2013 Florida Winter Tour Formula Kart Racing Program Gets Underway at PBIR

First two rounds of shifterkart and TaG racing kick off 15th season of program

Saturday Report

TaG Masters winner Chuck Gafrarar(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

TaG Masters winner Chuck Gafrarar
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The 2013 Florida Winter Tour Season kicked off today under bright blue skies and temperatures in the low 80’s, emphasizing two big reasons FWT is truly “THE Winter Place To Be”. The huge gathering of talented racers assembled at the Palm Beach International Raceway took advantage of every minute of it. This is the 15th year of Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour, and early indications are it could be the best ever.

The large fields of karts, topped by 40 entrants in AM Engines Formula Vortex TaG Cadet, would feature fantastic racing all day long. This was, in no small part, due to the FWT’s revised heat format rules whereby the second heat would be run in the reverse order of qualifying. Speculation was we’d be seeing the faster karts moving up through the packs. Speculation proved right and it was a treat for the packed grandstand to watch some put on a clinic of how to get from the back to the front in a hurry.

One of the other changes this year, specific to the PBIR facility, is the newly revised chicane in the front straight. Last years relaxed chicane led to karts running flat out for too long and it was requested by the competitors to split the section into two straights and add an additional passing zone. To get some feedback on the new section, we talked to many different drivers as they were awaiting their heat races. While some discussed the section in terms of surface, grip levels and curbs, one of our TaG Cadet drivers nailed it perfectly when he said, “You used to go, like, ‘eeeeeEEEEEeeeeee’ through there. Now you go, ‘EEEEEEEE… ererererererer… baaaWAAAAAA…’, it’s more fun this way.” We have to assume that for those who speak gearhead, no translation is necessary.

After a morning warm up, the karts took to the track to qualify then race their heats. Here’s a brief rundown of how the events played out.

Euro Motorsport Sponsored Formula TaG Masters

Qualifying was all Christian Calvo as the Venezuelan blasted around the revised PBIR track in 54.419 seconds. In the first heat race it was South Carolinian Chuck Gafrarar who took an impressive lead over Mexican Javier Gonzalez to win by almost 4 seconds. In the second heat, it was Gafrarar again first to the line after starting in the back of the pack. In the TaG Masters Final, the popular “Chuck G” started up front and led all the way to capture a three second victory over Venezuelan Juan J. Font, who was in turn 4.5 seconds ahead of U.S. driver Nelson Canache.

RYSA Racing sponsored TaG Senior

Danny Formal won both TaG Senior feature races(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Danny Formal won both TaG Senior feature races
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

The Tag Senior class featured some tight racing throughout the pack. In the first heat race, Venezuelan Jose Zanella put his pole position and AM chassis to good use to take the win over the reigning FWT TaG Senior Champion Danny Formal.

In the second heat race, Zanella put on a passing clinic, moving from his last place starting position of 19th to the lead………wait for it………..in 2 laps! Formal took longer to get to second from his back-of-pack starting position and couldn’t quite catch Zanella by the finish. In the Final, Formal stalked Zanella in the early stages before taking the lead. With Zanella’s previous form, many thought he could retake the top spot. But on this day Danny Formal would not be denied and showed why he’s the defending champion in the class. In the end it was Formal over Zanella by a little under two seconds with Floridian Roger Ralston also moving up from the back of the pack and rounding out the podium in third.

Motorsports Driver Development sponsored Formula TaG Junior

Every season, Formula TaG Junior provides some of the best racing in the entire program. One look at this year’s entry list and it was obvious this year we would see more of the same. In qualifying, American Jack Weprin of New York set the fast time of 53.145 seconds to grab pole position. In Heat Race #1, Weprin put in a sterling drive to take the win over Floridian Juan Manuel Correa. Heat Race #2 saw a new name up front as it was another fast Venezuelan, Sebastian Fernandez, who took the top spot. In the TaG Junior Final, Weprin and Correa started up front and battled for the lead. Eventually, Weprin ran into trouble and slid back to 11th. Correa was still running strong but it would be Christian Munoz of Florida who came home with the win over Correa and New York’s Gavin Reichelt.

