EKN Trackside: United States Pro Kart Series – Mooresville – Saturday Report

Self, Stross, Gafrarar, Jens, Holden, Verhagen and Sheppard record inaugural victories

History was made Saturday as the United States Pro Kart Series put in its first ever day of competition into the books at the Mooresville Motorplex in North Carolina. The inaugural event, presented by GoPro, welcomed over a hundred drivers to make up the 122 entries for the weekend to contest the seven Yamaha and IAME Leopard categories set to do battle in a four weekend championship series. Following warm and sunny weather on Friday for practice day, overcast was the forecast and rains came in late in the day to stir up the final few main events. Exciting racing took place throughout the day, with a number of drivers shining through as the drivers to beat on the weekend, with seven new first time winners for the new USPKS program.

Leopard Pro

Austin Self dominated in the wet conditions to score the first ever USPKS Leopard Pro victory (Photo: EKN)

Austin Self dominated in the wet conditions to score the first ever USPKS Leopard Pro victory
(Photo: EKN)

A very stacked field filled out the first ever USPKS Leopard Pro category with 39 strong. At the front was the Michigan driver Derek Dignan, driving for the local KartSport North America operation at the Mooresville Motorplex. After running an Arrow originally, he switched to an FA Kart in Friday practice and jumped up toward the top of the charts. Saturday morning, Dignan improved to the pole position in qualifying with a solid 47.238-second lap. Florida’s Ashley Rogero (Tony Kart) was quickest on Friday, with a number of laps on the track in the weekend leading up to this event. She was just 87 thousandths off Dignan’s time. Keeping it a diverse field up front, Arizona’s Phil DeLaO (Arrow) was third in the session, also another driver with laps on the track prior to the event. Mike Doty Racing’s Brandon Jarsocrak (Haase), making his Senior debut, was fourth in the order with Joel Jens (Tony Kart) ending up fifth.

Dignan was shuffled out as the field took the opening corner of heat one, dropping well outside the top-10, allowing Rogero to move up into the lead. She was joined by Jarsocrak, as he took over the top spot on lap three. The lead group was three drivers with Austin Self (Arrow) and Jesus Rios Jr. piloting the American made iKart. On lap six they shuffled for position with Rogero taking back the lead, but two laps later more shuffling took place with Rios moving up front for the first time. The final lap was a wild one, as the trailing group was able to catch up, making it a mad dash for the finish line. When it finished, Self was the leader and scored the win over DeLaO, Jarsocrak, Rios and Jens completing the top-five.

The start of heat two saw Dignan again out of the mix through the opening corner as the field attacked quickly, dropping him down to tenth. Jarsocrak led the opening laps and set the pace as DeLaO sat on his bumper. From there, the KartSport North America driver drove on to the win as they fought for second behind him. Self earned the position over Jens with Chris Wehrheim (Top Kart) advancing up to fourth over Rios.

The results from the heat races placed DeLaO and Self on an all-Arrow front row. Rain however began falling during the Semi-Pro event and it began to come down harder – make it a steady rain rather than a mist – just as the field hit the track. As the field piled into the opening corner, DeLaO was the driver caught out, as he dropped down to the 28th spot after the opening lap. This gave Self a clean run at the lead and he took advantage, pulling out to a two-second gap by the end of lap three. Behind him was a great battle throughout the race track for position as those with the rain proficiency shine and others tried to hang on. Chelootz seemed to be the only driver that would come close to matching the pace set by Self. Starting ninth, he was fourth by the end of lap one and into second in four more laps.

