EKN Trackside: 2013 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals – Thursday Report

Rudolph, Formal and Kirkwood lead Team USA as Senior Max squad continues to fight

Rotax Grand Finals 2013 logo

For complete coverage, visit the EKN Event Page and for a recap on the day’s action, visit the EKN Paddock Insider – including interviews with a number of the Team USA members. Photos courtesy of Ken Johnson – Studio52.us

With the third day of action complete at the NOLA Motorsports Park for the 2013 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, Team USA continues to be among the top contenders in each of the four categories. Alan Rudolph doubled up in the heat races on the day to remain the top driver in the DD2 Masters category. Daniel Formal used his pole position to his advantage, leading early to end up second in each of his heat races. Top Junior Max qualifier Kyle Kirkwood fell back from his P1 position early, but drove back the second position in his heat races. The Senior Max drivers for Team USA continue fighting back from a tough qualifying effort, making their way forward to clinch positions for Championship Saturday. Below you will get unparalleled breakdown of how each of the 24 Team USA drivers ended up on the first day of wheel-to-wheel action.


JUNIOR MAX


TeamUSA-CorreaJuan Manuel Correa – #173
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Mechanic: Yuri Carvalho
Facebook
Start: Group C – Row 4
Warm-up: 57.231
Heat 1: 4th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 10th (Avs.C)

Notes:
Correa improved his position in the opening heat race in what was a great race to the checkered flag. In his second race, Correa dropped to 16th in the order but fought his way forward to 10th. Should he work through the opening lap clean in the final heat, another top-five finish could be in the future for the US Rotax Grand Nationals champion.

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Thomas Issa – #156
Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica
Mechanic: Sam Fugett
Instagram
Start: Group B – Row 2
Warm-up: 58.405
Heat 1: 4th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 3rd (Bvs.D)

Notes:
The day began tough for Issa as he only made one lap in the warm-up. The racing however was a positive as the Jamaican driver who won the Florida Winter Tour championship this past season. Starting up front, Issa was able to avoid any starting issues and remain in the top five all day. He will be trying some gearing and jetting changes in the morning warm-up to see if it works, and will look for another top-five in the final heat race.

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TeamUSA-KirkwoodKyle Kirkwood – #171
Hometown: Jupiter, Florida
Mechanic: Cody Johnson
Facebook
Start: Group A – Row 1
Warm-up: 58.194
Heat 1: 2nd (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 2nd (Avs.C)

Notes:
Starting on the pole position for his heat races, Kirkwood showed maturity throughout the day. Getting shuffled back out of the lead early on in both races, Kirkwood bought his time and made sure to not make any mistakes. Getting passed in the first heat race, he stayed back and ran second. Dropping back to fifth in his second race, the Ocala Gran Prix driver fought his way cleanly to another second place finish.

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TeamUSA-NorbergRyan Norberg – #180
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Mechanic: Robert Bujdoso
Facebook
Start: Group B – Row 13
Warm-up: 58.141
Heat 1: 20th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 26th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
Norberg continues to look for pace equal to that of the other Team USA drivers. Learning the track with each session, the AM Racing Engines driver moved up in his opening heat race, but suffered a setback in heat two.

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TeamUSA-RochaBlaine Rocha – #174
Hometown: Oakdale, California
Mechanic: Eric Bartolero
Instagram
Start: Group D – Row 2
Warm-up: 57.266
Heat 1: 6th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 20th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
What was thought to be a good day, ended up as a tough end with a harsh penalty. Rocha was shuffled back in the opening heat but drove his way back up to the sixth position on the final circuit. The second heat saw Rocha into the second by the end of lap two, holding it to the checkered flag. A protest was filed due to contact on the second lap, when another driver spun in front of Rocha. Contact was made and officials deemed it was unavoidable contact. That dropped the Rolison Performance Group driver from 2nd to 20th in the result. Rocha is happy with the kart, and looking to make some carb changes heading into Friday.

