Paddock Insider: 2014 Cold Stone US Grand Nationals

Inside information and interviews from Miller Motorsports Park for Rotax national championship

2014 US Rotax Grand Nationals logo

EKN’s Paddock Insider is a new Trackside coverage addition, bringing you notes, updates and breaking news as it happens. The article will be a timeline of events as they happen during the 2014 Cold Stone US Grand Nationals to crown the national champions of the United States Rotax Max Challenge. The information will not be seen anywhere else, including interviews and photos. Please feel free to comment and discuss our coverage and today’s action in the EKN Global Members Discussion area below:

July 20, 2014

 

Sunday Interviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Askew attempts morning warm-up
2013 US Grand Nationals champion Oliver Askew attempted to get on track during warm-up after sitting out since Friday morning prior to qualifying. The Ocala Gran Prix driver made two laps, but it was too much for the pulled muscle in his back, as Askew pulled off in pain. It was a valiant effort for the young driver, but thankfully he knew his limit and this weekend would end premature.

What about this weather?
Teams and drivers woke up to a change in the weather as an overcast sky and cooler temperatures rolled over the Tooele area. For the first time all week, the temp and the track is much cooler, making drivers and mechanics think about changes to the chassis and the engine. There is a small chance of rain that could hit the track come main event time, throwing another obstacle for those looking to claim one of the seven national championships.

July 19, 2014


Saturday Interviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Askew Looking for Return on Championship Sunday
2013 US Grand Nationals champion Oliver Askew is looking to return on-track for the final day of action at the Cold Stone US Grand Nationals. After taking some medication, and receiving some treatment to his back by local doctors, Askew is more mobile then he was 24 hours ago. The 2014 Team USA member sat in the kart, and has been making preparations to his Ocala Gran Prix Tony Kart to be ready for the morning warm-up session on Sunday.

Heat 3 Action

Red Flag in Masters Max Heat #2
DJ Ortiz went up and over in the turn 10 hairpin after just two laps in the 10-lap heat race. The Texan, who has been to a number of US Grand Nationals, was complaining of lower back pain, and the medical staff put him on the stretcher to send him to the medical center for an evaluation. They only concern of his was how his kart was, and we hope to see him back for Heat #3.

Rocha Added to Medical List for Senior Max
Senior Max driver Blaine Rocha is another driver on the medical list here in Utah. The rookie driver from Rolison Performance Group was suffering from a stomach bug that hampered him before the heat race, after the race and throughout the night. He missed the morning warm-up to get some IV fluids at the on-site medical center to help restore some strength in order to finish out Heat #2 and Heat #3 today, starting 12th.

July 18, 2014


Heat 1 Interviews

 

 

 

 


SuperPole winner Thomas Issa and Sting Ray Robb (Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.us)

SuperPole winner Thomas Issa and Sting Ray Robb (Photo: Ken Johnson – Studio52.us)

Koene USA SuperPole
The Junior Max and Senior Max fields were given a SuperPole session for the second straight season. The top-six from qualifying were given two laps to post a fast time, solo on the track. The Junior session saw some movement among the top-six, with Sting Ray Robb moving up one position to secure the pole position for the three heat races. That dropped top qualifier Luis Forteza III to second. Anthony Gangi Jr. moved up to third, dropping Christian Brooks to fourth. Kyle Wick moved to fifth with Braden Eves sixth. Positions changed again in the Senior Max session, with Thomas Issa moving to the top spot. Top qualifier Louie Pagano made a bobble on his second lap, costing him a shot at retaining the top position. That dropped him to fourth in the order, as Mason Marotta went from fourth to second. Luke Selliken remained third. Dan Roeper was provisionally fifth, however had his fast lap taken away for an infraction, moving Jake Craig to fifth.

Askew Withdraws?
As qualifying began for the seven categories, it came up to the tower that defending champion Oliver Askew was going to withdraw from the event with a possible back issue. Originally, Nick Neri was slatted to fill the seat and compete in both categories, however, the Ocala Gran Prix team elected to hold Askew’s position in the field, and wait to see how he felt after a trip to the hospital. The injury occurred a few years ago at a Florida Winter Tour event, and his current status is uncertain as we wait for him to return to the track. If he returns and races, he will start from the tail of the field in all three heat races.


Qualifying Interviews

 

 

 

The Battle Begins
Friday marks the start of the real journey toward one of the seven Cold Stone US Grand Nationals championships, with qualifying and the first round of heat races the first task. Qualifying will be important, as it sets the grid spot for the heat races, with drafting a major factor in how fast or how slow you are. The weather is going to be hot, with temperatures in the 90s, with Mojo rubber getting laid down with nearly 200 drivers on hand.

