Behind the Laptop: History in the Making
Month of November provides memorable moments in American karting
For IndyCar, it’s the month of May in Indianapolis. In the NASCAR world, February is the month where all eyes are on Daytona. In our sport, this past November will be remembered as THE month of karting in the United States. Over the span of two weeks, America hosted two of the biggest and most prestigious events in karting, both making history in their own right. A week in New Orleans at the pristine NOLA Motorsports Park for the first-ever United States-hosted Rotax Grand Finals was followed by the largest Superkarts! USA SuperNationals in its 17-year history in Las Vegas.
Each had its own uniqueness that made the events what they are, and EKN had the privilege of being front and center for both. EKN’s Rob Howden was the trackside voice for both events, while I, along with the rest of our HMG staff – Allan Craighead and Tony LaPorta – kept everyone updated as to what was going on during each event. While it was a long two weeks, it will be forever in my memory for the great moments both on and off the track.
The biggest memory from these two weeks will be the final lap of the Junior Max main event at the Rotax Grand Finals. Juan Manuel Correa drove his way from third to first on the final circuit to secure the first Rotax world championship for a United States driver. It’s been a big jump in just one year for Correa, racing in Portugal at his first Rotax Grand Finals. He seemed confident then, but was even more so this year in New Orleans. When things did not go his way during the heat races, he always had a positive attitude and knew they were working toward the main event on Sunday. In addition, the performances put in by Oliver Askew in Senior Max and that of Joey Wimsett in DD2 were truly remarkable, helping to put three US drivers on the podium. Their results, along with the rest of the Team USA squad, helped them earn the prestigious Nations Cup for the first time.
Winning on home soil was certainly a huge feat for Team USA and the MAXSpeed Group – the US distributor for all Rotax products and the event host. From the moment you arrived at NOLA, you knew it was THE race of the year for Rotaxians around the world. There is nothing like seeing the over 50 countries represented at the ‘Olympics of Karting’, and this year’s event truly turned into a world championship happening, bringing together some of the best karters from around the world. For Team USA, staying on home soil was one of the key factors that saw them run so well. Without the need to travel over the Atlantic and adjust to a new culture, food and time change, it was to a certain extent, just another race. Many of the drivers had been to NOLA previously, which helped for sure, but at this level, it doesn’t take the competition long to become acquainted with a new circuit as we saw during the two days of practice.
The feeling of it being ‘just another race’ may have been the positive attitude that Team USA needed to do so well. Without the traditionally massive tent that would accommodate over 200 drivers, each pilot had a 10×10 area alongside two others. Team USA was stationed in two rows, facing each other with no other countries included in their tent area. The set-up seemed to keep the distractions of the ‘big event’ away from the racers, as they were able to focus on what they were doing. You could feel the difference by walking from the Rotax Grand Finals section of the paddock into the Micro & Mini Invitational tent that housed 72 karts, mechanics and their families. Kudos to Rotax and MAXSpeed for the tent layout at this year’s event.
Overall, MAXSpeed and Rotax did a phenomenal job hosting the 2013 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals. With it being my third chance to attend the race, it was great to see familiar faces in the media room, as well as on-track with a host of talented drivers from all around the globe. The massive paddock area fit well for the over 300 drivers in attendance, including areas for the six chassis partners and other industry members who set up for the week. The big hit was the massive grandstands that filled up on Championship Saturday. The atmosphere was electric, as friends and families cheered on their drivers. I certainly can’t wait for next year as Team USA should go into the event, no matter where it is, with the confidence that they can compete for the world title.
After a brief 50 hour trip home to see the family and laundry duties, it was back on what I think was the same plane I arrived home on from New Orleans heading west to Vegas. Record numbers and record rainfall made the 2013 event another memorable SuperNationals race. The buzz in the paddock Wednesday morning when practice began was electric. Unfortunately, it was doused Thursday to Saturday as it was nothing but cold and rain. An average of 0.3 inches of rain falls in November for the Vegas area, while this year it accumulated well over five times that amount in just three days. A big thank you to the entire Superkarts! USA staff that braved the elements for well over 12 hours a day. It’s people like them that make karting the sport it is today.
Unfortunately, due to the rainy conditions and the long days producing the EKN Trackside Live broadcast, there was very little time to work the paddock like we did during the Rotax Grand Finals. The weather for SuperSunday made up for it however, as the skies cleared and the record turnout of racers contested the 11 main events to crown this year’s winners and SKUSA Pro Tour champions. The great thing about major events like these, you never know who will come out on top until the final checkered flag. We saw that in nearly every category, with favorites falling out early, or losing out at the very end.
I think it’s safe to say that Joey Wimsett has put himself among the best in the country, coming off a runner-up at the Rotax Grand Finals and scoring his first SuperNats win along with the S1 Pro Tour title. His CV continues to grow as the 21-year old is still improving his skill-set in multiple areas of the sport, on and off the track. If you ask who Nicholas Rowe was before SuperSunday, no one had a clue. They do now as the Aussie defeated his fellow countryman David Sera in a barn-burner of a race. EKN is going to connect with the first-time SuperNats winner to find out more about this incredible story. The Sodi Kart veteran Anthony Abbasse once again shined on the main stage, taking home another $10,000 pay day for his second KZ2 victory in three years.
Texan driver Connor Wagner was able to avoid issues to record his best Pro Tour result, winning the S2 main event. The California ProKart Challenge championship driver will be among another solid group of drivers that will graduate up to the S1 category, brining more depth to the Pro division which will be in its fifth year. The first international driver scored the win in the S4 Master category, as Matthew Hamilton became the first New Zealand driver to win on SuperSunday. This could be the start to a new trend of more international competition in the category with the absence of the G1 division.
TaG Master featured some of the most intense racing during the first half of the race, as Brazilian Leonardo Nienkotter was going for a fourth straight victory. A slight error cost him and others a chance at the win, allowing veteran Jim Russell Jr. to claim his first SuperNats after the heartbreaking disqualification of provisional winner Ethan Wilson. The young drivers in S5, TaG Junior and TaG Cadet produced three first-time winners with Florida driver Kyle Kirkwood, Brazilian Yurik Carvalho, and Italian Leonardo Marseglia.
The addition of DD2 and Rotax Junior added two more exciting main events for SuperSunday, along with the first three tickets awarded to the 2014 Rotax Grand Finals. Former Rotax world champion Ben Cooper showed why he’s the best Rotaxian on the globe, edging out shifterkart champion Bas Lammers to the line for the victory. Canadian Stuart Clark scored the DD2 Masters win and Rotax Grand Finals ticket, with Austrian Thomas Preining topping the Junior category. The entire event continues to grow internationally, and with six total winners coming from outside North America.
Remember, for complete coverage of both events, head over to the Rotax Grand Finals Event Page and the SKUSA SuperNationals XVII Event Page. Until then, we’ll just have to wait 11 months before we do it all over again. See you at the track in 2014!
Life is short, have fun!
eKartingNews.com Managing Editor