Race Report: Florida Winter Tour – Rotax Max Challenge – Ocala

Championships and Rotax Grand Finals tickets decided in Central Florida

Florida Winter Tour 2013 FWT logo

PSL Karting sponsored Rotax DD2

Ben Cooper clinched the DD2 title with a win on Saturday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Ben Cooper clinched the DD2 title with a win on Saturday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The first groups in the queue to qualify were the DD2 and DD2 Masters. Although they qualified together, the two classes will run their own races Saturday and Sunday. In the early session, it was Ben Cooper laying down the law to set the fastest time of any class for the day. His lap of 36.057 seconds was just 0.008 of a second faster than Belgian DD2 ace Xen De Ruwe.

In the afternoon session for Saturday’s qualifying order, De Ruwe turned the tables on Cooper to snatch pole by less than a tenth of a second. With other drivers like Kevin Lüdi (Switzerland), Marco Di Leo (Canada) and the addition of former Formula One driver Scott Speed (USA) this class is one to watch.

The top three in both days of DD2 action are as follows:

Saturday DD2
Xen De Ruwe (Belgium) 36.081
Ben Cooper (Canada) 36.175
Kevin Lüdi (Switzerland) 36.231

Sunday DD2
Ben Cooper (Canada) 36.057
Xen De Ruwe (Belgium) 36.065
Marco Di Leo (Canada) 36.222

With the early morning rain in the warm up, the track was still wet when it was time for the DD2s to take to the OGP circuit. As such, everyone went out on rain tires. Everyone that is, except the Belgian Xen De Ruwe who rolled the dice and went out on slicks. In the beginning, it seemed questionable whether the gamble would work, as De Ruwe fell down the order. However, once the racing line started to dry out, Xen was untouchable. Running 4 seconds a lap faster than anyone else De Ruwe easily ran down reigning DD2 World Champion Ben Cooper and won the pre-final going away.

By the time the final came around, the track was completely dry and thoughts of rain tires were long gone. De Ruwe would start on pole but the early lead went to Ben Cooper. As talented as the three-time world champion Cooper is, with a field this competitive he wasn’t going to get away easily. First, Marco Di Leo (Canada) grabbed the lead. Then American ex-Formula One driver Scott Speed made a bid to get by Cooper that had the fans in the main grand stand on their feet and cheering.

This move slowed Cooper down just enough for others to get in the fight and the top DD2s raced towards the “Showcase” carousel corner four-wide. The fans were cheering loudly as Cooper stuffed it in deep and came out to lead the pack in second. With that challenge abated, Cooper was able to get in a groove and run Di Leo down and take the lead two laps later. From that point, Cooper would consolidate his lead to take the win while Di Leo, De Ruwe and Scott Speed waged a titanic battle for second. At the checkers the three crossed the line as one. The transponder data showed Di Leo in second, De Ruwe in third and Scott Speed in fourth.

Kevin Lüdi conquered the weather and the DD2 field for victory on Sunday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Kevin Lüdi conquered the weather and the DD2 field for victory on Sunday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The DD2 MAX competition started on Friday when the kings of worldwide Rotax MAX competition took to the OGP circuit for qualifying. During that session, reigning DD2 World Champion Ben Cooper would claim the top spot. However, after wrapping up his championship on Saturday he and his team decided they would sit Championship Sunday out. As such, it was Xen De Ruwe who would start the pre-final from the lead spot. De Ruwe would lead every lap and take the win, but was penalized 10 seconds for a quiet pit rule violation when he inexplicably started his kart and drove it to the grid area!? This handed the race win to Di Leo, but more importantly cost De Ruwe 15 valuable Championship points. More on that shortly.

