Karam and Chaves Earn RoboPong 200 Pole Position
Firestone IndyLights drivers put iKart on front row alongside former winner Newgarden
Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam will start the 2013 RoboPong 200 from the pole position (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)
The first official day of the 10th annual RoboPong 200 completed Saturday at the popular New Castle Motorsports Park. Forty-three teams are set to compete for 200 laps around the 1-mile Indiana circuit, in addition to 30-lap finals for the three Yamaha support races, welcoming 77 entries total. Yesterday’s sunny skies were replaced with mostly cloudy conditions and stronger wind conditions, with a brief sunshine period during the Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am Karting Challenge mid-day. Following the amazing show the IndyCar pros and amateur drivers put on for the hundreds of fans in attendance, the RoboPong action got serious. Setting the tone going into the 200 event Sunday were the iKart Factory Racing group as they helped to guide Mazda Road to Indy drivers Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves to the pole position.
RoboPong 200 Qualifying
Due to the extra time needed for the Pro-Am event, the final practice session for all the RoboPong events were cancelled. That left some drivers who were preparing for a mock-qualifying run to get put in the fast group out to lunch, and place where they ended in the opening timed practice session. Among the first group was Jim Russell Jr. – driving solo in his Russell Karting Specialties/Parolin entry – and KartSport North America AMR 3/Arrow team with Eric Jones behind the wheel. Jones and Russell held the top two provisional positions through the first three groups. The second to last group saw the provisional pole go below the 1:06-mark, as IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden put the CometKartSales.com/FA Kart on the top spot before the final group hit the track. On his third lap, recently crowned Firestone IndyLights champion Sage Karam reset the benchmark, nipping Newgarden’s time by 15 thousandths for the pole position. Recent IndyCar winner Will Power made it an IndyCar 1-2-3 in qualifying, as he put the KartSport AMR3/Arrow to third in the final order. Arrow karts completed the fast five as Jacob Donald (KartSport AMR2) ended up fourth with Billy Lewis (CometKartSales.com 2) in fifth.
Top Kart USA made up two spots in the top-10 in their three-driver, two karts entries. Bill McLaughlin Jr. put the Leopard-powered Top Kart in sixth, with IndyCar’s Jay Howard landed the Top Kart/Rotax machine in eighth. Checkered Motorsports’ Andrew Bujdoso (PCR) was seventh, former pole position winner Jimmy Simpson (DR Kart) ninth and the Franklin Motorsports/Tony Kart entry driven by Colton Ramsey completing the top-10.
New to the RoboPong event was the Yamaha Senior category, welcoming 15 drivers on the weekend. Claiming the top spot in qualifying was ‘Cowboy’ Cal Stewart, who drove in last night to replace Top Kart USA teammate Blake Deister who is suffering from a rib injury. His 1:12.801-lap was best, with Gresham Wagner (Arrow) making his Senior debut in second. New Castle regulars Camden Speth (FA Kart), Sam Cate (Tony Kart) and Andrew Burton (Arrow) completed the fast five.
From the outside of row one, Wagner got the jump on Stewart to being the 15-lap Prefinal. Stewart would retake the top spot as they began lap two, with Speth, Cate and Jacob McWhirter (Tony Kart) joining the fight. Cate and Speth hooked up to take the lead down the long straight as they completed lap two. Dicing for position continued however and the lead group fell to four after contact between Wagner and Speth – which sent Speth off course but was able to continue. The fight for the win went to the wire, as Cate ran the inside line, forcing McWhirter to the outside, but the defensive line held through the corner and he scored the win. Stewart was able to edge out Wagner for the third position at the checkered flag with a criss-cross move in the final corner. Speth, who fell back to ninth, recorded the fast lap of the race and earned fifth ahead of Derek Dignan (FA Kart).
The top qualifier position in the Yamaha Junior division came down to just six thousandths of a second. Twenty-five drivers attempted to earn the position, but it was Jacob McWhirter (Tony Kart) securing the spot. His 1:11.454 lap was best, edging out Gresham Wagner (Arrow) for the position. Local driver Michael Cruz (FA Kart) was a solid third, ahead of David Malukas (Top Kart) and Nick Ludeke (PCR).
Wagner used the outside line to gain the top spot as the 15-lap Prefinal began. McWhirter jumped in behind, but was run down by Malukas on lap two. The top four ran together, as Lemke joined the fight. They would run nose-to-tail for the remainder of the race, shuffling up a few times for position. On the final lap, Malukas put himself into the lead heading into the I-80 corner. McWhirter and Wagner would lock up and draft past the Top Kart driver heading into the final corner. As they hit the turn, McWhirter went too deep and drove off the track, which allowed Wagner to slip through and earn the victory. Malukas would cross the stripe second with Lemke third and McWhirter fourth. Neil Verhagen (Arrow) qualified sixth and held off a group to earn the fifth position.
A large group of 37 drivers made up the always entertaining Yamaha Sportsman field, as they were broken up into four groups for the qualifying sessions. The drivers were given five laps to post their best time to line them up for the Prefinal. It was local driver Zach Preturius (Arrow) with the fast time of the class, posting a 1:16.600-lap. United States Pro Kart Series champion Sam Mayer (Merlin) was second, with David Malukas (Top Kart), John Paul Southern Jr. (PCR) and Brandon Lemke (Merlin) making up the fast five.
The Prefinal came down to three drivers after the 15-lap battle. Early on, Malukas shot to the lead after Preturius went off course. The lead group was the remaining fast five, until lap traffic cost Mayer a spot in the lead group. Malukas led the majority of the race until the final lap with Lemke able to draft past for the lead with help from Southern. At the line, Lemke held on to the race win, as Southern edged out Malukas for the second spot. Mayer ran to the fourth spot with Leo Stoia (Tecno) rounding out the top-five.
Sunday will host the main events for the three Yamaha categories and the RoboPong 200. 9:30am is the start time for the Yamaha groups, starting with Sportsman, Senior and Junior. Roughly around the 1pm mark, the 200-lap endurance race will begin. Follow live action at the New CastleMotorsportsPark website, and through the EKN coverage in the Paddock Insider.
RoboPong 200 Photo Grid