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

Correa becomes first American Rotax world champion - Wimsett and Askew help USA earn Nations Cup

Joey Wimsett, Juan Manuel Correa and Oliver Askew celebrate their podium finishes at the Rotax Grand Finals

Joey Wimsett, Juan Manuel Correa and Oliver Askew celebrate their podium finishes at the Rotax Grand Finals

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.

The 2013 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals will go down as one of the most exciting events in North American karting history. A record-breaking 360 drivers from over 50 countries gathered at the NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans to celebrate and compete in the ‘Olympics of Karting’. The November 10-16 event was the first time in the 14 year history of the RMCGF the event was hosting on American soil, and the 24 drivers representing Team USA performed well all week long. The highlight of the event was Junior Max driver Juan Manuel Correa becoming the first ever American to win a Rotax world championship, with a last lap – last corner pass that will go down as a historic moment in USA karting. Just as equally impressive were the efforts put forth by DD2 driver Joey Wimsett and Oliver Askew in Senior Max, earning podium finishes as well to help the United States of America earn the Nations Cup title for the first time ever.

Below is a rundown on how the 17 Team USA drivers who competed on Championship Sunday ended their week at the NOLA Motorsports Park.


JUNIOR MAX


CorreaJuan Manuel Correa – #173
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Mechanic: Yuri Carvalho
Facebook
Points: 17 (5th)
Prefinal: 5th
Final: 1st

Notes:
After getting shuffled back at the start of the Prefinal, Correa was able to advance his way forward, crossing the line in the sixth position and moving up one more spot to fifth for the main event grid. Through the opening lap of the Final, the United States Rotax Grand Nationals champion was able to escape the wild first few corners to emerge as the second place driver. Trailing the leader by 2.6 seconds, Correa eventually fell to the third position. He would show maturity well above his age, and sit in the third spot, working with the second place driver to close up on the leader. Lap after lap, the gap would be cut anywhere from a tenth to a half-second. Over the course of the last few laps is when the pressure sunk in on the leader, as the second place kart and Correa closed in. Reaching the leader on the final lap, it became a battle for the win. The leader began blocking, and Correa was now looking for a way to the lead. In turn three, the leader spun while trying to block for position. Correa was again slotted into second as they drove down the long straight. Unable to get inside going into the chicane, JMC took advantage of a small opening as they entered the final corner. With the right side tires just barely grazing the grass, Correa drove his kart to the inside and exited the corner with the lead. He would cross the line with his hand in the air, celebrating the victory.

IssaThomas Issa – #156
Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica
Mechanic: Sam Fugett
Instagram
Points: 9 (4th)
Prefinal: 14th
Final: Under Appeal

Notes:
The Prefinal was not how the Jamaican projected it would turn out. After dropping back a few spots, the full course caution was brought out for lap two. After the field bunched back together, Issa made up a few spots to get up to third, but then began to fall back. He would eventually cross the line in 15th, gaining one spot after tech to start from outside row seven. He was complaining about an understeer issue, and looked to get back into the hunt for the Final. He was able to clear a path through to the seventh spot after the mess that was the first turn at the start of the Final. He stayed within the top-10 to finish behind Team USA teammate Ashley Rogero, however, a number of issues arose following the race. First, Issa’s number showed up on the meatball flag for a mechanical issue. Nothing was wrong with the kart, so he continued on as it appeared the stewards displayed the wrong number. Later, officials issued a penalty for rough driving, yet no evidence was available to prove or disprove the act. Issa and his team file a protest and have appealed the decision, and thus his final position will be determined after a review of the event.

