EKN Trackside: United States Pro Kart Series – Mid-Summer Classic – Saturday Report
Kalish outlasts competition as do four other first-time victors
Kyle Kalish earned his first USPKS Leopard Pro victory of the season, extending his point lead
(Photo: David Olson)
The fifth round of the United States Pro Kart Series – presented by Bridgestone, FranklinKart.com, and L&T Manufacturing – completed Saturday at the Briggs & Stratton Raceway Park in Dousman, Wisconsin. A clear and sunny day welcomed the over 90 drivers on site, competing in the seven categories. The days events challenged the short circuit – home of the Badger Kart Club – as classes ran a short five minute qualifying session, with laps for the heat races going to 12 and 25 for the main events, except for Leopard Pro going 30 circuits. It proved to be a battle of speed and endurance in many classes, as the quickest driver did not always come away, including many of the fast drivers quick on Friday. At the end of the day, both the Rookie and Cadet Yamaha categories welcomed a fifth different driver in five rounds, with a total of five drivers earning their first USPKS victory of the season.
Experince at the Briggs & Stratton Raceway Park goes a long way, and it showed in the short qualifying session. Wisconsin driver TJ Koyen (Exprit), who had just one practice session on Friday due to work commitment, was quick out of the box, dropping a 36.749-second lap to secure the top position. Colton Ramsey (Tony Kart), another driver with time in Dousman, was second, just 82 thousandths off Koyen’s time. New championship leader Kyle Kalish (Merlin) was third, but ended the session with a broken electrical wire. Michael Geringer (FA Kart) put in a solid run to end up fourth, just quicker than Mark Dismore Jr. FA Kart). Franklin Motorsport owner Jamie Sieracki (Merlin) was sixth, but a seized motor at the end put him at the tail of the field for the heat races with an engine change.
Koyen set his DB Motorsports entry on cruise control for the opening heat race. A clear path at your home circuit felt like a Sunday drive on a Saturday for Koyen as he drove to a two-second advantage after 12 laps. Behind him was a fight for second, including for drivers. Ramsey held the position for the first half of the race until Kalish took over and held it to the checkered flag. Dismore was able to move Ramsey back to fourth with Geringer placing fifth.
It was similar results in the second heat as Koyen got away from the field early and was out front comfortably. Running the fast laps of the race, he settled into a two-second gap on the field for the win after 12 laps. Contact on the opening lap between Ramsey and Dismore saw the Comet Kart Sales driver lose power and a number of positions in the process. Both he and Ramsey dropped down the order, leaving Kalish to fight out the second spot with Geringer. Scott Kopp (Tony Kart) was able to benefit from the early contact and was able to join the fight for second, placing fourth at the checkered flag with Friday Happy Hour fast driver Tommy Andersen (Praga) in fifth. Dismore and Ramsey were able to drive to seventh and eighth respectively.
Heading into the main event, it appeared that it was Koyen’s to win or lose. The original start was red flag following an incident with Michael Goodyear (Birel), who was able to walk away but felt sore later one. With the race restarted, Koyen repeated the pace he set up in the heat races and was well out in front. That was until lap seven when he pulled off the course with a broken exhaust flex piece. The heartbreak for Koyen put the fight for second now the battle for the win. Geringer stepped up, putting Dismore and Kalish behind him on lap nine to assume the lead for the first time in the series. They ran that way for a few laps until Kalish began to his charge to the front on lap 12, working past Dismore for second. He took over the lead at the halfway mark of the 30-lap event, bringing Dismore with him to put MG back to third.
Kalish’s Merlin seemed to have an edge on the two FA Karts, as he kept a three-to-four kart length gap over them as the laps wore on. When the race reached six laps to go, attrition began to take a toll on the field. First was Ramsey, in the fight for the top-five with a brake failure. The following lap was Dismore with a flat tire, and then Andersen’s rear bumper detached from his ride, shuffling up the front of the immensely. Nothing changed at the front at drove to a two-second gap over Geringer for the victory. It was the first in the series for Kalish, and extended his championship lead over Jens, who struggled throughout the day to finish seventh. Geringer recorded his best series finish with the runner-up spot to end a solid day for the Illinois driver with CKT Racing. The fight for third came down to the final lap as Derek Dignan put his KartSport North America FA Kart ahead of Kindra Hurlbert (Tony Kart). The Minnesota driver became the second female driver to stand on the Pro podium this season. Rounding out the top five was Darin Marcus (Merlin) with Matt Stagl (Merlin) in sixth.
