EKN Trackside: 2014 Cold Stone US Grand Nationals – Sunday Report
Craig, Jones and Garrison earn first US crown, Neri makes history with fourth
For complete coverage of the 2014 Cold Stone US Grand Nationals, visit the EKN Event Page. Check out interviews with the 2014 United States Rotax Max Challenge champions along with videos and special photos in the EKN Paddock Insider. Be sure to post your comments below in the EKN Global Members Discussion section – Ed.
A week long journey of strength, patience, endurance and speed ended on a high note for seven drivers on Championship Sunday at the 2014 Cold Stone US Grand Nationals. The Miller Motorsports Park welcomed nearly 200 drivers from all across the country, competing in seven United States Rotax Max Challenge categories. The weather was much different from that of what greeted them throughout the week, with cooler temperatures and an overcast sky. The sun crept in about mid-day, before the clouds reappeared to provide some precipitation, which added to the drama of the day. When the final checkered flag was waved, seven drivers claimed the national championship, with nine more drivers added to Team USA for the 2014 Rotax Grand Finals in Spain.
Ocala Gran Prix Senior Max
With two tickets to the Rotax Grand Finals on the line, the Senior Max category began their Championship Sunday with a 16-lap Prefinal. Luke Selliken (Kosmic) and Thomas Issa (Kosmic) filled out the front row, with Selliken holding the lead through the opening corner. He began to fall back down the order on lap two, after Craig moved into the lead. Selliken continued to slip back with Issa going by, and then he continued forward into the lead. Lap three was more shuffling for the top spot with some heavy contact, until Issa reclaimed the lead position. Once they settled down, Senior rookie Kyle Kirkwood (Tony Kart) began making his charge toward the front. Up to third by lap four, he was second at lap five and into the lead by lap seven. From there, Kirkwood maintained the lead and recorded the fast lap of the race en route to the win. Issa held strong in second with a fight for third lasting until the end. Roeper looked to have the position until some last lap shuffling put Craig into the spot with Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) also working by to put Roeper back to fifth. Roeper however was handed a one position penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the scales, moving him to sixth. The benefactor of that penalty was Stepanova Nekeel (Tony Kart), who beat out a gaggle of karts behind him to the line. Louie Pagano (Sodi Kart), Blaine Rocha (Kosmic), Carlee Taylor (Tony Kart) and Elliot Finlayson (Tony Kart) made up the top-10.
The main event began with a turn one incident, involving Selliken, Taylor, Finlayson and Joey Wimsett (CRG). Selliken continued on with heavy front end damage, and the Senior rookie posted the fastest lap of the race while finishing 16th. Out front, the top seven locked up with Craig leading the long train. The group broke up after contact involving Pagano and Issa, dropping them down the order. Prefinal winner Kirkwood was shuffled back, but like he had shown, drove his way toward the front and was back into the third spot by lap seven. The top three of Craig, Marotta and Kirkwood ran spaced out, including a period of a light rain hitting the area. Racing continued on with Craig still putting in consistent laps to remain out front and in control. The 2Wild Karting pilot made sure to lock up his ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals, crossing the line and earning his first US Grand Nationals title. Behind him, Kirkwood made a late charge at Marotta, and on the final circuit, Kirkwood dove inside at turn 10. The two made contact and Marotta went off course. The So-Cal driver rejoined the track at a different section of the course, ahead of race leader Craig. Marotta slowed down to allow Craig to pass, and took the checkered in the second position but was penalized three positions for cutting the track. Kirkwood continued on but was passed by Roeper in the melee, and then given a 10-second penalty for the contact with Marotta. Issa crossed the line in the fourth position, but received a 10 second penalty for contact. When it was all calculated and adjusted according to the penalties, Roeper was placed runner-up, earning the second Rotax Grand Finals ticket with Craig. Marotta moved up to third with the penalties to Kirkwood and Issa. That moved Nekeel to fourth and Rocha, fighting back from an illness that nearly took him out of competition, in the fifth position. Arizona driver Jim McKinney (Tony Kart) advanced up from 12th to sixth with the Hard Charger award going to Jeremy Doll (FA Kart), gaining 26 positions. Derek Dignan (FA Kart) ended a tough week in Utah with an eighth place result as Kirkwood fell to ninth in the order with Issa 10th.
