EKN Trackside: 2013 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals – Saturday Report
History made at GoPro Motorplex as Championship Saturday decides seven national champions
Member of Team USA following the 2013 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals
(Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.us)
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Drivers, teams and families prepared the last 364 days for Championship Saturday at the 2013 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals. This year’s annual event was held at the new and pristine GoPro Motorplex facility in Mooresville, North Carolina. Race City USA hosted over 200 drivers in seven categories, all fighting for a shot at becoming the latest Rotax national champion. History was made with Daniel Formal earning his record fourth title, while doing it in his fourth different category, as six others become first time champions. In addition, Team USA welcome new and returning members as nine drivers earned their ticket to compete at the Rotax Grand Finals at NOLA Motorsports Park in November – with another six drivers to compete at the Micro & Mini Max Invitational event the same weekend.
It was a Tony Kart front row for the Prefinal event as AJ Myers earned the pole position after his two heat races, lining up alongside another two win driver Sam Beasley. Myers held the lead through the opening corner as Beasley slotted in behind, just ahead of Oliver Askew (Tony Kart) and Nick Neri (Tony Kart) with Evan Mehan (Sodi Kart) breaking up the OTK groups. Starting lap two, Beasley and Askew moved past for the top spot but Askew took over the lead in turn nine before they completed the lap. The top seven ran together out front with Daniel Roeper (Tony Kart) and Jonathan Kotyk (Tony Kart) in the mix. With Askew out front, Neri put himself into the second spot with Roeper, Myers and Beasley pulling away from the battle for sixth led by Mehan. By lap six, Beasley would work back up to third position, pushing Myers and Roeper back. Behind them, Andrew Palmer (Kosmic) and Roger Ralston Jr. (FA Kart) were the drivers on the move. By the halfway point, Palmer was sixth with Ralston seventh, dropping Mehan back to eighth until Kotyk worked past for the position. Askew was able to run some quick laps as the race closed to pull away to an eight tenths advantage over Neri with Beasley and Myers keeping it tight. They would finish that way after 14 laps. Roeper held off a charging Palmer for fifth with Ralston and Kotyk behind. Derek Dignan (FA Kart) put Mehan back another spot to put him tenth in the final order.
Askew and Neri filled out the front row for the main event to decide the two tickets to the Rotax Grand Finals, and of course, the national championship. Neri got shuffled out through the opening corner as Askew took the lead with Beasley, Roeper into third and Palmer fourth. Kotyk was fifth but Neri took it before the completion of lap one and Myers moving past as well. First through sixth established a solid lead over the rest of the pack, as Askew and Beasley put some distance on Roeper. Lap three, Neri jumped up to third, pushing Roeper down to six with Palmer and Myers up a spot. Seven laps complete, the top three were nose to tail with Palmer losing ground as Myers, Roeper and Morgan Healey (Tony Kart) up from 11th closed up on him. Halfway, Askew began to knock off fast laps of the race, clocking them in on lap 10, 11 and 12. That helped him to stretch out to a one-second lead over Beasley and Neri. The Senior rookie showed great poise over the second half of the race, keeping up a consistent pace and gap over the competition. At the line, Askew secured his first Rotax Grand Nationals title. For Beasley, it was a bitter-sweet finish, as he recorded a fourth-straight runner-up result at the event but secured another trip to the Rotax Grand Finals alongside Askew. Neri would come up one spot short for another year, rounding out the podium. Palmer and Myers completed the top-five as Roeper, Healey, rookie Dignan, Ralston and Will Owen (FA Kart) from 22nd to 10th.
The DD2 category capped off the Prefinal events with Daniel Formal (Tony Kart) and Michael Ilivia (Sodi Kart) on the front row. Ilavia got the jump on Formal but diving to the inside at turn eight, Formal took back the lead and shuffling resulted in Mitch Carey (CRG) sliding past for second. That allowed Nathan Mauel (CRG) to move up to third with Ilavia dropping to seventh. Lap six, dicing between Mauel and Carey brought the entire group together, including contact between Ilavia and Carey with Sean Owens (Sodi Kart) jumping up to second with Mauel back to third. With all the action behind him, Formal went into cruise control with the rest of the group running similar lap times trying to catch back up. After the 14 laps, Formal scored the win by 1.6 seconds with Mauel working past Owens for second on the final lap. Ilavia rebounded to fourth with Alex Tartaglia (Sodi Kart) fifth.
