Newgarden/Dismore Earn RoboPong 200 Victory
CometKartSales.com team wins again at New Castle
Mark Dismore Jr. carries the checkered flag as the 2013 RoboPong 200 co-winner (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)
It was a day of new records made at the 10th running of the RoboPong 200 event. The grueling and dramatic 200-lap battle around the New CastleMotorsportsPark put 43 TaG machines and the roughly 90 drivers to the test for over $40,000 in cash and prizes. Bright sunshine was welcomed by the paddock after suffering two days of low temperatures and high winds, making it feel like snow racing without the snow. With weather not an issue, the focused stayed on who would emerge as the contenders through the first 100 laps, and who could hang on until the checkered flag. From the drop of the green flag, the CometKartSales.com entry piloted by IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden and Mark Dismore Jr. kept themselves in striking distance, setting the pace through the middle portion of the race, and out-running the competition for the victory to add their names once again to the Dan Wheldon Cup.
The iKart Factory Racing team of Firestone IndyLights drivers Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves led the field to the green flag – as Chaves handled the opening stint. Newgarden began the race for the #7 machine starting from the outside of row one. It was a clean start for the 43-drivers behind the wheel to begin the 200-lap journey. Early on, the front of the field was very racey, jostling for positions with some exciting and clean racing. The Top Kart USA 1 with Bill McLaughlin Jr. behind the wheel jumped to the lead and led before former podium finisher Jacob Knueven in the Free Spirit Racing put his Arrow at the front of the field on lap nine. Starting 14th, Knueven joked about getting the lead on the first lap before the race from his P14 grid position, and put in an impressive opening stint to put the team among the contenders. Knueven and McLaughlin exchanged the lead a number of times, with a total of six drivers running together for much of the opening 50 laps – including Top Kart USA 1A (Jay Howard), Team Tall up from 16th in their Top Kart piloted by Andres Krohn, Lewis/Smith (Billy Lewis), and Newgarden.
Team Tall pitted on lap 40, and was never able to break back into the top-10 after that. Trouble hit the top qualifying team early, as a brake issue brought them in early and a loose header later took them out of contention. Karam and Chaves however would earn the fast lap honors, posting a 1:05.741-lap at the 100-lap mark. Pit stops began around lap 51 as the Top Kart USA 1 made its first stop, but a refueling issue cost them time in the pits. This kart, though leading early, would drop out of contention due to the pit stop and then later after contact bent the kart, making it very undrivable and moved their focus onto the #57 kart. The rest of the top-five stopped between laps 54 and 59, with the Top Kart USA 1A entry keeping Howard behind the wheel and on the same Bridgestone rubber. That put him into the lead as the field completed the opening round of pit stops, with Dismore second in the CometKartSales.com FA Kart. Kyle Smith took over the Lewis’ Arrow machine in third with Jared Thomas now in the Free Spirit entry and the Franklin Motorsports Tony Kart into the top five, with Colton Ramsey and Kyle Kalish teaming up.
Kalish, making his first RoboPong start, was among the quickest karts on the track. Working up to the fourth spot, he suffered a loose chain on lap 73, forcing him onto pit lane. Later, the engine would let go, but their never-quit attitude saw them change an engine in six minutes to get back on track. Unfortunately, working around lap traffic, contact took the #08 kart out of the race. Up front, Dismore was able to run down Howard for the lead on lap 73, with Smith taking second from him a few laps later. The top-five change more on lap 90, as the Free Spirit entry suffered a split header, putting them in the pit lane for some time during their repair. Reaching the halfway point, Dismore held a comfortable lead over Smith with Howard now in third. The Checkered Motorsports team, featuring brothers Robert and Andrew Bujdoso, continued charging. After going off track on the opening lap and falling to 39th, both Robert and Andrew kept the hammer down and made up over 30 positions to reach the top-five before the second round of pit stops.
The entire top-five took four tires on the second stop, with the CometKartSales.com team able to keep them in the lead over the Lewis/Smith entry, ironically pitted next to one another. The Simpson Racing entry of Jimmy Simpson and IndyCar’s Conor Daly struggled all weekend with engine issues, but managed to fight their way into the top-five before the halfway mark. Unfortunately, they suffered multiple mechanical issues over the course of the race, but continued on to eventually finishing seventh in their DR Kart. This allowed room for the KartSport AMR teams to creep into the top-five. Running fourth and fifth, the Jacob Donald/Roger Ralston Jr. combo was running fourth with Derek Dignan/Eric Jones in fifth.
The front five were spaced out for much of the third stint around the 1-mile course, with the Arrow X3 machine of Donald running down Larson in the Top Kart USA entry in third. By lap 143, they took the position away, setting up for the final pit stops. Dignan was the first to hit pit lane from fifth on lap 149, taking four tires and giving Jones the Arrow X3. Four laps later was Donald, was in for service and gave the wheel to Ralston. The Top Kart USA team was in two laps later, as Howard took on the final stint.
