From the Tower: 2015 Superkarts! USA Fikse Wheels Pro Tour SpringNationals
National program gets underway in Phoenix
A new era began for the Superkarts! USA organization with the presentation of the Fikse Wheels Pro Tour hosting the sixth annual SpringNationals at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association in Glendale, Arizona. Nearly 200 drivers took part over the three-day weekend, competing in two rounds of racing and beginning the journey to the SuperNationals XIX in the four TaG divisions and four Stock Moto categories. For complete coverage from the weekend, visit the EKN Event Page.
Track Too Tough to Tame
It is a love-hate relationship for the Phoenix Kart Racing Association facility for karters over the weekend during the SpringNationals. The weather was a major factor throughout the event as once again, temperatures were into triple digits on Friday, but steadily declined throughout the weekend to make it almost bearable. With high temperatures and the sun shining down on the circuit, the track conditions made it a challenge for drivers and mechanics to find the opportune setup to take them to the front of the field.
Situated in the Arizona desert, the PKRA facility becomes a dustbowl when a driver goes off the track. We saw a number of times when it was a cloud of dust and visibility was nearly zero with a full field of drivers navigating the course at full speed. With nearly 200 drivers in eight categories competing, the rubber from the MG Tires was laid down quickly and the fight was about navigating the changing conditions from turn to turn. Looking at the course, you can pick out about four different passing opportunities. Drivers complained throughout the weekend the passing zones were limited, which put the pressure on to gain a position when possible.
Back-to-Back Jacks for Quintet of Drivers
At last year’s SpringNationals in Dallas, five different drivers scored a double-win weekend, which helped three of them toward earning the Fikse Wheels Pro Tour championship. Four drivers have begun the 2015 season on top with two victories in the opening weekend. Belgian driver Rick Dreezen continued the streak for PSL Karting in the S1 Pro division, winning both main events. Last year, UK driver Jordon Lennox won all five main events en route to the championship aboard his CRG. Now sporting the BirelART colors, PSL and Dreezen did not miss a beat and will be the favorites going into the SummerNationals.
Among the other favorites heading into New Castle include other double winners Carter Williams, Darren Elliott, Callum Smith and Nick Tucker. Williams was among the quickest in the S2 Semi-Pro category, earning top honors in qualifying both days. Marco Eakins was impressive Saturday, coming on strong later in the day to take the second heat race win and cross the line first in the main event, only to be penalized one spot for a controversial starting infraction. That gave the win to Williams, his first on the Fikse Wheels Pro Tour in S2. Williams came back the following day to dominate, scoring maximum points to lead the championship. Darren Elliott is regarded as one of the top shifterkart pilots during the early years of SKUSA competition. One thing lacking is a point championship. Helping with that was a perfect weekend score for the S4 Master driver. Now working with Nash Motorsportz, the veteran was untouchable all weekend long aboard his CRG machine, powered by SwedeTech.
The third driver, aside from Dreezen and Elliott, to leave Phoenix with maximum points in the Fikse Wheels Pro Tour standings is Callum Smith. The Sacramento driver originally from Australia switched over from TaG Junior to S5 at the end of last year. Undefeated in main events at the California PKC program thus far, he carried it over to the SpringNationals and holds a strong lead in the championship standings. Much like Elliott, Nick Tucker’s karting glory came back during the beginning years of Superkarts! USA. Like Elliott did last year in his return to competition, Tucker won in his Superkarts! USA Fikse Wheels Pro Tour debut. It took just 16 years to match his first ever SKUSA win back at Pat’s Acres Racing Complex during the ProMoto Tour days in 1999, and only needed one day to double up in the win column for 2015. Tucker made the long trek from North Carolina to Phoenix, competing for the first time at the SpringNationals in TaG Master. The highly competitive class saw Tucker earn fast lap in qualifying both days, a heat win each round, and score the main event victory.
Thanks to their single win on the weekend, Louie Pagano (TaG Senior), David Malukas (TaG Junior) and Jak Crawford (TaG Cadet) lead their respective championships heading into the SummerNationals on July 24-26 at New Castle Motorsports Park in Indiana.
Defending Champ Gets Short End of Penalty
The last race of the weekend was set up to be a great battle between the top-two drivers from last year’s championship chase in the TaG Senior division. Louie Pagano dominated the action on Saturday, and was en route to a possible sweep heading into the Final. The lead challenger was defending champion Jake Craig. The gap between the two closed up as they reached the main event, starting on the front for the 16-lap fight. As the field came to the starting line, the lights went out which signaled the start of the race. As they came out of the monza and into the tight turn 11, corner workers began displaying the double yellow flag to display a false start. Unfortunately, Craig accidently ran over the top of Pagano’s rear bumper at the turn, knocking the exhaust pipe off the header. As the field regrouped, Pagano attempted to reinsert the exhaust back into its proper place. They reached the starting line once again, and the race was underway.
Each time Pagano navigated a right hand turn, the exhaust would free itself from the header. Coming out of the tight turn eight hairpin, Pagano’s pipe detached again, and he was forced to slow down while trying to reattach the pipe back into position. Louie man-handled the extremely hot exhaust back into position, and found himself in the 14th position. A few laps later, contact with Matt Johnson during a pass attempt dropped him down to 20th, and eventually he drove back to the 13th. Out front, Craig was able to drive away to an unchallenged 1.6-second advantage after the 16 laps.