Championship leader Mike McAndrews (Birel) set the pace in qualifying, with a 38.076-second lap in the session. Killian Keaveny (Top Kart) was just two tenths off with Grant Sandberg (Merlin) in third. McAndrews led all 12 laps of the first heat, as Sandberg was able to move to second over Keaveny. McAndrews drove to another win in heat two, as Keaveny ran runner-up about three seconds back. Sandberg retired after lap one, losing a chain. The main event was all McAndrews, leading the entire 25 laps for his second series victory. Sandberg was able to edge out Keaveny for the runner-up spot.
The championship contenders in the Leopard Masters group were at the top of the order early, but were interrupted by local driver Laurentiu Mardan (Kosmic), who got on track late. The quick driver from Friday Happy Hour, the Romanian native who now lives in the Chicago area was at the top of the time sheet following qualifying with the only driver in the 37-second bracket. Brian McHattie (Exprit) was second with championship leader Chuck Gafrarar (Parolin) in third. Brian McEvoy (Merlin) was fourth, returning from a long night at the shop repairing some damaged engines from Friday’s practice. Lamar Humphries (Margay) rounded out the fast five.
It was the top four fighting it out for the win in heat one, with Mardan fighting back both McHattie and Gafrarar through the opening lap. After they settled in, McHattie waited for his opportunity, taking it near the halfway point and bringing Chuck G with him. They fought for the lead until the checkered flag with McHattie able to fend off Gafrarar. Mardan dropped to fourth but was able to get around McEvoy in the final laps, as did Humphries as he fought with local driver Mark Peters (Merlin) all 12 laps.
Mardan led the field to the green flag for the second 12-lap heat race, able to hold off early pressure from Gafrarar. McHattie, who fell to third, swapped the second spot with Gafrarar two laps straight until Gafrarar reestablished the spot, but gave Mardan some space up front. Gafrarar was able to shake McHattie and began closing in on Mardan as the quickest driver on the track. Able to reach the leader, Gafrarar was able to find a way around on the final lap, with Mardan taking the win. McHattie was third, holding off McEvoy in the late stages with Humphries in fifth.
The 25-lap heavyweight fight went to the wire for the Masters category with Mardan coming away with the victory. Starting on the pole position with McHattie on the outside, the battle began as the green flag waved with the drivers jostling for position through the opening corners, including three-wide action momentarily on the exit of turn one. Gafrarar came away with the lead, driving past the top two with McEvoy pushing Mardan back to fourth. Lap two saw McHattie take over the lead with a move in turn four, which would become the spot of much of the action. Gafrarar ran second until lap nine when he made a similar move in the same spot to take back the lead. At the same time, Mardan took over third from McEvoy. Two laps later, McHattie came back inside Gafrarar in the same corner. A little bit of racing contact occurred and this allowed Mardan and McEvoy to slide through for the top two spots. The next lap, both McHattie and Chuck G drafted past McEvoy but continued to fight for the second spot. This gave Mardan some breathing room. Lap 15 however McHattie retired early with a mechanical issue, leaving Gafrarar a clear path to chase down Mardan, who established a two-second advantage. While Gafrarar ran quicker in the closing laps, it was not enough to cut the lead Mardan held, as the local driver earned his first USPKS victory. Gafrarar earned another runner-up spot, but extended his point lead over McEvoy finishing third. Humphries ran to fourth with McHattie classified fifth.
With the most experience at the Briggs & Stratton Raceway Park, Tony Jump (Margay) used it to his advantage and scored the pole position in Yamaha Senior. He posted a 40.257-second lap to secure the spot, edging out Comet Kart Sales driver Andrew Burton (Arrow) by 0.083 seconds. Burton, making his first ever visit to Dousman, went off in turn one toward the end of the session trying a different line through the corner, thankfully no damage done to his ride. Darin Marcus (Merlin) was third in the order ahead of Josh Hotz (Arrow) and Collin Griffin (Tony Kart). Championship leader Joel Jens (Tony Kart) was only able to clock in the eighth quickest lap of the session, leaving work for the four-time winner.
