From the Tower: Superkarts! USA SuperNationals 21
Reviews are in for karting’s big show in Las Vegas
The one week that I have looked toward to each year since my first trip to Las Vegas in 2004 is now over and gone. The 21st Superkarts! USA SuperNationals was held outside the Las Vegas Convention Center | Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino from November 15-19 on what was the largest site in the long history of the event. A massive parking lot provided the space for over 500 drivers to compete on an 8/10-mile course, the longest lap times at the SuperNationals ever, all right on the Las Vegas Strip where thousands of people walk by each and every day. With each new SuperNationals, we are presented with new challenges, new faces at the front of the fields and, of course, controversy.
Six World Title Winners In Attendance at the SuperNationals
In the last 12 months, three drivers from the United States of America have claimed three different world karting titles in the Cadet level. Brent Crews became the inaugural X30 Mini winner at the IAME International Final in Le Mans, France. Connor Zilisch scored the Mini victory at the Rok Cup International Final in Lonato, Italy against a 162-driver field. Last year, Diego LaRoque won the inaugural Micro Max title at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Italy. All three were competing in the Mini Swift division.
Add in Danny Keirle (OK), Paolo De Conto (KZ), Alex Irlando (KZ2) from 2017 – along with legends Marco Ardigo, Danilo Rossi, Arnaud Kozlinski, Mike Wilson, and Terry Fullerton – and the paddock was filled with the best in the sport. Both Zilisch and De Conto were able to come away with victories on SuperSunday to pad their CVs moving forward.
As we know with any temporary circuit, it comes with some bumps in the road. Thankfully, the new pavement of the Diamond lot at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the former site of the Riviera hotel and Casino that was demolished during the summer of 2016, was fairly smooth aside from a few bumps around the 8/10-mile course. The circuit, laid out by Howie Idelson, Bonnier Moulton and Wesley Boswell, received raved reviews from the racers. There were plenty of passing opportunities and the course was very safe for a temp circuit.
Constructing a course from the ground up is a difficult task. And with a new layout and new location, everything was done from scratch. Thankfully, SKUSA has learned from each track construction they’ve completed over the years, but there were still a few things that they can take away from this build. First, they need to stop using the ‘Jersey’ barriers to outline the course. The ‘Tecpro’ or Scribner barriers should always be the first line of contact, not the large white/orange walls filled with water. The contact is softer, especially if there is a gap left between the Scriber and the water barrier. Using the hydrobarriers to line exit points also sets up for the breakage and subsequent water leakage/flow we saw throughout the week, which caused delays, including twice on SuperSunday in the same location (Turn 4).
One issue that was cured on Friday was moving outside barriers on the front straight back about 10 feet, allowing more wiggle room for mistakes made by drivers coming out of the ultra-quick last corner before crossing start-finish and entering turn one. On Wednesday and Thursday, we watched a number of drivers pushing the limits too far and making hard contact with the barrier, and collected a few bystanders in the process. The change to push the barriers back matched the layout of the same last turn-first turn track as last year. The final negative with the track was the big curb placed at the start of the Esses section, turn eight-nine-ten. The curb laid down provided a launching ramp for the competitors for the left-hand turn eight, to set up for the following right-left combination. The curb was definitely needed to set the inside portion of the corner, however, the height of the curb is what should have been reduced. It reminded me of the curb that was put in place during the 2015 event that was removed after one day.
The biggest problem throughout the weekend was the scales. For the categories with more than 44 entries, the final session on Wednesday set the two new groups for Thursday, which included qualifying. During the afternoon for X30 Senior and X30 Master, a number of competitors were coming across underweight – 36 in Senior and 24 in Master. The scale line was long, and the proper procedure was not followed to allow each and every competitor the opportunity to re-weigh twice. Overnight and through the morning, a number of competitors voiced their opinions and protested of the results, and therefore Director of Competition Joe Janowski reversed those weight DQ’s and had the classes sorted by the best lap. The scales appeared to have evened out for the rest of the event as no major issues sparked up.
First Year for Video Marshalling System at SuperNats
The 2017 season was the first for Superkarts! USA to utilize the video marshalling system. The equipment made its debut at the WinterNationals in NOLA in March, and through the SpringNationals and SummerNationals, Janowski and his staff tweaked and fine-tuned their use of the system each weekend. The SuperNationals 21 marked the first time that video marshalling system had been used for the Las Vegas extravaganza. A total of 18 cameras were set up to police the 8/10-mile circuit. It is a massive undertaking for the SKUSA staff to ensure all the cameras are in the right position to monitor all the crucial areas of the course and the help back up the race directors on the track. It was busy throughout the event, especially Friday and Saturday during the heat races. Moving into 2018, we will see how the video system improves in the second season.
No One is Perfect
At the core of the video marshalling system is the ability to back-up calls or review situations that occurred on-track. There were plenty of eyes on the track viewing the actions of the drivers over the week. The total number of on-track penalties called throughout the event was 215. There were 200 penalties during race conditions and 15 penalties during practice and qualifying. Here is a breakdown per class:
X30 Junior: 48 – 22%
Mini Swift: 43 – 20%
X30 Senior: 37 – 17%
X30 Master: 27 – 13%
Micro Swift: 15 – 7%
S2: 14 – 7%
S1: 12 – 6%
S4 SM: 8 – 4%
KZ: 7 – 3%
S4: 4 – 2%
Surprisingly, you would think X30 Senior would have the most penalties as the highest entered category with 94 drivers. The KZ division shows just how to handle racing on the big stage with some of the best drivers in the world, having just under two penalties per on-track session.