Dallas Karting Complex DD2
The first two days of the event have been perfect for Alessandro Bressan, posting the fast lap in qualifying and winning all three heat races. The record stayed perfect through the 16-lap Prefinal as the J3 Competition driver went wire-to-wire. Fast on cold tires, the lead was already 1.2 seconds, and grew to three seconds by the final circuit. Ocala Gran Prix teammates Nick Neri and Jonathan Kotyk were among the battle for second, and were joined by fourth place starter Gavin Reichelt (CRG). The two Tony Kart drivers each took a turn at the second spot, with Gavin only able to reach third. Neri locked in the runner-up spot ahead of Reichelt with Kotyk in fourth. Rotax Challenge of the Americas DD2 Masters champion Alan Rudolph (CRG) started seventh and sat fifth for nearly the entire race, until Michael Ilavia (Kosmic) snuck by on the final lap to secure the inside line for the main event.
At no point during the 20-lap main event was the race decided until the checkered flag waved. Bressan seemed to be unstoppable throughout the week, fending off the challenges he faced again and again. The start of the Final saw him drop to fourth early on, with both Neri and Kotyk through, bringing Reichelt with them. Bressan responded fighting his way back up into the lead by lap eight, also while battling some wet conditions. The top four continued to fight each other, and the changing track conditions as the surface began to dry again. Fast laps were getting laid down. Neri and Bressan exchanged the lead two more times, and precipitation fell once again. Neri took advantage, moving past Bressan at turn 15 just before receiving the two laps to go signal. Bressan tried to close the gap, but drifted wide at turn 10 on lap 19. That was all the space Neri needed, and the OGP driver bagged his fourth US Grand Nationals title in a fourth category. Bressan held off the late challenges of Reichelt and Kotyk. The Italian native now living in Las Vegas scored the first Rotax Grand Finals ticket for Team USA, with the other going to Kotyk as Reichelt already earned his at the Rotax Challenge of the America. Rudolph crossed the line fifth, but a three-second starting infraction penalty placed him back to seventh, moving Ilavia to fifth and Christian Bird (CRG) sixth.
Can-Am Karting Challenge Junior Max
The Junior Max field were unable to get through the opening lap of Prefinal without incident. Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart), David Malukas (Top Kart) and others were involved, dropping them to the tail of the field. Out front, pole sitter Anthony Gangi Jr. set the pace with Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) up to second after starting third. Brooks slipped back after both Trenton Estep (Tony Kart) and top qualifier Luis Jose Forteza III (Kosmic) drafted past. Austin Garrison (Tony Kart) put Brooks back another position, as the Ocala Gran Prix driver set his sights on the leaders. By the end of lap four, he was into the second position and began pressuring Gangi for the lead. Garrison made a mistake on lap nine, giving Gangi some space. It was only for a few moments as Garrison reeled Gangi back in, taking over the lead on lap 12. Garrison led the remainder of the 16-lap event for the win with Gangi holding second. Forteza beat Estep for fourth with Brooks fighting off a challenge from Braden Eves (Tony Kart) and Ryan Norberg (Tony Kart). The quickest lap of the race went to Norberg again, who moved past Eves on the final circuit for the sixth position. Rolison Performance Group drivers Kyle Wick (Kosmic) and Austin Versteeg (Kosmic) were eighth and ninth. Wick started 18th and drove forward while Versteeg was shuffled out of the top-10 and fought his way back. Michael Michoff (Tony Kart) completed the top-10.
The Junior Max field was clean through the opening few corners of the main event, as three drivers broke away early. Garrison, Forteza and Brooks got out in front with Gangi trailing in fourth. He worked his way back up to Brooks, demoting him a position, and then proceeded to reel in Forteza. Meanwhile, out front, Garrison continued to run consistent lap times to keep a nice distance advantage. Gangi began running some of the fastest laps to that point, locking in on Forteza’s bumper. By lap 12, Gangi was in the second position. The top qualifier would not go away quitely, striking back two laps later. The two made contact on the exit of turn 10, sending Gangi off into the dirt. He returned back on track, but as he made his way back to the front straight, his engine began losing power and ended his race early. Out front, Garrison had the race locked up, driving away to an impressive five-second victory for his first US Grand Nationals victory and ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals.