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TeamUSA-RogeroAshley Rogero – #155
Hometown: Naples, Florida
Mechanic: Jim Rogero
Twitter
Start: Group B – Row 8
Warm-up: 57.229
Heat 1: 14th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 19th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
Starting in the mid-pack was going to be a difficult task for Rogero, something she knew going into the heat races. Contact in heat one during the opening lap dropped her back to 26th, but running lap times similar to the leaders she climbed up to 14th. Heat two however the 2012 Pan-American Challenge winner was involved in an opening corner wreck. She continued on, finishing 19th. She’s happy with the kart, and just looking to avoid any contact in the final heat race to help her bid to make the top-34 for Saturday.

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TeamUSA-SellikenLuke Selliken – #172
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Mechanic: Arie Ouimet
Facebook
Start: Group C – Row 2
Warm-up: 57.563
Heat 1: 7th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 11th (Avs.C)

Notes:
A couple of mistakes on track have cost Selliken a few spots over the opening two heat races. Fighting for the top-three in heat one, Selliken dropped back to seventh in the final few laps. The opening corner dropped in heat two put him down to 18th in the order, but was able to drive to 11th with similar lap times to the leaders. The goal for Friday is to avoid on-track mistakes, and earn his best heat race finish to clinch a spot for Saturday’s action.


SENIOR MAX


TeamUSA-ArscottPhillip Arscott – #260
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Mechanic: John Arscott
Start: Group B – Row 9
Warm-up: 55.645
Heat 1: 8th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 10th (Bvs.D

Notes:
Today was a day of making up ground for Arscott, and he did just that. Starting mid-pack, he got great starts in each heat, fighting toward the top-10. In the first race, he knifed his way forward to end up a solid eighth. The second heat race, Arscott was in a group of drivers and made a few mistakes along the way, but ended up placing 10th.

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TeamUSA-AskewOliver Askew – #272
Hometown: Jupiter, Florida
Mechanic: Gary Carlton
Twitter
Start: Group B – Row 8
Warm-up: 55.435
Heat 1: 29th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 3rd (Bvs.D)

Notes:
One of the quickest drivers of the day was Askew. The opening heat race was a tough battle, as the Ocala Gran Prix driver was involved in an opening lap wreck to drop outside the top-30. Up more than 12 positions and nearing the top-15 in the late stages of the race, Askew was again shoved off track and dropped down to 29th in the final order. The second heat race, Askew was the star of the race. Working into the top-10 on the opening circuit, he moved up to fifth and was able to run down the top four drivers solo. Once there, he advanced up to the third position, earning his best finish. He’s happy with the kart, but they are going to try some chassis and engine adjustments for the warm-up in the morning.

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TeamUSA-BeasleySam Beasley – #261
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Mechanic: Ben Beasley
Twitter
Start: Group D – Row 1
Warm-up: 55.598
Heat 1: 7th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 11th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
The first goal of the Rotax Grand Finals is to survive, and Beasley did that with two top-11 finishes. Starting on the front row for each heat race however, Beasley dropped down the order in both to finish seventh and 11th. The Ocala Gran Prix driver knows he needs to be more aggressive tomorrow morning final heat race, looking to hold a top-five finish if not better.

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TeamUSA-CraigJake Craig – #275
Hometown: Mission Viejo, California
Mechanic: Chris Wesson
Facebook
Start: Group A – Row 9
Warm-up: 55.969
Heat 1: 24th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 34th (Avs.C)

Notes:
Engine issues have cost Craig speed all day during the heat races. Down about 7mph on the long straight, Craig is fighting to get Rotax to adjust his engine or replace it. Several attempts through today have not gone through, and the Can-Am Rotax Max Challenge champion will try to fight the engine gremlins on Friday.

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TeamUSA-NeriNick Neri – #274
Hometown: Palmetto, Florida
Mechanic: Alex Speed
Twitter
Start: Group C – Row 12
Warm-up: 55.132
Heat 1: 14th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 9th (Avs.C)

Notes:
Neri had a solid day Thursday to put himself back in the chase for the Rotax world championship. Starting out as the quickest in morning warm-up, Neri drove forward to gain nine positions in the opening heat race. He picked up the pace more in heat two, going from 24th on the grid to ninth. No changes are in the plans for the Ocala Gran Prix driver, aside from another stellar heat race to secure a spot for Saturday’s action.