Self was just too good as the rising stock car driver led the entire 25-lap event for a nine-second victory. Chelootz was an impressive second, pulling away from the rest of the top five. Rios and Wehrheim advanced into the top five but both retired from the race. Rios fell victim to a loose left rear wheel while Wehrheim busted a chain driving for a podium finish. This gave Jens a clean run to the third position. Mike Giessen (iKart) came back toward the end of the race, stealing fourth from Franklin Motorsports’ Kyle Kalish (Merlin) – who started 11th. Darrin Marcus (Merlin) was a great story to watch as the race unfolded. The former SKUSA ProMoto Tour winner started 32nd, and was into an astonishing eighth by the end of lap four. He eventually leveled out, placing seventh, one spot back of Tommy Andersen (Top Kart). Rogero put on a show in the wet conditions, as she came from 23rd on the grid to end up eighth. DB Motorsports/KartLift pilot TJ Koyen (Exprit) was ninth after starting 17th while New Jersey’s Shawn Sharkey (Merlin) made a solid return back behind the wheel of a kart after a year and half to place 10th in his Franklin Motorsports entry.

Leopard Semi-Pro

Dustin Stross was the 'rain man' in the Semi-Pro category (Photo: EKN)

Dustin Stross was the ‘rain man’ in the Semi-Pro category
(Photo: EKN)

The Semi-Pro category is full of a number of young drivers in the field and it was Californian Davey Manthei Jr. (Arrow) at the top of the charts. The quick driver in the Friday practice, Manthei posted the only sub 49-second lap of the sessions with a 48.918 lap as his best. Matt Solarczyk (Birel) and Gresham Wagner (Arrow), both doing double duty with Yamaha Junior as well, were second and third. Dustin Stross (Tony Kart) was fourth as Braden Eves (PCR) in fifth.

Manthei was able to win the opening heat in Semi-Pro, but not without a fight. Solarczyk and Stross were the challengers as Wagner and Mike McAndrews (Birel) retired early after running at part of the battle. In the end, Manthei scored the win and able to escape with a seven tenths advantage over Stross and Solarczyk. Eves advanced to fourth with Chandler Horton (Tony Kart) trailing in fifth.

It was Manthei and Wagner running away with the front two positions in heat two. Running error free, Manthei led all 10 laps for the win with his KartSport North America teammate on his bumper the entire time. Stross ran to third with McAndrews holding on to fourth over Solarczyk.

The weather that everyone was planning for all day came just as the Semi-Pro class was about to take the green flag. After one warm-up lap, USPKS officials brought them in to allow everyone the opportunity to switch over to Bridgestone rain tires, which they did. Manthei’s two heat wins put him on the pole position, but the weather conditions made it anyone’s race. Starting second, Stross took the lead early on and set the pace, using his Florida rain racing experience to his advantage. Manthei fell back to third and much like the other new ‘Leopard’ drivers, battled all 20 laps coming to grips – literally – as they tried to find the perfect match between power and steering in the wet conditions. Stross drove away early but the driver to watch was Austin McCluster (Haase). Starting ninth, he ran down Stross by the halfway point with fast laps of the race and took over the lead. They ran 1-2 in that order until Stross retook the position. McCluster tried to match is pace, and for the most part did, but could not find a way past for the lead. Stross would go on to earn the victory by three-tenths over McCluster. McAndrews went on to finish third, posting the second-fastest lap of the race, with Eves and Wagner completing the podium.

Leopard Masters

Chuck Gafrarar swept the day in Masters at his new home track (Photo: EKN)

Chuck Gafrarar swept the day in Masters at his new home track
(Photo: EKN)

Home track advantage has its benefits, especially when the facility is very new like the Mooresville Motorplex is. North Carolina’s Chuck Gafrarar (Parolin) was blistering quick, backing up his fast lap in Friday’s practice and improving on it with a 48.799-second lap. His time was a good half-second clear of the rest of the field, with Brian McEvoy (Merlin) in the second spot. Brian McHattie (Exprit) stepped up late in the session to move into the third position overall, jumping over Chuck Tate (Arrow) and Tim Shutt (Top Kart).

Gafrarar was on cruise control in the opening heat race, driving to a five-second advantage after the first 10-lap battle. The fight was for second with Tate making the move early on, jumping for fourth to second ahead of McHattie and McEvoy. They ran nose to tail until the final lap. McHattie got a run as they took the white flag, sliding past Tate for second. McEvoy had his turn at Tate in turn four, and they went side-by-side to allow McHattie a clean run to second. Tate fought McEvoy off until the final corner when McEvoy tried again in the final corner. Contact was made with Tate spinning around. McEvoy continued to cross third with Shutt up to fourth and Chad Kruger (Merlin) in fifth. Tate restarted to end up sixth at the line.

