EKN Trackside: 2013 Rotax Pan-American Challenge – Sunday Report
Askew, Formal and Rudolph dominate main events, Yu Zhou wins Junior by default
Oliver Askew put in a dominant performance in the Senior Max main event (Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.us)
The 2013 Rotax Pan-American Challenge will go down as the largest in its short history, thanks to the nearly 200 drivers at the NOLAMotorsportsPark in attendance from all over the world. The site of the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals was the final shootout for the last chance for drivers in the seven Rotax categories to earn a ticket to this year’s event, scheduled for November 13-16. Senior, Junior, DD2 and DD2 Masters fought for the victory and one ticket per class, with the Mini and Micro divisions being awarded three spots in the Invitational race held in conjunction with the ‘Olympic of Karting’, which will welcome over 300 drivers from 60 countries.
With the format of the Rotax Max Challenge, ranking certain events above others, the international programs held the same ranking, aside from the Rotax Euro Challenge which was at the top of the progression. Country RMC programs were held below the international ones and for the Invitational qualifiers, local USRMC ranked last in order of receiving a ticket. The confusing system kept official crunching projections, and when the final checkered flags were waved, drivers not even in attendance were given spots to the Rotax Grand Finals but not without controversy.
Team USA expanded for the four Rotax Grand Finals categories, and those already on the roster showed well over the three day competition. Three of the claimed victories in convincing fashion, setting up for what could be Team USA’s best shot at claiming a Rotax Grand Finals championship for the first time.
The 14-lap Senior Max prefinal began with former US champ Nick Neri (Tony Kart) and defending world Rotax champion Charlie Eastwood (Tony Kart) on the front row. The top-five slotted in behind them during the opening lap with Jack Weprin (FA Kart), Philip Morin (FA Kart) and Sam Beasley (Tony Kart). On lap two, Eastwood took over the lead as the top two began to pull away from the fight for third. The driver early on the move was Jordon Lennox as the CRG factory driver started eight and into the top-five with US champ Oliver Askew (Tony Kart) following. Morin moved into the third spot and began closing on the top two by the halfway mark. At the same time, Askew worked past Lennox for the fourth spot. The top two drivers began exchanging the top spot with Neri into P1 on lap 11 and Eastwood taking the position two laps later heading into turn 11. Things heated up on the last lap. Eastwood went into defensive mode, and that allowed the charging Morin to get into the mix. He went inside of Neri for second at turn three, and locked onto the bumper of Eastwood. The two Rotax Euro Challenge drivers went 1-2 for the finish as Askew was able to slide past Neri in turn 11 for the third position. Lennox ran fifth with Beasley sixth, all finishing within a second of the leaders. Canadian Zacharie Scalzo (Tony Kart) was the hard-charger of the event, coming from 28th to 13th.
The front row came under attack early from US champ Askew as the 20-lap main event began. Through the first lap, the OGP driver advanced into the lead to put Eastwood third, behind Morin with Neri and Alfredo Zabalza (Kosmic) with a great start up to fifth from 11th. The top four were able to pull away, setting up for what we thought would be a fight to the finish. Askew had other plans as the Senior rookie set a solid pace and put distance on him and the fight for second. Neri would move to third on lap four, and later to second, leaving the two Euro Challenge drivers to fight for third. The OGP teammates ran alone out front with Askew holding a comfortable lead. It would be two seconds at the checkered flag as the young Florida driver locked up another big victory in just three months time. Eastwood, showing the talent of a world champion, ran down Neri in the closing laps and put the former US champ back to third just before receiving the last lap board. Eastwood held off a late charge from Neri to secure the runner-up spot. Lennox was able to run down Morin to record the fourth place finish. With Askew scoring the victory, he gains the Pan-Am ticket to the Grand Finals and his from the US Grand Nationals moves over to Andrew Palmer.
