EKN Trackside: 2015 United States Pro Kart Series – South Bend Sunday Report

Norberg bags first major Pro win, McAndrews doubles up as Lemke sweeps again in Junior

Ryan Norberg led all 24 laps of the Leopard Pro feature for his first major Senior victory (Photo: EKN)

USPKS logoThe 2015 United States Pro Kart Series closed out the third stop of the season, completing the sixth round of the year at the Michiana Raceway Park on Sunday. The North Liberty, Indiana facility welcomed seven categories competing on the final day of the weekend, producing another exciting day of racing throughout the day. The Yamaha Pro victory went down to the wire, with Senior rookie Mike McAndrews coming through to score his second on the weekend, third on the season to help position the BirelART driver as a championship contender. PCR pilot and Senior rookie Ryan Norberg emerged as the winner in Leopard Pro, securing his first major victory with the brand and on the season to shake things up in the championship chase. Brandon Lemke continued his streak over the Junior ranks, with the Franklin Motorsports / Merlin driver swept Sunday’s action for a perfect score on the weekend.

Franklin Motorsports Leopard Pro

Saturday winner Armin Cavkusic (FA Kart) set the pace in the opening group of the qualifying session. A lap of 41.382 was the time to beat for the second set of drivers ready to the hit the track. That time would be beat by a number of drivers, including Senior rookie Braden Eves. The CompKart driver pulled a good draft and landed a 41.170-lap to secure the pole position for the heat races. Saturday fast driver Elliot Finlayson (Tony Kart) ended up second, with Andrick Zeen (Praga) improving to third. Ryan Norberg (PCR) was the second quickest rookie in fourth with point leader Brandon Jarsocrak (Tony Kart) into fifth, switching to a new chassis overnight. Cavkusic fell to eighth in the order.

After two false starts, the front two rows were inverted to put Zeen and Norberg as the pace setters and got the race underway. Zeen jumped out to the lead over Norberg with Eves, Finlayson and Jarsocrak falling in behind. Lap two, Eves moved up into the second spot with Finlayson dropping Norberg back to fourth. Zeen inched out further as the fight for second heated up with Finlayson and Eves going back and forth. Finlayson secured the position and was able to run down Zeen as the two laps to go signal was given. Zeen held on for the win over Finlayson and Eves. Norberg ran fourth with Garret Johnston (Top Kart) up from 11th to fifth. Saturday winner Cavkusic ended the race in sixth, but was penalized for contact with Dustin Stross (Tony Kart), dropping them to 27th and 28th in the order.

The second heat race saw a big shake-up at the front of the order. Contact between Eves and Finlayson sent them wide, and also knock Zeen off course. Jarsocrak came away with the lead in the opening lap, running ahead of Norberg and Stross. Both Eves and Finlayson fell down the order, along with Zeen who went back to the tail of the field. Cavkusic was up to fourth quickly, and in a hurry to climb his way back to the front. Lap six, Cavkusic was into the third position and began working on Stross for the second position. Lap eight, Cavkusic pulled the trigger and moved inside of Stross at turn seven. Stross slowed on the exit and was unable to continue on. Jarsocrak was able to hold off Cavkusic for the win with Norberg a close third. Johnston climbed the order once again, finishing fourth with Finlayson fighting back to fifth.

Finlayson earned the pole position through the results of the two heat races with Norberg improving to start on the outside of the front row. Norberg got the jump on Finlayson as the green flag waved, driving down to the inside as they entered turn one. The top two ran nose-to-tail, and were able to break away from the field. Finlayson stayed on the back of Norberg’s bumper, until two laps to go. He made a late braking move at the turn seven hairpin. He missed the apex, sliding wide and Norberg was able to criss-cross back into the lead. From there, Norberg held a four-kart length advantage to the checkered flag as the PCR driver landed his first major Senior victory, the $1,000 pay day to match a similar result for defending champion AJ Myers last year.