Forteza held second and enjoyed a good advantage over now third place driver Norberg. As he did all week, Norberg clocked off the fast laps of the race to reel in the second place driver. Norberg made his move at turn three on the final lap, sliding past for the position. That moved secured the runner-up spot for Norberg, making it an OGP 1-2 finish and earning a second straight trip for the Florida driver to the Rotax Grand Finals. The pass by Norberg slowed the pace of Forteza, which gave Versteeg – running in fourth – some motivation to keep pushing. Moving his way up after dropping outside the top-10, the Rotax Challenge of the Americas champion closed in and made his move at turn 10. Holding it to the line, Versteeg locked up a podium finish to close out a great week coming from last after qualifying. Forteza settled for fourth with Brooks in the fifth position. Chase Acklam (Tony Kart) was sixth with David Ilavia (Kosmic), Eves, Michoff and Christian Munoz (Tony Kart) rounding out the top-10.
PSL Karting DD2 Masters
While just four drivers filled out the roster in the DD2 Masters division, there was no telling just who would stand on top of the podium on Championship Sunday. They ran a shortened Prefinal event, with them all pulling off course at one point before the checkered flag was displayed. They went the entire 20-lap distance in the Final, with Erik Jackson (Kosmic) on the pole position. Two-time Team USA member Mike Jones established himself as the leader, and continued to find more speed as the race went on. After 20 laps, the Dallas Karting Complex/Sodi Kart USA driver held a 1.2-second advantage for his first US Grand Nationals title, and a third straight trip to the Rotax Grand Finals. Jackson and Jordon Musser (Birel) went back and forth, but Musser’s pace slowed later in the race and Jackson held his ground to secure another runner-up finish, matching his result from 2011 and making a return trip as a member of Team USA. Conrad Park (CRG) completed the top-four.
Full Throttle Karting Masters Max
Top qualifier and top points driver Scott Falcone (Arrow) was able to defend the pole position to secure the win in the Prefinal. The KartSport North America pilot fended off a number of challengers to cross the line first. Third place starter Scott Roberts (Tony Kart) was the first to line up behind him in the second spot, until he was moved back in the order by John Crow (Tony Kart) and Tyler Brooks (Kosmic). Crow then laid on the pressure, moving to the lead at the start of lap five with an outside move through the long turn one complex. Falcone sat back and got a great push from Brooks on lap nine to retake the top spot. The driver that was quickest late in the going was Diego Pelosi (Tony Kart). Starting sixth, he put himself into the top-five and was among the leaders in the final stages of the race. He worked past Crow and Brooks, and pressured Falcone on the final two laps. At the line, Falcone scored the win with Pelosi right on his bumper. Crow crossed the line third with Brooks fourth and Roberts fifth. Starting infractions for Pelosi, Crow and Maxfield mixed up the order to put Brooks second, Roberts third, Daniel Pingston (Tony Kart) fourth and Pelosi back to fifth. Crow would start seventh behind his 2009 US Grand Nationals champion, Mike Daniel (FA Kart) and Maxfield ninth, alongside Joey McGuire (Birel), in eighth.
Fireworks began right away in the Masters Max Final, with Falcone leading the way, an impatient group trailed through the opening lap. The inside line got the advantage and by the time the field exited the turn 10 hairpin, Pelosi and Crow were going three wide with Falcone toward turn 11. Falcone tried a criss cross move, however, the other two continued to run two wide. Back at three wide, the trio made contact on the exit of the corner which sent Falcone off course, Crow losing a chain and Pelosi losing his nose piece to force him onto pit lane. Picking up the pieces were Maxfield and Roberts, with the duo leading the way. After a couple exchanges for the lead, Maxfield remained at the point while Roberts lost ground on lap eight after a mistake. Fast laps of the race allowed him to cut back into the 1.4-second disadvantage, however, catching is one thing, passing is another. Roberts continued to hound Maxfield lap after lap to no avail. The Utah driver kept his head down and the hard work of the last six months paid off as he crossed the line first to secure the US Grand Nationals title, and the ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals in Spain. Roberts settled for a runner-up spot with Brooks standing on the podium in third. The fight for fourth included a long train which saw Pingston and Larry Hayashigawa (Tony Kart) go back and forth. Pingston prevailed with the spot at the checkered flag, and they were followed by John Bonanno (Kosmic), Kurt Fisher (CRG), McGuire and Robert Maier (Tony Kart). Hard charger award went to tenth place finisher Andy Seesemann (Birel), coming up from 28th.
