EKN Trackside: 2016 Rock Island Grand Prix Report
Cowboy Cal ropes in five Rock trophies, Ruscitti crowned King of the Streets
There is no other event like it in the world. Racing on the city streets is a rare opportunity for those in motorsports, especially in karting. Every Labor Day weekend, the city of Rock Island, Illinois closes down a few blocks along the Mississippi River to host the world’s largest street race – the Rock Island Grand Prix. The 22nd edition took place this weekend with perfect weather conditions for the over 270 entrants competing and the hundreds of spectators taking in the 15 main events. Conquering the streets and the competition was Cal Stewart, going perfect in the five categories he entered while Canadian Remo Ruscitti became King of the Streets victor in his debut.
EKN Trackside Live Broadcasts – presented by TB Kart USA
Stewart came out of Saturday’s heat races with three wins in his Briggs 206 classes, and fourth in Yamaha SuperCan Medium. Sunday began with Briggs 206 Heavy 1, with he and polesitter Scott Kleman breaking away from the field. Stewart jumped out to the lead with Kleman pressuring throughout the race. Lap traffic nearly caught Stewart out, but Kleman wasn’t able to take advantage. At the line, Stewart bagged his first ever Rock victory by 46 thousandths of a second. Connor Lund won the battle for third over Tony Neilson and Matt Pewe.
The two battled once again in Briggs 206 Medium, this time with Mike Welsh joining the fight. Stewart and Kleman each led with Stewart at the point for the majority of the race. Lap traffic once again came into play as the trio navigated the 6/10-mile course, ending with another photo finish. Stewart crossed the line first by six hundredths ahead of Welsh with Kleman in third. Tony Neilson drove fourth with Jeremy Remick winning the battle for fifth.
The very next race was Yamaha Medium, and Stewart found himself starting dead last after replacing his engine overnight. From 16th, Cal was fifth by the end of lap one and never stopped moving forward until reaching the lead on lap four. Stewart was joined by Tony Jump as they broke away. Stewart’s fast and consistent laps allowed him to pull away from Jump, winning the 20-lap race by just over four seconds. Neilson ran third with Devon Smith-Harden fourth and Mike Welsh fifth.
Briggs 206 Heavy 2 was the next event for Stewart, starting third behind Matt Pewe and Greg Jasperson after the heat point calculations – which include passing points. Stewart had his worse start of the day, dropping to sixth. He put his head down and drove to the lead in six laps. Then it was all about keeping ahead of Kleman for a third time on the day. Stewart succeeded, driving to a fourth victory on the day in a shortened 12-lap race due to a red flag. Pewe was third, Connor Lund fourth and Tony Neilson fifth.
Prior to that race, Stewart laid down the extra cash to race in the final event of the day, Yamaha SuperCan Heavy 2. It put him 18th on the grid, which as we saw in the earlier Yamaha race, meant nothing. Stewart put himself in touch with the lead group quickly, and knifed his way into the lead by lap 12. Cal led the remaining laps to collect his fifth Rock trophy of the day. Carter Pease kept pace, placing a solid second. Tim Goettsch won the fight for third over Weston Moon and Mike Clausen.
Canadian Remo Ruscitti was another first time winner at the Rock Island Grand Prix, taking the headline King of the Streets victory. A second place in the heat race with the passing points put him on the pole position. Last year’s King and heat race winner Josh Lane grabbed the holeshot. Ruscitti took back the lead after the opening circuit, and led the remaining 24 laps for a 1.4-second victory. Lane was runner-up with Austin Wilkins posting the fastest lap of the race toward a third place result in his first RIGP. Wilkins was awarded the new Xtreme trophy during the awards ceremony for the fastest lap of the weekend, breaking the old overall track record set by Kyle Wiegand in 2006 with a time of 31.084. Colton Aldridge and Anthony Honeywell rounded out the top-five.
Ruscitti added a second Rock trophy with a win in the TaG Senior division. Lane got the jump at the drop of the green flag, only to relinquish the top spot to Ruscitti on lap two. The X125 engine powered Remo to a 1.1-second victory. Aldridge was second with Aaron Snyder dropping Lane to fourth ahead of Andrew Wilson.