From the drop of the green flag, it was Formal’s to win or lose. He held the lead through the opening corners as the field behind him shuffled for position. Mauel and Owens were pushed back, and contact in turn nine put Mauel off course and CJ Cramm (Sodi Kart) out of the race. Mauel would continue, but out of contention. This left Ilavia and Tartaglia in the chase position. They kept close early but Formal would inche out his lead little by little. The podium picture changed on lap 14 with Tartaglia retiring out of the race. This left Ilavia in the chase but would not be able to match that of Formal. The three-time Grand Nationals winner would drive away to a nine-second advantage, earning his fourth title – setting a record for earning a title in four different categories – and matching the win total record set by Jordon Musser. Ilavia finished second, but was bounced in tech for an engine squish violation. This moved Owens up to the second spot and joining Formal as a Team USA member, both their first in DD2. Carey would round out the podium with Mauel placing fourth.
Alan Rudolph (CRG) and Rene Martinelli (CRG) led the DD2 Masters field to the green flag for the Prefinal. Ariel Castro (AM Racing Kart) and Paul Bonilla (Arrow) got great jumps, moving to second and third to dropping Martinelli back to fourth. They kept with Rudolph along with Martinelli and Mike Jones (Sodi Kart). Lap three, Bonilla slid past Castro for the second spot in turn 11, and then Castro spun on the exit of turn two with Martinelli forcing the issue. This put Martinelli in third and Jones up to fourth with John Crow (Komsic) trailing in fifth. Lap five, Rudolph fell off the pace some and that allowed Bonilla to slide past for the lead, dropping Rudolph behind for the first time all week. Martinelli then pressured for the spot as Bonilla pulled out to small advantage. Lap seven, Martinelli was able to make a move in turn eight and Rudolph now had Jones on his bumper. Rudolph continued to slow, allowing Jones and Crow around, as it was discovered a loose left rear was the cause of his troubles. Up front, Bonilla held a solid advantage over Martinelli. They ran that way until receiving the white flag with Martinelli finally able to slid past Bonilla after running him down in just a few laps. The 2012 Team USA driver held on to score the win over Bonilla and Jones. Crow finished fourth with Rudolph hanging on for fifth with Castro sixth.
Martinelli and Bonilla set the pace for the main event for the Masters group as they took the green flag. Martinelli got the jump with Jones slotting ahead of Bonilla in the opening corner with Rudolph and Castro slotting in behind. Down the straight for the first time, Jones and Bonilla drafted past Martinelli for the top two positions, and pulled out a distance over the polesitter. He continued to fall back with Rudolph, Castro and Crow working past for position. Rudolph made it a three driver breakaway out front, as they ran nose to tail. Rudolph then went around Bonilla for the second spot, and the Arrow driver continued to fall with Castro and Martinelli working past for position. This left two out front, with Rudolph taking over the lead from Jones as they began lap eight. At the halfway point, Rudolph established a solid lead over Jones, who in turn was well out in front of Castro and Martinelli fighting for the final podium position. With Martinelli working past Castro for the position, Castro would later pull off with a mechanical issue once again, ending his chance at a ticket to New Orleans. The remainder of the race went unchanged with Rudolph earning a second straight title for the PSL Atlantic team. Jones would end up second with Martinelli third, as all three would earn a spot on Team USA for a second straight year. Bonilla ended up fourth with Crow in fifth.
Perfect since the Super Pole session, Ashley Rogero (Tony Kart) led the 34-kart Junior Max field to the green flag with Ocala Gran Prix teammate Austin Garrison (Tony Kart) alongside. After a solid first lap, Rogero held the lead over Garrison with Juan Manuel Correa (Tony Kart) up to third from sixth. Luke Selliken (Kosmic) started third but was fourth after the opening lap as Kyle Kirkwood (Tony Kart), who started fourth, was involved in a wreck at turn three and out of the race. Moving up to fifth from eight was Austin Versteeg (Tony Kart), who posted the fast lap of the race on lap four, trying to run down Selliken. Up front, Rogero continued to lay down consistent laps to hold a near one-second advantage after five laps over Garrison and Correa – a Team USA member in 2012. The top three kept static with Rogero still improving her fast lap with each circuit with Versteeg moving around Selliken for the fourth position. The closing laps were uneventful as Rogero drove to the win over Garrison and Correa. Selliken closed back up on Versteeg, but no action took place for position change. Thomas Issa (Kosmic) improved from 11th to seventh behind Brian Lockwood (Tony Kart) with Ryan Norberg (AM Racing Kart) posting the fast lap of the race in eighth, Quentin De Boever (Tony Kart) and McKay Snow (Kosmic) completing the top-10.