Jump led the 16 kart field to the green flag for heat one with Burton not giving an inch as they made their way into turn three. Hotz made it three wide into the corner, diving inside of the top two. Jump was able to fight both off and hold the position through the first lap, establishing a solid lead over the fight for second. Burton spun in on the exit of turn seven on lap two, ending his chance at the top-three finish, giving Hotz the second spot with Colton Ramsey (Tony Kart) up to third on his bumper. Ramsey was able to secure the position after the halfway mark, with Hotz coming under pressure from Jens in the final laps. Jump drove to a big advantage over the rest of the field for the heat win with Ramsey in second. Jens worked past Hotz in the tree corner to secure the third spot with Griffin holding his fifth position.
Burton was able to get the jump on the polesitter – Jump – and led the opening laps of the second heat. Jump stayed on his bumper until about lap four, working past in turn three with a nice clean move. Burton kept close to Jump’s bumper, learning from the class veteran with Ramsey running alone in third. Jump stretched out to a two tenths margin over Burton. Ramsey drove to third with Adam Crepin (Merlin) moving up to fourth, passing Marcus in the final stages of the race.
Jump and Ramsey were the front row for the main event with Jump taking the lead from the pole position with Ramsey slotting into the second spot. Marcus was third with Burton and Hotz making up the early top-five. Lap four, Marcus showed he had more speed then what was shown in the heat races, working past Ramsey for the second spot, who now fell under pressure from Burton and Kotz. Jump continued to lead the way during the 25-lap run, pacing about two tenths quicker then Marcus getting pushed by Ramsey. At the checkered, Jump would score the win by a near eight-second gap over Ramsey, who jumped past Marcus in the closing laps. Burton ran fourth but was penalized for contact, and placed in the 12th position, moving Jens up to fourth which ended his win streak at four in the category. Kenlen Morse (Top Kart) would be classified fifth.
Championship leader Zach Holden (Top Kart) began round five as the driver to beat, coming out of the qualifying session as the top driver in the session. His 39.612 was a full tenth of a second quicker than David Malukas (Birel). Emerson Reed (Top Kart) was third in the order with Badger regular Brandon Lemke (Merlin) in fourth and Emily Hurlbert (Merlin) rounding out the top-five.
The start of the first heat saw Holden hold the top position through the opening corners as Malukas and Reed fought for the second position corner after corner. Malukas secured the spot after turn five, putting Reed back to third. Holden pulled to a small advantage but Malukas was able to run him down as the top two drove away from the fight for third involving Reed and Lemke. Malukas closed some, but Holden would drive to a 1.6-second advantage for the win. The fight for third went down to the wire with Lemke edging out Reed, Hurlbert, and Ryan Weyer (Merlin) for the spot.
Holden went wire-to-wire in the second heat race, as he had a two tenths advantage per lap. Leading all 12 circuits, he drove to a three-second advantage over Malukas. Reed ended up third with Lemke fourth and Sheldon Mills (Top Kart) in fifth.
It was a total domination on the day for Holden, as the championship leader extended his point lead with a sweep in round five. Starting from the pole position after his two heat wins, Holden drove away early and continued to do so as toward the end, posting the fast laps of the race near the end. At the checkered flag, it was over a 10-second advantage for his second victory of the series. Malukas was able to secure the second spot from outside row one, and ran solo the entire time for the runner-up finish. The fight was for third with Lemke edging out Reed and Hurlbert for the final position on the podium.
The largest class of the weekend is the Yamaha Cadet division, with a championship that is still wide open with possible ten drivers still in the chase. Taking good use of the home track advantage, Sam Mayer (Merlin) came away with the pole position in what was a tight fight for the spot. His 41.843-second lap was best, with Alex Bertagnoli (Merlin) and Gabriel Zellner (Arrow) within 44 thousandths of a second. Austin Schaff (Merlin) was fourth with Simon Sikes (Arrow) placing fifth. Championship leader Neil Verhagen (Arrow) was classified back in the 22nd position in the 24 kart field, leaving some work for him in the heat races to get back toward the front by the main event.
Mayer and Bertagnoli led the field to the green flag to begin the opening heat race, holding the positions through the first six laps as Schaff joined the duo out front. Lap seven, Schaff was able to pass both and take the lead for the first time on the day as they continued to drive away from the field. The trio continued to swap positions to the checkered flag with Schaff taking the win. Mayer edged out second from Bertagnoli. The fight for fourth saw contact on the final lap with Sikes and Luke Fineis (Birel) getting the bad end of the stick. Fourth went to Zellner with Tommy Burke (Birel) up to fifth.
