EKN Trackside: Rotax Challenge of the Americas – PKRA – Sunday Report
Arscott responds with Senior sweep, Cook earns first DD2 victory as Brooks bags last lap Junior Max triumph
Defending champ Phillip Arscott bagged his first win of the season in Senior Max (Photo: SeanBuur.com)
With the picture-perfect Phoenix weather once again greeting the racers on Sunday morning for the fourth of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas, the championship chase took yet another step towards completion at the PKRA facility. Drivers and teams had a night’s worth of discussion and data analysis to prepare for the second day of competition, which set the stage for even closer racing. While four racers posted sweeps of their day’s events, only one would return to the top of the box on Sunday. DD2 Masters’ driver Alan Rudolph bagged his eighth straight win, albeit in a small field, but the three other drivers who dominated on Saturday – Jake Craig (Senior), Gavin Reichelt (DD2) and Austin Versteeg (Junior) – could not back up their performances. Instead, Sabre Cook (CRG) topped the DD2 main to keep herself in the title chase, reigning Senior Max champion Phillip Arscott put on a clinic in technique, and Christian Brooks survived the opening laps of Junior Max to be in a position to make a daring last-lap move for the win. All in all, it was an exciting day of Rotax racing.
Energy Corse America DD2 / CRG-USA DD2 Masters
The DD2 category has been unpredictable with each and every session, as a handful of drivers put themselves within the hunt for the top spot. Going into qualifying for Sunday’s action, Gavin Reichelt (CRG) was looking to keep his win streak going. Sabré Cook has been up to the challenge for all three previous rounds, and was the early polesitter in the session. That was until Reichelt was able to lay down a 45.164-second lap to secure the pole position. Cook was back by nearly two tenths, still looking for more speed to start off round four. Christian Bird (CRG) was third in the order with Andy Lee (CRG) and Bailey Murphy (Tony Kart) completing the top-five. Alan Rudolph (CRG) was fourth overall, first in Masters with a 45.444-second lap, with Ben Johnston (CRG) second and Mike Urban (CRG) third.
Contact shuffled up the field to open up the 17-lap prefinal, with Reichelt, Lee, Bird and Murphy involved. Everyone continued, with Cook pulling away to a one second advantage over Reichelt with Lee up to third, Matt England (Vemme) fourth and Bird fifth. Reichelt was able to run down Cook and tried for a move at lap nine, but Cook responded to retain the top spot. That was the only attempt as Cook kept the three-time winner at bay, earning the heat race win by nearly two seconds as Reichelt backed off on the final lap. Lee held third until Bird made his way up to the position, as two were joined by Masters driver Rudolph. England continued to fall back and Murphy drove his way back from seventh to fifth, with Eggert through for sixth. Johnston finished the Masters class in second, about 19 seconds behind Rudolph with Urban in third.
The top three from Saturday’s main event were at it again for Sunday’s final race. Cook used the pole position to secure the top spot but was passed by Bird before the first lap was completed. Reichelt was right there with Murphy trailing the trio. The front three ran nose to tail with Cook and Bird going back and forth for the lead. With 10 laps remaining the tempo picked up as they began fighting for every inch they could. Cook looked for a way past Bird, but failed which allowed Reichelt to take second. Four laps later, it was Reichelt going for the top spot, but Bird shut the door and allowed Cook to slide through for second. That gave her the chance on lap 24 to draft past Bird for the lead. Reichelt tried to move past as well, but failed, while pushing Bird off track at the exit of the corner. Bird spun off into the dirt, and out of the race. This allowed Cook to drive away to a 1.5-second win over Murphy, earning her first Challenge victory in DD2 action. The win was dedicated to her uncle Randy Cook, who passed away on New Year Day this past January. Murphy’s provisional podium was taken away following tech for a float arm violation, moving Reichelt to second until he was assessed a 10-second penalty for the contact with Bird. That put Eggert up to the second spot in his first weekend of the year, with Reichelt back to third. England was classified fourth with Lee placing fifth.
BBR Karting Mini Max
The fight for the pole position went down to the wire in the 15-minute session for Mini Max. Dylan Tavella (CRG) was the provisional polesitter until Trey Brown (Tony Kart) moved to the top spot with his sixth circuit in the session. A number of drivers were close to his time, as the top-six at one point were within two-hundredths of each other. Canadian Griffin Dowler (Tony Kart) however got a great big draft in the final minute of the session, jumping up to first in the standings with a 50.189-second lap for the pole position. Brown was dropped to second with Filip Niemkiewicz (AM) up to third. Tavella ended up fourth with point leader Jacob Blue Hudson (Energy) in fifth.
Brown got the jump as the green flag waved for the prefinal with Dowler dropping back to second. He continued to drop down the order, and out of the top five, with Tavella, Niemkiewicz, and Hudson filling out the order early, before Payton Durrant (Birel) took his position inside the top-five. Brown led for a while, then Tavella took his turn at the point. He pulled out to a solid lead as the group shuffled for position, but once Hudson found his way to the point, the gap shrunk. Time ran out however as Tavella scored the win over Hudson with Niemkiewicz past Brown on the final lap for third. Durrant completed the top-five, unable to move up any further.