2015 was a record-breaking event for Tony Neilson. The Iowa driver bagged six Rock trophies for a new event record, and moved himself into the second spot overall in the win column. Neilson competed in eight classes, going home with two more victories. The first came in Yamaha Heavy 1, where Tony started on the pole position but dropped down to fifth by the end of the second lap. Morgan Schulerand and Carter Pease led the majority of the race. Michael Dittmer started back in 17th after a wreck in his heat race, and was charging through the field. When Dittmer worked by Neilson for third, the two worked together to reach the front in the closing laps. Dittmer led for just one circuit before Neilson claimed the spot. Neilson held on in a photo finish, scoring the victory with Dittmer off by just 24 thousandths of a second. Schuler was third, Pease fourth, with Tony Jump closing at the end to place fifth.
Neilson kept his perfect streak going in the Briggs 206 Masters division, notching a third straight win in the category. This one was a battle with polesitter Mike Welsh giving the now 14-time RIGP winner a fight. Welsh led the middle portion of the race until Neilson reclaimed the top spot with three laps remaining, holding on for the victory. Ken Williams drove to third with Robby Warner and Greg Jasperson completing the top-five.
Former race winner Connor Lund moved himself up the overall winners list, adding a fourth career Rock with the Clone Heavy win. Lund started on the pole position, and after dropping to second in the opening lap, led the remaining 14 laps for the victory. It was a battle for second behind him with last year’s winner Matt Pewe stealing the spot from Neilson. Ty Schurr drove to fourth with Chad Kepner in fifth.
Redemption was on the mind of Ethan Wilson, as the California driver returned to Rock Island to claim the Rock he lost in TaG Masters. A DQ in tech took the win away in 2015, and Wilson was ready to make things right in 2016. Last year’s winner Anthony Honeywell started on the pole with heat winner Jason North on the outside. The two made contact on the opening lap, allowing Wilson to come through for the lead. He led all 20 laps to claim his first Rock trophy. Chuck Kocan was the runner-up, edging out Gary Roehl. Peter Cook was fourth, beating Dean Leifheit to the checkered flag.
Honeywell was able to carry the famous RIGP checkered flag for a victory lap in the 125cc Masters. His first time competing in the category, Honeywell won the heat but started third after including the passing points from the heat race. Front row starters Scott Barnes and Lance Lane each took a few turns at the lead until Honeywell secured the spot on lap five of the 20-lap main event. The ‘Honey Badger’ led the remaining circuits for his second career RIGP victory, first in the category. Lane had second locked until a broken shifter lever stuck his Honda powerplant in fourth gear. He limped his way to fourth, with AJ Noud making a solid return and Ryan Riggs able to work past the three-time winner. Scott Barnes rounded out the top-five.
80cc Shifter made its return to the event with a strong resurgence building in the midwest, especially at the SIRA program in Indiana. Thirteen drivers started the event, and they all were chasing the ‘Wild Thing’ Josh Lane. Grabbing the holeshot from P3 on the grid, Lane led all 20 laps for his first victory in the category, fourth of his career at the event. Polesitter Joe Ruch retired after just two laps and outside polesitter Zach Schiff gave Miles Miller his machine to race in the main event. That opened the door for Devon Smith-Harden to take the second spot, ahead of Chase Allard, Tony Malito and Tyler Sawyers.
Margay Racing brought back the Ignite Shootout for a second straight year. Up to 22 drivers total in the Senior division, Jeffrey Dolian moved up one spot from his finish last year to claim his first Rock trophy. Polesitter Ken Williams led the opening lap, which included a 360 degree spin by Jordan Bernloehr, who only lost three positions in the process. Dolian took over the lead on lap two, and was joined by a charging Bernloehr nine. The two began swapping the lead with five laps remaining, with Dolian able to close the deal for the victory. Bernloehr finished second with Williams third. Nick Todtenhaupt was fourth and Michael Scarf fifth.
A Junior Ignite Shootout was added this year, welcoming the younger drivers back to the Rock Island Grand Prix. After a great heat race with Spike Kohlbeck and Ashton Wheeler Saturday, Eli Fox joined the two at the lead pack early on. Fox eventually lost the draft, and duel continued. Spike got the advantage on Saturday, but Ashton went to school overnight and was able to outgun Kohlbecker in the final laps. Wheeler crossed the line first to become the inaugural Margay Ignite Shootout Junior victor, while Kohlbecker and Fox completed the podium. Joey Kall finished fourth with Austin Dahlgren in fifth.