Rogero and Garrison filled the front row for the final time as they led the field to the green flag. Rogero jumped ahead with Correa sliding by Garrison for the second spot with Versteeg and Selliken made up the early top five. Lap two, Correa took over the lead and put Rogero behind for the first time all week. The two 2012 Team USA members pulled out about a half-second ahead of Garrison as he led a long train of karts. Things stayed static with Rogero taking over the lead on lap eight into turn four, as Garrison and Selliken began closing on the top two. Lap 10, Correa went back to the point in turn three, bringing the other two closer to make it a four driver battle. Eyes were on Kirkwood as he started last after the DNF in the Prefinal, up to the 12th position in just 10 laps. Selliken put in his bid for the title as he moved up to third on lap 12, dropping Garrison to fourth with the top two in front of him. Rogero and Correa swapped the lead a couple times on lap 13, bringing Selliken and Garrison closer again, with Norberg trailing. With five laps remaining, the top three were able to put some distance on the other two, with Norberg around Garrison for fourth. Norberg however was clocking in his fast laps of the race on circuit 16 and 17 to close up on the top three, putting himself in the hunt for the podium. Two laps remaining and the drivers was nose to tail with Rogero mapping out the final lap for Correa. Unable to find a way past before the checkered flag, Correa would earn his first Rotax Grand Nationals victory. Rogero would settle for second, but earn a returning spot to Team USA alongside the victor. Selliken completed the podium, with a provisional spot on Team USA through the Can-Am Karting Challenge program. Norberg ran an impressive fourth with Garrison likewise in fifth. It was a great finish to a tough day for Kirkwood, as he drove up to sixth in the final order over Jamaica Rotax Grand Finals qualifier Issa.
Starting on the front row for the Masters Prefinal was Scott Falcone (Arrow) and Tyler Brooks (Tony Kart). Falcone progressively gain spots in the heat races, winning the third, while Brooks scored two wins, but a starting violation dropped him down the order in heat three which cost him the pole position. Falcone got the jump, bringing them down quick as the top two slotted in place. Max Papis (Tony Kart) and Scott Roberts (Tony Kart) slotted in behind with Andy Seesemann (Arrow) in front of top qualifier Diego Pelosi (FA Kart). Lap two, contact was happening all over, including Seesemann getting shoved off by Pelosi out of turn nine. The top two stayed glued as Papis felt pressure from Roberts, about six tenths off the time by the leaders. Lap six, Papis was finally getting comfortable with the new Mojo tires and the conditions of the track, dropping the quickest lap of the race, about one tenth quicker than the leaders who were out front by 1.7 seconds. Papis continued to cut into the leaders advantage as he cut it within a second as only four laps remained. Lap 11, Papis laid down another fast lap of the race, knock the gap down to just a few kart lengths. With Brooks now feeling Papis on his bumper, Falcone put a couple lengths out front. On the final lap, the top three closed right together with Falcone making a slight error. Brooks looked at Falcone, but docked back in on the exit of turn nine. At the stripe, it was Falcone with the win over Brooks and Papis, with Roberts closing in late. Rob Maier (Tony Kart) completed the top-five, leading Corey Mitchell (Kosmic) and Pelosi.
Falcone and Brooks once again paced the field to the green flag for the final race of the event to decide this year’s champion. Falcone got the jump with Papis coming through with the second spot. Contact in turn nine sent Brooks and Roberts off the track, collecting some back markers with more, including Maier the following lap. This allowed John Bonanno (Kosmic) up to the third spot with Pelosi fourth and Mitchell fifth and Michael Auriemma (Tony Kart) trailing the lead group. Lap three, Papis took the lead for the first time and proceeded to put down some fast laps to extend a five to six kart length lead. The front group remain unchanged through the halfway mark as Papis continued to stretch his lead over Falcone and maintain it to the checkered flag for his first ever Rotax Grand Nationals victory. Falcone settled for second, but the KartSport North America driver was awarded the Rotax Grand Finals ticket to compete in DD2 Masters as Papis was ineligible for the prize. Bonanno held on to cross the line third, but was removed from the results following tech. This put Pelosi on the podium with Mitchell and Auriemma rounding out the top-five.
Perfect through qualifying and the heat races, Nick Brueckner put his MRP Motorsport/Birel on the pole position for the Prefinal event with fellow Birel driver Kollin Stuart on the front row. Brueckner jumped out front with David Malukas (Birel) up to second from third as Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart) went to third from fifth as Enzo Fittipaldi da Cruz (Tony Kart) and Joshua Sirgany (CRG) made up the top five. Stuart fell back to eighth on the opening lap, leaving some work ahead to move back up front. On lap four, contact between Malukas and Fittipaldi caused the nose cone of the Birel driver to get ripped off, and thus brought out the meatball flag to pull him off course. This moved Fittipaldi as the lead challenger on Brueckner with Sirgany leading the group behind fighting for third. With two laps to go, Fittipaldi took over the lead to put Brueckner behind for the first time. On the final corner on the final lap, Brueckner spun around as Fittipaldi went on to take the win. Brueckner fell down to eighth as the fight for third moved up to second, and went to the line with Sirgany earning the spot over d’Orlando. Aiden Keel (Birel) moved up from eighth to fourth with Devin Boutot (Tony Kart) placing fifth as Stuart rebounded to sixth just ahead of Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart).
