Florida Winter Tour Kicks Off 2014 Season in Homestead

Formal, King, Munoz, Daly, Canache, Castro and Di Leo score wins in opening day as d’Orlando’s go 1-2 in Cadet

Florida Winter Tour kicked off round one of the Formula Kart weekend Saturday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT/Studio 52)

Florida Winter Tour kicked off round one of the Formula Kart weekend Saturday (Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT/Studio 52)

Story provided by: Florida Winter Tour

Kevin King became the first LO 206 winner at the Florida Winter Tour (Photo: Studio52.us)

Kevin King became the first LO 206 winner at the Florida Winter Tour (Photo: Studio52.us)

The start to the 2014 sprint kart racing season has officially begun as the 16th annual Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour, presented by Ocala Gran Prix, hits the track in Homestead, Florida. Today was the day that the competitors of the FWT Formula Kart Racing program got to see if all their efforts in the short off-season would work as planned.  For some it was minor tweaks and changes, for others it was a complete change to a new chassis or even a new team. There was also the usual progression up the ladder for the younger drivers who would be changing competition classes.

As previously mentioned, this is the 16th season of the Florida Winter Tour and nobody knows that better than Formula Kart Production’s head of timing and scoring, Tom Thelen. Tom has been with the FWT since its very first race at Opa Loca, Florida in 1998 and has seen a lot of changes.  The biggest change he says he’s witnessed is the shift from a majority of shifter entries to the rise of the Rotax categories and a substantial increase in international participation.

When asked how he got started with the FWT so early he said he had some contacts from hanging out at a concession track who asked him to come out and work the gate and a corner for the first ever FWT event. His transition to timing and scoring came right away. As Tom put it, “I kept going over to the timing and scoring trailer to ask questions. On the second day Jim Murley put me in there to take care of timing and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

The 44-year-old Thelen is a native of Dusseldorf, Germany and works as a cargo shipping agent in his current home of Houston, Texas. These days he says the Florida Winter Tour and Rock Island Grand Prix are the only kart races he works due to a very busy home and work schedule.

A trip through the paddock at any FWT race can turn up some very interesting characters. One such example is 21-year-old Canadian Kevin King from Sherbrooke, Quebec. Kevin has made the trip specifically to compete in the Briggs LO206 class for the PSL team, but will remain in Homestead for the next week to help tune for other competitors in the Rotax program.

The d'Orlando brothers went 1-2 in TaG Cadet (Photo: Studio52.us)

The d’Orlando brothers went 1-2 in TaG Cadet (Photo: Studio52.us)

Kevin has been racing for nine years and last ran the Florida Winter Tour in 2008. That was the same year he was the Canadian Rotax Junior National Champion. He says he really admires the late Ayrton Senna as a driver but his future goals are a little different to most young drivers.  Kevin is currently attending engineering classes and says his long term goal is to work developing racing engines for top teams. We certainly wish him luck in reaching his goals and hope to see him racing for the rest of the 2014 FWT season.

The morning dawned warm and humid as the karts took to the track for their morning warm-up sessions. As each class hit the asphalt, it was obvious they were not messing around. After almost a year’s absence, many shifter karts had returned to the Florida Winter Tour to join the strong fields of TaG karts. But the first group out was the new Briggs & Stratton LO206 Senior class.

Top Kart USA / Briggs and Stratton sponsored Briggs LO206 Senior
New for 2014 is the Briggs LO206 Senior class. This class has gathered a strong following in Canada and some areas of the U.S., and in an effort to showcase the low cost, low tech option FWT added it to the 2014 schedule. It should be noted that the Senior LO class is racing all three FK event weekends, and will be joined in March by the Junior and Masters LO classes. With almost $8,000 in cash and prizes on the line we expect to see the class grow as the season progresses.

In Saturday morning’s qualifying session, Canadian Kevin King set the time to beat at 55.346 seconds, claiming the Koene USA P1 pole award. Right behind King was the United States Jordan Perry, Canadian Mathieu Demers and Jamaican Collin Daley Jr.  With these four qualifying so close to each other, one could see right away the heat races and final would be very close.

Heat one for the LO206 class became the first official race of the 2014 FWT season when they took to the track promptly at 10:30. As expected from their qualifying times, the battle for the top spot in the Briggs class was very tight. After both heats were complete, pole-sitter Kevin King had emerged on top having won each of them and would start the final from the top starting spot.

