EKN Trackside: United States Pro Kart Series – Mooresville – Saturday Report
A day of firsts for the opening round of the season at GoPro Motorplex
The opening round of the United States Pro Kart Series, presented by GoPro, got underway Saturday as over 160 entries combined in the eight categories took to the GoPro Motorplex facility in Mooresville, North Carolina. Perfect weather shined over the area, as racers enjoyed a busy day of action, completing over 40 laps per class on throughout the day. It was a day of firsts on-track, with drivers earning their first feature wins, and others earning the first ever in the new categories to the program.
Franklin Motorsports Leopard Pro
Thirty-eight drivers took to the track for the five minute Pro qualifying session. Semi-Pro winner last year, Dustin Stross (Tony Kart) was the early provisional pole sitter, until he was surpassed late in the session. Fellow Florida driver AJ Myers (PCR) jumped to the top of the order on his fifth circuit, posting a 48.179-second lap. TJ Koyen (ART GP) was second at the checkered flag, with Arrow drivers Jacob Donald and Jacob Knueven third and fourth. Derek Dignan (FA Kart), making his first laps of the weekend after returning from a school function in Europe, was fifth, dropping Stross to sixth.
Myers and Dignan were able to get away in the opening heat race to decide the first race winner of the day. Myers led early, but Dignan was the quicker of the two and eventually took the lead for the race win. Behind them was an epic fight for third that included four drivers. Koyen was able to come out with the position over Brandon Jarsocrak (Haase), with Roger Ralston Jr. (FA Kart) and Arie Ouimet (DR Kart) among the challengers.
It was a repeat in heat two, as Myers and Dignan were the class of the field once again. Dignan, using his knowledge of the KartSport North America home track, drove to another race win as Myers settled for second. The fight for third included the same players, this time some contact was made, involving Koyen and Stross. They fell out of the top-10, and allowed Ralston to earn the spot over Donald and Ouimet.
Dignan and Myers led the field to the green flag for the 25-lap main event. The field was clean through the opening corners, with Dignan at the point. Myers began to fall the wrong way early, losing the second spot to Ralston, and then out of the top five a few laps later. The two KartSport North America teammates set the pace, with Koyen able to move up to third from seventh on the grid, giving them chase. Ralston made his move on lap 10, taking over the lead from Dignan. That proved to be the winning move of the race, as Dignan was not able to retake the position back. Ralston scored his first USPKS feature win by four tenths over Dignan, with Koyen trailing in third. The driver on the move in the second half of the race was defending champion Kyle Kalish. The Franklin Motorsports/Merlin driver qualified 10th on the day, moving up to eighth on the main event grid. His ride continued to get better as the day went on, and he picked off drivers to get himself up to fifth by lap 20. In the final laps, the ‘People’s Champion’ took another position away, as Kalish finished up fourth. Stross secured the fifth and final position on the podium with a last lap pass over Donald. Jarsocrak was seventh, with Ouimet back to eighth, Knueven up to ninth and Elliot Finlayson (Tony Kart) the hard charger, coming from 37th to 10th in his Koene USA entry.
Comet Kart Sales Yamaha Pro
The qualifying session in the competitive Yamaha Pro division was a FA Kart 1-2 result as Comet Kart Sales driver Camden Speth posted the quickest lap. His 52.935-second lap was the only time recorded below the 53-mark. Derek Dignan was second, but came on the scales underweight, promoting Nick Landi to second. Shawn Sharkey was third with Darin Marcus fourth for the two Franklin Motorsport/Merlin drivers. Rounding out the fast five was Collin Griffin (Tony Kart).
Speth led all 10 laps of a wild opening heat race for the Pro division. He led with a number of drivers taking a turn at the second spot. At the checkered, it was Brandon Jarsocrak (Haase) up from 10th to the second spot with Tony Jump (Arrow) advancing from 14th to third.
Heat Two was all Speth once again, as he led another 10 laps for his second race win of the day. The drivers were spread out more in the second moto, with another stellar drive put in by Jarsocrak. He made a last lap pass on Griffin during the final lap for another runner-up finish and a front row starting spot in the main event. Dakota Pesek (Top Kart) had a drive of his own, coming from 12th on the grid to fourth with Dignan (FA Kart) fifth after starting dead last.
Speth and Griffin hooked up at the start of the 20-lap main event, and it seemed like they were destined to lead the entire way. Griffin however would not last at the front end of the field, falling down the order as Pesek came on from the fourth starting spot. He would eventually put himself into the second position, and cut Speth’s lead to nothing by the halfway point. That would be all he could muster, as Speth turned up the wick to keep the Top Kart driver at bay. At the checkered, Speth completed his perfect day aboard his Comet Kart Sales FA Kart, leading all 20 laps of the main event for his first USPKS victory. Pesek was a respectable second, as Jarsocrak came back to finish third over a hard-charging Dignan while Griffin ended up fifth.