KirkwoodKyle Kirkwood – #171
Hometown: Jupiter, Florida
Mechanic: Cody Johnson
Facebook
Points: 4 (1st)
Prefinal: 9th
Final: 11th

Notes:
The first American to start the Junior Max Prefinal from the pole position, Kirkwood had the entire United States attendees cheering him on as they took the green flag. After a few exchanges for the lead, Kirkwood was the leader after the first lap before the full course caution came out. The field lined up behind him and resumed the race, and that is when he came under attack. A skirmish in turn five sent him back to about fourth and as they made their way down the long straight, he was passed by another kart. In the process of making it to the chicane, Kirkwood was shuffled off the course and he went straight through the gravel pit. That dropped him down to the 13th position, with the Ocala Gran Prix driver able to get back to 10th at the end of the race. Starting ninth in the Final, the 14-lap race was a battle for Kirkwood as he went up and down the order. He would eventually settle into the 11th place at the end of the race, capping off his first Rotax Grand Finals.

RochaBlaine Rocha – #174
Hometown: Oakdale, California
Mechanic: Eric Bartolero
Instagram
Points: 40 (20th)
Prefinal: 19th
Final: 13th

Notes:
Starting 20th, Rocha knew he had to try and avoid any contact in the opening laps if he wanted to have a chance to battle for the podium. Unfortunately, he would be caught up in a wreck at turn two on lap one. The full course caution however helped him to close back on the field, losing about half a track to the leaders after the collision. Back underway in the 31st position, Rocha gained 11 spots on the track and another in tech to finish 19th, earning a row 10 starting spot. The Final was a much better start as the Rolison Performance Group driver was up to the 14th position on the opening circuit. Moving up and down over the course of 14 laps, Rocha would end up 13th overall in his first Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals.

RogeroAshley Rogero – #155
Hometown: Naples, Florida
Mechanic: Jim Rogero
Twitter
Points: 39 (19th)
Prefinal: 12th
Final: 7th

Notes:
Unlike Rocha, Rogero was able to escape all the mess of the opening lap in the Prefinal to put herself into the top-15 and then later into the top-10 after the full course yellow. After some hard racing, she would get shuffled back to 13th on the track, but moved to outside row 6 for the start of the Final. The newest member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program made up a few spots to rejoin the top-10 on the opening circuit of the main event, racing with a number of her Team USA teammates. In the end, it was a seventh place finish, her best at the Rotax Grand Finals.

SellikenLuke Selliken – #172
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Mechanic: Arie Ouimet
Facebook
Points: 33 (11th)
Prefinal: 3rd
Final: 8th

Notes:
Coming from 11th, Selliken became the top Team USA driver in the Prefinal after Kirkwood’s off-track trip. Gaining four positions at the start, Selliken worked his way into the fourth position on-track, moving into the inside row two starting spot for the Final. The start was not what Selliken had hoped for, as he was shoved violently from behind and pushed well off the line into the first corner. He would come around the first in the 11th position, but began working his way forward as he sat seventh after five laps. Back and forth, Selliken would record a solid top-10 finish in his RMCGF debut in eight.


SENIOR MAX


Phillip Arscott – #260
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Mechanic: John Arscott
Points: 33 (17th)
Prefinal: 12th
Final: 33rd

Notes:
After getting a good start in the initial start to the Senior Max Prefinal, Arscott was able to escape the second start with a few positions in hand, sitting 13th. Unfortunately, he was unable to climb up any further as he lacked exit speed compared to the front runners. Running behind Team USA teammate Nick Neri for much of the race, he fell back to the 12th spot at the checkered flag. Gaining a few spots through the opening lap, the Rolison Performance Group driver was on his way to move forward. Entering the last turn of the NOLA circuit, Arscott would be taken out by a Canadian driver and was forced to watch from the sidelines with a torn-off radiator.