Finlayson ended up second, matching his result from Saturday to record his best overall weekend in USPKS competition. Johnston took third over early, keeping the leaders in site to land on the podium in his 2015 series debut. Mick Gabriel (iKart) drove his way forward in the feature, coming from 13th on the grid, however was removed in technical inspection for the wrong tires. That promoted Saturday winner Cavkusic to fourth after starting 15th. Defending champion AJ Myers (PCR) came from 18th to end up fifth. Zeen was classified sixth while championship contender Stross crossed the line seventh after starting back in 29th. Penalty for contact however put him 11th overall, dropping him behind Colin Warren (DR Kart). Championship leader Jarsocrak started third, but fell down the order as the race continued, ending up seventh. Darin Marcus had his best result aboard the Fullerton chassis, classified eighth with Indy driver Sam Cate (Tony Kart) ninth.

Comet Racing Engines Yamaha Pro

Mike McAndrews swept the Yamaha Pro features on the weekend (Photo: EKN)

Mike McAndrews swept the Yamaha Pro features on the weekend (Photo: EKN)

Throughout the five minute qualifying session, championship leader Dakota Pesek (Top Kart) set the provisional fast time until the checkered flag waved. On a flyer with a good draft, Nick Landi (FA Kart) secured his second pole position of the season with a 45.014-lap. That was quicker then Pesek’s last lap by 51 thousandths of a second. Derek Dignan (FA Kart) was within a tenth of Landi’s time, as Darin Marcus (Fullerton) found speed over night to break into the top-five. Joey Eppink (Tony Kart) completed the fast five, just ahead of Saturday winner Mike McAndrews (BirelART).

Pesek was able to dispatch of Landi after just one lap into the opening heat race. The two-time race winner was able to get away early as the fight behind him for position heated up. McAndrews was driving his way forward, and reached the third spot by the halfway point with Marcus and Tony Jump (Arrow) on his bumper as Dignan retired on lap five. McAndrews inched closer to Landi and was right there with two laps remaining. He tried at turn five, and it failed allowing Marcus to slip past for the position. As they took the white flag, McAndrews moved to the inside at turn one, bringing Jump with him to drop Marcus back to fifth. Pesek scored the win nearly three seconds with Landi holding onto second.

Landi held the lead through the opening corners of the second heat race. Pesek found himself down to fourth at one point but fought his way forward, working behind McAndrews. The Saturday winner quickly ran down Landi, taking the lead on lap four and pulling out to a sizable advantage. Pesek followed him through, dropping Landi back to third. Pesek inched closer but McAndrews drove to the race win. Landi held on to third with Jump up from eighth to fourth, with Steven Arens (Arrow) holding Koyen back for fifth.

Pesek and McAndrews filled out the front row, and were able to pull away early from the field. The fight for third heated up with Landi, Jump and Marcus in the mix. Dignan started 10th and nearly saw his race end on the opening corner after contact, but the KartSport North America driver survived and began knifing his way through the field. By the halfway point, Dignan had caught and passed Jump for third, and began running down the leaders with fast laps of the race. Pesek set the pace for much of the race, with McAndrews holding strong on his bumper.

McAndrews pulled the trigger on lap 18 when Dignan was up on his bumper. The two worked past Pesek for position, but the two-time race winner fought back on Dignan. That allowed McAndrews to pull out a gap. Dignan sat back and tried to push Pesek back up to the bumper of the leader. By the final lap, Dignan made his move for second, taking over the position, but not enough time to run down McAndrews. The BirelART driver landed his second on the weekend, third on the year. Dignan stood on the second step of the podium with Pesek third. Jump landed another fourth for his best weekend of the season, while Marcus was fifth in his return back to the category.

The $1,000 check went to double winner McAndrews for the second straight weekend. Pesek once again placed second to take home $500 while Tony Jump beat out Dignan by 10 points for the $250 payday in third for the weekend.