The DD2 final started very wet after a huge downpour at the tail end of the lunch break. Fortunately the rain relented for a while even though the strong winds remained. Switzerland’s Kevin Lüdi shot out to a commanding lead and showed he was the one to beat when the track is really wet. Just after halfway in the race, the hard rain returned, fully testing the DD2 drivers skills. Chasing Lüdi in second was Fritz Leesmann who was taking a break from his usual Senior MAX ride. Following these two in third was Di Leo as the checkered flag waved.

With two spots to the 2013 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals available to the top two in the FWT DD2 season standings it was two-time FWT Champion Ben Cooper and the Canadian Champion Marco Di Leo who would claim those spots. Xen De Ruwe came so close to taking the second spot, but the combination of the error in the pre final and his finish behind Di Leo in the final would move the Belgian to third and cost him the coveted Grand Finals transfer spot. Cooper will attend the Grand Finals with a chance to become the only four-time Rotax World Champion.

SH Karting sponsored DD2 Masters

Alessandro Manetti won his first FWT race in DD2 Masters (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Alessandro Manetti won his first FWT race in DD2 Masters
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

So far this year, Cristiano Morgado (South Africa) has had a perfect record in the DD2 Masters class. If the three-time World Champion is to continue that streak, he’s going to have to overcome fellow Rotax World Champions Scott Campbell (Canada) and multi time CIK World Champion Alessandro Manetti (Italy). In the morning session, where Sunday’s grid order was set, it was Campbell drawing first blood with a fast lap of 36.392 seconds. Manetti paced the afternoon session with a 36.417 to start Saturday’s pre-final from pole.

The DD2 Masters action for the weekend promises to be very close. As an example, even though Cristiano will start from the second row both days, he’s only 0.061 of a second off Campbell’s Saturday pole and 0.037 of a second off the Sunday fast lap of Manetti. With six world championships represented by the top three drivers, and less than one tenth of a second over both days combined, the fight for the top spot will be very close.

After both sessions, the top three qualifiers for Saturday and Sunday are:

Saturday DD2 Masters
Scott Campbell (Canada) 36.392
Alessandro Manetti (Italy) 36.422
Cristiano Morgado (South Africa) 36.453

Sunday DD2 Masters
Alessandro Manetti (Italy) 36.417
Scott Campbell (Canada) 36.453
Cristiano Morgado (South Africa) 36.454

Following the DD2s at Ocala Gran Prix were the DD2 Masters drivers. Although this class does not have the outright numbers as some of the other FWT Rotax classes, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of talent in this field. With numerous world and nationals titles on the resumes of the drivers, including the current DD2 Masters World Champion and reigning Florida Winter Tour and U.S. National Champion, this field is stacked from top to bottom. In fact, the 2013 FWT DD2 Masters grid even features a three time figure skating world champion in Elvis Stojko.

About this time yesterday we were speculating whether or not Cristiano Morgado could pull off the perfect season. The South African had yet to lose a race all season even facing some of the stiffest competition in the world. Sure enough the streak had to end sometime and that would come in the pre-final when 2010 DD2 Masters World Champion Scott Campbell mastered the difficult conditions left over from the early rain to take a win over Alessandro Manetti (Italy).

In the final, Campbell assumed the early lead while Morgado stalked him in second. Behind the lead two, Alan Rudolph (USA) had his hands full with a determined Manetti who had his sights set on winning. After taking a couple laps to settle in, Manetti was on a mission and came storming to the front. Eventually he would overtake Campbell and there was no looking back for the two-time CIK world champion who drove brilliantly to take his first Florida Winter Tour win. Joining the Italian on the podium to receive their FWT Palm trophies were Scott Campbell and Cristiano Morgado.

Alan Rudolph won the DD2 Masters feature in addition to the 2013 Dan Wheldon-FWT Karting Ambassador Award (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Alan Rudolph won the DD2 Masters feature in addition to the 2013 Dan Wheldon-FWT Karting Ambassador Award
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Just as Ben Cooper had done in DD2, Cristiano Morgado (South Africa) and Scott Campbell (Canada) would take a pass on Sunday’s racing action having already secured their spots at the Grand Finals. It was then left to pole-sitter Alessandro Manetti (Italy) to uphold the honor of the karting World Champions in DD2 Masters. But this battle would go to the reigning U.S. National and defending Florida Winter Tour champion Alan Rudolph who would win by holding off Venezuelan Juan Font by seven tenths of a second.

