EKN Trackside: SKUSA Pro Tour SummerNationals – Saturday Report
Bray bags inaugural win for Aluminos while Nicastro goes from zero to hero in TaG
The 2013 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour reached its midway point today at Grand Junction Motor Speedway on Saturday, as the SummerNationals got underway in excellent, albeit hot conditions. The Colorado facility is centered on one of the most raceable tracks in the country, and SKUSA’s best drivers proved this claim by putting an incredible display of excitement all day long. Passing was the order of the day, although there were numerous pilots who stepped up to essentially dominate their respective classes. Big stories included the return to victory lane by former Pro Tour S1 champion Daniel Bray, a breakthrough win for Brian Fisher in S4, a Deide 1-2 in S2 and an ultimate comeback with by Andre Nicastro in TaG Senior. There was just great racing, all day, in every class.
CRG-USA S1 Pro Stock Moto
The S1 Pro category was the final group to hit the track for the qualifying session, as nearly the entire field posted their quick lap of the run within the first three laps. Familiar names set the pace with defending champion Fritz Leesmann (CRG) at the top of the order, posting a 52.368-second lap. Kiwi driver Daniel Bray, quickest in the final Friday practice run, was second and only 48 thousandths off his time aboard the new Aluminos chassis. Mike Beeny (Tony Kart) split up the returning top three, slotting third on the time sheets to put Joey Wimsett (CRG) to fourth. S1 rookie Billy Musgrave (Tony Kart) completed the fast-five.
The holeshot for the opening heat race went to Leesmann as both Beeny and Musgrave got the jump on Bray. By lap two, Bray had returned back to the runner-up position, but gave up a lot of space to Leesmann out front. After eight laps, Leesmann drove to a 1.1-second advantage over Bray with Beeny in third. Jimmy McNeil (CRG) drove up to fourth with Wimsett placing fifth.
Leesmann once again grabbed the holeshot when the lights went out for the second heat race with Bray slotting into second briefly before Beeny took over the position in turn six. Bray would take the position back as the top three ran close together. Bray even pressured Leesmann for the lead, and on lap seven, made contact with his rear bumper while looking for a way around. Bray recovered and closed up on the final lap to come up just a few inches short of the win at the line. Beeny ran close behind in third with Wimsett and McNeil completing the top-five.
Going three for three on the lights, Leesmann began the 18-lap main event with the lead. That was until Bray struck before completing the opening lap. Going up the hill to turn 11, Bray dove inside and stole the lead as they completed the first lap. The two swapped the lead the next few laps until Bray assumed the point. Leesmann then came under fire from Beeny which allowed Bray to pull away lap after lap while running the fast laps of the race. Finally on lap 13, Beeny would secure the second spot with a move in turn six, dropping Fritz to third and pulled away in the closing laps.
Out front, Bray drove to an impressive victory in the Pro Tour debut of the new Aluminos chassis, and broke up the Leesmann/Wimsett win streak that dated back to SpringNats of 2012. The last two drivers to win a non-SuperNationals race on the Pro Tour were two Aluminos drivers – Brad Dunford and Tom Dyer back in 2011 at Grand Junction. Beeny was just as impressive with his run in second on the MSquared Karting entry. Leesmann would end up on the third step of the podium, still earning a solid day toward the championship chase. The fight for fourth lasted all 18 laps as Tyler Bennett (Tony Kart) found speed at the end of the day, scoring the position to put two MSquared drivers inside the top-four. Flyin Hawaiian Alec Gumpfer (Tony Kart) challenged all race long but settled for fifth when the checkered flag waved, recording his best finish of the season for the Pure Karting S1 rookie.
DRT Racing TaG Senior
The Italian Motors USA/Italkart did their homework as two of their drivers set the quick laps of the qualifying session. SKUSA #2 plateholder Remo Ruscitti posted the fast lap, a 54.660-second time with Brazilian Andre Nicastro only 96 thousandths off the time. EKN TaG Driver Rankings #1 pilot Louie Pagano (Birel) was third with Wisconsin’s TJ Koyen piloting his brand new DB Motorsports/Exprit kart to the fourth quickest time, but had a chain blow apart and end his session early. Friday’s fast time driver Austin Elliott (Top Kart) rounded out the fast five. Point leader Andrew Zimmer (ART GP) ended up seventh, behind Nick Neri (FA Kart) making his TaG Senior Pro Tour debut. Nicastro however would be found too wide for the rear tires, dropping him to the tail of the 42-kart field.