GT7 Motorsports Leopard Junior

Brandon Lemke continued his win streak in the Leopard Junior division, now up to six on the year (Photo: EKN)

Brandon Lemke continued his win streak in the Leopard Junior division, now up to six on the year (Photo: EKN)

For the fourth time on the weekend, Brandon Lemke set the fast lap in qualifying to sweep the fast time sessions at MRP. A 41.635-lap was his best circuit in the five-minute session, better by over a tenth ahead of Zach Holden (Tony Kart). Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart) was third with Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart) and Gio Bromante (Merlin) making up the fast five.

After two false starts, the front two rows were inverted to put Fenderson and d’Orlando to set the pace. The green flag waved and two-by-two racing into the esses resulted in contact, sending Fenderson and Holden off the course, but continuing on at the back. d’Orlando assumed the lead but was shuffled back quickly by Lemke and Bromante. The two Merlin karts pulled out to a sizable lead with the fight for third heating up. Lemke and Bromante ran 1-2 to the checkered flag. Junior rookie Austin Schaff (Merlin) got away with the third position by the halfway point, with Canadian Roman DeAngelis (Tony Kart) up to fourth from ninth. d’Orlando fought off a handful of drivers for the fifth position.

Holden got the jump over Lemke at the start of Heat #2, demoting Lemke to the second position. The Saturday winner slipped past at the start of lap four, reassuming the lead and going to score the win. Holden held onto second with Alex Bertagnoli (Merlin) climbing up to third ahead of Fenderson and DeAngelis.

Lemke made the 20-lap Final uneventful, aside from a wreck involving Bromante, Bertagnoli, Schaff, and Rory Van der Steur (Kosmic). The front five ran static the entire time, with Lemke pulling out to a six-second advantage. Holden ended up runner-up with DeAngelis third, d’Orlando fourth and Fenderson fifth. Lemke took home the $500 check for the weekend point leader, with Holden a $250 check for second.

Woltjer Racing Engines Yamaha Junior

Brandon Lemke drove away from the Yamaha Junior field for his fifth victory on the season (Photo: EKN)

Brandon Lemke drove away from the Yamaha Junior field for his fifth victory on the season (Photo: EKN)

It wasn’t until late in the five-minute session that Brandon Lemke’s name went to the top of the order. A number of drivers were quick early on, but with a solid draft in front of him, Lemke put his Merlin machine on the pole position with a 44.221-lap. Zach Holden (FA Kart) moved up to the second position, just eighty-four thousandths off Lemke’s time. Collin Campbell (Top Kart) was one of the provisional fast drivers, dropping to third with Stephen Dial (Merlin) and Justin Hutmacher (Birel) improving their pace overnight to reach the fast five.

The field stayed really tight with the front nine together during the opening corners of Heat #1. Campbell slotted into second at the start behind Lemke, pushing Holden back to third. The two-time champion moved back to the second spot on lap three, looking to close up the three-kart gap he faced to Lemke. The top three pulled some distance at the halfway point as Gio Bromante (Merlin) slipped past Dial for the fourth position with the lead trio running nose-to-tail. Lemke held on with Holden and Campbell right there. Bromante ran fourth with fast lap of the race as David Kalb Jr. (FA Kart) advanced to fifth.

A few drivers were involved in contact on the opening lap of the second heat, including Bromante and Saturday runner-up Matthew Northrop (Tony Kart), both in separate incidents, but dropping each well down the order. Up front, Lemke was out to a solid lead with Campbell into the second position over Holden and Dial. Campbell was able to get away from the P3 fight, with Dial moving around Holden for the position on lap seven. Holden fought back on lap nine, with Kalb following him through to push Dial back to fifth. The order remained unchanged to the checkered flag with Lemke ahead of Campbell by only four tenths of a second.