In the DD2 Masters final, Alan Rudolph, fresh off his recognition as the 2013 Dan Wheldon/FWT Karting Ambassador Award, would assume the lead followed closely by Alessandro Manetti. On lap three, Manetti retired from the race, allowing Rudolph to run to the checkered flag unchallenged. Behind Rudolph, Juan Font and Andres Fonseca Grajales (Costa Rica) waged a fantastic battle that would go all the way to the end of the race. Although Grajales looked able to overtake Font on several occasions, in the end it was Font holding him off to win the battle for second.

The DD2 Masters championship was won in fine style by Cristiano Morgado with Scott Campbell in second. Both of these drivers will be going back to the Grand Finals. For Cris, he’ll have a chance to make history by being the first to claim four Grand Finals World Championships. For Scott, he’ll also be making history. As the world’s most experienced Grand Finals driver, every time he competes there he sets the bar even higher. 2013 will mark his 10th appearance and we wish him well as a representative of the Florida Winter Tour. Third in the championship went to Juan Font who used his final day podium to move up in the standings.

GT7 Motorsports sponsored Micro MAX

Dylan Tavella edged out the competition in Micro Max Saturday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Dylan Tavella edged out the competition in Micro Max Saturday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Florida Winter Tour action in the Micro MAX class promises two things; big grids of international drivers, and tight competition. Saturday’s Micro MAX qualifying took the term “close” to a new limit. After the checkered flag waived and the times were posted, the top six competitors, led by Canada’s Xavier Harris, were separated by a mere 0.060 of a second! To keep that in perspective, if they all started their qualifying lap together, the top six drivers would all cross the finish line in less time than it takes to sneeze. And that’s just the “choo”, we’re not even counting the “ahh-”.

Qualifying for Sunday’s Micro MAX was super close as well. The pole went to Matthew Latifi (Canada) but second and third, Dylan Tavella (USA) and Guilherme Romano Peixoto (Brazil) both stopped the clocks in identical lap times down to the one-thousandths of a second. In cases like these, the tie-breaker goes to the driver whose second-fastest lap is quicker. With drivers qualifying this close, the race action over the weekend is sure to be fantastic.

The weekend’s top three Micro MAX drivers in both weekends’ races are as follows:

Saturday Micro MAX
Xavier Harris (Canada) 40.881
Guilherme Romano Peixoto (Brazil) 40.889
Matthew Latifi (Canada) 40.914

Sunday Micro MAX
Matthew Latifi (Canada) 41.108
Dylan Tavella (USA) 41.176
Guilherme Romano Peixoto (Brazil) 41.176

Starting the Micro MAX pre-final on pole position was Xavier Harris (Canada) who would start strong but eventually fade down the order. Taking over the top spot to earn the pre-final win was another Canadian, Matthew Latifi who would beat Guilherme Romano Peixoto (Brazil) to the line by 0.631 of a second.

As the 32-kart-strong Micro MAX field streamed out of the pits and down the front straightaway on their warm up lap, it was impossible not to notice what an impressive site those young kids are on the race track. As the race got underway, the field flew towards the first turn as if connected in one big swarm. At the sharp end, Nicholas Latifi would lead over Peixoto and Jack Doohan (Australia). Lap-after-lap the three ran nose-to-tail while Giovanni Bromante (USA) worked his way into the mix.