Ruscitti and Pagano were able to break away from the field at the start of the opening lap with Neri and Koyen behind. They closed up on lap two, with Neri going from third to first by the end of the lap with Ruscitti dropping to fourth and getting challenged by Elliott. Looking to move forward more, Elliott saw his race end at the halfway mark as he retired due to the spark plug wire pulling out of the boot. Out front, Pagano and Ruscitti were able to work back around Neri, who came under heat from Koyen once again. Ruscitti would stay locked on the bumper of Pagano, running 1-2 to the checkered flag. Koyen worked past Neri in the final laps for third with Marco Eakins (ART GP) up from 19th on the grid to fifth. Nicastro came from the tail of the field to end up 12th, passing 28 drivers in eight laps. Championship leader Zimmer was involved in an opening lap incident, putting back outside the top-35 for the second heat race.
Pagano was able to take the lead on the opening lap as he took the spot from Ruscitti at the start of lap one as Koyen, Eakins and Neri made up the early top-five. Ruscitti took over the top spot on lap two, bringing Koyen to close up as the top three put some distance on Neri and Eakins. Lap four, Koyen was able to move into the second spot in turn six, as Neri and Eakins closed back in once again to make it five drivers out front. Pagano went back to work on Koyen, moving inside for the second spot in turn ten, allowing Neri to follow through for third in the following corner. Koyen struck back in turn three, bringing Eakins with him to drop Neri back to fifth and giving the top-two some space taking the white flag. They would finish that way with Ruscitti, Pagano and Koyen making up the top three. Neri went past Eakins for the fourth spot on the final lap. Nicastro started 12th and advanced up to sixth, setting off what was a very interesting climb forward for a number of drivers. Matt Johnson (Energy) drove from 28th to 10th, Jacob Knueven (Arrow) went from 21st to seventh, Elliott recovered from 36th to 13th in just eight laps, with William Owen (FA Kart) following through posting a 41st to 22nd.
If you would have said a driver could come from last in heat one to the top of the podium in a 42-kart field, Andre Nicastro would be one of the very few names you could mention. Ruscitti, Koyen and Pagano continued to show the way up front with Mason Chelootz (Top Kart) and Knueven moving into the top-five. Neri, a contender during the heat races, fell back with electrical issues. Pagano moved up to the lead by the end of lap three as a seven kart lead back formed, including Nicastro and Eakins. A few laps later, the top three were able to pull away with Ruscitti back at the front on lap six. The middle portion of the race was focused on the advancement of Elliott. By the halfway point, he was up to eighth, while Nicastro continued charging forward, up to fourth and attempting to chase down the top three. On lap nine, Elliott took advantage of some contact, and found himself in the fifth position, clocking off the fast lap the following circuit with the top four in site.
The lead continued to be exchanged by Pagano and Ruscitti, and went on until lap 14 when the coil wire on his Leopard engine snapped, shutting down his engine and relinquishing the lead to Pagano. Just a few turns later, Nicastro gave Koyen a big push, driving past Pagano for the top two positions. As they entered turn one, Nicastro drafted past Koyen for the lead with Pagano attempting as well. On the exit, Pagano and Koyen made contact, spinning Pagano around but he would continue, rejoining in 14th. Koyen held on to the second spot but drove the remainder of the race with a bent steering shaft. Out front, Nicastro drove away to secure the victory, going from zero to hero on the day. Koyen held Elliott off for second, completing the podium. Jake Craig (ART GP) was another driver recovering from issues in heat one, coming from 11th on the grid to fourth with Eakins in fifth. Neri fought to finish sixth with Knueven, Travis Lowe (Kosmic), Johnson and Derek Dignan (FA Kart) completing the top-10.