It was a hard opening corner for a number of drivers as they entered turn one with high speed and little control from mid-pack and further back. From the fifth starting position, Brazilian driver Pedro Cardoso (CRG) was able to advance to the lead by the end of the opening circuit, dropping polesitter Ashley Rogero (Tony Kart) to second with Guan Yu Zhou (Tony Kart), Austin Garrison (Tony Kart) and Kyle Kirkwood (Tony Kart) making up the top five. Third place starter Jai Nijjar (Tony Kart) retired on the opening lap with a broken chain, and the British driver would watch from the sidelines. In the early laps it was some hard racing, as the top-five battled hard with US champion Juan Manuel Correa (Tony Kart) joining the fight. Through the fighting, Correa was into the lead by the end of lap five. From there, he was able to lead the remaining six laps for the race win. Behind him, it was a hard fight for second. Lap seven, they went four wide for the position on the exit of turn one. It continued into turn three when Cordoso tried a move at turn three on Rogero, but spun to avoid contact. He would drop back down the order eventually finishing 19th. Up to the final corner, it was non-stop action with Yu Zhou earning the position over Rogero with Garrison in fourth and Philip Hamprecht (Kosmic) in fifth. Hard charger of the race was Blaine Rocha (Kosmic) as the Challenge of the Americas champion came from 26th to an impressive eighth. Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) followed him through as the 2011 US Mini Max champion went from 22nd to 10th.
Correa held the line through the opening corner of the 15-lap main event with Rogero slotting into the second spot, similar to the US Rotax Grand Nationals. Yu Zhou dropped to third with Hamprecht and Garrison making up the top-five. Rogero moved past Correa before the end of the opening circuit, gaining a number of kart lengths after the pass. By lap three, Rogero’s lead began shrinking as Correa and Yu Zhou worked together. Ending lap four, Correa drafted past for the lead into turn 11 to once again lead the race. Lap six, Hamprecht retired early, changing up the top-five. Top qualifier Kirkwood was dropped back to the 17th position in the prefinal, and was on the move as he was into the sixth position by lap six and into the fifth position after some hard racing with OGP teammate Garrison. Rogero and Correa exchanged the lead around the halfway point, as they measured each other up for the second half of the race. This kept Yu Zhou in striking distance as the top three remained well out front. Lap nine, Kirkwood was able to work past Kingsley for the fourth position trailing the top three by four seconds with five laps remaining. Unable to close any ground, the win went down to just Correa and Rogero, just like they did in Mooresville. Correa led up to the long straight when Rogero made a late move to the inside at turn 11. Contact was made and Correa was sent spinning as he went through the grass. Rogero would go on to cross the line first with Yu Zhou in second. Kirkwood completed an amazing drive from 17th to third to fill out the provisional podium. In tech, Rogero elected to withdraw as she essentially forfeited her victory. This gave British driver Yu Zhou the victory and with his Rotax Euro Challenge ticket ranking above the Pan-Am event, it went to second place – Rogero’s OGP teammate Kirkwood. Should Rogero made her way through the tech barn, Ryan Norberg would have gained a ticket through his result at the US Rotax Grand Nationals. Kingsley would move past Garrison in the closing laps to earn the now third position with Correa classified in fifth.
Formal grabbed a big jump as the lights went out to begin the 14-lap Prefinal in DD2. Xen De Rewe (CRG) slid past Pier-Luc Ouellette (CRG) for the second spot as Fritz Leesmann (CRG) and Andreas Backman (Tony Kart). The Advanced Karting pilot used the pole position to drive away and lead every lap for the race win. PSL Karting’s Ouellette would eventually get past De Ruwe for second with Backman climbing to fourth early in the run. Leesmann’s pace slowed as he dropped back, allowing Ferenc Kancsar (CRG) to move up to fifth.
Formal worked the start perfect again as he caught Ouellette off-guard. This put De Ruwe into second with Alessandro Bizzotto (CRG) up to third with Brandon Bain (Mararnello) and Fred Woodley (Maranello) into the top-five for the first time on the weekend. Wimsett was a no-show during the warm-up lap as electrical issues put him on the sidelines and out of the race. Formal and De Ruwe were able to pull away in the first three laps as Ouellette fought his way back to third, dropping Bizzotto to fourth. Formal continued to lay down consistent lap times to hold a lead while Ouellette closed up lap after lap to De Ruwe. At the checkered, Formal would record an impressive three-second victory to add to his growing Rotax CV. De Ruwe held off Ouellette for the runner-up position. Kancsar ran fourth with Bizzotto fighting back PSL Atlantic’s Leesmann for fifth. Formal taking the Pan-Am ticket to the Grand Finals made Mitch Carey’s day, as he assumes the ticket held by Formal from the US Grand Nationals to add another driver to Team USA roster.