Just as in the races before them, the Micro MAXs had the crowds cheering wildly as with each passing corner the parry and thrust of the competitors had the fans on their feet in anticipation. Coming out of the tree turn on the penultimate lap, Peixoto made his move on Latifi for the lead. Not only did the Brazilian make the move stick, the Canadian was slowed just enough by the maneuver to allow Doohan and Bromante by for second and third respectively. For those that missed this race on FWT LIVE!, this was a prime example of why we always remind people to tune in because these races are spectacular.

Sunday Micro Max winner Harry Coulton (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Sunday Micro Max winner Harry Coulton
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The Micro MAX pre final would start with Matthew Latifi (Canada) on pole with Dylan Tavella (USA) alongside. At the start, a scary looking shunt between Giovanni Bromante (USA) and Jordan Heffner (USA) captured the attention of the crowd. Fortunately both drivers escaped unharmed and would prepare themselves for the final. As the 14-lap pre-final progressed, a four-way battle between Dylan Tavella, Guilherme Romano Peixoto (Brazil), Matthew Latifi and Harry Coulton (USA) would eventually fall to Tavella with the other three drivers covered in just over three quarters of a second.

At the start of the Micro MAX final, the field streamed into turn one four-wide in an impressive display of kart control by the youngest of the Rotax competitors on the slick surface. Nicholas Latifi would be the first to lead the race. However, Harry Coulton would shadow the Canadian looking for any way past. While that dice was going on, Giovanni Bromante was slicing his way through the field from his 31st starting position to an eventual fourth. Coulton would eventually pass Latifi to take the win while Peixoto rounded out the podium in third.

At the end of the race, when all the points were added up, it was Giovanni Bromante who would stand atop the podium holding the Big FWT Championship Palm trophy. After his misfortune in the pre-final and having to start way back in the pack, it was a gritty drive by the New Yorker who drove like a champion and was justly rewarded. Giovanni will be the FWT representative at the Micro & Mini Invitational to be run alongside the Grand Finals this November in New Orleans. Joining Bromante on the championship podium were Guilherme Romano Peixoto in second and Dylan Tavella in third.

Rolison Performance Group sponsored Rotax Masters

Scott Falcone doubled up on wins in Masters Max (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Scott Falcone doubled up on wins in Masters Max
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The MAX Masters class will feature a pair of American veterans on Saturday and Sunday pole positions. In the qualifying action for Saturday’s grid, Jason Bell was the only Masters driver to clock a sub-38-second lap when he toured the 0.52 mile Ocala Gran Prix circuit in 37.943 seconds. In Sunday’s MAX Masters qualifying, Californian Derek Wang set the top time to claim pole over Bell by 0.030 of a second. The top three in both days will be:

Saturday Masters
Jason Bell (USA) 37.943
Derek Wang (USA) 38.058
Scott Falcone (USA) 38.164

Sunday Masters
Derek Wang (USA) 38.051
Jason Bell (USA) 38.081
Patricio Larrea (Ecuador) 38.262

After MAX Masters qualifying yesterday, Jason Bell (USA) would be set to start the pre-final from the pole position alongside Derek Wang (USA). Starting third would be Scott Falcone (USA). After qualifying, Scott’s teammates attached a set of pink training wheels to his kart. Whether it was good natured ribbing or whether it was done to send a message is up to interpretation. However, Scott took to the OGP track today proving training wheels were not necessary as he stormed to a 3+ second win over Patricio Larrea (Ecuador) in the pre-final.

Derek Wang captured the Masters Max title (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Derek Wang captured the Masters Max title
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The MAX Masters final would see Falcone again on top of his game as he left the field with no doubt as to whom the top-dog in masters was on this day. Behind Falcone, Wang, Bell, Larrea and Bobby Greene (USA) fought hard for second. In the end, Wang (2nd) and Bell (3rd) would join Falcone on the podium for an American sweep in the MAX Masters class.

