Race Report: Cold Stone US Open of Las Vegas Series Finale

Incredible racing at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino to close the inaugural season of MAXSpeed Entertainment’s US Open series

US Open logo

MAXSpeed Entertainment put an exclamation point on its inaugural Cold Stone US Open series presented by MG Tires and Chase / Brash Racing by attracting over 180 Rotax and Shifter drivers to the third and final round of 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino played host to drivers, teams, and their families from all over the globe as $100,000 in prizes were at stake.

An incredible .72 mile, 12 turn circuit was sculpted just outside the hotel that garnered tremendous reviews, one that MAXSpeed staff took months of planning to create. Other than breezy conditions on Friday, the weather was ideal for competition.

With the Rolison Performance Group Rotax Senior MAX season championship on the line, Oliver Askew (PSL Karting / BirelART) did not leave anything to chance early in the week as the Floridian and factory BirelART pilot laid down the fast lap in qualifying. Just behind — all within a tenth of a second — was practically the who’s who in Rotax competition, including Rinus Van Kalmthout (Koene USA / Tony Kart), Jake Craig (Race Lab / Formula K), and Luke Selliken (RPG / Tony Kart). Andre Nicastro (Italian Motors / Italkart) sat fifth in his first Rotax competition, but certainly no stranger to Vegas racing or high-level karting in general.

The first heat was difficult for some of the front-runners, as we saw Van Kalmthout and Nicastro both involved in incidents that sent them down to 18th and 24th respectively. Craig and Askew swapped 1-2 positions through the first two heats and it appeared that these two drivers were going to decide the championship between themselves. However, it was Van Kalmthout who spoiled that idea after he had made his way back from the Heat 1 incident to win the final two heats and put his #309 machine outside of row two for the Final.

The man to start Sunday’s final from the point was Selliken, who was quietly lurking in the shadows, turning in a 4-3-3-2 report card through the heats. As the Senior MAX competitors settled in, it was Nicastro who was catching everyone’s attention. Up to third by lap four after starting tenth, the Brazilian was finally able to showcase the pace he had shown in the heats. As the drivers approached the halfway point of the 25-lap feature, Nicastro had taken a commanding lead over Selliken and Van Kalmthout. That’s when the totally bizarre happened and water from a nearby sprinkler on the short-straight between turns nine and ten had started to race across the track. Quick actions were taken by MAXSpeed officials as they directed the water to a sewage drain.

Nicastro and the rest of the 26-driver Senior MAX field did their best to navigate the new conditions. The Italian Motors pilot had set sail out front where nobody would get to him, but Selliken had his hands full of Heat 3 and 4 winner Van Kalmthout. On lap 21, Van Kalmthout had finally moved past Selliken into second, relegating the RPG driver to third. Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) and Javier Gonzalez (Falcone GP / BirelART) ran fourth and fifth at the final stripe, both very impressive performances and momentum builders for the end of the year.

Perennial front-runners Askew and Craig both had the lead at one point in the Final, but could not keep up the pace. Askew finished sixth, one-second ahead of Craig in seventh. With their finishes, Nicastro won the 2016 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals ticket in Senior MAX and Askew becomes the 2015 Cold Stone US Open Senior MAX Champion.

CRG’s veteran, Davide Fore, took the season championship in PSL Karting Shifter Elite in the most convincing fashion on Saturday, as the Italian five-time World Champion laid claim to his third feature win on the season, sweeping the category.

Fore never faltered through qualifying or the heats despite race-long pressures from Jordon Lennox (PSL Karting / BirelART) and Sabre Cook (Energy USA / Energy). The 25-lap feature was a tale of two races, however. Lennox had finally found his way to the point and was holding a strong advantage over the field until an incident involving Joshua De Losier leading onto the straightaway had brought out the red just past halfway.

On the restart, Fore grabbed the lead almost immediately, knowing that would be his best shot to keep Lennox from escaping again. The CRG driver made some masterful defensive moves to keep the Briton and American corralled that eventually paid off when Cook tried to pass Lennox entering turn two and the two former teammates got together. Cook’s race was finished and Lennox had dropped too far back, ending his shot at the win. Jake French (DKC / Sodi Kart) picked up the pieces in second, but Fore had jumped to a tremendous lead that would not shrink.

French and Lennox finished off the podium, a large gap separating each of the top three. For the race win, Fore received $8,000 for his efforts, and for carding a perfect season and championship, another $3,000 — his first championship in North America, one he is mightily proud of.

In a bit of a redemption weekend for mistakes made in Grand Junction, Jake French (DKC / Sodi Kart) put his orange kart on pole in Dallas Karting Complex Rotax DD2 MAX and set his sights on the championship chase. BirelART’s ace DD2 driver, Ferenc Kancsar held the lead in points coming into the weekend and had no plans of relinquishing that. Three wins and a second place put the Hungarian on the inside front-row for the final, one spot over from his archrival French. Touring car star and former karter Robert Wickens (Maranello North America / Maranello) quickly adapted to the new circuit and found himself in third through the heats.

These three would put on a superb showing in the final, each leading at one point during the 25 laps. Kancsar took the lead for the final time on lap 15, overtaking Wickens and pulling clear of his two closest competitors. French and Wickens fought until the end, with French prevailing by a half-second over the Canadian. South African Eugene Brittz (PSL Karting / BirelART) and Alessandro Bizzotto (PSL Karting / Birel ART) capped the top five. Andersen Racing’s Michael McCarthy stepped up to DD2 this weekend and finished sixth. The championship, $11,000 cash and 2016 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals ticket went to Kancsar after a brilliant second half of the season.

Quite a few fresh faces emerged in Energy Kart USA Rotax Junior MAX over the weekend, starting with the first year Junior driver Dylan Tavella (PSL Karting / BirelART). The small, but mighty driver from the Northeast managed pole position and Heat 1 glory right away on Thursday. Canadian front-runner Natael Cantin (PSL Karting / BirelART) and AM Racing Engines driver Matias Fernandez were new to the US Open scene with the former earning the top spot after the heats and the latter in third. Australian Reece Cohen (RPG / Kosmic) introduced himself in heat two, walking away with the win and repeating the performance in heat three. An accident in Heat 4 knocked him to fourth on the starting grid for the final.

Points leader Trenton Estep (Koene USA / Tony Kart) managed a 5-4-4-4 heat race mark, good enough for second on the grid for the final and valuable extra points over Sting Ray Robb (BBR Karting / Tony Kart). Robb had a prior commitment and did not arrive to the temporary circuit until Wednesday evening, after the bulk of practice. Each session on track, Robb got quicker and made up ground on the field. Qualifying 17th, the Idaho native made up ten spots in the heats to start seventh for the final.

Fernandez, Cantin, Cohen, and Darren Keane (Orsolon Racing / Tony Kart) had a great battle going early on, but the extra effort involved in passing one another allowed Samuel Lupien (FA Kart) and Robb to close on the lead quartet. On Lap 12, Keane found himself in the barriers on the front stretch, catapulting Lupien and Robb into contention in third and fourth as Cohen faded a bit. As many as six karts were in the lead group at one point, but in the end Fernandez had cleared the field, followed by Robb, Lupien, Canten, and Estep. A post race penalty in technical inspection to Fernandez put Robb on the top step and earned him the 2016 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals ticket — the ultimate climb to the top after arriving late on Wednesday. With a fourth place finish, Estep edged out Robb to become the 2015 US Open Junior MAX champion.

The Grand Finals ticket in PSL Karting Rotax DD2 MAX Masters brought some extra talent to the class last weekend in the forms of Canadian Elvis Stojko (Maranello North America / Maranello), Belgian Christophe Adams (PSL Karting / BirelART), and even Venezuelan Luis Schiavo (Falcone GP / BirelART) came over from the Masters MAX category.

Through the heats, Schiavo was unmatched in the final two, winning each by a commanding margin. He led points leader Luis Zervigon (PSL Karting / BirelART) and Adams into the final on Saturday, but did not have it as easy. Adams pressured Schiavo early and took the lead on lap eight, but it wasn’t until the final corner on the penultimate lap that the two made contact fighting for the ticket. Schiavo was eventually sidelined a few feet short of receiving the white flag, but Adams was able to continue on and held off a spirited Canadian duo of John Cariati and Stojko. However, it was deemed a driving infraction on Adams after the race, moving him ten seconds behind to third, giving Cariati the golden ticket. Zervigon did not have a great weekend outside of one heat race win, but he held on for the 2015 US Open points championship.

The namesake of Rolison Performance Group, Mike Rolison, dusted off the helmet and joined the always-competitive Crosslink Powder Coatings Rotax Masters MAX category. It wasn’t long until the Northwest veteran had acclimated himself to the circuit and the seat of his Kosmic Kart. Qualifying fourth and finishing in the same order in Heat 1, the rust was knocked off come Friday when the man known as “Roli” swept through Heats 2 through 4 impressively. The 25-lap feature was no different, holding back pressure from regular front-runner John Crow (BirelART) to win by .730. Adam Kasic capitalized on a malfunctioning power valve on Derek Wang’s (BBR Karting / Gillard) machine to move into third by the finish. Wang was still able to hold onto fourth, but had a shot to win early before the mechanical gremlins took over. With the finish, Wang capped off the season with a US Open Championship to go along with his Rotax Grand Finals ticket to Portugal in just a few weeks time.

Rotax regular and OGP front man Tyler Gonzalez made the trip out to Las Vegas from Florida to compete against the top MOJO Tires Rotax Mini MAX stars in the country. Fourth place was as low as Gonzalez found himself the entire weekend and that was in qualifying on Thursday. A clean sweep of the heats put his green chassis just inside Nicholas d’Orlando (Koene USA / Tony Kart) who ran second in three of the four heats.

As the field came to the green, d’Orlando was noticeably slower than his counterparts in the inside lane. As a result, the outside lane had a disastrous start, which culminated in d’Orlando pulling over a half a lap into the race with a spark plug issue. This opened the door for drivers Hannah Greenemeier (RPG / Kosmic Kart) and Jeremy Fairbairn (OGP / Tony Kart). The two drivers from opposite sides of the country fought back and forth with Fairbairn ascending past Greenemeier by the checkered. Meanwhile Gonzalez had done what he had done all weekend and that was drive away with the win. Points leader Jak Crawford (Energy USA / Energy) benefitted from the d’Orlando mechanical failure to secure the Cold Stone US Open Mini MAX Championship after finishing fifth.

The championship in AM Engines Rotax Micro MAX came down to Diego LaRoque of Arizona and Ugo Ugochukwu of New York. On Thursday it sure seemed like we were about to witness an epic weekend between the two as Ugochukwu claimed pole for his bonus points, but LaRoque came back in the first heat to nip the Koene USA driver. However, that’s not the way the narrative will go for Friday and Saturday, as Ugochukwu had some trouble in heat two that dropped him to sixth to start the final.

Josh Pierson (RGP / Tony Kart) and LaRoque raced out to a comfortable lead early on in Saturday’s Final, but were quickly tracked down by Noel Leon (Falcone GP / BirelART) and Jason Lueng (BBR Karting / Gillard). Almost identical to his teammate d’Orlando earlier in the day, Ugochukwu also had engine gremlins right from the start and was unable to complete a lap. This all but assured LaRoque the championship, but that didn’t stop him from pushing to win the battle as well.

With two to go, Pierson made his move for the lead, but over cooked the corner, allowing LaRoque underneath to grab the lead back and Leon through to second. That’s how they would finish a lap and a half later, with LaRoque overcoming the points deficit entering the weekend to win the 2015 US Open Micro MAX Championship. Lueng would finish fourth followed by Branyon Tiner (Brash Racing / Tony Kart) who climbed seven spots to fifth.

Austin Wilkins (DKC / Sodi Kart) led 18 competitors in Tru Tech Racing Engines Shifter Senior in qualifying on Thursday, but it was points leader Luke Shanahan (M Squared / Tony Kart) who drew first blood in the heat race the same day. Shanahan, however, never could replicate the pace he found in heat one, ending the final three heats with a 6-5-4 record. Champion Racing’s Bryce Cornet (Intrepid) started his first US Open event of the year, feeling right at home on the temporary circuit. The University of Oklahoma student made his way through the heats to start inside the front row in Saturday’s feature, followed by Wilkins just outside of him.

Wilkins trailed Cornet closely throughout the 25-lap feature, but never could get the Intrepid off its line. Cornet led wire-to-wire ahead of Wilkins and CJ Cramm (PSL Karting / BirelART). Cornet’s teammate, Harry Gottsacker, matched his best finish of the season in fourth, followed by Alex Yates. Shanahan finished sixth, good enough to capture the 2015 US Open Shifter Senior Championship.

In one of the more competitive classes of the weekend, Falcone GP Shifter Masters points leader Ryan Kinnear (Champion Racing / Intrepid) had a lot of work in front of him. Javier Echeverria (CRG) became his closest competitor, leading the field out of the heats after Kinnear fell victim to a broken shift link that sidelined him in Heat 2, but was still able to muster second place after the heats. The first half of the final would prove as fun to watch as any racing over the weekend.

Kinnear rocketed off the start line to take the holeshot over polesitter Echeverria, however the CRG driver did not waste any time getting the lead back on lap three at the end of the long straightaway. On lap five, all of a sudden, Nicholas Firestone (DR Kart) was the fastest kart on track and chasing down the leaders in a hurry. For two laps, each driver took their opportunity to race for the lead, making multiple passes per lap, allowing Juan Carlos Garcia and Jason Campbell to close from fourth and fifth.

Kinnear ultimately grabbed the lead for good on lap seven as Firestone continued to harass Echeverria for second. This battle allowed Kinnear to scamper into the distance where he would hold on to win and claim the championship. Echeverria made it out of the clutches of Firestone by the end and finished a comfortable second. Firestone, Garcia, and Campbell rounded out the top five.

Carlos Barajas and Coy Dayton were the class of the field in Falcone GP Shifter Veteran. Barajas ran second to Dayton in the early going of the Stock Honda Veteran Final, but in the end had too much speed for Dayton to hold back. Barajas took the win, followed by Dayton and Jet Davis finishing off the podium. With the third place finish, Davis secured his 2015 US Open Championship.

Similar to what we saw in Grand Junction, Falcone GP driver Luis Alfonso Perez Pena (BirelART) could do no wrong in Champion Racing Shifter Junior, clean sweeping the weekend in all official sessions. Texan Lawson Nagel finished second ahead of Carson Mueller and Ryan Lewis. Lewis had been the point leader coming into the final round, but Mueller was able to get by in the standings to lay claim to the 2015 US Open Shifter Junior Championship; one of only two drivers (Diego LaRoque) able to leap another driver in the standings at the final round.

With 2015 in the books for MAXSpeed Entertainment, they now look forward to their sophomore season of Florida Winter Tour, beginning January 14, 2016 in Homestead, Florida for the ROK Cup weekend, followed by Rotax competition on the following weekend. For a full 2016 schedule of all MAXSpeed events, please visit www.maxspeedentertainment.com.

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