Pure Karting S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto
Texan Ryan Kinnear has found a new home in Colorado. The Champion Racing/Intrepid driver was quick at the Rocky Mountain ProKart Challenge event two weeks ago, quick in Friday’s final practice session, and set the tone for round three with the pole position. His 52.485-second lap was best, edging out SpringNats winner Augie Lerch (Tony Kart). Diede brothers Troy and Cody will fill out the second row aboard their CRG chassis for the heat races with Christian Schureman (CRG) completing the fast-five.
Getting the holeshot from row two, Troy Diede led the field around in the opening lap with a solid lead. Lerch was second in the order with Cody Diede also able to jump past Kinnear who ended up fifth after the opening lap behind Schureman. Fighting for second put Schureman up to the spot by the halfway point with Lerch third and Kinnear fourth. Cody Diede came under attack from a host of drivers for the fifth spot with championship leader Garrett Boone (Birel) taking over the position after starting sixth. The top two drivers drove away with Lerch trying to hold off Kinnear. At the line, Diede took the win well out ahead of Schureman. Lerch ran the fast lap of the race to hold off Kinnear for third with Boone placing fifth. The big mover of the race was Cameron Egger (Tony Kart), coming from 27th on the grid to 15th.
Troy Diede once again got the jump as the lights went out for heat two, with Schureman able to secure the second spot over Lerch, Kinnear and Boone. Diede was able to get away as five drivers fought for the second spot on lap three. Lap four, both Kinnear and Boone were able to work past Cody Diede with Lerch closing in on Schureman. Out front, Troy Diede continued to extend his lead while they went three wide in turn six for the second spot. They continued shuffling turn after turn, bringing in more drivers at the tail of the group. Kinnear came away with the position with Cody Diede and Lerch made contact in turn 10 on the final lap. Troy Diede went to the checkered flag by four seconds with Kinnear in second. Cody Diede ran third with Lerch fourth and Boone in fifth but Diede was penalized one position for avoidable contact with Lerch, placing him fourth and Lerch third.
Diede’s both got the jump on the field with Troy leading Cody to start the 18-lap main event. Schureman moved past Kinnear for third with Boone making up the early top five. Colorado driver Austin Schimmel (GP) broke into the top five early after starting eighth, and was up to fourth after the fifth lap. The Diede’s fought for the lead with Troy pushing wide, allowing Cody to come through and take over the spot. The battle for third, which included Lerch who dropped back outside the top-10 at the start, allowed the front two to pull away. Lerch reached the third position on lap 15, putting Schureman back to fourth with Schimmel, making his first start since the SuperNationals last year in fifth. Their fighting however allowed Kinnear to close back in to make it four drivers in the fight for third.
The Diede’s matched their performance from last year’s SummerNationals in Utah, as Cody took the victory with Troy running second. Lerch held on to third, along with his seat that broke on lap five but held together just enough for the podium. Schureman ran to fourth with Schimmel passing Kinnear for fifth in the final corners. Boone ran seventh, just one spot back of championship rival. S2 rookie Ryan Rudolph (CRG) ran an impressive day to end up eighth in his debut with Joshua De Losier (CRG) and Kolton Griffin (Tony Kart) rounding out the top-10.
GT7 Motorsports S4 Master Stock Moto
The S4 Master Stock Moto category continues to grow more competitive as the Pro Tour continues. Stepping up once again was DRT Racing’s Brian Fisher (DR Kart) secured the fast lap of the session, continuing from the Rocky Mountain ProKart Challenge and Friday’s practice run. Fisher’s time of 53.328 seconds just edged out defending champion Eddie Olpin (Kosmic) by 15 thousandths of a second. Point leader Jordon Musser (Birel) was third in the order with Willy Musgrave (Tony Kart) and Robert Marks (CRG) rounding out the fast-five.
From outside row one, Musser stole the holeshot from Fisher to begin the opening heat race. The two swapped the lead a number of times in the opening lap, allowing four drivers to join and make it a six driver lead pack. Missing was Musgrave as he retired on lap two after being involved in an opening lap wreck. Fisher took over the point late and led to the checkered flag. Curtis Cooksey (CRG) recorded the fast lap of the race, driving his Acceleration Karting entry to third ahead of Marks and Mike Smith (CRG) up from eighth. Olpin was placed 12th on the grid after 10 position penalty for an engine modification. He fought his way back to sixth at the tail end of the lead group.