In MAX Masters, Derek Wang (USA) would use the pole position he earned on Friday to lead the pre-final and take a 1.494 second win over Patricio Larrea (Ecuador). At the start of the Masters final, Patricio Larrea grabbed the lead with Derek Wang giving pursuit. For several laps it looked as though Larrea would take the last victory of the year for the MAX Masters class in the FWT.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Scott Falcone (USA) came storming to the front. First he dispatched Wang and set out after Larrea. Lap-after-lap Falcone looked for an opening to get by the Ecuadorian. He managed to get alongside a couple times, but the going was very slick off line and some of the puddles on the backside kept him from passing. Finally, with a handful of laps to go, Falcone found a way past and never looked back. At the stripe, it was Falcone over Larrea who had a comfortable lead over Wang. On the podium, Scott Falcone once again brought the Stars-and-Stripes to celebrate the victory.

When asked about his standing in the points earlier in the week, Derek Wang said he had no idea; he just comes to the track to win. Apparently that’s a good strategy because that’s exactly how he became the 2013 Florida Winter Tour MAX Masters champion. Joining Derek on the championship podium for an American sweep were Scott Falcone in second and Jason Bell in third.

Ocala Gran Prix sponsored Rotax Junior

Junior Max Saturday winner Kyle Kirkwood (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Junior Max Saturday winner Kyle Kirkwood
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

In 2013, Junior MAX has been a year of weekend sweeps. First it was Jack Weprin (USA) sweeping the feature races in Palm Beach, then Thomas Issa (Jamaica) pulling the double win weekend in Homestead. Should we see a sweep in Ocala, it could very well be from Kyle Kirkwood who swept both pole positions for his OGP team. Lining up on the front row with Kirkwood on both days will be Issa.

Although Thomas Issa’s speed and consistency has him in a good position atop the championship standings, with everyone having to drop a race the battle is very close. As such, the Junior MAX battle is one we expect to go right down to the last lap on Championship Sunday.

Those watching the races this weekend will see these three starting at the front of the Junior MAX grids:

Saturday Junior
Kyle Kirkwood (USA) 37.891
Thomas Issa (Jamaica) 37.929
Austin Garrison (USA) 38.015

Sunday Junior
Kyle Kirkwood (USA) 37.664
Thomas Issa (Jamaica) 37.876
William Myers (USA) 38.059

In the Junior MAX pre-final, it was pole sitter Kyle Kirkwood (USA) who would lead the way to win the 18 lap race. Kirkwood was the grand prize winner of last year’s Skip Barber FWT Award and has been using his recently acquired knowledge to good use around the Ocala Gran Prix track.

Starting the final, Kirkwood was in command of the field from the front row, but that didn’t keep fellow competitor Thomas Issa (Jamaica) from hounding him through the first laps of the race. On several occasions it looked as though the Jamaican was setting up to make a move for the lead, but each time Kirkwood had just enough speed to keep Issa at bay. Behind the lead two a battle that included Jack Weprin (USA), Ignacio Salvucci (Argentina), Jordan Perry (USA), Austin Garrison (USA) and Ashley Rogero (USA) kept the crowds on their feet.

In the end Kirkwood would pull out a two second win over Issa, the result of some smooth fast laps in the low 33 second bracket. Behind Issa, Ignacio Salvucci would join the top two on the podium as they received their beautiful FWT Palm trophies.

Antonio Ptak slid past Ashley Rogero for the Sunday Junior Max victory (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Antonio Ptak slid past Ashley Rogero for the Sunday Junior Max victory
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

In the Junior MAX pre-final, it was Kyle Kirkwood (USA) on pole flanked by Jamaican William Myers. The two were very close in qualifying and with the full field behind them, many anticipated a great race. And a great race they got! At the start Kyle Kirkwood grabbed the lead and was looking to extend on his win from Saturday. Try as they might, the field could not catch the young Floridian and he streamed home to the victory.

