|OnTrack with Team Top Kart USA/Grand Products
Before you get on the forum and start hounding the EKN staff for the lateness of the article, we would like to apologize first hand. With karting going on 24/7/365, we here at EKN are constantly making sure we have the breaking news, latest race reports, and new products introduced to you first through the leading karting website. With that, things get pushed to the side to focus on the pressing issues at that time. Over the past months, our OnTrack with Team Top Kart USA/Grand Products was an innocent victim and was not a deliberate belatedness on our part. With that, we would like to publicly apologize to the entire team/company for our actions and hope future adventures receive the promptness they deserve.
During the eight-year history of Super Kart Illustrated Magazine, publisher Rob Howden and his staff produced a long list of OnTrack and Chassis Test articles that gave much insight into the karts that were in competition at the time. With the departure of the publication, the program moved to EKN, beginning this past summer with the first online edition of the OnTrack test reports, as our man David Cole went into competition with PG Racing and Wild Kart. He followed that up with a stint aboard a First Kart with First Kart North America.
The final OnTrack segment from the 2007 season put the EKN News Desk Manager into the seat of a Top Kart with Grand Products at the world’s largest street race - the Rock Island Grand Prix over the Labor Day weekend in Rock Island, IL. While Cole will give his take on the very fast Top Kart TaG package in the OnTrack report, we will also get a chance to understand just who Grand Products is.
| Michael Tetreault of Grand Products and Team Top Kart USA|
Who is Grand Products?
Grand Products was started in 1977 with Charlie Pistorio starting up the company. Pistorio and Grand Products was one of the first to bring Italian manufactured karts to the USA, the DAP chassis. Over that time, Grand Products has had a long relationship with two top companies in karting - 25 plus years with Bridgestone/Firestone and 20 plus years with Top Kart/Comer, including the first company to introduce the Kid Kart to the industry.
In 2003, a change in ownership was made as Michael Tetreault and Dense Sayko took over the reigns of Grand Products. Beginning a new partnership with MIR Racewear and extending to 11 Top Kart dealers while developing the Team Top Kart USA race team over the last five years, Grand Products is a permanent fixture in North American karting.
The Way to the Top
The Top Kart chassis has been very successful in the many years it has been competing in European competition. In turn, the Top Kart brand has earned its share of championships and race wins in the United States, with some of the well known karters of the past twenty years running the Italian manufactured chassis. The 90s saw big support from Jim and John Giacomelli of J&J Racing. The duo competed in the Constructors Championship program in most street races east of the Mississippi. Their successes were a vital part to the growth of Top Kart during that time. NASCAR drivers Michael McDowell and Sam Hornish Jr. including open wheel rising star Charlie Kimball were among the many to sit in a Top Kart.
With the success in the East, Top Kart expanded to the West with the help of the Irving family, setting up the west coast dealers Empire Karts and PKS Racing. With that came the success of the Cadet chassis through the competitive SoCal programs, including drivers Cole Whitt, Gustavo Menezes and many others.
The next step was the shifter program where Tetreault brought in three big names: White, Wiegand and Jaskol. Starting up Mirage Motorsports in 2005, Ron White took on the role of team owner to help build up the national presence of the Top Kart brand. Eventually returning to the driver’s seat in the second half of the season, joining his brother Joe on-track, the team gained valuable experience for the Top Kart brand.
The following year, Kyle Wiegand was added to the list of Top Kart pilots under the Team OVRP.com banner in conjunction with Grand Products, along with Vegas Native Matt Jaskol. Over the next two years, the duo helped with chassis development along with putting in stellar performances on track.
| The Top Kart TaG package was fast in 2007 - led by Conor Daly (r) and Adam Johnson (l) along with many others|
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
2007 was the year of the Flash, the Top Kart TaG/100cc chassis under the new Team Top Kart USA banner. With Wiegand and Chris Wehrheim earning victories and a championship in the WKA Manufacturer’s Cup Series, drivers Conor Daly, Adam Johnson, and Brendan Phinny followed suit in the Stars of Karting program. Daly earned the Eastern Division championship with Johnson and Phinny - the team’s Junior Intercontinental A pilot - recording race wins.
Track Test with EKN’s David Cole
When I began working for Howden Media Group, my first event as an official employee was the 2004 edition of the Rock Island Grand Prix during the traditional Labor Day weekend. There, we were launching the new name of the karting magazine, from Shifter Kart Illustrated to Super Kart Illustrated. It was my first media hard card, my first street race since I was young, and my first time seeing the top shifter drivers battle in the King of the Streets race.