Fisher held the lead by grabbing the holeshot in heat two, but Musser struck early as he dove inside and took the lead in turn six, setting the pace for the eight-lap race. Fisher retook the spot on lap two, as the field kept the leaders in site with Marks up to third over Cooksey with Olpin fifth. Fisher was able to stretch out to a one-second advantage after eight laps with Musser holding off a late charge by Cooksey. Marks ended up fourth with Olpin in fifth, posting the fast lap of the race. Musgrave started 21st and was able to drive up to the ninth position, just off the lead group.
The 18-lap main event began with Fisher out to the lead when the lights went out. Musser once again forced a pass for the lead heading to turn six, but Fisher shut the door and pull out a small advantage. Cooksey, Olpin and Ryan Pool (Kosmic) slotted in behind Musser. Lap two, Cooksey worked past Musser at the turn six with Olpin working around as the lap completed, giving Fisher even more room out front. With Cooksey in the second spot, the group was able to run down Fisher. The Vegas driver held the spot briefly but came back on lap 12 to retake the lead. Lap 15, Musser was looking for a way around Olpin, but contact ripped off his front nose piece and brought out the meatball flag to send him to the sidelines and out of the race with two laps remaining.
Fisher and Cooksey were able to pull away with some space, setting up for a dual between them for the victory. With a half-second advantage taking the white flag, Fisher continued the drive for the victory. Cooksey closed up through the esses to get on the bumper for the final few corners. Fisher would go on to hold it for the checkered flag and his first Pro Tour victory over Cooksey. Olpin would hold on to third for his first podium finish of the season. Marks ran to fourth, earning another solid finish toward the point standings with Chris Jennings coming up from 16th on the grid to fifth in his Jimmy Johns/DR Kart entry.
Italcorse America TaG Master
It was the familiar names at the top of the order in the qualifying session for the TaG Master group. Inaugural Pro Tour champion Ethan Wilson (Tony Kart) ended the session as the quickest driver, piloting his Phil Giebler Racing entry powered by a Rok TT engine to a 55.861-second lap. Chuck Gafrarar (Parolin) was second in the order with Pro Tour new comers Anthony Honeywell (Tony Kart) and Brent Lyman (Parolin) filling out the second row for the heat races. 2011 champ Brian McHattie (Kosmic) was fifth with current point leader Scott Falcone (Arrow) in sixth, the top Rotax in the field with the fast-five a mix of Rok and Leopard engines. Wilson however lost the pole position after measuring too wide at the rear of the kart, dropping him to the tail of the field for the opening heat race to put Gafrarar and Honeywell on the front row.
Racing in TaG Masters proved that no one engine would dominate the weekend in Grand Junction. After Gafrarar scored the pole in qualifying aboard his Leopard, McHattie would steal the show in heat one as he took the lead from Gafrarar in the turn six hairpin at the end of the back stretch. McHattie and his Rok powerplant drove to the heat one win ahead of a very close Gafrarar. Falcone drove to third with Honeywell back to fourth ahead of Jim Russell Jr. (Parolin).
The mercury began to rise in the second heat between the front three of McHattie, Gafrarar and Falcone. After Gafrarar took the lead from McHattie in turn six on the opening lap, McHattie fell from the offense to playing defense, trying to keep second place from an aggressive Falcone. On the exit of turn 10 on lap three, Falcone and McHattie both went wide and McHattie spun into the dirt and lost the lead pack. Falcone would go on to get around Gafrarar scoring the heat two win, and the pole position for the main. Honeywell advanced to third with Wilson rebounding to place fourth, recording the fast lap of the race, while Paul Bonilla (Italkart) was fifth.
In the main event, after pulling away from the pack, Gafrarar, Falcone and McHattie ran nose to tail the entire race. Contact in the opening corner dropped Honeywell out of the race and a broken header would put sour note on Wilson’s day, taking him out of contention as well. Gafrarar ran second to Falcone the entire race until five laps to go when McHattie made his move for P2. McHattie then turned his attention on Falcone, setting up for what could have been an interesting battle. The two drivers however ran clean and respectable, with Falcone giving McHattie just enough room and the DB Motorsports driver not forcing any outrageous passing attempts on the KartSport North America driver. At the checkered flag, Falcone would score the victory for his second of the seasons with McHattie and Gafrarar completing the podium. Bonilla would drive to fourth, a few seconds back of the leaders, while Russell bounced back from a DNF in heat two and placed fifth.