One of the penalties that was criticized, especially on SuperSunday, were the illegal start calls. In two classes on SuperSunday, the winner was removed for illegal starts (S2 and X30 Senior). This occurred not only for the standing starts, but for the rolling starts with either the polesitter or the outside polesitter penalized for accelerating prior to the punch-off cone. It was a penalty handed out throughout the event, even in the Last Chance Qualifiers. Many argued that videos showed that their driver was not guilty, however, it is hard to argue with an official standing right at the cone, listening and watching the driver accelerate prior to the cone.
What irritated competitors and spectators was the type of penalty handed out. A three-position loss was the punishment to a driver that was caught jumping the start or accelerating before the punch-off cone. Many have asked “why not a timed penalty?” The answer can be found in 126.96.36.199.3 (page 43) of the SKUSA rulebook. If you look at the penalties, it is based on position and not time. The three-position penalty was standard throughout the weekend, handed out 30 times from Friday to SuperSunday (Friday: 15, Saturday: 7, Sunday: 8). The lane violation infraction was still a timed penalty (three seconds), as it has been the case for the past few years throughout karting and with SKUSA.
One thing I would like to see happen in the future is a better communication of the penalties and better communication between the SKUSA staff and competitors. I know it is in the works, but with SKUSA having its own app, there should be a way to notify or alert those at the event and those with the app of announcements and penalties. Paper on the board at a certain location has worked in the past, especially before the live timing apps where competitors had to walk over and see the official results. Now, competitors just load up the app to see their finish result, without knowing of penalties. I believe a text notification of event updates and penalties is a must moving forward for the organization. Texas ProKart Challenge has already tried this out, using the Remind app. Hopefully this is just around the corner for SKUSA and the RaceHero developers.
Tech Continues to Decide SuperSunday Winners
Having a driver disqualified is nothing new to the SuperNationals. In the TaG categories, TaG Master has held the flag for having the most DQs, including the provisional winners at least three times. The move for SKUSA to the IAME powerplant for all TaG age groups has helped to eliminate that from happening with the tight limitations for engine work. For the most part, you can take an engine out of the box and be competitive right away, even at the SuperNationals.
I mention this as the Mini and Micro Swift categories were effected by engine tech following the races on SuperSunday. The top two finishers in Mini Swift – Carson Morgan and Brent Crews – along with two top-five drivers in Micro Swift – Brandon Carr and Mateo Rubio-Luengo – were removed from the results for ‘piston modified’ according to the official results. The four drivers were all using the same engine service center: High-Rev. Rob Howden and I discussed the post-race special ‘EKN Debrief’ podcast.
For me, this is more of a moral issue than ‘pushing the limits’ of the engine specs. These categories feature kids who are 12-years-old and younger. Many have been in or around the sport since before they started going to school. The two in the Mini division are national and international champions. Putting these kids and their parents in this position, to spend thousands of dollars on the karting season and to compete at the SuperNationals for nothing because you felt pushing the limits of the engine specs was needed. I don’t understand how someone could put another person, let alone four families, in this position.
In our sport today, there is no need to go beyond the specs in order to provide any driver the best opportunity to win. Put Morgan, Crews, Carr and Rubio-Luengo in any kart with an engine right out of the box, and I guarantee they will be among the quickest when you compare them to the rest of the drivers in the field. All four have proven themselves to be fast weekend after weekend. People argue that pushing the limits is what racing is all about. Sure, that’s how racing and karting used to be. Tweaking and testing, finding the limits and learning the true knowledge of those providing the technical inspection. Unfortunately, that is not what our sport should be about. That is the one thing that I believe SKUSA is trying to do. The sprit and intent is to provide a level playing field for all those competing.
Maybe we need to take this away from the engine builders period and begin a ‘Rotax-style’ engine drawing for Mini and Micro. Bump up the entry fee amount to provide for service of 100 Mini and 100 Micro engines along with trackside support, all done by IAME and Superkarts! USA. When drivers attend a SKUSA Pro Tour, each driver is provided one sealed engine drawn randomly when they arrive, utilized for official practice and race days. It takes away that perception of magical engines that are faster than the many others out there. It’s obvious that if they are that much faster, they are not complaint.
SuperNats 21 Predictions
This year was not bad, as you can look back at my top-five predictions in the EKN Official Discussion Thread. The one class I blanked on was X30 Senior. KZ was the only class I selected the winner, along with four of the podium finishes. Here is my score for the rest of the categories. Micro Swift – 2, Mini Swift – 2, X30 Junior – 1, S4 Super Master – 4, S4 Master – 1, X30 Master – 3, S2 Semi-Pro – 2, S1 Pro – 3. It puts me at 44% which is about the norm with our previous years of predictions.
Now, the attention turns to SKUSA SuperNationals 22, as we move back to the Rio for a third stint (2002-2003 and 2008-2014). For some, it will feel like heading back home, where the SuperNationals we know today was founded. The days at the X-Plex and Sam Boyd Stadium were the growing years, with the organization establishing itself and, of course, working through the transition of ownership and direction until the Kutscher family took control in 2006. While the Rio parking lot may not be as large as we have had the last three years, the viewing areas, the food options, the SuperSunday party at the VooDoo and, of course, that scenic backdrop will be hard to beat when we return in November 2018.