EKN Trackside: United States Pro Kart Series – Mooresville – Sunday Report
Constant rain dampened track, but not action as inaugural event completed in North Carolina
The first ever United States Pro Kart Series event completed Sunday at the new Mooresville Motorplex in North Carolina. Weather forecasts called for 100% chance of rain, and that’s just what it did. From the morning practice sessions all the way through the podium ceremonies, the clouds brought plenty of moisture to last a full year. The consistent rain challenged the drivers, along with the new facility and the staff working the event.
The track held up well for its first ever big rain storm, with only a few spots that collected large amounts of rain on the surface. Owner Justin Marks was on hand, and will use the information gathered over the weekend to remedy the situations for any future weather conditions such as today. Aside from the rain, the facility has certainly earned its position as one of the best in North America, if not around the world, with plenty of more amenities to be added in the future. The MMX and USPKS staff that braved the elements for over nine hours deserves praise as they kept the show moving as fast as possible. With the weather and the two heat/main event format, the event was cut short to eight lap heat races with shorter main events for all categories, to allow a complete event to fit in at a reasonable time. Following all the racing action, only one driver was able to match their victory from Saturday, as the wet weather shook up the running order from the dry.
The wet weather provided an opportunity for new faces to shine under rainy conditions, and that occurred remarkably in the Pro division. Florida driver Jack Weprin (FA Kart) set the provisional time early on, but would later see his lap time bettered by John McCluster (Haase). He remained there until Cal Stewart (Praga) moved to the top of the time sheet, and continued to improve on his time. McCluster came back to steal the spot, with Weprin right there as well. As the checkered flag wave, Stewart posted the fast lap of the session – 57.381 – for the pole. Also moving up late was Saturday’s runner-up Mason Chelootz as the Top Kart USA pilot jumped to second as the checkered flag waved. McCluster fell to third with Weprin and Andrew Bujdoso (PCR) rounding out the fast five.
The field shuffled through the opening corner to begin the first heat, and everything seemed fine until Stewart was spun around. This sent the field scattering and collected a number of drivers, including Stewart. Chelootz was able to come away with the lead with Jacob Donald (Arrow) starting sixth, up into second. McCluster was third until he drove around and looked to be losing power, only making two laps before pulling off. This allowed the top two a break away for what seemed to be a dual. On lap four, Chelootz also pulled up slow and pulled off course with engine issues. Donald took advantage and cruised to the win as Chris Wehrheim fought up to the second spot over Jesus Rios Jr. (iKart), Joel Jens (Tony Kart) and Weprin. Tommy Andersen (Top Kart) powered on in the late goings, stealing fifth at the end after starting 13th.
Due to the wreck in heat one, Stewart was unable to continue on in the event, moving everyone up a spot on the grid for heat one. Chelootz took advantage of the pole position as he went on to rebound from the heat one DNF to score the win. Donald got another great start and came up to second, where he lasted the entire eight laps. Wehrheim drove to third with Mike Giessen (iKart) putting in a great drive from 12th to fourth over Jens.
The heat results placed Donald on the pole position for the main event with Wehrheim filling out the front row. The field was able to get through the opening corners clean with the exception of Jens, who spun around after turn two and was unable to continue after starting third. Donald took advantage of the pole position, leading the opening lap with Giessen leapfrogging over Wehrheim for second from P4 on the grid. By lap four, Donald had pulled out to a solid lead, holding a 1.3-second advantage over Giessen. The lead was nearly unchanged by the halfway mark as the KartSport North America pilot continued to run consistent.
The second half however opened up for two mistakes that changed the race. On lap eight, Donald went wide in turn 10, which cut the gap down to just four tenths. A lap later, Donald went wide once again, this time in turn 11 and Giessen was there to take advantage and stole the lead. Once in the lead, Giessen would not relinquish the lead as he pulled a gap on Donald lap after lap. At the checkered flag, Giessen took the victory, marking a solid reunion with mechanic Chris Lobaugh and the new iKart outfit. Donald and Wehrheim would complete the top three on the podium. Saturday winner Austin Self (Arrow) bounced back from a poor 27th in qualifying, improving to 12th on the grid for the final. Smooth and patient, Self drove up to the fourth position for another trip to the podium on the weekend, joined by Chelootz to keep them in the early championship picture.