The opening practice Saturday morning just made my jaw drop. I’m used to seeing speed, being a road racer as I see some 250cc Superkarts reach 150mph - but on wide open purpose built road courses. Watching the King of the Streets hit the track for the opening session of the weekend was just plain crazy. Watching Howden and then SKI Sr. Writer Tim Blaney during the weekend tackle the temp circuit through the streets of Rock Island made me wonder if I could do the same.
I was able to get my first chance in 2006 but unfortunately I was prepared as well as I should have, missing the main event in the very competitive TaG Senior division. Able to make the minimum weight and age requirements, I moved to the TaG Masters category for 2007 with Grand Products and Team Top Kart USA. This time, I was able to get some laps during the summer to get myself in ‘somewhat’ racing shape - much better prepared than the previous year.
Friday night during track setup, Grand Products own Mike Tetreault and I put the seat in the new Top Kart Flash package as he and John Wiegand spent the previous day putting the kart together. Other than decals, we were ready to go for morning practice.
During the first morning session, I adapted myself to the layout of the course and my ride for the weekend. With rubber just getting down, the track was still very green so I tried to just learn my braking marks, as the brakes worked very well. Between sessions, we adjusted the air pressure to prepare for a full out practice session. In the final practice session before qualifying, the kart had a loose condition in the exit of the corner, not allowing me to put the power down early enough - though we were much quicker than the opening session.
Debriefing with Mike, John and long-time Wiegand mechanic Rob Garland, the choice was to change the rear hubs from aluminum to magnesium to help get more grip in the rear. After warming up the tires in the first couple laps, I got down to business, dropping my time again but still experiencing the rear sliding out from me in the exit - though not as severe. As the session wound down, I gear for my final lap until the red flag was shown, ending the session. My best lap time would be 36.490 in 20th, putting me into the final without needing the LCQ.
With the three sessions on the day in the books, we again got together to discuss what we needed to change in order to make the kart work - eventually deciding to change from the Top Kart wheels to the DWT mag wheels.
| EKN's David Cole and the Top Kart package fit well together|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
Sunday would see an early morning warm-up before the 20 lap main event later in the day. During the warm-up, the kart felt better, the gearing was spot on, but somehow the driver made a late mistake during the last lap of practice. Coming out of the fast turn two, looking to gain a couple more tenths, I made contact with the TechPro on the exit of the turn. Thinking I may have just scraped it, I found myself pulled into its grasp, making a hard 360 and exiting the barriers back onto the racing surface. Luckily I came out facing the correct way and the engine still running. I nursed it back to pit lane and examined the damage.
The kart had bent tie rods, spindle, and steering shaft. As for myself, I needed ice for a severely bruised left hand - and to this day I still have no idea what I hit it on, either the fairing or the TechPro itself. After Rob thrashed away to repair the kart, I continued to ice down in preparation for the race.
Uncertain of what the kart would do or how my hand would take the driving abuse, I chose to move to the rear of the field as to not interrupt the other driver’s races. Luckily, once on track and making multiple warm-up laps as the field was not in line, the kart and my hand felt perfectly fine to go the 20 lap distance.
Starting 30th, my first goal was to make it through turn 1. When the green waved, the field got through the opening corner with no problem. I then focused on the driver in front of me each lap, looking for a quick way to advance up the field. As I did that, I tried to avoid the accidents ahead of me as carnage was normally sitting in the middle of the track when the waving yellow was shown. Getting more and more comfortable with the kart and the track, I began making some strong passes for position and moving up the field. With the laps winding down, I caught up to a group of karts that I knew I could get by. Unfortunately, with five laps to go, the red flag came out for an accident in the front of the field in turn 1 - ending the race prematurely. With the race official, I was classified 17th with a fast lap of 35.710, nearly eight tenths faster than my qualifying time.
In the end, I understood why the Top Kart TaG package was so successful. It was easy to drive, easy to adjust, and easy to put up front (depending on the driver behind the wheel - LOL).
EKN OnTrack SuperSpecs:
Engine: SwedeTech Racing Engines Parilla Leopard
Gear Ratio: 11-75
Tires: Bridgestone YHC
Wheels: Douglas Wheels
Camber: 2mm positive
Axle: 50mm - Red (hard)
Front Width: 2 1/2 spacers out
Rear Width: 54 7/8”
Toe: out - 4mm total