Phil Giebler Racing TaG Junior
Finding speed overnight, Yurik Carvalho jumped to the top of the order when the TaG Junior field strapped on new MG Tires and opened up the qualifying sessions. The Italian Motors USA/Italkart driver posted a 55.354-second lap for the pole position. Pro Tour point leader Austin Versteeg was second in his debut qualifying session with the Rolison Performance Group/Kosmic operation. Nick Ramirez (Top Kart) was third with SpringNats winners Blaine Rocha (Kosmic) and Luke Selliken (Kosmic) completing the fast-five.
Carvalho was able to break away as they took the green for heat one with Selliken jumping up to second on the opening lap, ahead of Versteeg and Rocha as Ramirez was shuffled back outside the top five after dropping a wheel. The driver on the move was Brendan Baker (ART GP), starting tenth and was into the third position by lap four of the eight-lap event. Carvalho drove away, posting his fast lap of the race to end up out front by over seven tenths with Versteeg up to second. Baker finished third with Selliken fourth and Ramirez back to fifth after Rocha dropped back to seventh in the final circuit.
The second heat race began similar to that of heat one, as Carvalho drove away from the field right away with Baker up to the second spot after the opening lap, putting Versteeg, Ramirez and Rocha behind him. The top four began closing together after the second lap with Rocha and Selliken losing ground. Carvalho and Baker stretched out a gap at the halfway point but Versteeg and Ramirez worked together to close back up with two laps to go. Lap seven, Versteeg took over the second position in turn six, with Ramirez trying but unable to secure third. After a couple looks, they did not change positions to the checkered flag with Carvalho taking the win by over a second. Versteeg, Baker, Ramirez and Selliken completed the top-five.
As he did in the heat races, Carvalho paced the field to open up the 18-lap final with Versteeg, Baker, Ramirez and Selliken trailing. In the opening corners, Rocha was involved in some contact and ended up 19th, as did Davey Manthei Jr. (Arrow). The top five pulled away from the rest of the field, setting up for a solid fight for the victory. Lap four, Baker went through at turn three, putting Carvalho back to second for the first time on the day. Herta was able to close up to the top five, making it six in the lead group and up to fifth to put Selliken to sixth. Lap sixth, Carvalho retook the lead as he passed for the position in turn six. Herta gained another position at the start of lap seven, diving inside at turn one to move Ramirez back a position, with Selliken fighting through a few corners later. At the halfway mark, contact in turn six sent Carvalho off the track and out of the race, shuffling the group up and put Selliken into the lead. It was for a short time as Versteeg went past his Rolison Performance Group teammate for the lead as the top five continued shuffling. At the same time, Rocha continued fighting his way forward and was into the sixth position after 10 lap, looking to run down the top five.
With five to go and the group shuffling for position, Rocha had caught the group and Versteeg continued to pull away out in the lead. Rocha continued working his way forward, around Baker, Ramirez, and Herta to close up on Selliken. Lap 16, Rocha took the second spot in turn 11, with Selliken slotting in behind briefly to take the spot back in turn three on lap 17. Versteeg would run unchallenged to the victory, claiming his first Pro Tour victory in his debut with RPG. Rocha took second from Selliken on the exit of turn 10, holding it to the checkered flag. Herta drove to fourth in his return to the Pro Tour with Christian Brooks up from ninth to fifth in his debut with ART GP America.
Karting Coach S5 Junior Stock Moto
The championship contenders set the tone for the day in the S5 Junior Stock Moto category with round two winner Jarred Campbell the top driver. Leading Edge Motorsports/Intrepid driver laid down a 53.917-second lap to edge out defending champ Jim McKinney (KGB) by just 65 thousandths. Round one winner Carter Williams (FA Kart) was third in the order with Mexican Raul Guzman (GP) and Oklahoma driver Jesse Woodyard (Intrepid) completing the fast-five.