NeriOliver Askew – #272
Hometown: Jupiter, Florida
Mechanic: Gary Carlton
Twitter
Points: 40 (24th)
Prefinal: 30th
Final: 3rd

Notes:
It was not to be denied that Askew had one of the quickest karts in the Senior Max field. Coming from 24th on the Prefinal grid, Askew was the driver to watch. Up to P17 after the start, Askew continued driving forward as he did throughout the heat races after a tough qualifying result. Before the halfway mark, Askew found himself inside the top-10, and continued gaining more positions. He ran down the tail end of the six-driver lead pack. He continued gaining more spots until lap 11, he fought too hard for a position and drove off at the end of the straight into the gravel trap. The off-track excursion pushed his nose under the chassis and disabled his kart from turning. The result was a DNF and put him near the back of the field for the main event. It was go big or go home in the Final, and Askew stepped up to the task. After the opening lap, the Ocala Gran Prix driver had gained 16 positions to be in the top-15. Lap after lap, Askew continued to gain more spots and in just six circuits, Askew was into seventh and trailed the lead group by 2.3 seconds. It took him another eight laps to eliminate that gap and begin his fight for the podium. Completing lap 19 and receiving the last lap board, Askew made his move for the third position. It stuck and the young Senior rookie held onto the spot all the way to the checkered flag for his first Rotax Grand Finals podium.

AskewNick Neri – #274
Hometown: Palmetto, Florida
Mechanic: Alex Speed
Twitter
Points: 31 (13th)
Prefinal: 8th
Final: 9th

Notes:
Neri had showed throughout the heat races that climbing forward was something that can be done. Starting 13th, the Ocala Gran Prix driver was right in the middle of the mess at the start of the Prefinal. Neri was shuffled off in turn two and dropped down the order. As one of the quickest karts on the track, he broke back into the top-15 and up to the eighth position. Through the opening corners clean, Neri was among the early contenders for the podium. Neri’s pace however fell off from what he had in the Prefinal. The former US champ fought strong, holding on to a ninth place finish.

PalmerAndrew Palmer – #276
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Mechanic: Justin Stefani
Points: 77 (59th)
LCQ: 5th
Prefinal: 20th
Final: 13th

Notes:
The road to Championship Saturday was not an easy one, but Palmer made his way through the LCQ and into the main stage. Starting from the back, Palmer made his way up to the 20th position, which put him right in the middle of the mess at the start of the Final. Thankfully, Palmer avoided any issues but was shuffled back to 22nd over the first few laps. The J3 Competition pilot stayed strong and fought himself back into the 13th position for his best ever finish at the RMCGF.


DD2 MASTERS


FalconeScott Falcone – #461
Hometown: Lone Tree, Colorado
Mechanic: Eric Jones and Benny Small
Facebook
Points: 48 (29th)
LCQ: 2nd
Prefinal: 31st
Final: 27th

Notes:
Able to make his first Championship Saturday in his RMCGF debut, Falcone continued fighting. From the back of the pack up to inside the top-20, the KartSport North America driver suffered a flat tire and was forced to retire from the race early. Back at it for more, Falcone fought on and ran as high as 14th until he retired after contact to end up 27th.

JonesMike Jones – #476
Hometown: Sachse, Texas
Mechanic: Greg Bell
Facebook
Points: 18 (6th)
Prefinal: 10th
Final: 34th

Notes:
From the outside of row 3, Jones got a great start and was into the fourth position as they completed the opening lap of the Prefinal. His pace however was a bit off, as the kart came in later in the race. He would fall back to the 10th position after 14 laps, set to start on the outside of row five. Another great start, Jones took some spots through the opening corner and was looking for more in turn two when a Team France driver drove down on him at the apex, sending both off track and out of the race. It was a tough end for the Dallas Karting Complex co-owner, but a much better overall experience compared to last year.

MartinelliRene Martinelli – #475
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Mechanic: Carlos ‘Tyson’ Barbosa
Points: 50 (32nd)
LCQ: 3rd
Prefinal: 30th
Final: 25th

Notes:
One of the quickest karts on Championship Saturday was under the guidance of Rene Martinelli. Making his way through the LCQ, Rene started 31st in the Prefinal. The four-time RMCGF competitor was into the top-20 within three laps, and up to 14th when he was pulled off the track for a missing DD2 rear bumper piece that had broke off. It dropped him down to 30th on the grid for the main event. At it again, Martinelli was into the top-15 of the 20-lap Final by the second circuit. Rene was up to the eight position for most of the race until contact on the final lap put him off the track and out of the race. In total, Martinelli passed 41 karts in the two races on Championship Saturday, an amazing stat.

