EKN Trackside: Challenge of the Americas 2016 – Sonoma Saturday Report
Brooks helps title chances with victory, Brueckner and French clinch with wins
A third victory for Christian Brooks has all but wrapped up the Senior Max championship (Photo: SeanBuur.com)
The opening day of the Challenge of the Americas 2016 series finale weekend produce a number of interesting moments to set the stage for the last round of this year’s title chases. It was a day full of emotions as contenders attempted to better their positions and others began one last attempt at the top step of the podium. Qualifying was filled with late moves as the drivers continued to learn more about the ‘Reverse National’ layout at the Simraceway Performance Karting Center in Sonoma, California. The racing was intense, and seven drivers left with hardware as race winners for the opening day.
Nothing helps to earn a championship more than winning a race. That was the goal for Nash Motorsports Senior Max title contender Christian Brooks heading into the weekend. Brooks was shut out of the five bonus points in qualifying with Nathan Adds (Dallas Karting Complex / Sodi Kart) posting fast time. The Prefinal was a warm-up for what the main event would bring, with five drivers showing as the top pilots and fighting for position. Florida driver Darren Keane (Orsolon Racing / Tony Kart) was able to steal the win away from Brooks. The battle continued for the first half of the main event, with some great racing on display by the top-five. Brooks was shuffled back early on, and fought his way to the point. Once there, he was able to break away and cruise to his third victory of the series. The fight continued for second with contact on lap 23 helping to put Kellen Ritter (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) into the position by the checkered flag. Adds, among those in the contact, continued on and finished third with Adam Smalley (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) and Jim McKinney (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) were advanced up into the top-five. Coltin McCaughan (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) and Keane suffered the brunt of it, as the Canadian finished 12th and the other retired from the race.
The championship was all but clinched for Rolison Performance Group Junior Max as Nick Brueckner earned his fifth straight victory of the season. The perfect streak came to a close as Hannah Greenemeier took top honors in qualifying. Brueckner (Orsolon Racing / Tony Kart) started fourth in the Prefinal and worked his way to the point by lap two. He led the remainder of the race and continued on to go wire-to-wire in the 25-lap Final. Greenemeier closed up late but could not get around Brueckner in the final few corners. Canadian Matthew Taskinen (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) finished third for his fifth straight podium finish of the season. Carter Herrera drove to fourth in his Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic debut with Max Fedler in fifth aboard his Unser Racing / Tony Kart).
The Cambrian Go Karts Masters Max division has been unpredictable throughout the series as Billy Cleavelin scored the victory. Throughout the day local driver Carlos Calderon (Aluminos) was the quickest driver on track. The first-time Masters Max pilot clocked in two thousandths of a second quicker than championship leader Mike Jones (Dallas Karting Complex / Sodi Kart). The Prefinal was in Calderon’s hands until the closing laps. With two circuits remaining, Carlos spun around entering turn three, suffering a broken axle. This gave the lead and the win to another local, Roman Alekseenkov (Tony Kart). He led the opening lap until Cleavelin charged his way forward. The Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic driver took over the lead and never looked back, pulling out to a four-second advantage. That was after a near challenge from Calderon. Into the top-five early, the Aluminos driver was knocking off fast laps before reaching second and running down the veteran. On lap 19, nearly on the bumper of Cleavelin, Calderon lost the chain to end his attempt at challenging for the win. That promoted Jones to P2 on the podium with Alekseenkov in third. Behind them was a battle of attrition with Stephan Gaudneau (Aluminos) fourth and Perry Needham (Energy) earning his best finish of 2016 in fifth.
Energy Kart USA Shifter Senior championship leader Jake French took another step to toward the championship chase with his fourth victory of the season. The Dallas Karting Complex / Sodi Kart driver swept the day in Round Five, leading from qualifying through the Prefinal and wire-to-wire in the Final. Griffin nearly pulled off the fast time in qualifying, missing by 14 thousandths of a second. The two ran 1-2 again in the Prefinal with French out front all 17 laps. Local driver Brett Buckwalter (Cameron Karting / Aluminos got the jump on Griffin, but not French as the point leader lead all 25 circuits to the checkered flag. Buckwalter and Griffin completed the podium with Brian Keck (Ron White Racing / CRG) and Colby Yardley (Energy Kart USA) making up the top-five. Patrick O’Neill (Ron White Racing / CRG) led all day in the Dallas Karting Complex Shifter Masters class, besting Kevin Woods (Ron White Racing / CRG) in every session.
Former Challenge champion Jak Crawford made an impact in his Go Kart Hero Mini Max series debut for 2016 with a victory. Championship contender Austin Torgerson (Ruthless Karting / Tony Kart) cleared the field by four tenths in qualifying with the Prefinal going down from there. After earning a 10-second penalty for moving out of the starting lines, he was shuffled back after contact from Crawford. Another penalty for contact dropped him further down the order, hurting his championship chase. Crawford ended up crossing the line first until being handed a penalty for the contact. That promoted the win to Ashton Torgerson (Ruthless Karting / Tony Kart) with Dustin Salaverria (Nash Motorsportz / CRG) in second. Salaverria got the jump at the start of the Final and looked to have the race in hand. Crawford had other ideas, inching his way closer and made his move on the final lap. Heading down into the helicopter pad section, Crawford pulled the trigger and took over the lead. Dustin fought back into the final corner, but it was not enough with Crawford reaching the checkered flag first. Ashton Torgerson drove to third for his first podium in the category. Josh Pierson (Rolison Performance Group / Tony Kart) was fourth in his series debut for 2016 with Austin climbing up to fifth.
It was a dog fight throughout the day in the Ruthless Karting Micro Max category. Josh Pierson made his 2016 series debut, becoming the driver to beat early on. The Rolison Performance Group / Tony Kart driver was the top qualifier and battled in the Prefinal with Diego LaRoque (Benik), who moved down to Micro for the weekend. LaRoque bogged on the final lap, dropping to fifth as Pierson took the win. At the start of the Final, LaRoque hooked up with Carson Morgan (Benik) and the two broke away. LaRoque never left the rear bumper of Morgan, helping to push him all the way to the final lap. At the checkered, Morgan took his second victory of the season with LaRoque off by two hundreths of a second. Pierson settled for third with point leader Ashton Torgerson (Tony Kart) fourth and Branyon Tiner (Tony Kart) fifth.
The day closed with the Karting Community United Challenge aboard the Margay Ignite 206 packages the Simraceway school utilizes for arrive and drive programs. The Simraceway crew did an amazing job along with the Challenge staff that helped to put over 50 drivers on track for a green-white-checkered, helping to collect over $2,500. Wesley Boswell and Harrison Mills ended up the top drivers in the Lite and Heavy divisions, splitting the 50% prize money.