Robert Bujdoso (PCR) started fifth and was solid all day in the wet, just coming short from earning a trophy for his sixth place effort. Weprin over came engine issues all Saturday to come away with a seventh in a soaked day of competition for his Senior debut on US soil. Kyle Kalish (Merlin) added another top-10 finish, placing eighth with Colton Ramsey (Merlin) and Ashley Rogero (Tony Kart) moving into the final spots after attrition captured a few drivers in the closing stages of the race.
With rain on the mind overnight, the drivers in the Semi-Pro division were able to adjust for today’s action in the wet weather, catching up with Saturday winner Dustin Stross (Tony Kart). Fast driver in dry Saturday – Davey Manthei Jr. (Arrow) posted the fast lap in Sunday’s timed session with a 58.701-second lap. Matt Solarczyk (Birel) was second with Gresham Wagner (Arrow), Austin McCluster (Haase) and Stross completing the top-five.
The front row experienced terrible luck early on in the opening heat race. Manthei spun on the warm-up lap and was unable to continue on. Wagner, after taking the green flag, spun entering turn three and fell to the tail of the field. This move Stross up to the lead where he finished yesterday. McCluster was advanced to second and kept close with the leader. He struck on lap six, taking over the lead for the first time and pulled away. The win would be his first of the weekend. Stross continued in second until Solarczyk put on the pressure, and it worked as Stross went wide in turn eight. This gave Solarczyk the opportunity to take the position and held to the line. Stross settled for third with Mike McAndrews (Birel) fourth and Braden Eves (PCR) fifth.
The second heat was filled with attrition with only four drivers finishing the race. Manthei led the opening lap with Wagner working past for the lead on lap two. He was able to hold the spot to the checkered flag, scoring the win. Manthei ran second until dropping off the track and out of the race in turn eight on lap five. This put McCluster to second with Austin Erikson (Praga) up to third over Chandler Horton (Tony Kart). Stross was third but spun off in turn two on the final circuit, but was classified fifth.
As the class had been all day, the Semi-Pro main event was another nail-bitter as you could not tell just who would came away with the victory. A great start gave Stross the lead after the opening lap. The field was ready to fight back however unlike yesterday. McCluster took the lead back after starting on the pole position and he began pulling away. By the halfway mark of the 10-lap event, Austin held a lead of 4.2 seconds. At the checkered, that advantage was nearly 10 as the Mike Doty Racing driver scored the victory. Stross ended up second, securing a great start toward the championship with a 1-2 finish on the weekend. Lots of shuffling took place for third with McAndrews, Solarczyk and even Manthei making his way back up from 10th on the grid. Solarczyk and Manthei both experienced their own off-track excursion, allowing McAndrews to come up with the third position. Wagner drove to fourth with Solarczyk placing fifth.
For the first time on the weekend, a new driver stood at the top of the Leopard Masters category. Early on in the wet qualifying session, Brian McHattie (Exprit) was the top driver to beat, as the only driver below the one minute mark. He pulled in a few laps early, happy with his time but Brian McEvoy (Merlin) continued to dig. On the final circuit, McEvoy stole the pole position away with a 59.469-second lap. McHattie settled for second with Saturday winner Chuck Gafrarar (Parolin) in third. Tim Schutt (Top Kart) was fourth with Chad Kruger (Merlin) in fifth. Saturday runner-up Chuck Tate (Margay) struggled with the wet conditions, and was four seconds off the pace in seventh.
McHattie got the jump on McEvoy as the green flag waved to begin the opening heat race. Gafrarar was able to slip through, dropping the polesitter down to the third position. The top three ran semi-close together the entire eight laps with the only change for position coming on lap seven. McEvoy retook the second spot from Chuck G, and held it to the checkered flag. McHattie drove to a two-second win for his first of the weekend. Shutt was fourth with Kruger in fifth.
The top two continued to lead the way as McHattie got the jump over McEvoy, and set themselves up for a 1-2 finish in heat two. Gafrarar dropped down to fourth at the start and was trying to work past Shutt for the third spot in turn eight when he locked up the brakes and spun. That dropped him down to last and gave the front two a clear run to the finish. Shutt held third with Gafrarar able to work back to fourth over Kruger.
Not a fan of rain before, McHattie was happy to see the rain continue all day as he scored the victory. He and McEvoy were on the front row once again, this time with McHattie on the inside. That was all he needed to secure the lead with McEvoy sliding into third. Gafrarar moved to third to put Schutt back to fourth. The field ran this way the entire 10 laps with McHattie taking the checkered flag first by four seconds. Kruger was fifth after the opening lap but a spin dropped him back and gave Scott Button (Merlin) the position.
