Team News: ART Grand Prix America Finishes Strong in Winter Rotax Championship
The final round of the Gatorz Challenge of the America’s championship took place at the ART Grand Prix America’s “home” track, the CalSpeed Karting circuit in Fontana, CA near Los Angeles. The team was looking forward to finishing off the three round championship successfully after having failed to reach the podium in the first two rounds. Six drivers would fly the team colors: Brenden Baker, Phillippe Denes, and Black Flag Racing’s Marco Eakins in Rotax Jr., Steve Wiener in Rotax Masters, as well as Andrew Wiener and Troy Castaneda in Rotax Sr.
Unofficial testing began Thursday for the team as the drivers reacclimated themselves to the slippery surface and the team began trying different set up options. Heading into Friday and the afternoon official sessions, the team’s junior drivers were all looking very strong, while the pace for the senior pilots was a struggle. All three Junior drivers were able to secure their spots in the fast qualifying group for the weekend, while unfortunately the Senior drivers both found themselves in the slower group as they team continued to hunt for speed.
Rotax Junior got the race day programs started strongly on Saturday with all three young drivers qualifying in the top 10 with Baker in 2nd, Eakins in 5th in his debut on the ART Grand Prix chassis, and Denes in 10th. The pre-final would prove to be a great battle as Baker was struggling with power from his Rotax engine, but would continue to force his competitors to work hard by not relinquishing the lead for most of the race. Eventually, the successful young pilot would fall back to 2nd and the team would go to work to try and find more engine speed for the final. Denes and Eakins would find themselves getting bashed around with Denes dropping back to 11th and Eakins getting crashed out of the race. In the final, Baker jumped out to an early lead and did everything he could to keep it. Still struggling for overall power, the recently turned 14 year old would have to settle for a 3rd place finish, but was able to secure the team’s first podium in the winter Rotax series. Denes was unfortunately caught up in a big first turn accident and was forced to retire without ever being able to complete a lap. Eakins put in a great drive to work his way up to 11th from the rear of the field, turning in some very fast lap times throughout the race. Regrouping for Sunday, everyone on the team was confident that the results could be improved upon. Lots of engine adjustments were made overnight to try and improve the speed for Brenden Baker, but unfortunately all day the driver had to try and drive through the issues. In professional form, Baker managed to pull himself up from his 6th place qualifying effort to an eventual 4th place finish in the final.
While it was a disappointing finish to the day, the driver handled himself with class in dealing with the issues and finished out the championship in 5th place. Marco Eakins had another strong qualifying effort in 8th place, but some tough racing luck saw him only manage a 12th place result. The speed was much better than the results indicated throughout the weekend and the Northwestern driver will be very difficult to beat as he becomes more comfortable with the new chassis. Putting in a spectacular performance all day was Phillippe Denes. The rookie Northern California pilot shocked the whole paddock with a 2nd place qualifying effort. Utilizing the lessons learned in the previous week’s Prokart Challenge event, Denes was able to drive a clean and easy race to a 2nd place in the pre-final. Looking for his first career podium in the final, things didn’t start as expected. Dropping back to 8th on the first lap, Denes methodically worked his way throughout the field to finally move back to 2nd with two laps to go. After a very questionable maneuver by another driver, Denes was pushed and forced off the track losing all the positions he had worked so hard to gain. Denes ended the day in 7th, but showed everyone that his time on the podium will come sooner than later.
Steve Wiener enjoyed good pace throughout the weekend and was destined for two more strong top 10’s in the 20 kart field, but tough luck once again struck the veteran driver. Wiener, wearing his beautiful new Lucky Designs painted helmet was looking fantastic both in the kart and on the track when an unfortunate spin early in Saturday’s main cost him any chance to get a strong result. The lap times were good, but too much time was lost early. Battling some mechanical gremlins Sunday, the team finally had him running strong and Wiener had battled up to 9th in the final before a late engine issue cut his race early. The luck hasn’t been there for the masters driver, but the speed gets better each and every week.
Rotax Senior would see Andrew Wiener be joined by former Rotax Grand Finals participant Troy Castaneda on the weekend, and expectations were high for both drivers to be near the front. Working hard throughout the practice days, both drivers still continued to struggle near the rear of the field as the team battled to figure out the issues that were creating so many problems. After disappointing results in the pre-final, the team decided to make an engine change and reset the chassis set up to the original baseline to Wiener’s kart. The results showed instant improvement. The 16 year old pilot had a great drive from 18th to 8th for his best finish of the season and now the team found themselves right on pace with the front of the field, leaving a lot to be excited for come Sunday’s racing program. Castaneda, the former Indy Lights driver, battled as hard as he could in the pre-final to 15th, holding off drivers for as long as possible while still struggling for speed. A mechanical DNF cut his main short, but the team decided to change his engine for the following morning as well. Sunday was a completely different story as the team came out strong in qualifying with Wiener ending up 5th and Castaneda 7th, having to come from the slow group. Finally with both drivers showing pace, Wiener finished 6th in the pre-final. Castaneda had to switch back to his previous engine due to technicalities in the engine declaration process and wound up back off the pace and 13th in the pre-final. After the race though, Castaneda found the engine’s water pump had failed and was hopeful fixing the problem would give him something he could compete with in the final. Things started off well as the Northern Californian worked his way into the top 10 after a couple laps, but unfortunately in the thrash to get the engine repaired on time the clutch backed itself off the engine and once again Castaneda’s day was cut short to end a very difficult weekend for the driver making his team debut. Wiener on the other hand had a fantastic race eventually finishing 5th and running the 3rd fastest lap of the race, to secure his first top 5 of the season in the very competitive senior category and continuing to build on the momentum he has begun gaining.
“Another successful weekend for the team overall,” explained team manager Kyle Kuntze following the event, “but definitely not the results we expected. All of our drivers worked so hard all weekend and did a fantastic job. Brenden battled adversity with professionalism and it was great to be working with Black Flag Racing and Marco. We are all very excited to see Andrew back up where he belongs in the front of the pack, but we also are definitely disappointed that neither Troy or Phillipe got the results they deserved. Phillippe put in the drive of his life and for it to be taken away by another driver is difficult, but the experience learned is what is really valuable for his development going forward. As always thank you to all the driver, mechanics, and supporters for helping us continue to grow into one of the strongest teams in the country already.”
ART Grand Prix America would like to thank mechanics: Nick Johnston, Robert Baker, Ben Eakins, Troy Castaneda, Keith Dees, and Travis Lowe for their hard work.
ART Grand Prix America is the exclusive importer for the ART Grand Prix chassis and is actively seeking to expand its dealer network. All interested parties are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information as well as all drivers interested in joining our team.
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