Two-time US champion Alan Rudolph (Praga) and former Rotax world champ Christophe Adams (Birel) led the field to the green flag. Rudolph was able to get away at the start as they fought for the second spot, with Andres Fonseca (CRG) coming from fourth to second as Derek Wang (Praga) slotted into the second position over Mike Jones (Praga) as Scott Falcone (Praga) dropped to fifth and Adams sixth. Rudolph’s lead was over one-second after the opening lap as they battled for second behind them. Contact in turn five allowed Jones to jump into the second spot on lap three, with Wang coming through before the lap was complete with a nice move into turn 11. Fonseca would be dropped to fifth with Falcone fourth. The racing was heated as Falcone went from fourth to second in the turn 11-12 complex on lap five with an aggressive line over the curbs. Out front, Rudolph ran solo and secured the win by over three seconds. Falcone held on to second with Fonseca working past Wang for third. Canadian Stuart Clark (Maranello) had his best run of the weekend, advancing up from 16th all the way to fifth, recording the fast lap of the race in his Prime Motorsports entry.
Rudolph was able to hold the position through the opening lap of the 20-lap main event, pulling out to a solid lead as the drivers fought for second. Fonseca took the position through the opening corner but Falcone came back before the lap was completed. Falcone drove away as the fight became for third with Fernando Guzzi (Praga), Fonseca, Mike Jones (Praga) Clark and Wang. Jones gained three spots from the exit of turn one into the second corner as they began lap three. They finally settled down on lap four with Guzzi in third, Jones fourth and Clark holding fifth, spaced out some as they completed the lap. Falcone began closing on Rudolph but hard contact with the bus stop curbs on lap seven put him a few kart lengths back. The PSL Atlantic driver was able to stretch out to a seven tenths lead with Guzzi now closing up on the top two. At the halfway point it was Jones, Wang and Fonseca fighting for the fourth position, leaving the front three to settle their race along up front. Hard charger of the race was Brent Harper (Kosmic). Starting 20th, he found himself in the top-10 by the halfway point of the race, running times consistent with that of the leaders and looking for more as the race unfolded. Clark was the quickest driver on track however and after getting shuffled out of the top-five, reeled in the fight for fourth with Wang and Fonseca. Lap 18, Clark was able to move into fifth, working around Foncesca and turning his attention to Wang.
Falcone’s pace was not what it was before however with Guzzi able to make a run at the second spot on lap 10, taking over the position in turn 11. Guzzi was then able to close up to Rudolph in the final laps, but drove off at turn 10 onto the long straight, allowing Rudolph to take the victory. Guzzi continued to second with KartSport North America pilot Falcone rounding out the podium. Wang held onto fourth with Fonseca back to fifth in the final lap to put Clark to sixth. Harper, running out of the Rolison Performance Group tent, would finish a great 20-lap race in eighth, finishing behind Adams. With Rudolph holding an international ticket already, it is scheduled to go to Guzzi, however, it was rumored but not confirmed yet if his ticket was via an international event as well. If that is the case, the ticket goes to Falcone, and he relinquishes his US Grand Nationals ticket to Corey Mitchell.
Chris Bogart (Tony Kart) was perfect through Friday and Saturday’s action, leading the way in the Masters Max division. Challenged early by Peru driver Armando Watson (Sodi Kart), Bogart took back the lead on lap five. Watson slotted back into second but was involved in contact, and put on the sidelines on lap six. This gave Bogart a clean drive out front to the race win. The fight was for second with Michael Auriemma (Tony Kart) and Orlando Munoz (AM Kart). They battled to the final lap until Munoz went off-course, looking for a way past Auriemma. He would cross the line second with Munoz able to continue to third. Todd Meyer (CRG) ended up fourth with Zachary Rouse (CRG) in fifth.
Bogart continued on with his perfect weekend, able to get away with Auriemma trailing. The driver to watch was Watson as he started eighth and was into third by the end of lap five. He would run down Auriemma and they would race each other tough until the Peru driver would secure the position. Auriemma fought back a few more times but was unable to lock up a pass. Out front, the OVRP driver drove to a 2.5-second victory and earned the VIP package to attend, with a guest, the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals courtesy of MAXSpeed. Watson finished second in his stint with the Dallas Karting Complex operation with Auriemma completing the podium. Raul Costa (Tony Kart) drove from last to fourth with Joseph Antabi fifth.