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TeamUSA-PalmerAndrew Palmer – #276
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Mechanic: Justin Stefani
Start: Group C – Row 11
Warm-up: 56.478
Heat 1: 26th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 17th (Avs.C)

Notes:
Palmer gained some ground Thursday in one of the two heat races. Involved in a wreck in heat one, Palmer could only muster a 26th position. The second heat race, the J3 Competition driver avoided trouble and advanced to 17th. The goal is to keep improving on-track, as Palmer still has some room to gain positions.


DD2 MASTERS


TeamUSA-FalconeScott Falcone – #461
Hometown: Lone Tree, Colorado
Mechanic: Eric Jones and Benny Small
Facebook
Start: Group B – Row 7
Warm-up: 55.631
Heat 1: 6th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 9th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
While Falcone has been striving to be at the front of the field, the day was solid for the Rotax Grand Finals rookie. Starting outside the top-10 in each heat race, he drove his way forward in both heat races. Jumping up to sixth in the first heat, the KartSport North America driver finished ninth in the second heat race. A shifter linkage issue hampered his speed some, so they hope to remedy that for tomorrow, and Falcone is going to try to not overdrive in the final heat race.

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TeamUSA-JonesMike Jones – #476
Hometown: Sachse, Texas
Mechanic: Greg Bell
Facebook
Start: Group A – Row 4
Warm-up: 55.209
Heat 1: 4th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 3rd (Avs.C)

Notes:
It has been a complete turn-around for Jones at the Rotax Grand Finals this year. Engine issues throughout the event last year plagued his pace early, eventually qualifying into the main event. This time, Jones has performed very well with improvement in each heat race. Placing fourth in his opening race, Jones fought for the second position in the other heat, eventually placing third. He and Greg Bell are still looking for more speed, as they continue to run a bit richer on the carburetor setting the most others. A gear change in the morning will be a test for the final heat race to see if it will gain on the stopwatch.

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TeamUSA-MartinelliRene Martinelli – #475
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Mechanic: Carlos ‘Tyson’ Barbosa
Start: Group A – Row 6
Warm-up: 55.262
Heat 1: 28th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 10th (Avs.C)

Notes:
It seems that contact is always following Martinelli at the Rotax Grand Finals. Last year, contact kept the three-time qualifier from moving into Saturday’s action. It hurt him in heat one, as he was caught up in a wreck on the opening lap and was unable to get the engine to re-fire quickly. Rene bounced back in the second heat race, battling within the top-10 and placing 10th. He is looking to fix a carburetion bog and free up the rear of the kart to improve his pace.

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TeamUSA-MitchellCorey Mitchell – #446
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Mechanic: Scott Gordinier
Facebook
Start: Group C – Row 13
Warm-up: 56.232
Heat 1: 31st (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 34th (Avs.C)

Notes:
The entire week has been about improvement and learning the DD2 for Mitchell. His pace continues to improve, however spins in both heat races cost him valuable position in the final order. Getting lapped in the second heat race, Mitchell was able to keep pace with the leaders for some time, running now within a half second of the leaders.

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TeamUSA-RudolphAlan Rudolph – #460
Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Mechanic: Jesse Dunham
Twitter
Start: Group A – Row 1
Warm-up: 55.225
Heat 1: 1st (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 1st (Avs.C)

Notes:
Aside from not posting the fast lap in warm-up, Rudolph had a perfect day in the heat races. The opening race was a close battle with the veteran PSL Atlantic driver prevailing. The second saw Rudolph gain a big jump as the race started, allowing him to cruise to the win. He is still working on getting the correct grip level in the rear of the chassis, so they are continuing to work on the front end geometry to make the Praga better.