Three drivers broke away from the field in the main event, including Tavella, Hudson and Brown. The trio held a sizable lead early and seemed to have the path toward deciding the race win between themselves. Niemkiewicz and Durrant however teamed up after trailing by over three seconds to the leaders, and inch by inch, ran them down. Fighting between the lead trio with about four laps remaining helped to close the gap more. Brown moved into the lead on lap 14, with Hudson responding to take over the top spot, dropping Tavella back to third. By then, Niemkiewicz was primed for racing as he and Durrant fought together for the third spot against Tavella. This made it just two battling for the win, with Hudson comfortably out front and driving to his third victory of the season. Brown settled for second with Niemkiewicz in third. Tavella held on for fourth with Durrant – posting the fast lap of the race – in fifth.
Holeshot Drive Systems Senior Max
The mission for the 25 drivers in the Senior Max field was to stop the perfect record Jake Craig laid down on Saturday. Phillip Arscott was up to the challenge. The Rolison Performance Group driver was the provisional polesitter early on, until Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) slotted himself into the top spot. All the drivers in the second group darted to the pit lane for adjustments, and Arscott (Kosmic) came out even quicker. He posted a 45.842-second lap to reclaim the fast time and the pole position. Marotta was just six hundredths off in second with Craig (Tony Kart) in third. Joey Wimsett (CRG) came back after suffering a brake failure in the main event Saturday to post his best qualifying effort of the series to start the prefinal fourth, along with Andrew Wiener (ART) posting his best effort to date completing the fast five.
The intensity level has stepped on Sunday as the drivers were a bit aggressive at the start of the prefinal. Contact shuffled up the field, including Wimsett, Matt Johnson, Louie Pagano and Blaine Rocha. Out front, Marotta went from the outside of row one to the lead as Arscott dropped to third behind Craig. Wiener moved to fourth with Phil DeLaO (FA Kart) to fifth from seventh. Craig tried a move on Marotta for the lead, and it backfired, opening the door for Arscott to take the position away. Two laps later, Arscott moved around Marotta for the lead, bringing Craig and Wiener with him. From there, Arscott drove the fast laps of the race to secure a two-second advantage with the race win. Craig drove to second with Marotta able to move up to third ahead of Wiener. Pagano was the driver on the move, outside the top-10 and up to fifth by the end of the 17 laps, with Wimsett coming from 24th to 11th.
Today’s main event was decided in the opening laps of the 25-circuit battle. Arscott crept away from Craig and Pagano early, and pulled away with each lap to secure his first victory of the season. Early on, Craig and Pagano were right on the bumper of Arscott, but the former US champion was on point, securing the sweep on the day with a big victory to position himself as the driver to beat at the series finale. Craig ran second the entire time, but was removed in tech for an altered crank seal, dropping him from any chance at the championship. Pagano ran third, moving up after Marotta missed the start with a fouled plug – but was run down by rookie McKinney. Starting sixth, the young driver posted some fast laps to run down the veteran Rotax racer and earn his first Senior podium. Pagano made it two straight trips to the steps in his Dallas Karting Complex entry, with the removal of Craig, placing third. A great drive was put in by veteran Matt Johnson (FA Kart), coming all the way from 24th to fourth in the finally tally, as he worked past Bryce Choquer (Kosmic) late in the race. Wimsett was another drive on the move, coming from 11th to sixth after dropping outside the top-15 at the start, as did Rocha (Kosmic) – starting last to eighth. Carlos Calderon (Aluminos) had a brief moment, placing inside the top-10 after a challenging weekend but broke his arm while taking the checkered flag after driving over his left arm. EKN wishes the best recovery to Calderon in the coming weeks.
Black Flag Racing Micro Max
On Saturday, Jak Crawford (Birel) scored his third straight Mini Max main event despite dealing with mechanical issues in qualifying that mired him back in 19th. Things went much better on Sunday morning, as the Texan turned a 52.297-second pass on his third lap to edge out his primary championship contender Sebastian Davis (Tony Kart) for the Pre-Main pole position by just 0.021 seconds. Ethan Arndt (Tony Kart) was a further three tenths back in third, although both Josh Pierson (Tony Kart) and Tyler Ruth (KGB) were within a half a tenth. The tight nature of the qualifying times signaled the coming of some close racing the Prefinal and Final.
In the prefinal, a four-kart pack developed quickly, as Crawford led Davis, Arndt and Pierson through the opening laps. Crawford had found his rhythm and paced the field all the way to the checkered, winning over Arndt and Davis by 0.535 seconds. Ruth finished alone on the track in fourth, while Max Wright (Energy) finished firth with Pierson right on his rear bumper.
With the speed shown by Crawford on Saturday and into Sunday, many expected Crawford to jump away early, but this was not to be as Arndt, Davis and Ruth made it an exciting quartet through the early going. The battle for the wine dropped to three after the first handful of laps as Ruth lost touch, and was eventually reeled in by the chase pack. As the lead trio lined up for the final two-lap battle, Davis looked poised to make a bid for the lead when he lined behind Crawford coming down the backstretch, but he elected to hold off, which would be his undoing. Crawford laid down to great laps to stretch an advantage, leaving Davis to fend off Arndt instead of challenging for the win. The margin at the line was 0.670 seconds for Crawford, who scored his fourth straight win and all but locked the championship battle. David held off Arndt for second, while Wright took third ahead of Diego LaRoque (CRG), who recovered for a tough weekend to score a well-deserved fifth.