Saturday winner Joel Jens (Tony Kart) picked up where he left off, setting the tone for the wet weather conditions. His 1:02.898 lap on his third circuit was the best of the session to secure the pole position. He continued on a few more laps after that before pulling in early, satisfied with the time. Tony Jump (Margay) was second for most of the session and pulled off with a few minutes remaining. Unfortunately, the rest of the field was quicker in the final circuits. Sam Cate (Tony Kart) moved to second with Kenlen Morse (Top Kart) showing well in the wet. Cameron Spek (Tony Kart) was fourth with Patrick Olsen (Top Kart) into fifth. Jump would end up seventh in the final order, falling behind Anthony Granata (Tony Kart).
Heat one was all Jens as he led the entire eight lap race to secure another heat win. Morse got the jump on Cate and she kept with Jens pace early on until Cate put on the pressure. Cate took over the second spot on lap six, giving Jens more space to cruise to the win. Cate closed up some in the final laps, but was not close enough to make anything happen. Morse recorded her best result in third as Jump drove up to fourth, working past Olsen.
Jens continued to lead the Senior category in heat two. The Tony Kart driver was the most consistent driver on course, running lap times in the 1:02.5 area. He pulled away to a four-second advantage after eight laps. Morse was second with Olsen trailing in third after Jump spun around and out in turn one on the opening lap. Olsen took over the second spot early and went on to take the position with Morse on his bumper. Cate and Spek made up the top-five, but Billy Lewis (Eagle) proved too strong in the end as he worked past both for the fourth position. Cate, ran the fast lap of the race, but finished fifth with Spek sixth.
As he was all weekend, Jens was the measuring stick in the Yamaha Senior division. Starting on the pole position for the main event, Jens never had to worry about cleaning his helmet visor from water spray of another competitor. The Wisconsin driver went wire-to-wire in the 10 lap race to sweep the weekend and set himself up as the championship leader. Morse started on the outside of row one, but fell back a spot early to Olsen. He kept pace with Jens early on, but was never close enough to make a move, ending up second. Morse stayed close in third until a spin in turn eight on lap eight dropped her off the podium. That moved Lewis up to third for his best finish of the weekend, ahead of Cate and Spek.
Familiar names filled out the top of the time sheet for the Yamaha Junior qualifying session in the wet. Gresham Wagner (Arrow) was able to better his lap time each circuit around the KartSport North America home track. His quickest ended up a 1:02.045 lap time. Anthony Gangi Jr. (Tony Kart) tried to better that time, but came up short to end up second. Mike McAndrews (Birel), David Malukas (Birel) and Nolan Ruocco (Haase) completed the fast five. Saturday winner Zach Holden (Top Kart) was 10th in the order.
The front row set the pace to the green flag and throughout the eight lap race. Wagner led with Gangi right on his bumper the entire time. The pressure finally paid off for Gangi as Wagner went wide on the exit of turn six, allowing the Tony Kart driver to pass by. He would hold it on for the win with Wagner settling for second. McAndrews ran close in third until a near-off dropped him back from the lead pack. Ruocco ran a strong fourth with Emerson Reed (Top Kart) stealing fifth from Malukas on the final lap.
The win in heat two came down to the wire with three different drivers taking a turn at the lead. Wagner was the early leader from the pole position until McAndrews was able to close up and take over the spot on lap three. He would relinquish the position the following circuit, drifting wide in turns six and seven, dropping back to fourth. This put Gangi into the lead with Wagner on his bumper. They exchanged the lead a few times before Gangi dropped a wheel on the final lap, exiting turn nine and allowed Wagner to take the lead and the win. Gangi crossed the stripe in second with McAndrews in third. Malukas was fourth as Becker Reardon (Birel) continued to show the speed to compete, advancing from ninth to fifth.
Wagner and Gangi filled out the front row, leading the 11-kart field to the green flag for the main event. Wagner escaped the opening corners with the lead as Gangi fell victim to Malukas. Holden was able to come from 10th to fourth in the first lap, thanks to drivers spinning around in front of him, as Emily Hurlbert (Merlin) completed the early top-five. Gangi retook the second spot on lap two, but Wagner had already begun to extend his lead. Lap after lap, Wagner pushed on and extended his lead to five seconds after the 10-lap main event for the victory. Gangi ran fast lap of the race, but was unable to close in and settled for second. Malukas ran alone in third with Holden escaping with fourth after a rough start to the day. Reardon was among the early spinners, but as he did all weekend, never quit. He fought his way to the bumper of Holden but tried a pass in turn nine. The end result was a spin and he fell back down the order. This allowed Ruocco to take the fifth position for the final trophy spot.