J3 Competition Parilla Challenge
DRT Racing’s Brian Fisher laid down a monster lap for the pole position in the new Parilla Challenge category. A 49.444-second time aboard his DR Racing Kart was his best in the five minute session, clearing the field by four tenths. Masters winner last year – Laurentiu Mardan (Kosmic) – was second and the only other driver below the 50-second mark. Completing the fast five were Florida driver Francois Brun-Wibaux (PCR), Cristian Vomir (Kosmic) and John DeCosta (iKart).
Fisher walked away with the Heat One win, pulling away to a 4.596-second win over Mardan with Vomir up to third. Fisher was challenge in Heat Two, with Mardan jumping out to the lead at the drop of the green flag. Fisher would resume as the leader, and drove away to a near three-second win. Mardan settled for second with DeCosta up to third over Vomir.
Mardan brought his A-game in the main event, leading for the first half of the race. Fisher along with Vomir trailed to make up a three driver breakaway. Fisher finally led for the first time at lap 10, but it was only for one more circuit until the former USPKS winner retook the top spot. Fisher set up for a late run as the race progressed, getting his DR Racing Kart to optimal speed, sliding past Mardan at the end of the back straight with two laps to go. Fisher earned his first USPKS victory in his series debut, as Mardan crossed the line second. Vomir dropped off at the end, holding on to the third position as Brun-Wibaux and DeCosta completed the top-five.
GT7 Motorsports Leopard Junior
The Leopard Junior category made its USPKS debut with David Malukas (Top Kart) as the top qualifier. A 48.895-second lap was the quickest of the session, with Brandon Lemke (Merlin) a close second. Nolan Ruocco (Haase) was third with Junior rookie Neil Verhagen (Arrow) fourth and Zach Holden (Top Kart) fifth. The top 12 drivers were within a half second, setting up for an exciting day for the new USPKS division.
Malukas and Lemke made it a two driver fight for the win in Heat One, as the two broke away in the 10-lap event. Lemke was able to move past Malukas by the halfway point, and held off challenges from the polesitter to secure the race win. Ryan Norberg (PCR) was on the charge, posting the fast laps of the race to advance up to third, just ahead of Verhagen and Holden.
The second heat race was red flagged after one lap for an accident involving Anthony Gangi Jr. (Tony Kart), but he was able to walk away. Once restarted, Malukas showed the way for the remainder of the race, as he had Holden and Norberg on his tail.
Malukas and Norberg filled out the front row for the 20-lap main event, leading the field to the green flag. A large lead packed formed early, but it dwindled down to just three with Malukas leading Norberg and a charging Verhagen. By lap seven, Verhagen was into the second spot, and began looking for a way around Malukas. On lap 14, they were side by side through turn four, when some contact was made between Verhagen and Norberg. They all continued, but Verhagen received the brunt of the contact, dropping down to seventh. That moved Holden into the third spot behind Norberg, as he tried to reel in the top two. Nothing changed in the order up to the checkered flag, as Malukas drove to record the first USPKS Leopard Junior feature win. Norberg was back by four tenths, with Holden on his bumper. After making repairs to his Tony Kart, Gangi was on the charge throughout the main event, coming up from 16th on the grid to finish fourth, just ahead of Castro.
Woltjer Racing Engines Yamaha Junior
A last lap flyer for David Malukas gave the Top Kart USA driver the pole position for Yamaha Junior, as he was the only driver to dip into the 51-second mark. He cleared Dario Cangialosi (Haase) by three tenths of a second. Max McLaughlin (Top Kart) was third with Brandon Lemke (Merlin) and Matt Solarczyk (Birel) rounding out the fast five. Happy Hour leader and defending champion Zach Holden (Top Kart) was back in ninth.
Malukas used the pole position to run away and lead all 10 laps of the opening heat race. The Top Kart driver held a sizable lead, but was run down by Mike McAndrews (Birel), Lemke, and Holden who was on the charge. Malukas held on to the end, with Holden making his way into the second spot on the final corner, dropping Lemke to third and McAndrews to fourth.
It was a three driver break away at the start of Heat Two. Malukas was joined by Lemke and the Birel of Solarcyzk. Each had a turn at the lead, with Solarczyk coming on late. He was at the point when they hit lap traffic. Trying to negotiate the lapper, he made contact with the slower kart and fell down the order. That left the other two fighting for the win, as Malukas scored the top spot over Lemke. Holden advanced up into the top-three again, with McAndrews fourth and Andre Castro (Arrow) fifth after starting 10th.