GT7 Motorsports sponsored Formula Stock Moto / Formula Kart sponsored Formula Masters Shifter

Anthony Gangi gives a salute as he wins his second TaG Cadet race of the weekend(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Anthony Gangi gives a salute as he wins his second TaG Cadet race of the weekend
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Although the shifter karts don’t have the entry numbers they did in the heyday, they still pack a mean punch and are a venerable fan favorite. The shifter field would be comprised of two classes, Formula Stock Moto, and Formula Masters Shifter. In qualifying it was the American Kurt Mathewson of Florida who put in the fast time of 52.920 seconds. Kurt was actually going to run as a Master, but got talked into running Stock Moto and he handled it very well as he and Florida racer Don Whittington duked it out in the first heat race. Although Whittington won the first heat, he couldn’t answer the bell for round 2 and this time Mathewson won going away.

In the shifter Final, Whittington was back and he and Mathewson ran in lockstep for the first 15 laps of the race. Whittington actually led for 15/16th of the race, but going into the twisty section on the last lap, Mathewson pounced to take the lead. The final order was Mathewson the overall winner and winner in Stock Moto, followed by Whittington and Floridian David Levy. In the Masters Shifter category it was Floridian Greg Garretson taking the win over defending class champion George Moss of New York.
AM Engines sponsored Formula Vortex TaG Cadet

The biggest class in the Formula Kart Racing program took to the track last and it was definitely something worth waiting for. These kids race each other hard every step of the way. In the corners, off the corners, on the straightaways, it doesn’t matter. Every time Formula Vortex TaG Cadet takes the track at the Florida Winter Tour, you might as well pull up a chair and watch, whether you’re here in person, or at home watching the show on FWT LIVE! (exclusively at http://www.floridawintertour.com/).

TaG Cadet is not inverting its second heat race. Formula Kart Productions Bill Wright stated that the FWT Officials are evaluating the drivers and parents response, and are considering inverting the Cadet second heat at Homestead and/or Ocala.

In qualifying, David Malukis of Illinois qualified on pole with a fast lap of 59.044 seconds. Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh qualified right behind him with a time of 59.077. In Heat Race #1, it was New Yorker Anthony Gangi jr. who came from the third row to take the win over Malukis by 2 tenths of a second. In Heat Race #2, Gangi won again, this time by over two seconds from Venezuelan Santiago Terife. In the TaG Cadet Final, Gangi once again was the class of the field as he checked out to win by over seven seconds from second place Neil Verhagen mod Connecticut, and Texan Nick Brueckner in third.

The Palm

Florida Winter Tour's new trophy - The Palm(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Florida Winter Tour’s new trophy – The Palm
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

At the end of the day, as the sun slowly set over the trees that line the PBIR facility, the podium ceremonies took place. This would be the first time FKP’s Bill Wright would present the drivers with the FWT’s new signature award, “The Palm”. Just as many other racing organizations have their special awards, Like the IKF “Duffy”, The KART “Triad”, or the NHRA “Wally”, “The Palm” stands as a proud symbol of achievement in one of the world’s largest and most competitive karting programs.

Sunday Report

Sunday marked the second day of competition for the Formula Kart Racing classis of the 2013 edition of the Florida Winter Tour. Participants were once again greeted with deep blue skies, temperatures in the high 70’s and a cooling breeze, confirming that FWT is “THE Winter Place To Be!”.

A change to the racing format of the Formula Kart Racing events added to the popularity of this portion of the Florida Winter Tour, and is credited for a solid increase in entries for 2013. The new format inverts the starting order from the first heat to the second and has received rave reviews from the competitors and spectators alike.