SKUSA officials, however, implemented a penalty for contact on the false start, taking the win away and placing Craig behind Pagano in the final results. In my opinion, it was not a call to make. This has opened the door for any driver in the future to be penalized during the warm-up lap, without questioning how or why the contact occurred. For instance, if a Stock Moto field is given the signal to leave the grid and make another warm-up lap around the circuit, and driver A stalls on the grid and driver B accidently runs over the his back, busts his radiator and is unable to start, driver B could be placed behind driver A no matter how the race unfolds.
Looking at the how or why, you have to go to the starting procedure implemented by SKUSA. They have done away with the traditional waving of the green flag, and gone to turning out the starting lights – similar to what you see for the start of the Stock Moto divisions. The process goes through a chain of command, rather than putting the trust into the head flagman. This also allows for possible other false start situations. The malfunction of the lights may occur (which happened during one race at the SpringNationals), or inadvertently pressing the button to turn the lights off when the single is not given (which appears to have happened here).
Craig provided EKN with a statement: “There was no yellow flag, so I and everyone in the top five thought we were racing. Louie looked back at me and saw I was passing him. Then I saw the yellow flag as we came to the finish line.”
EKN also contacted Pagano: “The lights did not go out. Even if I didn’t see the lights. As soon as I reached turn 1 (turn 10 on the track) many yellow flags were waving calling the start.”
The starting procedure being utilized for the rolling starts needs to be reverted back to the standard ways, or updated to a new procedure. Put the start back into the hands of the head flagman, who sets the pace of the field and gives them the green flag when he feels they are formed correctly, going the proper speed, and within range. This frees up the track officials to review the starts in the opening corners of the race, rather than seeing the tail end of the field.
If the lights are to be utilized, the person responsible for the lights needs to hold a yellow flag incase of an aborted start. Aside from a radio call, he is the only person on the facility who knows whether the race is green, or the track is under yellow flag conditions. No one along the fence line or in the paddock is informed if the race is underway or not. In this particular instance, a yellow flag was not seen until the front of the field had reached the second corner, the site of the contact between Pagano and Craig. If the lights are to be utilized in the future for rolling starts or even standing starts, I recommend that the staff member holding the button also holds a yellow flag. If the start is waved off, the yellow flag goes up immediately and all corner workers follow. This way, everyone can know instantaneously if the race is in fact green, or if the field is under yellow flag conditions. Otherwise, the door is open for something like this to happen in the future.
Cleaner Starts Help Limit Opening Corner Wrecks
The positive portion of the starting procedure Superkarts! USA mended this weekend was enforcing space between drivers. From the club level to the national level, drivers in a rolling start will plant themselves on the rear bumper of the person in front of them. This weekend, officials enforced space between drivers as the field reached the punch-off line and the race was cleared to start. This helped give drivers room through the opening corner, and helped to eliminate the chain reaction that you typically see with the larger fields when drivers enter the corner bumper to bumper.
No Engine Disparity and No Fuel for Fire
In the past, the TaG Senior category has been about finding the right engine for the specific track. Drivers selected an engine based on different variables, including the track layout, the time of year, and the certain minimum weight restrictions. The start of the 2015 SKUSA Fikse Wheels Pro Tour saw none of that at the SpringNationals, thanks to its commitment to the IAME brand. The X30 was the engine of choice in the TaG Senior and TaG Master division, with the Parilla Leopard taking a back seat as one or two drivers total elected to participate in those categories. For the first time in SKUSA history, there is no engine disparity and drivers claiming one engine brand has the advantage over another. TaG Junior still utilizes the Leopard powerplant, which has kept that category free from any issues regarding what engine package to select.
On the flip side, Stock Moto drivers have complained for the past few seasons that the VP MS98 fuel was not suitable for the 2001 Honda cylinders that are permitted in the category. New for 2015 is the inclusion of VP C12 for Stock Moto categories. During most of the Pro Tour weekends, the talk was about detonation. Not once did we hear it in Phoenix.
Blue Flag Movement
Superkarts! USA Fikse Wheels Pro Tour head flagman Aaron Likens is regarded as one of the best in motorsports today. He is also a noted public speaker on the topic of autism awareness, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2003. Last year, Aaron rolled out his ‘Blue Wave’ program, replacing the traditional black and white during the month of April. The program is a way to help raise awareness and generate donations towards autism awareness. Tickets were purchased for the two ‘Blue Waved’ flags used throughout the weekend, and one that was signed by each of the podium finishers at the SpringNationals event – won by Superkarts! USA CEO Tom Kutscher. In total, $545 were raised and 100% of the proceeds goes toward autism awareness and understanding.
This weekend brought about some chassis parity in regards to the 16 wins. Both days, there were seven different chassis brands winning the eight Finals, with only one brand doubling up each day (Tony Kart Saturday and BirelART on Sunday).
BirelART – 3
Tony Kart – 3
FA Kart – 2
CRG – 2
Praga – 2
Top Kart – 2
Merlin – 1
Energy – 1