Team News: ART Grand Prix America Takes a 1-2 in TAG Senior
The fourth round of the SKUSA Prokart Challenge championship saw ART Grand Prix America return to Willow Springs Kart Track. Throwing a twist on the race this time was the competitors would run the track in the opposite direction. A busy May left the team with little time for testing, but confidence was still high to continue the momentum that saw three drivers take victory the month before at the previous round. Seven drivers would fly the team colors with Gianfranco Casadei, Jake Craig, and Brenden Baker all looking to expand their point leads in S3, TAG Junior, and TAG Senior respectively. Joining Baker would be Phillippe Denes, Chase McDaniel, and Aaron Aguirre in Junior as well as Chris Cricca in TAG Senior who would return to competition for the first time in nearly two seasons. All seven drivers were right on pace during Friday’s unofficial practice sessions and with few changes made for Saturday, the expectations were high for more strong results.
TAG Junior would kick off the day, but not as well as the team had hoped for. The qualifying session just didn’t work out for the young drivers as track position seemed to be an issue to get the best lap on the very abrasive track surface. Denes would lead the team with a 7th place starting position, McDaniel would follow in 9th, Baker in 11th, and Aguirre in 15th. Making some changes all the drivers were prepared to move up the field. Unfortunately, the common first lap incidents that are seen in the Junior category knocked Denes and McDaniel out of the first heat early and Baker all the way to the rear. Aguirre managed to make it through all of the carnage and ran quicker and quicker throughout the heat to move up to 8th by the finish. The second heat would be a bit better as all the pilots made it through the first lap and got to race it out. Baker would have a fantastic drive on his home track to move up from 14th to 6th by the end of the race. Aguirre would be locked in a tight battle that saw him finish 10th. Denes fell to the back of the 23 kart field early, but would be one of the fastest karts on the track and climb his way back to 14th.
McDaniel’s tough luck continued. As he was marching up through the field, the engine expired forcing him to switch to a back-up for the final. Looking to find the last bit of speed needed to get to the podium, the team made some changes and went over the data, but unfortunately the luck and the pace came up a bit short. Aguirre would lead the team with a 9th place finish in only his second ever TAG Junior race on a track he had never even seen before the weekend. All in all a successful weekend as he continued to learned the intricacies of the faster TAG engine and softer MG tires. McDaniel had a great drive from the back of the field to a top 10 finish with his spare engine, but an unfortunate penalty was handed down for avoidable contact dropping him to 17th in the final order. Penalty aside, the speed continues to improve and McDaniel’s luck will turn around soon. Baker was running in 8th place struggling to match the pace of the leaders when contact dropped him down the final order to 12th. Not the weekend the 14 year old points leader was expecting, but preparation will begin immediately to make sure the final two weekends of the championship go as planned. Denes’ first lap bad luck continued as he was driven straight into the side by another competitor ending his race immediately. A podium will come soon for Denes and he will now head to Europe later in the month to do testing with the factory team and should come back even stronger for the rest of the season.
Gianfranco Casadei has dominated S3 ever since joining the series starting at Willow Springs in Round 2. This race would be no different, but with many more challenges. After a big crash at a local club race two weeks prior, Casadei’s chassis was very bent. Fixing it to the team’s best ability, the Brazilian shifter rookie was able to still go on to take pole by almost half a second over a much improved S3 field of competitors. He was able to sweep both heats and then go on to an over 15 second victory in the final. Running times within tenths of the top drivers in S2 in the main event just proves how much Casadei is improving each and every race.
The headline category of the weekend was TAG Senior with 26 entries. After sweeping the SKUSA Pro Tour and then Jake Craig dominating the last main event at Adams, the team would look to make it four in a row in the category. Jake Craig would put his stamp on who the driver to beat was immediately in qualifying by securing the pole. New teammate Chris Cricca would follow closely qualifying 3rd on a Rok TT, the top non Rotax in the field. The heats would go uneventful for both drivers as Craig was able to drive to two comfortable victories and Cricca was able to conserve tires by finishing 3rd in both heats and more importantly giving himself the inside starting position for the main event. Being a bit more aggressive on the start, Cricca was able to slot in 2nd behind Craig. Craig, the 15 year old driver from Mission Viejo, would turn in an absolutely remarkable drive getting faster and faster with each lap to dominate the main event by over 6 seconds and set fastest lap by over 2 tenths and on lap 18 in the 20 lap final. Another dominant performance as Craig and ART Grand Prix America have definitely become the team to beat the rest of the season. Cricca drove a very smart race to control the pace of those behind him and save his fastest laps for the end to put a gap at the end of the race to finish 2nd for his first ever SKUSA podium in Senior competition, but even more impressive was the two year hiatus he had from competition. The future looks very bright for Cricca for the rest of the SKUSA season.
ART Grand Prix America thanks ART Grand Prix, D Power Racing Engines, Starlane Electronics, and mechanics: Brody Roa, Mike Razetto, Race Liberante, Robert Baker, Chris Wesson, and Shawn Cricca for all of their support.
ART Grand Prix America is the exclusive importer for the ART Grand Prix Chassis and is actively looking to expand its dealer network across the USA. All teams or drivers interested in learning more are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the team on Facebook: ART Grand Prix America.