For 2013, The Florida Winter Tour maintains its role as a leader in the development and implementation of advanced racing event technology. Items like the live interactive race broadcasts, a 16-channel video marshaling system, a remotely operated SRS Light Marshaling system, and a portable starting gantry with digital speed readout are just some of the innovations Formula Kart Productions has brought to the America karting community.

The awards given out at the FWT are very special as well. This year marks the debut of the new FWT Palm trophy that is presented to all podium finishers. With the increase in entries for the Formula Kart Racing events the list of potential winners of the trip to the Granja 500 has begun to grow. Also growing are the points tallies for the Nations and Manufacturer’s Cups. Although the USA is the defending Nation’s Cup champion, one look at the results shows that Venezuela has come to make a serious challenge for this year’s title.

Faces in the Paddock

Chuck Gafrarar is attending his third Florida Winter Tour season and he returns to defend the TaG Masters crown he won in 2012. The 42-year-old from Concord, NC has been racing for 33 years and also owns a very successful fabrication business that served the marketing needs for many popular NASCAR teams.

Chuck was named Rookie-of-the-Year in the Goody’s Dash Series for 2002, but with no funding to continue that route, decided to come back to karts where there was more bang for the buck. When asked why he started racing in the FWT, his answer was simple, “I just wanted to get out of the cold weather and race!”

TaG Senior driver Ian Cummings has been racing karts for four years and is making his second appearance at the Florida Winter Tour. The 16-year-old hails from Ponce, Puerto Rico and says he initially came to the FWT because many of the other drivers he knew back home recommended it. Of his experiences so far, Ian says the FWT is an amazing program with the best competition he’s ever seen.

When Ian is back home in Ponce, he likes to play soccer with his friends but must also keep up with his schoolwork. He says for now racing is mostly for fun but one never knows what the future holds. Perhaps someday he will make the transition to formula cars like his favorite drivers, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.

The second day of on-track action rivaled the first. Here’s a breakdown of the action that took place at the Palm Beach International Raceway.

Euro Motorsports sponsored Formula TaG Masters

Juan J. Font bested the field in TaG Masters on Sunday(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Juan J. Font bested the field in TaG Masters on Sunday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

In qualifying for Formula TaG Masters, Venezuelan Juan J. Font’s time of 54.765 bested all other qualifiers to give him the pole position going into the first heat race. In Heat One, it was the defending class champion Chuck Gafrarar (USA) who took the win followed by Juan J. Font and fellow Venezuelan Luis Terife. In Heat Two, it was fast qualifier Font who prevailed to take the win after starting at the tail of the inverted field.

In the TaG Masters Final Font took the early lead followed by Gafrarar. For a number of laps Gafrarar closed in on the Venezuelan, but Font started building his lead to an eventual 1.464 seconds at the finish to take a well-deserved win. Behind Gafrarar, Nelson Canache (USA) had his best performance of the young season to claim the last spot on the podium.

RYSA Racing sponsored Formula TaG Senior

Qualifying for TaG Senior belonged to Venezuelan Jose Zanella who took top honors over Danny Formal (USA) with a time of 52.903 seconds. In Heat #1, Zanella used his pole position to take the early lead, but he could never shake the kart of Danny Formal off his rear bumper. Lap-after-lap the two battled with Zanella eventually taking the win by 1/10th of a second. With the field being inverted for Heat Two, it was a chance for Kevin Barbesino (USA) to shine as he took the lead and held it for quite some time. However, Danny Formal was coming through the pack and took over the top spot around halfway, and then went on to record the win.

In the Tag Senior final it was once again Danny Formal and Jose Zanella set to start on the front row. But problems for Zanella caused him to miss the Final and Danny took full advantage to record his second victory of the weekend. Behind Formal, Roger Ralston jr. made a fantastic start from the sixth position to get up to second by lap two. He would hold that position for the rest of the race to make the podium once again. Behind Ralston in third was Columbian Wilson Hurtado to round out the podium.