It was more of challenge for Gafrarar in heat two as both McHattie and Tate got the jump as the green flag waved. Chuck G was quick to regain the lead, as he worked back to the front in just a few laps. Tate looked to have something to challenge but dropped a wheel on the exit of turn nine, and that was all Gafrarar needed to secure the win. Tate settled for second with McHattie third until he retired on lap seven. This put McEvoy to third, Kruger fourth and Shutt fifth.

The day ended as it began with Gafrarar out front and scoring the win. Chuck G and Tate were the class of the field all day, as they ran nose to tail for the entire main event. Tate matched the pace Gafrarar laid down. As the race went on, the clouds crept in on the facility and a light rain began to fall in the final two circuits. Tate dropped of the track briefly in turn one, giving Gafrarar more breathing room as he was able to nurse it all the way to the checkered flag for the victory. Tate settled for the second spot with McEvoy in third. McHattie fell outside the top-five early, but recovered to end the day fourth with Shutt placing fifth.

Yamaha Senior

Joel Jens drove to victory in the Yamaha Senior division (Photo: EKN)

Joel Jens drove to victory in the Yamaha Senior division
(Photo: EKN)

The battle for the initial pole position in the USPKS Yamaha Senior category came down to two drivers – both piloting Tony Karts. Sam Cate was the early driver at the top charts as the Indiana driver looked strong in the first half of the 10 minute session. The second half of the run belonged to Joel Jens as the Wisconsin driver was able to secure the pole position. He bested Cate by a slim three thousandths of a second, posting a 52.577-second lap. Cate settled for second over two Arrow drivers – Andrew Burton and Camden Speth as Adam Crepin (Merlin) rounded out the fast five.

Jens went wire-to-wire for the opening heat race win, but his rear bumper was covered by Cate. After dropping out of the top-five at the start, Cate was on a charge back toward the front. Jens broke away from the field with Burton into the second spot early on. Cate charged forward, regaining the second spot and running down Jens. Once there, he was unable to find a way by, settling for second as Jens took the win. Burton finished second with Patrick Olsen (Top Kart) advancing up to fourth over Speth.

Heat two was all Jens as once again, he drove away from the field for the 10-lap battle. Behind him was a great battle as Cate once again fell back at the start, but regrouped to take the second spot back, where he would finish. Tony Jump (Margay) got a great start from P6 and was into the top five quickly, advancing into the third position. Burton finished fourth with Speth another fifth place run.

It seemed to be that Jens had the field covered all day, but Cate made it a great fight to the very end. Jens started out with the lead from his pole position while Cate had his best start of the day, losing only one spot to Burton on the opening corners. Cate regained the second spot and showed the speed early, working past Jens for the lead on lap four. The two ran nose to tail until a red flag came out on lap 12 for Billy Lewis (Eagle) having a slow roll over and dropping fuel on the track. Once they cleaned it up, the race resumed with the field bunched back together. Cate and Jens diced for the lead, exchanging the spot every other lap in turn four each time. Jens took over on lap 18 and was able to hold Cate to the checkered by a slim 57 thousandths of a second. Jump recovered from two spins in the 20-lap event to stand on the podium in third. Burton and Olsen ran in the top five until contact toward the end of the race dropped them down the order. Speth moved up fourth with Burton battling back to fifth in front of Adam Crepin (Merlin).

Yamaha Junior

Zach Holden secured the win in his Yamaha Junior debut (Photo: EKN)

Zach Holden secured the win in his Yamaha Junior debut
(Photo: EKN)

Anthony Gangi Jr. (Tony Kart) made his Junior debut with a strong performance in the opening qualifying session. Visiting the track for the first time, he dropped a 51.623-second lap to secure the pole position. Zach Holden (Top Kart) laid his fast lap of the session as the checkered flag waved to move up alongside Gangi for the front row on the heat races. Gresham Wagner (Arrow) was the early provisional pole until he dropped down to third with Friday fast driver David Malukas (Birel) and Matt Solarczyk (Birel) finishing fourth and fifth in the session.