In the Junior MAX final, Kirkwood would power into a turn one lead with fellow Floridian Ashley Rogero right on his tail. These two had clear command of the lead for the first few laps. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Antonio Ptak (Poland) found his stride and in a flash was up to challenge the leaders. Although it took a few laps to get by, Ptak eventually did so, and it seemed Kyle and Ashley would be left to fight over second. This they did for a while until Ashley broke free to make a run at the lead. As the karts screamed past the white flag entering their last lap, Ashley drafted past and looked headed to the victory. However, Antonio had other plans and made a strong move to retake the lead, and held her off to take his second FWT win.

With a season that included two wins, Jamaican Thomas Issa was able to wrap up the championship before the last race, but behind him was a great battle for second. Going into Sunday’s Junior MAX final, any number of drivers could have taken second in the FWT Championship. In the end, it was Ashley Rogero and Kyle Kirkwood’s podiums that got them into second and third respectively. Although Thomas Issa has been to the Grand Finals before, this will be the first time he has gone as a representative of the FWT and we will be eagerly watching his progress in New Orleans in November.

AM Engines sponsored Rotax Mini MAX

Mini Max Saturday winner David Malukas (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Mini Max Saturday winner David Malukas
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Just as in the other classes, tight competition was the order of the day for the Mini MAX class. For proof of this, one needs look no further than Sunday’s qualifying session when the gap from polesitter David Malukas’ (USA) time of 39.136 seconds to the 27th fastest time was only 0.644 of a second. In the afternoon session Malukas set the fastest time for Saturday’s grid as well. Could this be the weekend David takes his first Florida Winter Tour win?

Joining Malukas on the front row both days will be young Texan Nicholas Brueckner who is in a close battle with Anthony Gangi jr. (USA) for the class championship and the ticket to the Micro & Mini Invitational in New Orleans during the Grand Finals. For his part, Gangi only qualified a few tenths behind Malukas. However, with the competition this close that means he’ll have to start 16th and 12th. With so much on the line this weekend, Mini MAX is one of the classes to watch over the weekend.

The top three in qualifying for Saturday and Sunday in Mini MAX are:

Saturday Mini MAX
David Malukas (USA) 39.052
Nicholas J. Brueckner (USA) 39.178
Antonio Serravalle (Canada) 39.220

Sunday Mini MAX
David Malukas (USA) 39.136
Nicholas J. Brueckner (USA) 39.142
Santiago Terife (Venezuela) 39.152

Mini MAX would see teammates David Malukas (USA) and Nicholas Brueckner (USA) on the front row for their pre-final. The two would run most of the race nose-to-tail to pull out a two second win over Santiago Terife (Venezuela) as they looked towards the final.

In the final, Malukas would pace the field down to the custom made FWT starting gantry at a steady 21 MPH on the speed readout board. As is usual in Mini MAX, the battles from the front to the back of the pack are always hotly contested. At the front of the field, David Malukas was using his pole advantage to lead over Brueckner who in turn was just ahead of a pack of karts led by Michael d’Orlando (USA) and Neil Verhagen (USA).

Kollin Stuart won his first FWT victory in Mini Max Sunday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Kollin Stuart won his first FWT victory in Mini Max Sunday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

By the end of the 16-lap race, David Malukas had pulled out to a 0.708 second lead over Brueckner who in turn was 1.751 seconds ahead on Mathias Ramirez (USA). Just as in the MAX Masters class, we would see an all-American podium sweep. This time it would be drivers from Illinois, Texas and Florida taking home the signature FWT Palm trophies.

The Mini MAX pre-final began under threatening skies with the drivers having the option of using rain or dry tires. At the start, David Malukas (USA) used his pole position to his advantage, but soon after the start the rains came. With all the 9 to 12 year-old drivers having started the race on slicks, some in the grandstand assumed the conditions were too unfavorable and were asking for the race to be stopped. But, the FWT Mini MAX drivers showed they were more than capable of handling a slick track as very few drivers slid off.