Chase Racing Mini Max
Sebastian Alvarez (CRG) has shown he was among the quickest drivers in the Mini Max field, and started from the pole position for the Prefinal. The start of the race did not go in favor of the PSL Karting driver, dropping back to fourth and dropping out of the race on the second lap after contact. Out front, Nicholas d’Orlando (Tony Kart) got the run from the outside of row one to hold the lead with Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) on his bumper. The two set the pace, but were run down by Riley Dickinson (Tony Kart) and David Morales (Benik). Lap 10, the team of Dickinson and Morales drafted past the top two, bringing even more players into the lead group. DeFrancesco and d’Orlando returned back to the point and shuffling continued. Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) took advantage of the close racing, coming up from 13th and into the top-five. Tavella continued to move forward, working into the second spot behind d’Orlando. On the last lap, Tavella tried for the lead through turn one, but lost the second position to DeFrancesco. They would finish that way as d’Orlando scored the win with DeFrancesco and Tavella right there. Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart) started fourth but the Koene USA driver was shuffled back to ninth at the start. He ended up fourth with Enzo Fittipaldi (Tony Kart) in fifth, ahead of Dickinson and Morales.
It was an interesting start to the Mini Max final as a handful of drivers were collected in a wreck on the pit lane before entering the track. Officials used a rule in the regulations to allow time for competitors to make repairs, and the race resumed with all drivers making the green flag. Once underway, the threat of rain sat over the track and played a major role in how the race unfolded. The top two of Nicholas d’Orlando and Tavella hooked up out front. They remained in that order until a slight rain shower fell on the facility. Drivers eased around the track with Tavella taking advantage to move into the lead. D’Orlando sat second until lap nine when he pulled into the pit lane, mistaking a signal from his mechanics on the sidelines. That put Tavella out front alone until the group behind caught back up, including Michael d’Orlando. Lap 14, the Koene USA driver caught and pass the 2013 Micro Max champion. Last year’s Mini Max champion looked to be in position to earn a back-to-back title, but Tavella was waiting in the wings. On the final lap, Tavella made a daring move in the bus stop section, catching d’Orlando by surprise and lost the lead. They ran nose to tail until the run to the checkered flag with Tavella holding off the final charge by d’Orlando, separated by 35 thousandths of a second. It was the first year a driver had gone from Micro to Mini Max, earning the US Grand Nationals championship both years. Morales won the fight for third to land himself on the podium ahead of Tyler Gonzalez (AM Kart), up from eighth on the grid, and Fittipaldi. Hard charger went to top qualifier Sebastian Alvarez (CRG), coming all the way from 32nd to an impressive sixth.
Nash Motorspotz/Precision Works Micro Max
Micro Max opened up the Prefinal round of racing, and what a kickoff to Championship Sunday it was. The 12-lap race saw a number of lead changes and contenders get moved back in the order. Pole sitter Diego LaRoque (Kosmic) set the pace early on with a host of drivers behind him. Chase Heffner (Benik) and Ethan Arndt (Tony Kart) were the first to challenge, drafting past to take over the top two positions. As they moved past, Arndt drifted back to the outside, and assisted LaRoque off the track before entering the first turn. LaRoque continued on and fought back to the 12th position at the end of the race. Out front, a number of drivers took their turn at the point, including Sebastian Montoya (Birel) and a charging Jak Crawford (Birel), who started ninth. Arndt however proved to be too strong, retaking the lead in the closing laps and held off a drag race attempt by Crawford at the line by 24 thousandths of a second for the win. Heffner ended up third with Josh Pierson (Tony Kart) fourth and Jonathon Portz (Kosmic) fifth after starting 12th.
The Prefinal set the stage for what was a wild main event for the Micro Max drivers. Arndt led the field in the 16-lap Final, with a group of drivers behind him, but missing Crawford after he had an off-track run entering turn two, and dropped outside the top-10. The driver on the move however was Montoya, as the young third-generation driver climbed his way quickly into the top-five after starting ninth. By lap six, Montoya was at the point, showing the way to the rest of the field. A good group of drivers stayed in the hunt, including LaRoque who followed Montoya through, and applied pressure by lap nine. The two exchanged the lead with Montoya eventually dropping to third behind LaRoque and Heffner. The trio took the white flag, spreading three wide entering the turn one corner. Montoya dove to the inside, jumping from third to first. The challengers tried to work past Montoya through the turn 10 and into the turn 11 complex, but contact was made in a criss-cross maneuver. This allowed Montoya to cross the line with ease for this first ever US Grand Nationals victory, while his father Juan Pablo Montoya watched the race just moments before starting the IndyCar race in Toronto. The skirmish for second allowed Pierson to slide up into the runner-up position with Reece Gold (Tony Kart) in third. Cooper Becklin (FA Kart) and a charging Crawford completed the top-five. Heffner was classified sixth with LaRoque ending up ninth after a three-second starting lane violation pushed him back.