From the Tower: 2017 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour SpringNationals

Homecoming for organization as record-breaking event competes second stage of championship chase

(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

The Superkarts! USA returned back to where it all started for the Pro Tour, taking the SpringNationals to the Simraceway Performance Karting Center in Sonoma, California over the May 5-7 weekend. In April 2010, the SKUSA Pro Tour launched at the 7/10-mile course with just over 100 drivers. Fast forward seven years, and the championship series is the largest in North America, welcoming 240 entries on the weekend – the largest event ever at the facility for karting. The weather kept things dry, with sunshine gracing the many teams, competitors and families for the second stop of the 2017 SKUSA Pro Tour. For more coverage, visit the EKN Event Page.

Four Different Rounds – Four Different Winners in Pro Classes

LeDuc and Donald Durbin Jr. of Cambrian Go-Karts celebrate the S1 victory (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

The first seven seasons of the SKUSA Pro Tour, at least one driver won more than one main event between the SpringNationals and the SummerNationals – the first four rounds of the championship program. With the addition of the WinterNationals, we now have six rounds of competition for the SKUSA Pro Tour. Through the first four rounds, history has been made in the S1 Pro and X30 Senior division. This is the first time four different drivers have won the first four main events in each category. Never before has there not been a double winner this far into the championship chase, thus proving the 2017 to be one of the most competitive seasons as of yet.

Ryan Norberg and Braden Eves each won at the SpringNationals last year, and this year repeated. The difference? Both drivers were on different karts. Norberg, the 2016 SKUSA Pro Tour champion, is now under the PSL Karting banner aboard a Birel ART after running last year as a privateer Tony Kart driver. Norberg helped put himself in better position to defend the crown with the victory and battle for the victory on Sunday. That win went to Eves, who made his debut on the Vemme Kart under the MDD banner. Eves was stalking the lead group, and their battling in the closing laps allowed him to move forward and steal the victory, his second Pro Tour triumph.

Nic LeDuc got to enjoy the thrill of victory at home, coming through with his first SKUSA Pro Tour triumph in S1 Pro. It was a banner victory for him and Cambrian Go-Karts, a major supporter for karting in the Northern California area and along the west coast. LeDuc has put in many years looking for that elusive victory, and it came Saturday aboard the Sodi Kart. Defending champion Daniel Formal nearly gave Champion Racing / Intrepid its first S1 win in the pairing debut, had it not been for a broken airbox that removed him from the results and the provisional victory.

That’s a Strange Box…

The RR Active airbox detached from Jones’ carb during the S4 / S4 SM main event Saturday (Photo: EKN)

The airbox in question for Formal is from Righetti Ridolfi – a major product manufacturer in the karting industry. The Sonoma weekend required airboxes on the Stock Honda engines, a product tracks still require at select locations around the country. We are used to see the standard two-hole airbox that are used on Yamaha and the IAME Leopard, just pointing straight out of the box of the Honda CR125. A select few had the Righetti airbox on during Friday and Saturday, with Formal making the move to that airbox on for the main event on Saturday. The defending champion told EKN it helped with making the proper carburetion adjustments, which showed Sunday in his fight for the win. What made his near-victory so much more impressive was the lose of the return spring on the gas pedal. Formal would pull the throttle back with his foot under breaking before stomping on it again for full power.

Back to the airbox, Formal had a malfunction with the airbox and thus the win was taken away once he was brought to tech. He was not the only driver to have issues with it. S4 Super Master driver Mike Jones was in the hunt for the Saturday Final win until it broke away from the carburetor, forcing him to pull off-track. Talking with members of the industry along with tech officials, it has been used for KZ application beginning last year. The airbox was not allowed in the KZ category last year as the CIK-FIA removed its homologation (27/SA/24) due to failing sound tests. SKUSA’s rule for Stock Honda allows for current and previously approved airboxes, and thus the Righetti Ridolfi model can be utilized. New Castle and the SuperNationals do not require an airbox, so we will see what will happen at future Pro Tour events or what the regional programs decide to do.

Nitro Kart Wins Big on West Coast

Nitro Kart’s Nick Tucker with double Micro Swift winner Sebastian Ng (Photo: nitro-kart.com)

Last year was the debut of the Micro Swift category on the SKUSA Pro Tour. Five different drivers stood on top of the podium last year. One of them was Sebastian Ng. The driver who calls Panama home claimed triumph at the SummerNationals last year, placing fourth in the SKUSA Pro Tour championship chase. Now 10-years-old, Sebastian is a three-time winner on the SKUSA Pro Tour thanks to his double win weekend in Sonoma, helping to give Nitro Kart its first victories at the program. Nitro Kart made its Superkarts! USA debut at the 2016 SuperNationals with one driver. Owner Nick Tucker, a former SKUSA Pro Tour champion, has worked hard over the winter, developing a full team of Mini and Micro drivers all onboard the Nitro Kart. Podiums at the WKA Daytona KartWeek led to more at the WinterNationals thanks to Frankie Iadevaia. Then victory at the Florida Winter Tour with Nikita Johnson and Sofia d’Arrigo at the Gearup F-Series. The two wins in Sonoma by Sebastian are the brands first major victories in just its few months on the market. In total, Nitro Kart took home two wins, five top-10 finishes in the Micro Swift category with Sebastian, d’Arrigo and Iadvaia.