Fittipaldi and Sirgany paced the field to the green flag for the main event. Some carnage took place in turns one and four. One driver flipped over and helped others off the track once he got to his feet. Fittipaldi took the lead with d’Orlando up to second. Brueckner was shuffled back and involved in a wreck at turn four, as the 2012 Micro Max champion would watch the remainder of the race from the sidelines. Behind the top two were Sirgany, Keel and Boutot. Shuffling for position put Sirgany back to seventh with Michael Benyahia (Tecno) up from 15th on the grid into the hunt for the podium as did Neil Verhagen (Arrow). Benyahia continued to be the driver on the move, working all the way up to the third position by lap six, bringing Verhagen with him as Boutot and Keel moved down the order. At the halfway point, the top two continued running together with Benyahia trying to run them down, but trailing by 1.2 seconds. With two laps to go, d’Orlando took over the lead from Fittipaldi, setting up for another dual to the checkered flag. D’Orlando was able to outrun Fittipaldi to turn eight and never put a wheel wrong in the final corners to earn the victory for Koene USA. Fittipaldi was second with Benyahia finishing a great drive to the podium in third. All three also earned a ticket to the Micro & Mini Max Invitational at the Rotax Grand Finals. Boutot ended up fourth with Verhagen fifth.
Kicking off the Prefinal events was the Micro Max division as Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) and Harry Coulton (Birel) filled out the front row. A few of the back-markers were collected in a wreck in turn one, with a couple unable to continue. Out front, Nicholas d’Orlando (Tony Kart) led an eight driver pack with Coulton second and Tavella third. On lap two, Tavella went back to the front, jumping around both Coulton and d’Orlando with Derek Carmenate (AM Racing Kart) and Maxwell Waithman (Kosmic). The following lap, Coulton took his first shot at the point as the top eight continued to run nose to tail. The top two swapped once again on lap five, and despite the switch, they pulled out a gap as they fought for third behind him. Carmenate moved to the front of that fight, dropping d’Orlando to fourth. Contact however between Carmenate and d’Orlando shuffled them up even more, allowing the top two even more space out front. On the final lap, Tavella ran a defensive line through turn eight and nine. They went side by side but Tavella crossed the line first. Coulton ran second with Alex Verhagen (Arrow) rebounded to finish third after starting fourth. Waithman moved up to fourth with Carmenate fifth. Giovanni Bromante (Top Kart) was the driver on the move, advancing up from 21st to 10th.
Tavella and Coulton led the field for the final time of the event to the green flag to begin the main event. Tavella got the jump with Verhagen battling for second, but was shuffled out at turn four with Coulton, Carmenate and others moving by. Payton Durrant (Birel) moved up from seventh to fourth on the opening lap with Kai Palomino (Kosmic) into fifth. As they began lap two, three drivers began fighting for the third spot with Tavella and Coulton pulling out to an eight tenths advantage. By the halfway mark, their advantage was a full two seconds to set up a dual to the end. Shuffling continued with Carmenate and Palomino at the front of the second group that brought in a total of seven drivers. That lap, d’Orlando set the fast lap of the race as he ran fifth and caught the duo fighting for third. By lap 10, he was up to the third position and was set on charging toward the lead duo. Lap 12, Carmenate went back around d’Orlando, ending any chance they had of catching first and second. Out front, white flag waving, Tavella held the lead with Coulton still on his bumper, where he had been the entire 13 previous laps. Tavella ran a defensive line into turn eight, allowing Coulton a criss-cross. They went side by side into the final corner with Coulton holding the position, and crossing the line first. Tavella came up just short, but the results would change in the tech barn. Coulton’s carburetor would be found to be improper, thus removing the victory from him. This put Tavella on the top step of the podium with the Grand Nationals title. Carmenate would have moved up to second, but his carburetor was also improper due to the float height. This put d’Orlando second on the podium with Waithman third, all three earning a ticket to the Micro & Mini Max Invitational at the Rotax Grand Finals. Palomino and Tyler Gonzalez (AM Racing Kart) would complete the top-five.