RudolphAlan Rudolph – #460
Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Mechanic: Jesse Dunham
Twitter
Points: 0 (1st)
Prefinal: 4th
Final: 12th

Notes:
Rudolph had been perfect through qualifying and the heat race, earning the pole position for the Prefinal. That was when the challenge stepped up as a group of drivers were able to race Rudolph for position. It was an up and down shuffle in the top-four as Rudolph would end up fourth in the race. Still working to improve, Rudolph made some adjustments with the carburetor heading into the main event. The opening few laps were a bit madness, as Rudolph came around fifth in the order after the first lap, running behind Team USA driver Derek Wang. Rudolph was able to get up to second by lap three. Lap four, Rudolph was looking to take the lead and on the exit of turn one, he was sandwiched between two rivals. Caught up in the bumper of one of them, he spun as they jostled for position. Rudolph would pull his kart back on track, joining at the tail of the field to finish off the race, working up to 12th and finish as the top American.

WangDerek Wang – #459
Hometown: Kirkland, Washington
Mechanic: Diego Valverde
Facebook
Points: 44 (20th)
Prefinal: 12th
Final: 23rd

Notes:
Overcoming a DQ in his opening heat race, Wang qualified directly into Championship Saturday from the outside of row 10. He spent the 14-lap event moving forward, ending up in 12th at the checkered flag to put himself in position for a podium finish. A great start put Wang into fourth on the opening lap, one spot ahead of Team USA driver Rudolph. He would however get shuffled back to eighth in just a few laps. Fighting back, Wang was up to fifth during the middle portion of the race. Contact on the final lap however took the Can-Am Rotax Max Challenge champion out of the race and classified 23rd.


DD2


FormalDaniel Formal – #368
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Mechanic: Donald Formal
Instagram
Points: 16 (7th)
Prefinal: 3rd
Final: 34th

Notes:
Formal started the Prefinal in seventh after a spin in the final heat race dropped him down the point total. The Advanced Karting driver was quick at the start and into the lead group quickly. He ran as high as second, but finished the run in third. Starting on the inside line, Formal planted himself on the bumper of the polesitter when the lights went out. As he shifted into second gear, the power was gone as the clutch broke, ending his shot at the Rotax world championship.

WimsettJoey Wimsett – #369
Hometown: Beavercreek, Oregon
Mechanic: Wesley Boswell
Instagram
Points: 14 (4th)
Prefinal: 4th
Final: 2nd

Notes:
Wimsett spent all week getting better, and the result was a P4 start in the Prefinal. Holding strong in the lead pack, Wimsett was up to second at one point when he came out of the last corner and nearly came to a halt. The engine continued to put down power and Wimsett recovered to rejoin the fight in fifth. By the end of the race, the CRG-USA driver was fourth in the order. Replacing the battery and going richer on the carburetion, Wimsett took to the main event. A wild few opening laps allowed Wimsett to slip through and lead the early going. Relinquishing the position, he fell back to the third spot and settled in behind the second place driver. Buying his time, he went for the spot with two laps remaining and held on to earn a runner-up finish. It was his first time on the RMCGF podium and a record-best finish for an American in the DD2 category.


Micro & Mini Max Invitational
Joining the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals categories on the weekend was the Invitational event, bringing together 34 drivers from North America in each category to showcase their talents on the world stage. The OK1 chassis was provided for the Micro Max with Haase to the Mini Max pilots. Both races went down to the wire, amping up the crowd before the final four feature races took place. In Micro Max, US national champion Dylan Tavella went from third to first in the final few corners to score the victory. Maxwell Waithman finished second as Canadians Patrick Woods-Toth and Matthew Latifi trailed. Nicholas d’Orlando completed the top-five. The Mini Max results were not official at the end of the day, as the results were under official review.

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