It continued to be Mayer at the front of the Cadet field in heat two as he led a group of four drivers. Lap 11 is when the fight for the win began as Schaff worked psat Mayer for the lead and they continued to shuffle through the final lap. Schaff was able to hold the pack behind him to score the race win. Mayer settled for the second spot, with Zellner in third and Betagnoli in fourth. Rounding out the top five was Dillon Schwanbeck (Tony Kart), coming all the way from 14th on the grid. Verhagen did work in both heat races, up to ninth in the opening run and eighth in the second heat race, setting up for a better starting position come the main event.
Schaff and Mayer filled out the front row for the Cadet main event with Schaff taking advantage of the pole position to lead the opening lap. Mayer and Zellner tucked in behind as Verhagen was fourth after starting sixth, dropping Bertagnoli back to fifth. The two Merlin drivers of Schaff and Mayer worked together to post the fast laps of the race, running nose to tail, pulling little by little away from Zellner and Bertagnoli who worked past Verhagen early on. On the final lap, Schaff ran a defensive line with Mayer looking for a way by. Mayer criss-crossed on the exit of the tree corner, and they drag raced to the strip. At the line, Mayer scored the victory for his first of the season and became the fifth different winner of the year. Schaff settled for second with Zellner winning the fight for third over Bertagnoli. Schwanbeck was up to fifth at one point after falling back to eighth, but Verhagen took the spot on the final lap to score fifth and ending a great recovery from qualifying. Bromante came from 11th on the grid to end up seventh behind Schwanbeck.
The quick driver in the Yamaha Rookie qualifying session, the first group on track for the day, was Talan Drake (Birel). He secured the top spot with a lap of 42.642-second lap, edging out Aidan Harrington (Birel) by just 11 thousandths. Championship leader Mark Fineis (Birel) was third with Griffin Kunz (Praga) fourth and Parker Abed (PCR) fifth.
Harrington was able to grab the lead early in heat one, taking the outside line around the first corner and pulling out to the lead. He and Drake swapped the lead a few times until Harrington spun on lap seven and lost the lead group. The fight for the lead came down to three with Drake leading Fineis and Kyle West (Merlin) up from sixth. Drake fought off Fineis in the final corners for the race win with West a close third. James Lynch (Tony Kart) was fourth with Carter Cass (Merlin) in fifth.
Drake led the field to the green flag for heat two, but was dropped back to fourth after the opening lap with Harrington leading the way over Kunz and West. Harrington would lead a long train of drivers until lap 10 when West and Drake pushed pass him down the front straight to take over the top two positions. On the final lap, Drake went inside of West for the lead and they continued to swap the position until contact in turn five sent West off track and shuffled up the group. Drake went on to take the win, with Harrington back into second. Kunz placed third with Abed and Aiden Lindley (Birel) rounding out the top-five.
After two missed starts, Kunz was shuffled back to the second row with Drake and Fineis on the front row when the green flag waved. Fineis got the jump as they got the start, with Kunz pushing through for second with Lindley into third on the opening lap from sixth as the outside line got the better of Drake. Lap four, Fineis slowed on the front straight and dropped back to sixth. He continued to run off the pace of the leaders, losing spots as the race went on. Out front, Lindley became the new leader with Kunz and Harrington, who started fifth, showing the way. Before the halfway mark, Fineis engine cleared itself out and he began posting the quick laps of the race running down the top three. That was until lap 16 when he fell off the pace once again, losing ground to the leaders for another time. Out front, the trio swapped the lead until Harrington secured the spot and set the tone to the checkered flag.
With two laps to go, Kunz lost some gap from lead duo with Harrington holding a gap on Lindley. On the final lap, Harrington went into defensive mode, and Lindley closed up running the regular line. He was able to dive inside of Harrington as they entered the boot, and the two made contact. Harrington was unable to hold it straight with the side-to-side contact, and spun around. Kunz took advantage from third and stole the lead, holding it to the line for his first victory of the season and became the fifth different winner of the series. Abed ran to second, with Fineis on his bumper in third. Lindley continued on to finish fourth with Nic Sheppard (PCR) in fifth. Harrington would end up crossing the line in eighth behind Lynch and Cass.