Nash Motorsportz Masters Max
The PKRA facility seems to be the favorite track for Ken Maxfield. Two podium finishes last year, including a win, and a runner-up Saturday have him with three solid finishes in three races. Maxfield (Arrow) brought more speed again as the Utah driver posted the fast lap in Sunday’s qualifying A 47.670-second lap cleared the field by over two tenths of a second. Justin Peck (Tony Kart) and Kurt Fisher (CRG) filled out the top-three for much of the session, until Brian Phillipsen (Tony Kart) came on late to move into the second spot. Point leader Donald Durbin Jr. (Birel) ended up only fifth in the final order.
Maxfield was on his game in the prefinal, and fended off the challengers for the race win. Phillipsen slotted in behind for second at the start of the 17-lap race, with Durbin into third after the opening corner. Durbin worked by Phillipsen on lap three, and set his sights on Maxfield. A pass at the end of turn 10 put the Cambrian Go Kart driver into the lead, but the polesitter did not go away. He struck back as they made their way in the turn nine kink, retaking the lead. Durbin settled in behind, and was unable to make another attempt for the lead as Maxfield scored the win. Phillipsen was close, but dropped back some, allowing a charging Fisher – who posted the fast lap of the race – to close in. No move was made, as Phillipsen took third and Peck was fifth over Larry Hayashigawa (Tony Kart). Durbin’s race would be tainted, as officials removed him from the results for a clutch issue, moving him to the tail of the finishing order.
As the field took the green flag, contact sent the field scattering, with Peck, Hayashigawa, and others involved. This allowed Maxfield, Phillipsend and Fisher to break away from the pack with Durbin, starting last, only up to ninth with all the wrecks in front of him. The top two were able to pull away from Fisher as the race went on, leaving it to a dual for the victory as we saw on Saturday. Maxfield led the majority of the race until Phillipsen took over the top spot on lap 16. From there, Maxfield kept up the pressure, but could not make a move. Phillipsen drove to the checkered flag, earning his first Challenge victory. Maxfield was runner-up once again, marking his third podium in four races. Fisher held onto third for his inaugural podium trip of the series while Durbin recovered to fourth and Hayashigawa fifth.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
The Rolison Performance Group Junior Max class features a stout field of pilots backed by experienced and knowledge-packed teams, meaning chassis set-up and running is rarely an issue. RPG’s Austin Versteeg (Kosmic) swept the action on Saturday to increase his point lead, but come Sunday, the playing field had leveled as the teams made overnight adjustments to their karts and drivers. Nash Motorsportz’ Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) was second overall on Day #1, but he turned things up for Sunday qualifying with a 46.658, which gave him the pole over the 30-kart field. RPG’s Kyle Wick (Kosmic) is on a strong upward rise in speed and racecraft, and he sat second on the timesheets ahead of leading Junior rookie Sting Ray Robb in his BBR Karting Tony Kart. Versteeg was less than three tenths back in fourth, ahead of ART GP’s Phillippe Denes. Versteeg’s dominant position from Saturday was gone as the field was prepped and ready to challenge.
That said, while the pack had dialed things in, Versteeg is one of the top Juniors in the country and he rose up in the Prefinal to win over Brooks by two seconds. A wreck in the opening complex of corners involving Robb, Denes and Nicky Hayes (sixth place qualifier) opened the door for Versteeg to settle in behind Brooks to pace the initial four-driver breakaway, and by lap four, Versteeg was by to pull away to a 2.032-second lead by the end of the 17-lap sprint. Brookes maintained his chase to finish second ahead of emerging Canadian driver Jeff Fulham (Kosmic). Wick survived the opening lap chaos to finish fourth ahead of Jake Boyle (CRG). Robb fought back to 13th in the Prefinal to make sure he could still attack on the lead group in the long-distance final.
The 25-lap final was a wild battle that was again punctuated by an incident between two of the primary players. Once the battle up front settled into its rhthym, Brooks held the point. Robb ended up as the man on the move, working his way into second on the strength of consistently quick laps and precision overtaking maneuvers. His attack on the lead pack was impressive. Versteeg’s pace quickened during the late going and he made a move past Robb on late 17, knifing to the inside in turn 11, which is the left-hand hairpin that is located directly after the banked monza at the end of the Phoenix’s back straightaway. Versteeg’s move pushed deep into the corner and he and Robb would eventually lock wheels, sending them both off the track, allowing Brooks to pull away. Both drivers would continue, with Versteeg ending up fifth, and Robb in seventh. The end of the race saw Denes lead the final lap, only to have Brooks go deep in turn 11 to steal the lead, although he went deep enough to almost allow Fulham to slide through the inside for the win. Brooks defended enough to maintain the lead and the win, although Fulham held on for second, his best ever COTA finish. Denes came back for third, ahead of Wick.