In the Briggs LO206 final, King and Perry lead the field to the line to begin their 16 laps of competition. Starting near the back of the pack, after the chain came off in both heats and while leading in the second heat, was Collin Daley, Jr.  As the race wore on, King began to stretch out a lead at the front while Daley was picking his way through the pack. In the end, Kevin King took the $250 cash purse for the win, and scored a perfect day with pole position in qualifying, two heat wins and the win in the final. Second went to King’s teammate Mathieu Demers with Daley rounding out the podium with a fantastic run through the pack to claim third. Steven Kilsdonk secured his $250 cash purse as the highest finishing drive on a Victory chassis, and Colin Daley Jr secured the $100 cash purse as the Briggs and Stratton “Hard Charger” award recipient.

Stock Moto winner Matthew di Leo (Photo: Studio52.us)

Stock Moto winner Matthew di Leo (Photo: Studio52.us)

Promoters note: I want to point out that Daley and Perry were very late entries in this class. They literally took their motors out of the factory carton late on Friday afternoon and bolted them to some older two-cycle chassis to see how things went. I think their results are testament to how equal the engines are and how easy they are to tune.

AM Racing Kart sponsored Formula TaG Cadet
Qualifying for the TaG Cadet class saw a pair of brothers lead the time sheets with brothers from the United States Nicholas d’Orlando beating his older brother Michael by 0.213 of a second to claim the P1 Pole Award. These two would continue their dominant ways throughout the heat races with older brother Michael taking the top spot over Nicholas to keep the time-honored sibling pecking order in-tact. Behind the d’Orlando brothers, Tyler Gonzales (USA) and Matthew Latifi (Canada) were making great progress and displaying enough speed to prove they would be a threat in the final.

At the start of the final it was a d’Orlando front row. Nicholas was starting on the outside row but didn’t come up to speed as fast as Michael. This allowed the first five karts on the inside row to jump up some positions as the race hit the first turn. Making the most of this was Kaylen “K-Rex” Frederick (USA) who had been running solidly all day and now found himself in third position.

During the opening laps, Michael d’Orlando held the lead but Gonzalez and Frederick were right on his tail. Meanwhile, Nicholas had recovered from his balky start and was soon coming back towards the lead in a bid to sweep the days qualifying and races for the d’Orlando family. At the end of the 14-lap TaG Cadet final Nicholas came up just short of the win, but still an impressive performance in the FWT Formula Kart Racing program’s largest class. Behind the d’Orlando one-two was Tyler Gonzalez who scored an excellent podium spot for the AM Racing team.

Open Shifter was won by Collin Daley Jr. (Photo: Studio52.us)

Open Shifter was won by Collin Daley Jr. (Photo: Studio52.us)

Shifters
The third group of the day was comprised of the three shifter classes; Formula Stock Moto, Formula Open Shifter and Formula Masters Shifter. It was good to see a large turnout for the shifter classes after a relatively sparse turnout in 2013. With more karts promised to run at the February and March stops of the Formula Kart program we could be seeing the resurgence of the genesis of the Florida Winter Tour. The P1 pole sitters for these divisions were Ariel Castro (USA) in Formula Masters Shifter, Collin Daley jr. (Jamaica) in Formula Open Shifter, and Matthew Di Leo (Canada) in Formula Stock Moto. Interestingly, these three fast qualifiers represented three of the fastest four qualifiers overall.

Bordogna Racing Engines sponsored Open Shifter
Although he had his struggles with his brand new Briggs kart, Collin Daley used his well-developed Formula Open Shifter to take the win in Heat 1 and cruise to win in the final. However, Dominic Legrand (Canada), winner of Heat 2, and Christian Lail Dass (USA) kept within striking distance the whole race to join Daley on the podium.

International Racing USA sponsored Stock Moto
Matthew Di Leo was also having a good day as he swept qualifying the two heat races in Formula Stock Moto. In the final, di Leo again put his new Praga ride on top with a dominating performance to win by a comfortable margin over TBKart teammates Matthew Sanford (USA) and Chris Gannon (USA).

Promoters Note: OGP was originally scheduled to bring their entire Stock Moto Team to Homestead but had logistics issues at the last minute that kept them home. Jorge assured me they would be racing “in force” at Ocala, and therefore I anticipate the class will probably get enough entries to give it a separate race. I encourage Stock Moto drivers to join us in Ocala and Orlando.