It wasn’t until lap 162 when Newgarden came for their final stop, which was a flawless four tire stop. That gave Lewis the lead, and he stretched out to lap 165, coming in for fuel only and turning it over to Smith for the drive to the victory. When Dismore hit the track, they trailed Lewis/Smith by 58 seconds. The fellow CometKartSales.com team was able to get out still holding the lead, as Smith held a 10-second lead on his out-lap over Dismore. By lap 174, Smith put the KartSport AMR2 team a lap down, leaving just the top two on the lead lap. On new Bridgestone tires, Dismore was cutting into the gap Smith held, making up time little by little. The lead was just about five seconds when Smith began slowing on the track beginning lap 180. Before he could make it around the 1-mile track, his Arrow machine came to a stop. After being picked-up and brought back to pit lane, it was determined the engine was finished, ending their chance at the win.
This gave Dismore a clean run to the checkered flag as he cruised to his record third RoboPong 200 victory, his first teaming with Newgarden, who won his second event in the last three years. One of the keys to their victory was their pit stops. Lead by Comet Racing Engines Brandon Jenkins, a crew made up of Dismore’s friends who had never been to a karting event completed the tasks they were asked to do, getting Dismore and Newgarden on the track quickly each time. Jones was able to run down his fellow KartSport driver Ralston for the runner-up spot. They made it a third straight year KartSport North America put two Arrow teams on the podium, the first for the new X3 chassis and this time with an IAME X30 engine and a Rotax powerplant. Also one lap down was the Top Kart USA 1A team, as the trio could not add a second RoboPong victory.
Rounding out the top-five was the ProKart Indoor entry. The team was originally schedule to field Jordan Bernloehr and Steven Arens, but Bernloehr suffered a broken arm at the Rock Island Grand Prix. The team would recruit former New Castle regular Eric Morrow to assist Arens. They would hover around the top-five, but secured their spot on the podium after Lewis/Smith retired. They were conservative with tires, going with two sets and 100 laps on each for the race. Checkered Motorsports overcame a loose tire during the third stint, completing the race with four stops and finishing sixth.
The Chastain Motorsports Hard Charger Award went to the Pink Ribbon Racing team, made up of female drivers Hanna Zellers and IndyCar’s Simona de Silvestro. Starting 39th, the duo crept their way up the order with consistent lap times, staying out of trouble and a conservative tire management program set up by Mike Burrell and his group. They would end up four laps back and record the best finish of eight by an all-female team. Ninth was IndyCar’s Ed Carpenter and Nathan O’Rourke, as the 2009 winners struggled throughout the day with chassis handling, ending up ninth. The Davey Hamilton Racing team of Davey Hamilton Jr., Logan Gomez and late addition Adrian Starrantino completed the top-10. A number of teams were in the hunt for the top-10, with a few dropping down the order with mechanical issues.
One of the best stories of the event was Russell Karting Specialties Jim Russell Jr. Competing in his sixth straight event in six weeks, he was the best of the three drivers to attempt the Ironman challenge of racing the event solo. The 40-year old attempted to do the driving and pit stops solo, and despite a carburetor changed that saw some assistance, he managed to complete 191 laps and finish 11th. Russell climbed from 21st to seventh in the first stint of the race, and was climbing his way back in stint two before he took seven laps to change his carburetor. Dropping to 27th, he fought on and ended up 11th when the checkered flag waved.
Three support races took part in the morning hours prior to the start of the RoboPong 200 event. Yamaha Senior came down to the wire between KartSport North America teammates Derek Dignan (FA Kart) and Gresham Wagner (Arrow). The two stayed locked up for the final few laps. On the last lap, Dignan took an inside line into the final corner. Wagner trailed by a few kart lengths and on the exit, crossed over to line up a photo finish. At the line, Wagner crossed the line by seven thousandths out front, leaving Dignan to finish second and miss out on the $2,500 payday. ‘Cowboy’ Cal Stewart (Top Kart) was the quickest driver on the track, but couldn’t find a dancing partner in the draft. Camden Speth (FA Kart) and he made contact with two laps remaining, losing ground on the top two. Speth finished third but officials put him back to fourth behind Stewart for the contact. Jacob McWhirter (Tony Kart) completed the top-five.
Yamaha Junior was another race that went down to the final corner as Zach Holden (Top Kart) and Braden Eves (PCR) was able to break away from an early eight driver lead pack. Holden ran a similar defensive line on the final circuit, only to see Eves out-power him down the straight on the outside. Eves would score the $2,500 with the victory as Holden settled for second. David Malukas (Top Kart) won the fight for third over polesitter Gresham Wagner (Arrow) and Neil Verhagen (Arrow).
With 37 drivers in the Yamaha Sportsman field, it was a given the excitement would last the entire 30 laps. The top four, including polesitter Brendan Lemke (Merlin), John Paul Southern Jr. (PCR), David Malukas (Top Kart) and Giovanni Bromante (Top Kart). While taking on the 30-lap battle, Malukas was leading the group when he made contact with a lapper on lap 22. He continued on, but lost the lead group. This left the remaining three alone up front with the win coming down to the final corner. The trio went three wide as they went down the final straight, with Bromante and Southern making a Lemke sandwich. On the exit, Bromante held on and crossed the line first for the $2,500 check. Southern ended up second with Lemke third. Malukas and Sam Mayer (Merlin) completed the top-five podium.