Doing the best under the testing conditions was Texan Nicholas Brueckner who put on a driving display that would have made Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher proud. Nicholas was so fast that he was catching lapped traffic faster than it could be black flagged off the race track. He handled it with ease and still managed a comfortable victory over Neil Verhagen, (USA) who himself had built up a 13-second gap to Kollin Stuart (USA) in third.

With the Mini MAX final being started on a wet track, this time all competitors started on rain tires. Nicholas Brueckner took up the lead and looked set to take the final win of the FWT Mini MAX season. But, a determined Kollin Stuart showed he had what it takes to master the OGP circuit under the conditions. At the halfway point in the race, Stuart had found a way around Brueckner and he held the point to take his first FWT win. Behind Brueckner in second was Anthony Gangi jr. (USA) who had come all the way from 17th at the start to claim the last of the FWT Palm trophies in the Mini MAX class.

With his dominating run in the pre-final and second place in the final, Nicholas Bruckner claimed the Big Palm and the 2013 Florida Winter Tour Mini MAX Championship. As such, Nicholas will be our driver in the Mini MAX class at the Micro & Mini Invitational. Coming in second after having an awesome year is Anthony Gangi jr. Anthony’s charge from deep in the field in Sunday’s final almost won him the championship but it was not to be this time for the multi-time FWT Champion. Coming home third on the championship podium was Floridian Mathias Ramnirez. During the champagne spray, these kids had several “targets” to choose from. The unfortunate recipient of all this “love” was FWT owner, promoter and announcer Bill Wright, who took a serious soaking from all three Championship podium finishers. But “the guy in the goofy hat” took it all in stride as another example of the Serious Fun to be had at the FWT.

MRP Motorsports sponsored Rotax MAX Senior

Nick Neri led the Senior Max field on Saturday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Nick Neri led the Senior Max field on Saturday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Last, but most certainly not least in the qualifying order was the Senior MAX category. A quick glance at the entry list reveals many of the top names in international Rotax MAX competition. Leading the way in Saturday’s qualifying session was reigning FWT Junior MAX champion Oliver Askew (USA) who has proved throughout 2013 that he had no problem adapting to the Senior category. Filling out Saturday’s qualifying top three were current world champion Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland) and three-time U.S. National Champion Nick Neri (USA).

On Championship Sunday, the Senior MAX field will be paced by Japan’s Tadasuke Makino with a lap of 36.885 seconds. Lining up behind Mankino will be Neri and Askew. With the intense level of competition in Senior MAX, this is yet another class that is a “must see” on the Florida Winter Tour’s online FWT LIVE! broadcast.

The top three for both days of Senior MAX action are:

Saturday Senior MAX
Oliver Askew (USA) 36.805
Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland) 36.818
Nick Neri (USA) 36.831

Sunday Senior MAX
Tadasuke Makino (Japan) 36.885
Nick Neri (USA) 36.932
Oliver Askew (USA) 36.942

Oliver Askew (USA) looked set to be the man to beat in Senior MAX after having won the last race in Homestead and setting the fastest qualifying time for today’s race. Indeed Oliver was fast. But it was Floridian Nick Neri who was fastest of all as he took a well-deserved half-second victory over the reigning Senior MAX world champion Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland).

At the start of the final, the Senior MAX competitors attacked the OGP track like a pack of wild dogs on a box of leftover steak bones. The action was intense as the 34 drivers jockeyed for position. Grabbing the early lead was the World Champion Eastwood, but he had no chance to build a lead as multi-time US National and FWT champion Nick Neri was glued to his rear bumper.

For several laps Neri seemed content to shadow Eastwood. Then, just after halfway, Nick got a run down into turn one and in a flash he was by and into the lead. Of course, Charlie Eastwood wasn’t going to roll over and let Neri win, and he duly gave a valiant chase. But, in the end Nick Neri was just too much for the field and took a very well-earned victory over Charlie Eastwood and Japans Tadasuke Makino.