Mathias Ramirez (Tony Kart) and Nick Brueckner (Birel) led the field to the green flag with Ramirez holding the top spot with Aidan Keel (Birel) breaking up the top two on the opening circuit. Completing lap two, Keel drafted past Ramirez to lead the first time. Lap three signaled the charge for David Malukas (Top Kart). Starting sixth, the new Top Kart USA driver worked his way into the top-five early and was up to second as they completed the third circuit. The shuffling for second however did not allow the group to lose Keel, as they stayed right on the bumper with over 10 karts running in the lead train. Keel would be able to fight back a late charge from Malukas to secure the race win and pole position for the main event. Rolison Performance Group’s Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) started fourth and gained one position in the heated fight to end up third. Devin Boutot (AM Kart) and Michael Benyahia (Tecno) completed the top five. Contact on lap six between Brueckner and Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart) while fighting in the top-five dropped them down to 27th and 28th respectively.
Keel and Malukas filled out the front row for the final time on the weekend. Keel held the top spot with Malukas fighting off Robb for the second position with Benyahia into fourth over Boutot. Robb was able to make a move into second the following lap but Malukas came back before the lap completed. The next circuit, Malukas went to the lead for the first time in the final, dropping Keel to second as the top eight ran nose to tail to finish the first third of the race including Enzo Fittipaldi da Cruz (Tony Kart), Pierce Dawlett (CRG), and Sergio Terife (AM Kart). At the halfway point, it seemed that Malukas and Robb were able to pull away as they ran 1-2 and the rest of the group fought for the third spot but the top two fought for the lead and allowed the trailing group to close back in at lap nine. With three laps remaining, the intensity turned up with Keel looking for a way back to the point. Moving past Malukas, he was into second as Robb led the lead pack.
Robb’s lead was six tenths of a second but was gone come the final lap. Robb ran a defensive line heading onto the long straight for the final time, which slowed his momentum. Keel was able to power past him, and have the line into the final corner. He held the lead to the checkered flag to score the victory and secure his own ticket to the Invitational event. Robb would settle for second, missing out on the win by a few corners after a great day of driving. Malukas capped off the weekend with a podium trip on the third step. Boutot and Terife would round out the top-five. Koene USA’s d’Orlando drove a stellar race as the US Rotax Grand Nationals champ was able to climb from the pack of the field up to ninthRobb locked into the Invitational with the Challenge of the Americas position, his ticket from the Pan-Am podium moved to Boutot, as his ticket from the Momentum USRMC going to Kollin Stuart.
The field was clean through turn one to begin the Prefinal, but turn two a few back-markers got together but all were ok. The race continued on with Mathew Latifi (Tony Kart) showing the way as the field was shuffled up, dropping the pole sitter Tyler Gonzalez (AM Kart) to ninth. By lap two, three drivers made up the lead group including Harry Coulton (Birel) and Nicholas d’Orlando (Tony Kart). A red flag was brought out as they came to complete lap three for an incident in turn 11, involving Sebastian Rodriguez (Tony Kart). After he was checked out ok, the race restarted with five laps remaining. Latifi was shuffled to the fifth spot in turn 11, putting Coulton into the lead with Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) charging forward from 12th now into second, putting d’Orlando to third. The top three broke away again with Emiliano Richards (CRG) leading the rest of the field in fourth. On the final lap, Tavella made a move in the bus stop section, taking the lead. Coulton would get help from d’Orlando as the two would draft past Tavella for position in the final corner. The win went to Coulton with d’Orlando and Tavella making up the top-three. Latifi advanced back fourth with Richards holding fifth at the line.
Coulton and d’Orlando led the field to the start of the 10 laps with Tavella hooking up with Coulton to run out front. The two were able to pull out to a two-second advantage on the opening lap with Richards running third before a tire came off through the bus stop. Latifi, Anthony Famularo (AM Kart) and Xavier Harris (OK1) made up the top-five early with d’Orlando following back to sixth in the opening lap. By lap four, Latifi was able to pull away from the group and secure the third spot before they reached the halfway point as the top two continued running nose to tail. Tavella waited for the final lap, making a great run out of the bus stop and onto the long back straight. Able to reach the inside of the course before Coulton, he drove past and took the lead into the final corners. Tavella would go on to cross the first, earning another major victory on the 2013 season. Coulton would settle for second with Latifi holding onto third. Maxwell Waithman (Kosmic) won the fight for fourth over d’Orlando with Anthony Famularo (AM Kart) sixth and Prefinal polesitter Gonzalez (AM Kart) up from 11th to seventh. The top three would be granted tickets to the Invitational, relinquishing their previous tickets. Those would go to Kai Palomino (USA), Chase Oliveri (USA) and Patrick Woods-Toth (CAN).