The difference in lap times from Saturday’s dry conditions to Sunday’s wet track was about a 10-second difference. The one consistent were the drivers at the top of the time charts. Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) was the provisional pole setter as the 10-minute session wore on, and looked to have the spot locked up until Austin Schaff (Merlin) stole the spot with a flier on his final circuit. His 1:04.956 lap was just 86 thousandths quicker than Tavella’s best lap. Alex Verhagen (Arrow), brother of Saturday winner Neil, was third in the order with Sam Mayer (Merlin) and Luke Fineis (Birel) completing the top-five. Neil Verhagen (Arrow) was sixth in the final order for the timed session.
Schaff took advantage of the pole position to leave the rest of the 26 kart field and score the win in heat one. A great start put him out front early and he led all eight laps. Behind him was a great battle for second including Tavella, the Verhagen brothers and Mayer. Lap three, Mayer spun around in turn six, looking for a way to the second spot. That dropped him down the order, and eventually out of the race after another spin. The battle continued on until contact on lap seven shuffled things up. Alex Verhagen came away with the position as Fineis moved up to second. John Paul Southern Jr. (PCR) took advantage and was into fourth at the checkered flag with Tavella and Neil Verhagen trailing.
With a clean view in front of him, Schaff drove to the heat two win. The Merlin driver took advantage and led all eight laps to secure the pole position for the main event. It was a great battle for second behind him, with the Verhagen brothers securing the second and third spots with Alex leading the group. Mayer placed a close fourth with Fineis rounding out the top five.
For the first time all day, Schaff was not at the front of the Cadet class. The field barreled into turn one with Tavella getting spun around in turn two, taking him out of contention from sixth on the grid. Later in the lap, Southern was pushed off in turn six. All this happened as Alex Verhagen took the lead from Schaff to lead the opening few laps. The top two drove away from an epic battle for third, setting up for a dual to the checkered flag. Schaff made his move on lap seven, down into turn one, and that was all he needing. He drove away in the final three laps to secure a solid 1.5-second victory. Verhagen settled for second for his best finish of the weekend. His brother Neil was in position to stand alongside of him on the podium with third in his hands until going off-track in turn eight on the final lap. This dropped him out of the top five, with Simon Sikes (Arrow) placing third all the way from ninth, Mayer fourth and Garrett Moran (Birel) to fifth after starting 10th.
The complexion of the time sheets at the top of the Yamaha Rookie division changed thanks in part to the rain. The field was more spread out for lap times, and Mark Fineis (Birel) was the quickest driver in the wet, scoring the pole position with a 1:05.924 lap time. He was a full eight tenths clear of Griffin Kunz (Praga). Andrew Castelucci (Birel) was third with Carter Cass (Merlin) and Kyle West (Merlin). Saturday winner Nic Sheppard (PCR) found himself back in the 13th position, about three seconds off Fineis’ pace.
Fineis was able to break away and score the win in the opening heat race, pulling out to a solid eight second advantage. Castelucci slide up to second with West coming up from fifth to third, as the inside line held the advantage at the start. Chandlar Moran (Birel) drove up from sixth to fourth as Kunz dropped to fifth in the order.
In the second heat, Fineis ran away with it again, scoring the win to give him the pole position for the main event. He pulled out to a five-second advantage with West having a great run up to second, just unable to match the pace of the leader. Castelucci was a close third with Kunz and Moran trailing.
The day belonged to Fineis, as no one stepped up the entire day to match his pace. Fineis was the quickest driver on the track, and the most consistent. Never putting a wheel wrong, the Birel pilot drove away to a 10-second victory in the eight-lap main event, securing a sweep on the day. Behind him was a battle of attrition with Castelucci up to second early before he was shuffled back. Moran was in the hunt for the podium but lost his nose piece, and was removed from the course by the official. This left West and Kunz alone to fight for the runner-up position. In the end, Kunz secured the position with West in third. Cass came seventh on the grid to fourth as Sheppard climbed to fifth for his second trophy of the weekend.
The inaugural United States Pro Kart Series completed, under sunny skies and rain-soaked conditions, providing all the unique elements for an opening rounds of the championship season. The series is set to contest rounds three and four at the New Castle Motorsports Park on June 7-9 at the New Castle Motorsports Park in New Castle, Indiana. For complete coverage, visit the Official Event Page.