July 17, 2014

First Test Complete
The final session on Thursday provided the final chance to see just who was quick during the last official timed session before qualifying on Friday. California driver Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) posted fast time in the Senior Max division, with Rotax Summer Shootout winner Luke Selliken (Kosmic) right there. The top 10 were separated by just over a half-second, which is unusual at normal circuits except drafting is very key at the MMP ‘StarTrek’ circuit. Defending champion Oliver Askew (Tony Kart) was seventh. Anthony Gangi Jr. (Tony Kart) began his quest for a third US Grand Nationals title, first in Junior Max, leading the way at the end of Thursday. The Junior field is a little bit closer in terms of gap, but drafting is still key. Rotax Challenge of the Americas champion Austin Versteeg (Kosmic) and former US Grand Nationals winner Patricio O’Ward (FA Kart) was third.

This event marks the return of four-time US Grand Nationals champion Jordon Musser (Birel) to the event for the first time since 2007. The 3G Kart Racing pilot is at the top of the DD2 Masters standings, just edging out Erik Jackson (Kosmic) for the fast lap in the final practice. Alessandro Bressan (Kosmic) is on a mission, and showed it during the final session on Thursday. He cleared the field by a solid tenth of a second with DD2 rookie Nathan Adds the top challenger. Two-time DD2 Masters champion Alan Rudolph (CRG) was fourth, with three-time US Grand Nationals champion Nick Neri (Tony Kart) struggling, back in tenth.

It is 31 strong in Masters Max, it will be a challenge to claim the top spot come Sunday and earn a possible Team USA position. Already locked to the Rotax Grand Finals, Scott Falcone (Arrow) is all-in for just the title itself. He set the pace at the end of Thursday, laying down a monster lap. Utah driver Ken Maxfield (Arrow) was second with New Jersey’s John Bonanno (Tony Kart) third. Sebastian Alvarez (CRG) was the top driver in the Mini Max division, with Koene USA drivers Michael and Nicholas d’Orlando putting their Tony Kart machines in second and third. Chase Heffner (Benik) set the pace in Micro Max, as the only driver to dip below the 1:08 mark. Sebastian Montoya – son of IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya – was second with FWT champion Reece Gold (Tony Kart) in third.

Tim and Stepanova Nekeel

Tim and Stepanova Nekeel

Regular Racer
The great thing about the US Grand Nationals is how it brings together Rotaxians from all across the country for THE race of the season. A good percentage of the drivers can be seen at the international events during the winter months, some have even gone overseas to race and prepare themselves for this type of level of competition. The remaining drivers are mostly club and regional competitors, looking to enjoy a week long ‘vacation’ and compete against the best in the country. Among the regular racers is 2010 US Grand Nationals champion Stepanova Nekeel. His story that event was historical, purchasing a used chassis at the event, putting it together, and driving to victory that Saturday. The Washington driver is fast everywhere he goes, and is relaxed attitude is a great presence in the paddock. He and his father Tim are working together, looking for another championship.

Girl Power
One of the great stories of this year’s Cold Stone Grand Nationals is the duo of Sabré Cook and Becky Thompson. Cook is looking to battle for the DD2 category championship and become on the second female driver to win a Rotax national championship (January Grove – DD2 Masters – 2009). Cook, a national champion in shifterkart racing, has been working hard this season to develop her pace in the two-speed Rotax machine, earning wins at the Rotax Challenge of the Americas and Rotax Can-Am ProKart Challenge leading up to this week in Utah. What makes her path toward locking in a spot on Team USA for the Rotax Grand Finals unique is her mechanic/tuner – Becky Thompson. A longtime wrench based in Northern California, Thompson has worked with a number of talented drivers, both male and female. Their partnership this week at the nationals is one of kind, with a female driver and female mechanic working together, which has not ever been seen at this level.

Lane Vacala and Jim Mastandrea from Michiana Raceway Park

Lane Vacala and Jim Mastandrea from Michiana Raceway Park

Race the Grands with US
Michiana Raceway Park and MRP Motorsport provided one lucky club racer with a chance to compete at the Cold Stone US Grand Nationals. The North Liberty, Indiana facility held a mini-challenge ‘Race the Grands with US’ for racers in the United States Rotax Max Challenge categories, and provided the winner with free transportation of their racing machine, equipment and tools to Miller Motorsports Park. That driver is Lane Vacala of Antioch, Illinois. Michiana Raceway Park and MRP Motorsport’s Jim Mastandrea is helping to provide the wrench work for Vacala, making his first US Grand Nationals start.

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