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TeamUSA-WangDerek Wang – #459
Hometown: Kirkland, Washington
Mechanic: Diego Valverde
Facebook
Start: Group D – Row 1
Warm-up: 55.493
Heat 1: 35th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 4th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
Today was up and down for Wang. Starting on the front row for the heat races, the Can-Am Rotax Max Challenge champion was driven over in turn two of the opening heat race. He continued on to climb his way up from 24th to 10th, but was removed from the results for ignoring the black flag. One of the end pieced of the DD2 bumper fell off in the contact early, and Wang never pulled off for the meatball flag. He bounced back to finish fourth in the second heat race, benefitting from a couple wrecks after falling down the order early. Derek wants to improve his driving for the final heat race, but is happy with the race package they have.


DD2


TeamUSA-CareyMitch Carey – #378
Hometown: Parker, Colorado
Mechanic: Jim Carey
Instagram
Start: Group A – Row 15
Warm-up: 54.819
Heat 1: 30th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 29th (Avs.C)

Notes:
After the day began with some promising results in the warm-up, Carey’s day went down in the results column. In the first heat race, Carey was spun around before he even crossed the starting line, and was sent to the tail of the field early. In the second heat race, a wreck in turn two collected the Colorado driver. The attitude of the young driver who drove part-time this season has been very positive, and he continues to push on into Friday’s action looking for better results.

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TeamUSA-FormalDaniel Formal – #368
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Mechanic: Donald Formal
Instagram
Start: Group A – Row 1
Warm-up: 54.411
Heat 1: 2nd (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 2nd (Avs.C)

Notes:
Formal started both heat races today from the pole position after earning the top qualifier spot yesterday, becoming the third American to do so. The highlight of the day was both his starts, catching the field sleeping as he bolted away from the field to start off the 10-lap battles. Straight-line speed however hurt Formal in both races, allowing drivers close back in. Placing second to defending champion Ben Cooper in heat one, Formal battle for another runner-up finish, edging out former Rotax champ Pier-Luc Ouellette. Chassis changes is on the order to find more speed for Formal, looking for a heat race win Friday.

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TeamUSA-LeesmannFritz Leesmann – #371
Hometown: Folsom, California
Mechanic: Ricky Luther
Instagram
Start: Group C – Row 10
Warm-up: 54.738
Heat 1: 15th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 33rd (Avs.C)

Notes:
Things have continued to get worse for Leesmann after starting out the event toward the upper half of the field. The speed was missing in the opening heat race, but he drove forward to a 15th place finish. Contact in the opening lap of the second heat put Leesmann on the sidelines with a bent chassis. A new frame is needed for Leesmann to continue, as he hopes to bounce back in Friday’s action to continue on into Saturday’s action.

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TeamUSA-OwensSean Owens – #377
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Mechanic: Tom Owens
Facebook
Start: Group C – Row 16
Warm-up: 55.685
Heat 1: 24th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 30th (Avs.C)

Notes:
Owens has yet to be comfortable during the week on-track. Unable to find speed overnight, Owens was involved in two wrecks in two heat races. The first heat saw Owens finish the 10-lap race, placing 24th. The second was a harder act of contact, bending up a number of parts on the front of his CRG. The Dallas Karting Complex driver never gave up, and drove all 10 laps. Replacement parts was the order for the night, as Owens hope is to move forward in the final heat races to prepare for the Second Chance Qualifier.

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TeamUSA-WimsettJoey Wimsett – #369
Hometown: Beavercreek, Oregon
Mechanic: Wesley Boswell
Instagram
Start: Group B – Row 6
Warm-up: 54.312
Heat 1: 4th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 6th (Bvs.D)

Notes:
Wimsett was among the quickest in the morning warm-up, and it continued into the heat races. A fourth place in heat one saw Wimsett put in a solid performance in the 10-lap race, fighting for every position he took. It was the same in heat two, making his way up to fourth again before a mistake dropped him back to sixth, where he would end up. He and Boswell continue to make changes to improve, with Wimsett looking to get the engine to perform a little better.

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