Luke Varley wrapped up the FWT win victory on Sunday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Luke Varley wrapped up the FWT win victory on Sunday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The Senior MAX pre-final started in wet conditions with all drivers choosing to run the grooved rain tires. Tadasuke Makino (Japan) would start from pole and lead early. But, even as fast as he was, he could not hold off a charging Oliver Askew (USA) who would take the win in the 18-lap race. With Bryce Choquer (Canada) in third and Nick Neri (USA) fourth, the first two rows for the Senior MAX final were set.

Even before the start the drama was pushed to an all-time-high as Championship contender Danny Formal could not get his kart started when the call to enter the track was given. Formal would eventually join the race before the start, but at the tail of the 34 kart field. At the start of the final, the field sped into turn one knowing this was the last race of the season. Everyone in the grandstands knew this race would be a street fight for Senior MAX supremacy, and they were right. With many top drivers with no shot at the Championship it was “Katy bar the door” for the last FWT race win of the season. On the first complex of corners, polesitter Oliver Askew got pushed off track but was able to get back on in fifth. Tadasuke Makino took a healthy early lead over 2009 Rotax MAX Senior World Champion Luke Varley (UK) who had started sixth.

By lap six, Varley had run Makino down and was in the lead. During this time, Nick Neri was also making his move towards the front and was also eventually able to get around the Japanese driver for second. Also on drives that would have serious championship implications were Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland) and Daniel Formal (USA). Going into the final, Eastwood had the championship all but locked up and his fourth place sealed the deal. With his problems in the grid and the resulting start from the back Daniel would have to settle for second in the championship this year while Nick Neri was yet again on another FWT Championship podium taking third. With Eastwood claiming the ticket to the Grand Finals, all three defending World Champions that chose to come to the Florida Winter Tour in 2013 are assured a chance to repeat their accomplishments this November at the NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans.

The Dan Wheldon/FWT Karting Ambassador Award is an annual recognition of a Florida Winter Tour participant who best represents karting with a fiercely competitive spirit, a helpful and positive attitude and a professional image. The award recipient has their name inscribed on a perpetual trophy, receives a framed certificate declaring them as the award recipient, and a copy of “Lion Heart”, the Michael Voorhees photo book Dan Wheldon created for his family, friends and fans. This year’s recipient was a driver who made his name racing shifter karts in the U.S, Alan Rudolph. But Alan Rudolph is much more than just a Championship winning driver. We’ll be releasing more press about Alan and why he was chosen in the near future.

For Daniel Formal, his great runs in Senior MAX coupled with his near-perfect season in the Formula Kart Championships TaG Senior class were enough to vault him into the top spot in the $22,000 Skip Barber Racing Scholarship award contest. Second place in this popular program went to Jack Weprin while Ignacio Salvucci took third. These drivers now have credit towards school days and racing in the world famous Skip Barber Racing program.

With strong finishes all year, the United States of America retained its title as the Nation’s Cup champion. For a long time it looked as though Venezuela would overtake Canada for the second spot in this prestigious Championship. But, in the end, our friends from up north regained second with strong results in Ocala.

The Manufacturers’ Cup championship again went to Tony Kart as the green teams had a sensational year. However, CRG was close in second, and numerous wins by Birel had them in third at season’s end.

It’s hard to believe the season is now over. What started as a sunny and warm weekend in Palm Beach accompanied by the sound of NHRA Top Fuel cars before moving south to Homestead has come to a close in Ocala. For those that want to relive the highlights of the 2013 Florida winter Tour season, be sure to log on to the official FWT website, FloridaWinterTour.com and hover your mouse over the MULTIMEDIA section to see a photo gallery and all the archived videos from the FWT LIVE! broadcasts.

It’s been a fantastic year for one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse kart racing programs. We at Formula Kart Productions want to wish everyone a great 2013 season wherever you compete next, and hope to see you all back here in 2014 at “FWT… THE Winter Place to Be!”

EKN Global Members Discussion: