From the Tower: Superkarts! USA SuperNationals XIX
New look, new location, same intense and exciting week for largest karting event in the world
We spend our entire racedays up in the tower, watching every on-track session while producing our EKN Trackside Live program, so not much time is spent roaming the paddock for the stories. The‘From the Tower’ column is our chance to delve deeper into some of the accounts that develop over a race weekend, those that may or may not have been included in the daily race reports. For complete coverage of the SKUSA SuperNationals XIX, visit the EKN Event Page – DC
New View: First Time Not Always a Charm
The 19th running of the SKUSA SuperNationals was held for the first time at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. With a new location comes new challenges. After eight straight years at the Rio, things became routine and familiar for competitors, families, and spectators when arriving and participating at the SuperNationals. The move came with its highs and lows, as expected when dealing with all new circumstances.
The racing venue is massive, as we saw the largest paddock in the world hold 490 competitors with optimal space to include at least 100 more. With the size and layout of the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot, the options are endless as to how the circuit can be designed and how the paddock can be spaced out around it. The food restrictions caught racers, along with SKUSA off-guard. It was not until the last hour of preparation that the conflict of bringing in outside food onto the LVCC grounds was brought up. The three food vendors were busy, however, it was an average rating for the quality of food leaving competitors with plenty of planning on how to prepare ‘cold’ lunches within their haulers and hospitality areas.
On paper, the track layout for the event looked solid. Similar to those of previous SuperNationals, the circuit went a complete 180 – going in the counter-clockwise direction for the first time in the 19 year history of the event. Drivers adapted well, and it still produced great racing with eight passing zones on the 12-turn circuit. Two issues were the common thoughts following the event. Bumps and runoff. While the look of barriers marking the entire track looks great from a photographic point of view, it’s terrible for the racers and the workers. When a kart breaks down or spins, there is little to no room for oncoming karts to avoid and thus we saw some track blockage in heat races and the main events. SKUSA track officials need to ensure there is plenty of space to work around wrecks, and also provide plenty of runoff room at the end of the straights in the future track builds. Bumps are a natural condition for temporary circuits. Drivers love to complain about it, but those who just sucked it up and drove to the best of their abilities stood out as SuperSunday winners.
The Westage Las Vegas Resort & Casino played host hotel for the event, and was just a short 4-minute walk from the lobby to the front gate of the LVCC parking lot. The facility is currently under renovation after a year replacing the Las Vegas Hilton and LVH brand names. The 30-story building is among the oldest in the city, with an estimated $1,000,000 per month going into remodeling the facility and its nearly 3,000 rooms. Unfortunately, the room photos presented to the public prior to the event is in the future plans, and not what was available. The biggest issue was water leaks, as a number of the competitors had issues with ceilings and toilets. The view however was great, looking out at the LVCC parking lot and the entire strip. The food options were limited as well, with four restaurants and no option to get something really quick. The steakhouse was amazing, as well as the new Italian joint that was only opened a week earlier, and the fall back being the Benihana Restaurant. The kinks regarding the facility should be worked out by the 2016 SuperNationals.
Domination: Hard Work by DRT Racing and DR Kart Pays Off Big with Danny Formal
It is always great to watch the progression of drivers, chassis and teams throughout the years of the sport. The combination of Danny Formal, DRT Racing, and the DR Racing Kart brought together three different paths, and put on a dominant performance in the S1 Pro Stock Moto category.
We have seen Formal on the national scene, dating back a decade ago when Danny won his first national Rotax title in the Mini Max category in South Bend. As he grew older and progressed, he continued on winning and became the first driver to win four national titles in four different categories. The past two years has been up and down for the now 20-year-old. Moving to Europe to be part of the factory CRG team, the two parted ways mid-way through the season.
Prior to his move from OTK to CRG, DRT Racing gave Formal the opportunity to compete on their new DR Racing Kart chassis at the SKUSA SuperNationals in 2013. Formal was among the front runners until an opening incident took him out of the race. When Formal returned to the United States last year, Don Guilbeault and DRT Racing was there to lend Formal another chance. They partnered up for the remaining Northeast Shifter Kart Series and prepared for another assault at the SuperNationals. Formal did the double, placing 12th in the competitive TaG Senior division and ended up landing on the podium in S1 to beat out Gary Carlton and Fritz Leesmann with a third place finish behind champion Jordon Lennox and five-time world champion Davide Fore.
In 2015, Formal and his family moved back to their native Costa Rica. Danny only made a few returns back to the United States, joining the DRT Racing family a couple times and finding success in the NESKS. While Formal kept busy racing at home, the focus for all was the SuperNationals. Formal came to Las Vegas with a mission to win, and he completed that task. Aside from one practice session where they tried a different chassis, Formal led every session from Thursday to SuperSunday, leading all the racing laps to score the most dominant victory in S1 SuperNationals history. It was the first time at the SuperNationals a driver led from Qualifying, through all the heat races, and every lap of the main event in a headline category.
Bridesmaid No More: Pagano Earns First SuperNats Win to Clinch First SKUSA Title
Like Formal, we have watched SoCal’s Louie Pagano from the time he was just starting to drive, all the way to the biggest achievement of his career – a SuperNationals victory and a Fikse Wheels Pro Tour title. Pagano was among the top Cadet and Junior drivers during the 2000s, making his way up into the Senior ranks in 2011. He jumped to the top, earning a podium at the SpringNationals that year, but has since been chasing that elusive big victory.
Despite missing out on a victory in 2013, Pagano was in contention for the title when a broken exhaust header while racing inside the top-five on SuperSunday took him out of the race. He came away with the SKUSA #2 plate, and managed to defend that position in 2014 with Sodi Kart/DKC program. 2015 marked a change, moving over to the 2Wild Karting program back in southern California. Pagano continued to wrench on weekends he could for younger drivers, and put his focus on his racing at the Fikse Wheels Pro Tour.
The SpringNationals would define his intentions, sweeping the opening round in Phoenix for his first major Senior level victory after five years. Leaving the PKRA facility as the point leader, the SummerNationals in New Castle were unkind to the now veteran. The results dropped him to third in the title chase, with six drivers all with a shot at winning the crown. Throughout the week in Las Vegas, there was really no mention of Pagano becoming a possible contender for the win after qualifying 22nd overall. Starting each of his heats outside the top-10, he drove to finishes of 2-6-8 to claim a P7 position on the grid for the main event.
When the lights went out to begin the 25-lap battle, you could see it through the shield that Louie wanted it more than anyone else out there. The determination he drove with was obvious, and it showed late in the race when he finally took the top position and drove away to the checkered flag. The victory gave him the #1 position in the championship, making him another $16,000 winner at the SuperNationals to join Joey Wimsett and Jordon Lennox as the only drivers to do so. The future, aside from earning a spot in the 2016 SKUSA Circle of Champions to allow Pagano to defend the crown next season with free entries to all Fikse Wheels Pro Tour events, is up in the air. Pagano has stated the deal aboard the Tony Kart was for one-year, with his options now open in 2016. Either way, the triumph on SuperSunday was an emotional triumph that he and the entire Pagano family can enjoy for a lifetime.
Don’t Stop Believing: GFC Triumphs with New Partnership in Front of Home Crowd
For over a decade now, the United States karting community has followed the progression and work by NorCal native Gary Carlton. From 2006 to 2009, Carlton was the top American shifterkart driver, earning three national titles and winning the 2006 SuperNationals in SuperPro, the last United States driver to do so. Carlton would move across the pond to become a factory CRG driver for the season, before moving over to Chiesa Corse in 2011. He then returned back to the states, working alongside friend Alex Speed at the Ocala Gran Prix operation in Florida. At the end of 2013, Carlton connected with the Modena Engines factory in Italy, and joined the TBkart operation for the 2014 season in Europe. A move over to the DR Kart brand in May lasted but a month, and a new partnership with Formula K and IPKarting as driver and Sales Director.
His first race under the Formula K banner came at the CIK-FIA World Cup Championship in September with the SuperNationals his second outing with the new colors. While competing in the S1 category, the main focus was in the KZ2 division. Carlton was at the top of the time sheets often during practice, but just came up short in qualifying with the third best time. After running second behind defending Fikse Wheels Pro Tour S1 champion Jordon Lennox in the first two heat races, Carlton was involved in a hard wreck at the start of heat three. He would be taken away by the medics with ribs and hand injuries after getting the wind knocked out of him. Gary returned on SuperSunday, determined to race, with just bumps and cuts on his arm and hand.
GFC was focused on one thing, winning. And you could tell in the way he drove the main event in KZ2. With a clean start, he began working his way forward from the seventh grid position. Once into second, he stalked Canadian Phillip Orcic, and his move for the lead was a strong, decisive maneuver in the challenging turn six right in front of the grid. From there, it was keeping it straight and holding off a late charge by his Formula K teammate Patrik Hajek, giving the brand a 1-2 finish at the world’s largest event. The celebration was like no other, as the emotion of returning back to the pinnacle of the SuperNationals overtook Carlton the moments after taking the checkered flag, and has continued days after SuperSunday, praising all the supporters and friends that have stuck with him over the many years. Now with a solid future in place, the sky is the limit for GFC and the Formula K brand.
Eight Different Chassis Brands Take SuperNats Triumph
It was another diverse year at the SuperNationals in terms of drivers, teams and products. Over 40 countries were represented by the nearly 500 drivers, carrying the colors of 40 different chassis brands competing on the Las Vegas Convention Center circuit. It was the second year that we saw eight different chassis brands win in the nine categories offered. The most was 10 during the 2013 event with 12 classes, while 2011 saw eight as well with 11 divisions competing.
SuperNationals XIX was the first victory for FIVE different brands in the nine main events. Formula K (KZ2), DR Kart (S1 Pro), Italcorse (S2 Pro), Praga (S5 Junior) and Benik (TaG Cadet). The shifterkart categories is where we have seen the most diversity among the categories, with OTK products still among the top producers in the TaG divisions. Along with their first SuperNationals victories, Praga and Benik also added their first SKUSA Pro Tour championship, as did Merlin (TaG Junior).
Champions Crowned for Fikse Wheels Pro Tour
The SuperNationals XIX was the finale round to the 2015 Fikse Wheels Pro Tour. Eight drivers were crowned champions following the action on SuperSunday, seven earning a title for the first time with one repeat champion. Jimmy McNeil’s victory in the S4 category on SuperSunday clinched his second SKUSA title, becoming only the fourth driver to earn a second championship in the same category in the six-year history of the series. Rick Dreezen became the third international driver to claim a championship in the S1 Pro division, giving Ricciardo Kart its first major title in United States competition. Carter Williams has made it up the SKUSA ladder system, finding success in the S5 Junior ranks and now after two years, claiming a championship in S2 Semi-Pro with Phil Giebler Racing and earning a new engine courtesy of Honda Racing/HPD. Callum Smith became the sixth different driver to finish the season on top in the S5 Junior standings, also providing Praga with its first title on the Fikse Wheels Pro Tour.
The tightest title fight came down to just one point, with Brandon Lemke edging out defending champion David Malukas in TaG Junior. Vegas was a struggle for both throughout the first four days after showing the way for much of the season. Malukas emerged on SuperSunday to fight his way into the top-five, while Lemke held on for a 12th position, enough to earn the first SKUSA title for Franklin Motorsports / Merlin. Nick Tucker was a former ProMoto Tour competitor in the early years of SKUSA, and now will carry the #1 plate in TaG Master after surviving the SuperNationals to beat out Chris Giumarra . TaG Cadet went down to the final lap and the final corner. Lachlan DeFrancesco came out the champion, a first for Benik Kart, completing what was a solid 2015 season that included a USPKS and Rok Cup USA title as well.
EKN Prediction Contest
The EKN staff once again put out their predictions for the top-five finishers in all nine categories of the SuperNationals. It was a close race, but in the end, it was Cole coming out on top to beat the elder Rob Howden. For each category, one point was awarded for each driver who finished inside the top-five. Five bonus points were added for selecting the correct winner, four points for the correct runner-up, and so on. Both were only able to predict 14 drivers to finish inside the top-five in the nine categories, with the bonus points deciding the deference. Each selected two winners, both predicting Kip Foster to repeat in the TaG Master as he left Las Vegas with a second B.R.M. timepiece for his efforts. Howden got the McNeil victory in S4 correct, while Cole selected Edgar to win in TaG Cadet. The difference came in the S5 division as Cole had Champion Racing / Intrepid driver Andrew Engberson to finish fourth, which he did, to give the EKN Managing Editor a two-point advantage in the total score.