to clinch both. Bonilla ran third for most of the race, feeling the pressure from Durbin during most of that time. The pressure intensified at the end, with Durbin working pass Bonilla for position and the podium. His fifth trip to the steps gave him enough points to earn the series championship. Bonilla settled for fourth, with Dzurilla able to advance to fifth after gaining a number of positions at the opening corner. That was due to an incident involving a number of drivers, including Peck. Dropping to the tail end of the field, the championship leader heading into the finale fought his way back to ninth, but would end up third in the title chase with Maxfield earning the vice-champion position.
HoleShot Drive Systems Mini Max
Championship leader and Saturday winner Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) gained another five bonus points toward the title. Ryan Schartau (Top Kart) and Colorado driver Max Fedler (Sodi Kart) were the top two drivers early on until Robb and championship rival Horatio Fitz-Simon (CRG) took over the top two spots. Schartau and Fitz-Simon swapped the second spot until Horatio secured the position in the late going. Schartau settled for third with Jacob Blue Hudson (Energy) and David Rafailov (CRG) completing the fast-five. Fedler ended the session in the sixth position.
Fitz-Simon was able to get the jump on Robb as they began the 13-lap Prefinal. Schartau, Hudson and Rafailov tucked in behind to make up the early top-five. On lap two, the field was shuffled around with Hudson spinning in turn seven, collecting a number of drivers. This allowed Fitz-Simon to pull away with Robb holding off advances from Schartau and Chase Farley (Energy). Rafailov completed the top-five with only eight drivers finishing the race after the early wreck. Horatio however had the win taken away as he was given a 10-second penalty for jumping the start, dropping him to fifth in the order and giving Robb the Prefinal win.
With the championship nearly out of reach, Fitz-Simon entered the last Final of the series with a never quit attitude. The title contender suffered heart-ache on Saturday with engine issues, but bounced back with a solid run to end the series with his second victory of the year. Robb lead the field to the green and the opening circuit, only to see Fitz-Simon take over the position on lap two. From there, the young NorCal driver drove away to 1.6-second victory. Robb found himself in a battle for second against Farley, until his rear bumper fell off on lap nine and was forced to the sidelines with the meatball flag. Robb was able to then put some distance on the rest of the group, driving to second place and securing the series championship, along with the Micro & Mini Invitational ticket. It was a great fight for the third position, with Fulmer holding it for much of the race until shuffling on the last lap saw Hudson steal the final podium position, with Schartau and Rafailov moving by for position as well.
Overdrive Motorsports Micro Max
Canadian Marco Kacic (CRG) helped keep the Micro Max championship title up in the air when he laid down a qualifying lap of 57.357 seconds to steal the pole position (and five bonus points) away from title leader Payton Durrant (Birel) late in their 10-minute session. Saturday pole winner Filip Niemkiewicz (Energy) was third in the order after the timed run, coming in ahead of Anthony Willis (DR Kart) and Ellie Musgrave (CRG) on the clock. The battle for the lead in the Prefinal was solid as Durrant, Kacic and Niemkiewicz stretched away to an eight-second lead over Liam Letzsch (KGB). The order would be adjusted in tech as Kacic had an issue with his clutch, although this provided the opportunity for the young driver to shine in the Final coming from the tail of the field.
In the Final, Durrant and Niemkiewicz broke away quickly to pull away from the field, however, at the same time, Kacic was coming from the tail of the field joined by Willis, who was a DNF in the Prefinal after a mechanical issue. Willis was actually the kart on the move, advancing up to a stunning third as he worked all the way through the field to cross the line in third after passing Musgrave in the late going. Musgrave turned in her best run of the year, driving aggressively and with great pace. Kacic was also on the hunt, and eventually advancing to seventh after making some impressive passes during his push through the field. The final tally was adjusted in tech when Niemkiewicz suffered from an airbox issue. This moved Willis to second and Musgrave onto her first podium in Challenge competition.
Durrant would take the title on the strength of four wins, one at both Tucson and Phoenix leading into his sweep of the final weekend in Fontana. The young driver won a spot in the Micro Max Invitational at the Rotax Grand Finals in November.