Where Have All the S2 Drivers Gone?

The S2 Semi-Pro division was gathering in just over 30 drivers at the SpringNationals and SummerNationals last year. Thus far after four rounds of the 2017 season, we have seen 26 and 20. NOLA was a good showing, and the first major event for shifterkarts on the season. Now into May, racing is underway all over the country and probably for some in the east, Sonoma, California was just too far of a haul. Looking ahead, I think S2 will be back up at the SummerNationals, with more midwest and east coast drivers taking part. The positive we are seeing is the growth in grassroots shifterkart racing, with the Gearup F-Series promoting the KZ and Stock Honda divisions, while in the south and west, the S3 Novice class is gaining huge momentum, which will bode well for the S2 category over the next two years. Those S3 drivers are not permitted to compete on the SKUSA Pro Tour until graduating up, so once the crop of drivers in the category move up for 2018, we could see the numbers return back above the 30-mark. Riley Dickinson was a S3 driver at the Texas ProKart Challenge, and now has two victories on the SKUSA Pro Tour in 2017.

X30 Master Becoming a Younger Crowd

Peterson led the X30 Master field throughout the weekend in Sonoma (Photo: EKN)

Over 30 is the mark for the Master categories, 30-years of age or older that is. For a time, 35-years old was the mark to be considered a ‘Masters’ driver. Now, that it is 30, we are seeing what may appear to be a ‘younger’ crowd in the Master classes. The likes of Musser, Jennings, Kinnear in S4 helped lowered the average age in the category, and the S4 Super Master division has welcomed the 45-year-old drivers who just can’t compete with the 15 years younger drivers, many who came straight from the S1 class. The same tide is turning in the X30 Master class, thanks to the spanking provided by Jess Peterson. A longtime national level driver made his SKUSA Pro Tour debut at the SpringNationals, sweeping the entire weekend. It was not an easy task, getting pressured early in the races by former SKUSA SuperNationals winner Travis Irving. Both Peterson and Irving took home their first Pro Tour podiums of their careers, placing 1-2 each day. Throw in Wang, Vasquez, Calderon, and the average age lowers from what we were used to seeing in the category. Still, the competition level increases with the more and more talent that joins the Master division – regardless of age – with a strong field certainly expected for the SummerNationals in August and SuperNationals this November.

Remove the Rear Bumper

That’s right, I said it. I believe all the video, special bumpers, and even more officials surrounding an event is not going to stop all the rough driving like what we saw in Sonoma. No matter what any organization does to help police rough driving, the disrespect for their fellow competitors is the root of all the issues we have on track despite all the bitching people continue to do online. We left NOLA feeling like the racing was clean, people kept their heads on, and did not drive over their talent. Then we got to Sonoma, and it was a complete 180-degree spin. Drivers were trying too many low percentage moves, and the biggest issue were the starts.

Penalties are listed at the bottom of the results page on the SKUSA app

Looking at the two different tracks, the opening corners may appear to be similar, however, they are certainly different. NOLA, turn one is flat, just over a 90-degree turn. Sonoma, you are going downhill into the turn, which has a greater radius and the exit is off-camber, forcing you to the outside more than normal. The speed is roughly the same, around 72mph, at race-pace. The starts, from trackside, appeared to be a quicker pace into the opening corner in Sonoma compared to NOLA. It’s tough to say a faster speed into the first turn at the start is better or provides a higher percentage for less contact then taking the green flag at a slower speed. Putting all the factors together, it still rests in the hands of the drivers respect one another, especially at the start. Remove the rear bumpers, and the thought of launching over the rear tires of the driver ahead of you and you want be planted on his ass heading into the opening corner.

Many in the paddock feel it was the race officials that let the rough driving continue. To a certain extent, it may be a portion of the issue. There were penalties handed out throughout the weekend. One of the issues is their move to paperless results. Everything is now on the new SKUSA app (still a work in progress). Penalties are handed out to drivers via paper, however, those in the paddock are only notified by reviewing the results on their phone. No longer is there a penalty board to put people on notice that penalties are being handed out. There needs to be somewhere drivers are called out for their actions, and the penalty board was just that avenue.

Others feel the video marshalling system failed them this weekend. That is not the case. We were reminded at the beginning of the weekend by SKUSA CEO Tom Kutscher that the system is here to back up the race officials, not to be THE race official. Calls need to be made by the officials, using the video to help determine if the call is correct or incorrect.

The continued problem when we see a lot of contact throughout the race weekend is parents and race teams blaming the officials for not catching ‘their’ incident. Most of the time, it can be considered a racing incident where a penalty is not warranted. For times when it is not, sometimes the officials do miss a call from time to time. The big difference is officials have to watch 40 drivers on the track at different corners of their section. You are zoned in on your one driver, officials are trying to watch everyone.

Being a race official is not an easy job. Many do it for the love of the sport, not the hourly wage they earn. You have to have patience, a strong personality, and racing experience. What may look like a penalty, could just be hard racing. Like what we saw in the X30 Senior final lap on Sunday. At first it appeared to be a penalty, then after further review, it was not. Nothing is not 100% accurate. Even with videos, there are angles at which things look like one thing, but another angle or point of reference is the complete opposite. Officiating a race continues to evolve with the sport and with the new Director of Competition Joe Janowski at the helm, you can expect to see changes made in the near future and the long-term of the organization.

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