Motorsports Driver Development sponsored Formula TaG Junior

Juan Manuel Correa scored the win in TaG Junior on Sunday(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Juan Manuel Correa scored the win in TaG Junior on Sunday
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Brasilian Gustavo Lopes put his kart on pole for TaG Junior with a fast lap of 53.030 seconds. This was one of the closest qualifying grids ever as less than one tenth of a second covered the first four competitors. In Heat One, Lopes proved his qualifying pace was no fluke as he took a tight win over Devlin DeFrancesco (USA). In Heat Two, New York’s Jack Weprin served notice that he was a force to be dealt with as he took the victory.

The TaG Junior Final was truly one to be remembered. It’s one of the reasons we archive the races on FWT LIVE! We won’t say “we told you so”, but if you missed it, be sure to catch it when it goes in the FWT LIVE archive. The race started with Jack Weprin on pole and taking the initial lead in the race. Behind Weprin was a multitude of determined young drivers in a pack that was bunched together reminiscent of a NASCAR restrictor plate race. Around three-quarters distance, Juan Manuel Correa (USA) took the lead going into the final corner. Although Juan’s lead was challenged many times, battles from second place on back kept Correa freed up enough to bring home the win for class sponsor Jay Howard. Joining Juan on the podium was Poland’s Antoni Ptak and Jack Weprin.

GT7 Motorsports Formula Stock Moto / Formula Kart Formula Masters Shifter

After missing out on the win in Saturday’s race, Floridian Don Whittington was back with a vengeance to take pole position for Formula Stock Moto. In Heat One, Don resumed the battle for the lead with Kurt Mathewson, beating him out at the line by just under three-tenths of a second. In Heat Two, Greg Garretson (USA) represented the Masters Shifter drivers well by taking the overall win. The shifter final was another closely fought race. This time it was Kurt Mathewson taking the win over David Levy (USA) and Greg Garretson.

AM Engines sponsored Formula Vortex TaG Cadet

Kurt Mathewson doubled up in the Shifter division(Photo: Ken Johnson - FWT)

Kurt Mathewson doubled up in the Shifter division
(Photo: Ken Johnson – FWT)

Anthony Gangi Jr. (USA) took up in TaG Cadet qualifying where he left off the day before, up front. In Heat One, Neil Verhagen (USA) gave Gangi one heck of a battle for the win but fell just three-tenths of a second short. In Heat Two, the roles were reversed as it was Verhagen taking the win over Gangi by a scant 0.012 seconds.

The TaG Cadet Final featured a thrilling dice between Anthony Gangi Jr. and Michael d’Orlando (USA). For many laps the two were just inches apart. With a handful of laps to go the two got separated on the far side of the track. When they emerged out of the esses, Gangi had a larger lead on the new second place kart while d’Orlando fell back several spots. Although d’Orlando did eventually climb back to fourth, at the checker it was Neil Verhagen (USA) in second followed by Venezuelan Santiago Terife who would stand on the podium.

It was an amazing weekend here in Palm Beach, Florida, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or on-track action. As the initial FWT 2013 weekend comes to a close, we celebrate the triumphs of the competitors and look forward to many more in the Florida Winter Tour’s 15th season.

If you’re anywhere near South Florida you owe it to yourself to come check out the Florida Winter Tour in person. If you can’t make it in person, log ontohttp://www.FloridaWinterTour.com to watch the action live with FWT LIVE! And be sure to send shout outs to your friends by participating in the live interaction feature by emailinglive@FloridaWinterTour.com

The Florida Winter Tour is one of the world’s largest, longest running and most geographically diverse kart racing programs. In 2012 the FWT featured over 400 drivers from 28 countries and all six karting continents, and for the 5th consecutive year was the world’s largest official Rotax Max Challenge series and event. For more detailed information log on to the official FWT web site at http://www.floridawintertour.com

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