Campbell took the holeshot to begin the eight-lap heat race with Williams jumping up to the second spot over McKinney. Salvador de Alba (CRG) came from seventh on the grid to be fourth, trailing the top three with Erik Nelson (Exprit) up to fifth from eighth. Campbell drove away to a 1.3-second advantage with McKinney able to drive past Williams for second, but he did run the fast lap of the race. Woodyard fought back to finish fourth with Nelson putting Alba back to sixth.
The start of heat two witnessed Campbell grabbing the holeshot once again with Williams slotting into second. Nelson moved up from fifth to third, putting McKinney down to fourth with Guzman making up the early top-five. McKinney put on the pressure for the third spot during the first half of the race, allowing the top two some distance out front. Lap five, McKinney was finally able to work past Nelson for the third position and pull a gap in the following corners. Williams was able to close up some on Campbell in the closing laps, but unable to get close enough to make a move as they ran 1-2. McKinney held third to the end with Nelson and Guzman trailing.
The S5 main event followed the script of the SpringNationals, where Williams and Campbell spilt the victories, chasing each other to the wins. On this day, Campbell took his turn and stepped up to score his second win of the year, although it was not without a huge challenge. The lead duo pulled away quickly when the lights went out to start their 18-lap final, leaving McKinney and Woodyard to scrap it out for the leftovers, which would be the final spot on the podium. But while Williams pressed hard all race long, Campbell was too strong, and he was the first to the stripe to score the win. McKinney’s dice with Woodyard came to a climax with contact in turn one when Woodyard got the short end of the stick, putting him off track and leaving McKinney with a three-position penalty for avoidable contact. Guzman would take third in the final tally after the decision, while Woodyard battled back to take fourth, coming home just ahead of De Alba.
Rolison Performance Group TaG Cadet
Making his first SummerNationals start, New York driver Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) secured the top spot in the TaG Cadet qualifying. The GT7 Motorsports driver posted a 1:01.265-lap to clear the field by two tenths. Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) was second in the order with defending champion Hunter Kelly (Tecno Kart), Trey Brown (Tony Kart) and Jackson Logsdon (Tony Kart) completing the fast-five.
Once racing started, Tavella went to work. After two failed starts, that resulted in third place starter Hunter Kelly taking over as the pole position to start the race, the race finally got underway. Last year’s national champ seized the opportunity to start at the front and proved that his slump at the SpringNationals in Tucson was a merely a fluke. Kelly got the jump as the lights went out and led the first two laps before Tavella worked his way back to the point. From there, Tavella was the top dog to earn the win over Kelly. Trenton Sparks (FA Kart) came from seventh on the grid to end up third over Tomas Mejia (Top Kart) and Ryan Schartau (Top Kart).
The second heat race was all Tavella as he went wire-to-wire for the win. Kelly ran second, but three seconds behind after seven laps. Schartau moved up to the third position, edging out Jonathan Shone (Top Kart) and Brown for the spot.
The TaG Cadet main event began on a sour note with a few drivers climbing up one another on the exit of the esses, bringing out the red flag. Thankfully, everyone walked away and the race was restarted. When the race restarted, a six-kart breakaway included Schartau, Kelly, Shone, Brown, and Payton Durrant (Birel) all being led by Tavella. The shortened 10-lap race was all Tavella, leading the whole race on his way to his first Pro Tour main event victory. Schartau held second until the final lap when Shone took the spot away. Durrant drove his way from the tail end of the six kart train to the top three, rounding out the podium. Brown and Dick Yu (Tony Kart) completed the top five just ahead of Kelly while Schartau dropped back to ninth on the final lap.
Drivers and teams will do it all over again Sunday, completing the final day of the SummerNationals and the fourth round of the Pro Tour championship. The standings shook up with today’s results, and Sunday’s action will set the stage for the series finale – the SKUSA SuperNationals XVII in November. EKN Trackside Live continues Sunday morning with qualifying. Live audio and timing can be viewed at www.eknclassic.com/live with updates posted to the Official Discussion Thread, Facebook, Twitter and photos on Instagram.