Lemke made it look easy, leading all 20 laps of the Final for his fifth victory of the season. Holden started alongside Lemke on the front row, but was relegated back to third by third place starter Campbell. The gap was not much early on with Campbell keeping pace with Lemke during the first half of the race. It was the second leg of the feature where Lemke padded his leading, pulling out to a 3.6-second advantage for his fourth straight in the category. Campbell ran a solid second while Kalb was the other star of the race. The Ohio driver and recent EKN Driver of the Month in June for his 4-Cycle success worked past Holden on lap six, keeping the two-time champion behind him the remainder of the laps to finish a career best third place. Dial also matched his best result of the year, holding the fifth position to the checkered flag. Lemke took home the $500 check for the weekend point leader, with Holden a $250 check for second.

Orlando Kart Center Mini Rok Cadet

Jason Welage earned his first victory on the year in Mini Rok Cadet (Photo: EKN)

Jason Welage earned his first victory on the year in Mini Rok Cadet (Photo: EKN)

The fast time in Mini Rok Cadet qualifying wasn’t decided until the final few karts reached the checkered flag. A number of drivers held the provisional pole, as Nicholas d’Orlando (Tony Kart) secured the pole position with 46.088-lap. Robert Noaker III (Merlin) moved to the second spot late, along with Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) and Saturday winner Tyler Maxson (Benik). Sam Mayer (Merlin) completed the fast five, dropping Ugo Ugochukwu (Benik) who held the top spot just before the checkered flag.

DeFrancesco got the jump from P3 to take the lead for the opening heat race, as d’Orlando fell back to fourth on the opening circuit behind Noaker and Mayer. d’Orlando charged back, working into the third and second spots quickly, and taking over the lead from DeFrancesco on lap five. Lachlan fought back to retake the top position the following lap, as they stayed in line to keep the gap on the fight for third. Taking the white flag, d’Orlando slipped inside at the first turn and that was enough to score the win over DeFrancesco. Mayer won the fight for third with Noaker and Maxson rounding out the top-five.

d’Orlando and DeFrancesco broke away from the field as the green flag waved to being Heat #2. The two held a sizable advantage after two laps, as the fight for P3 brewed. Maxson assumed the third position and began running some fast laps of the race. DeFrancesco pulled the trigger on the final lap, working past at turn five. Holding a defensive line, DeFrancesco held on for the win over d’Orlando. Maxson ran third with Jason Welage (Top Kart) up to fourth from 10th with Mayer staying in fifth.

After qualifying 10th, Welage worked his way in the heat races to improve his starting spot for the main event, going from the P5 position. He remained with the lead pack, which was a large group early on with some really tight racing. d’Orlando started on the pole position and led the opening few laps. The driver on the move however was Welage. By lap seven, the Top Kart driver had worked his way into the lead. From there, he kept a consistent pace as they fought for second behind him. DeFrancesco took over the position on lap 13, as d’Orlando continued to slip down the order. Welage would run unchallenged to the checkered flag, earning his first victory on the season in the category. DeFrancesco settled for second, earning solid points toward the championship. Kyle Thome (Merlin) won the battle for third over Ugochukwu, who bounced back from an 11th starting position. d’Orlando was able to salvage a fifth place result, holding back Mayer.

Switch Racing Engines Yamaha Cadet

Jason Welage came from deep in the field to emerge the victory in Yamaha Cadet (Photo: EKN)

Jason Welage came from deep in the field to emerge the victory in Yamaha Cadet (Photo: EKN)

A late charge by Robert Noaker III (Merlin) gave him his first pole position of the season. Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) held the provisional pole, until Noaker was able to better that time by just 33 thousandths of a second. Tyler Maxson (Benik) was within nine hundredths of Noaker’s time with Reece Gold (Benik) and Gage Rodgers (Birel) filling out the fast five.

Noaker and Maxson used the inside line to pull away at the start of the opening heat race. Saturday winner Sam Mayer (Merlin) came from eighth on the grid to fight his way to third, and began inching his way toward the top two with Maxson moving into the lead by lap four. Mayer was to the bumper of Noaker by the halfway point with DeFrancesco now chasing the top three. On lap six, Noaker moved inside of Maxson for the lead at turn five, with Mayer trying to get through as well. Going through turn eight, Maxson slowed and pulled off, ending his chance at the win. This left Noaker and Mayer at the front with DeFrancesco trailing. Mayer was able to take over the lead a few laps before the finish, holding on for the win. DeFrancesco ran third with Rodgers and Kyle Thome (Merlin) making the fast five.