Decal Zone sponsored Masters Shifter
In Formula Masters Shifter, the largest shifter class at the Homestead Karting facility this weekend, Ariel Castro set to prove that he’s still just as fast as ever and leveraged his pole position in qualifying into a heat race win and a dominating win in the final over Michel Legrand (Canada). Joining Castro and Legrand on the podium was Petr Ptacek (Czech Republic). This was a rather unusual situation as it’s not often in an international event of this caliber that one will see two out of three drivers on a podium who are the owners of the companies who build the karts they compete in.  But, that was exactly the case for Castro (AM Racing Karts) and Ptacek (Praga). 

Christian Munoz drove to a big win in TaG Junior (Photo: Studio52.us)

Christian Munoz drove to a big win in TaG Junior (Photo: Studio52.us)

Ogden USA sponsored Formula TaG Junior
The grid in Formula TaG Junior took on a new look this year as some popular drives from last year moved to Seniors and some fast Cadet drivers graduated into Juniors. This, of course, is the natural progression of things. However, the thing that never changes is the competitiveness of these kids when the green flag drops. In qualifying the story was Canadian Roman DeAngelis who set the fast time of 47.460 seconds to grab the P1 Pole Position award.

In Heat 1 DeAngelis would come up just a tenth of a second short to Christian Munoz, who started fourth.  In the second heat, with an inverted starting grid, it was Texan Nick Brueckner who surgically sliced through the field after having to start in the 23rd position to take a well-deserved win.

With his win in the first heat and strong showing in the second, Christian Munoz would start the final on the pole. In what was probably the most impressive drive of the day, Munoz took off like he had a plane to catch and left the TaG Junior field to fight over second. At the finish Munoz (USA/Leopard) took an amazing 8+ second win over Javier Gonzalez (Mexico/Rotax)  who had a similar gap to third place Roman DeAngelis (Canada/X30).

Russell Karting Specialties sponsored Formula TaG Senior / Orsolon Racing TaG Masters
The last group to run through the day was the Formula TaG Seniors accompanied by the TaG Masters competitors.  In the morning qualifying session, Ed Brand (UK/Rotax) set the fast time at 48.036 seconds to snag pole away from Jack Weprin (USA/Leopard ) who had a lap just 0.032 of a second off Brand’s time.

Danny Formal drove to victory in his debut aboard CRG for 2014 (Photo: Studio52.us)

Danny Formal drove to victory in his debut aboard CRG for 2014 (Photo: Studio52.us)

Heat 1 saw Ed Brand put his qualifying position to good use as he would take a 1.657 second victory over Dan Roeper (USA/Rotax).  Heat 2 also saw a stunning drive by Brand to come from the back on the inverted grid to finish second behind a motivated Dan “DRope” Roeper, who also had to come from near the back to take the win.

With their stout Heat Race performances Roeper and Brand would start the final from the front row.  These two led the initial laps but before long Mike Giessen stormed his ‘Merican built iKart through to take the lead. For a while it looked like Giessen would take the TaG Senior win. However, lurking in the field after struggling early on his new CRG ride was defending FWT TaG Senior champion Daniel Formal (USA/Rotax) proudly displaying the red #1 of the reigning FWT Champion. With a handful of laps to be run, Roeper and Giessen momentarily tangled with one another and that was all Formal needed to snatch a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.  At the checkers, it was Formal, Giessen and Roeper who would fill out the podium in first, second and third respectively. The TaG Masters podium was comprised of Daytona 24 Hours winner Nelson Canache (USA/X30) first, Miguel Gransaull (USA/Leopard) second and Gregory Violo (Venezuela) in third.

Skip Barber/FWT Driver Awards
Formals win put’s him on top of the points for his attempt to repeat as the Skip Barber/FWT award winner. With over $23,000 in driver support on-the-line for three drivers, and a stout group of drivers registered for a shot at the awards, Formal will need every point if he is to succeed. Driver should remember that to be eligible for these awards they must register at info@formulakart.com . See the details here.

IAME Awards
With almost $10,000 in product on the line for IAME/PARILLA drivers it’s worth noting that Christian Munoz is currently the highest placed IAME driver in TaG Junior and Mike Giessen is currently the highest placed IAME driver in TaG Senior. Three drivers in each class are eligible. See the details of that program here.

As the day wrapped up, a beautiful golden sunset was the perfect cap to a fantastic day of racing in Homestead, Florida. But as great as that was, perhaps the best blessing is that tomorrow we get to come back and do it all over again as tomorrow is Round 2 of the 2014 Formula Kart program.  We hope to see all of you here and if you can’t make it in person, log on to our exclusive FWT Live! interactive broadcast at www.FloridaWinterTour.com

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