The Top Kart tandem hooked up for the main event, as Malukas and Holden used the inside line to assume the first and second positions on the opening lap. Lemke was shuffled back out of the top-five, but in the group fighting for third. The lead duo ran nose to tail for much of the race, until the final lap. Holden was leading with Malukas attempting a pass on the final corner. They both went wide, as Holden pushed out onto the grass. Never lifting his foot off the gas, the defending champ continued forward and inched his way back onto the pavement right before the stripe. At the line, Holden scored the victory by a few inches, with Malukas second. Birel drivers Solarczyk and McAndrews closed up in the final moments, making it a wild looking finish as they ended up third and fourth. Completing the top-five was Joey Eppink (Tony Kart) up to fifth from ninth.
Orlando Kart Center Mini Rok Cadet
Making its debut at the USPKS, the Mini Rok welcomed 26 drivers to the new category for the series as it continues to grow throughout the United States. Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) earned the honor of the first driver to score the pole position in the class, posting a 53.676-second lap. Sam Mayer (Merlin) was just off by a tenth of a second, with Merlin teammate Alex Bertagnoli third. Kaylen Frederick (Tony Kart) and David Morales ended the five-minute round in fourth and fifth.
Despite losing his front row starting position after two false starts, Tavella came through to score the heat one win. Tavella was placed back a row for too fast on the attempted starts. The race for second came down to Bertagnoli holding on to the spot after 10 laps with Morales up to third. Mathias Soler (Tony Kart) put in a great drive from ninth to fourth with Mayer back to fifth.
Tavella went wire-to-wire in Heat Two for Mini Rok, holding a comfortable lead for the entire 10-lap event. The fight was for second on track, with Morales claiming the position over Bertagnoli. Derek Carmenate (Benik) was fourth with Mayer back to fifth once again as part of the lead group.
Two of the categories more experienced drivers locked up and settled the main event in a dual. Tavella led the early going, as Mayer came up from fourth to push the two away from the rest of the field, paced by Frederick and Bertagnoli. Mayer never got enough of a run on Tavella the entire 20 laps, as the young New York drive secured the first Mini Rok feature race of the USPKS. Frederick won a great battle for third that went to the wire, as Soler scored fourth over John Paul Southern (PCR), dropping Bertagnoli to sixth.
QPS Employment Group Yamaha Cadet
Defending champion Sam Mayer (Merlin) began 2014 where he left off, scoring the pole position with a 55.724-second lap. His Franklin Motorsports teammate Austin Schaff (Merlin) was second, as Alex Bertagnoli made it a Merlin 1-2-3. Stone Slattery (Top Kart) and last year’s Yamaha Rookie champion Griffin Kunz (Praga) completed the fast five.
The opening heat race was decided with just a few corners remaining. Mayer drove away from the field early, but was run down by a group of drivers, pushing him back in the field. Three drivers got away at the end with John Paul Southern (PCR) leading a Merlin duo of Schaff and Bertagnoli. They worked past Southern on the back stretch as they began the final circuit, but Southern fought back. As they made their way through turn nine, Schaff and Southern made contact, allowing Bertagnoli to slip through for the win. Southern dropped to eight with Schaff in 10th. That promoted Jason Welage (Tony Kart) to second with Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) third, up from 17th.
Heat Two was a five driver break away involving the same drivers from heat one. It came down to the wire with Schaff able to make a last lap pass for the win, making up for the spin in the previous heat. Southern was right there in second, as Mayer was third. Welage and Bertagnoli made up the top-five.
Bertagnoli and Welage filled out the front row for the 20-lap main event, as a large lead packed formed up early. Southern moved to the point early as he, Tavella and Devin Boutot (Tony Kart) formed up a three driver break away. Despite their efforts to pull away, the Merlin’s of Mayer and Bertagnoli reeled them back in to make it a five driver fight to the checkered flag. They ran static until lap 17 when Boutot moved up to the second spot, that dropped Southern down to fourth with Tavella pushing his fellow Tony Kart driver down the back straight. He came right back into the third spot the following lap, and they continued to shuffle behind Boutot and Tavella. Tavella, always patient, made his move on the final corner at turn eight. Boutot ran the defensive line, and that allowed Tavella the better momentum out of the corner. That was the winning move as he took his first series victory. Southern pushed his way forward in the final corners to end up second, with Bertagnoli and Mayer past Boutot for position.
Switch Racing Engines Yamaha Rookie
Gunnar Bischoff (Haase) led the way in Rookie qualifying, posting the only sub-57 second lap of the session for the pole position. Luca Mars (Praga) was only a few hundredths off in second with Tyler Maxson (Tony Kart) a close third. The three drivers led the way in the heat races, as Maxson scored the opening race win as Bischoff edged out Mars for second. In Heat Two was a repeat, this time Maxson had to fend off Mars for the win at the line while Bischoff followed in third. Bischoff lost the draft in the feature race, leaving Maxson and Mars to fight for the win. Maxson led for all but two laps, as he beat Mars to the line for his first series victory. Bischoff ended up third, while Ryan Detlor (Tony Kart) and Chester Brimer (CRG) completed the top-five.