Maxson was again the driver to the front early on in Heat #2, getting up to the top spot from the third starting position. DeFrancesco and Mayer worked together to close back up to Maxson by the halfway point, forming a three driver lead pack. DeFrancesco went to the lead for the first time on the day, moving past his Benik teammate on lap seven. Mayer was able to break them up as he followed Maxson through on lap nine, and then took over the point in turn seven hairpin. Their shuffling allowed the group behind to close in on the final lap. The Benik duo hooked up to draft past Mayer after taking the white flag. Maxson led them to the checkered flag for the win over DeFrancesco and Mayer. Jason Welage (Top Kart) drove to fourth with Gold in the fifth spot. Welage however was penalized for early contact, dropping him down to 18th in the order and hurting his starting position for the main event.

Mayer secured the pole position for the main event, looking to pad his championship lead with a fourth victory on the year. That goal was cut short just corners into the race as an electrical issue cut the engine off while leading the field out of turn six. That demoted him to finish 20th, putting a dent in his championship bid. This gave DeFrancesco the lead from the outside of row one. He was joined by Noaker, Rodgers and Thome. Title contender Welage started 14th and put himself into the top-five early on. He caught the lead group and quickly dispatched of them one by one. Welage was into the lead by lap 13, and pulled away with fast laps of the race. The fight was for second as Welage drove to his second victory of the season, leading by 2.2 seconds at the checkered flag. DeFrancesco won the fight for second ahead of Thome. Parker Abed (Merlin) closed up on the group late, getting into fourth to drop Noaker down to fifth.

QPS Employment Group Yamaha Rookie

A last lap pass gave Conner Churchill his first USPKS victory in Yamaha Rookie (Photo: EKN)

A last lap pass gave Conner Churchill his first USPKS victory in Yamaha Rookie (Photo: EKN)

Aidan Hinds (Praga) ended up with the fast time in qualifying, earning his first pole position of the season. A 48.177-lap was best in the session, beating out championship leader and Saturday winner Donald Whorton II (Tony Kart) by two hundredths of a second. Ben Chejfec (Tony Kart) was third with Alex Grapsas (Tony Kart) and Lucas Smalec (Merlin) making up the fast five.

Whorton and Chejfec broke away from the field in Heat #1, deciding the win on their own. Chejfec led the way as the white flag waved, with Whorton making the move at downhill turn six. That was all he needed, scoring the race win. Conner Churchill (Tony Kart) drove his way up to third, dropping Hinds to fourth with Grapsas fifth.

A familiar site at the front of the field with the front six drivers together once again in Heat #2. Eventually, three got free as the leaders, led by Chejfec with Whorton and Hinds trailing. Chejfec scored the win with help from Hinds slipping past Whorton for the second position on the final circuit. Churchill added another top-five finish, driving to fourth with Grapsas right behind him.

The Yamaha Rookie division was some of the best racing all weekend long, and the Final on Sunday did not disappoint. Contact took two drivers out of contentions including Grapsas and Smalec. Out front, it was four drivers showing the way with Chejfec, Whorton, Hinds and Churchill. Whorton was eventually dropped from the lead draft, leaving three to decide the win. Chejfec led the majority of the race with Hinds and Churchill each taking a turn. As the white flag waved, Chejfec was leading and the duo of Churchill and Hinds slipped by before entering turn one. Churchill never put a wheel wrong on the final circuit, pulling out to a solid lead and scoring his first ever USPKS victory. Hinds ended up second with Chejfec third. Whorton ran solo in fourth as Owen Mahle (Top Kart) won the battle for fifth.

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