A Birel train showed the way in the opening heat race as polesitter Gangi slipped back lap after lap. Malukas showed to have the race pace as he moved his way to the point, bringing with him Mike McAndrews (Birel) and Solarczyk. They broke away from the field with Malukas holding the lead. McAndrews tried a move in the tight turn eight, but lost the momentum on the exit trying not to make contact. This allowed Malukas to pull away for the win. Solarczyk went pass McAndrews for second, but he stole it back in the final turn to end up second, moving his MRP Motorsport teammate back to third. Holden had the fast lap of the race, finishing fourth with Emerson Reed (Top Kart), unable to make Friday practice coming in fifth in just his third session on-track. Becker Reardon (Birel) drove well, coming from 15th on the field to sixth as Gangi went the opposite way, ending up ninth. Wagner was a DNS after the warm-up lap after losing the airbox, hurting his point total for the Main Event.

Gangi led the field to the green flag once again for the second heat, but once again was shuffled back as Holden grabbed the holeshot when the green flag waved. Holden led until lap five when contact was made in turn one with Malukas getting him sideways and around. Malukas took over the lead and went on to score the provisional win, but was penalized and place behind Holden in the seventh position. This gave McAndrews the win, moving Reed into second as he continued to get quicker. Reardon had another great drive, advancing up to third from 15th on the grid. Gangi finished fourth with Wagner making the full 10 laps to end up fifth.

McAndrews earned the pole position from his results in the heat races, putting Reed alongside on the front row. When the green flag waved, McAndrews held the lead with Holden jumping up from fifth on the grid to join him up front. They broke away from the field and on lap 10, Holden pulled the trigger to take over the lead. Behind them, Solarczyk and Reed form their own group of two with Gangi back in fifth. The later half of the race, Gangi was the quickest driver on the track, running lap times two or three tenths quicker than the leaders. After running down fourth and third, he set his sights on McAndrews. Taking over the second spot, he trailed Holden by 1.5 seconds with five laps to go. His pace leveled out in the final few laps and was unable to close any further, as Holden recorded his first Junior victory in his debut from the Cadet level. Gangi spent the last lap fighting off McAndrews for the second spot, holding on to the checkered flag. Reed finished the day fourth with Solarczyk fifth.

Yamaha Cadet

Neil Verhagen drove to victory in the Yamaha Cadet division (Photo: EKN)

Neil Verhagen drove to victory in the Yamaha Cadet division
(Photo: EKN)

The Cadet division welcomed a strong 27 drivers in the field, and they were all chasing Dylan Tavella. The Tony Kart driver was quicker and quicker as the session wore on, posting a 54.975 late in the run. He was the only driver to drop below a 55-second mark. Luke Fineis (Birel) was second in the order with Friday fast driver Lance Fenderson (Top Kart) up to third. Sam Mayer (Merlin) was fourth with Garrett Moran (Birel) ending up fifth.

Tavella was able to outlast the rest of the field in the exciting 10-lap opening heat race. Fineis was his main challenger, and they went to the flag with Tavella scoring the win. Mayer secured the third position on the final lap with Moran and Fenderson rounding out the top-five.

Heat two was a great lead pack battle as eight drivers made up a large group running for the top-five. Tavella however had the advantage, starting on the pole position and held on to score the win once again. The driver that was the quickest however was Neil Verhagen (Arrow), coming up from eighth. He was able to advance to second in the 10-lap run, working past Fernderson. Austin Schaff (Merlin) matched his pace, knifing his way up to fourth with Fineis in fifth with a host of others behind him.

A large group formed at the start of the 20-lap main event for the Cadet division. Tavella led the field early on from the pole position but was overtaken by Fineis on lap two. They continued shuffling until Verhagen climbed his way to the lead. Lap by lap, the lead group continued to shrink with drivers not able to match the pace set by Verhagen. By the end, it was just three drivers as Fineis and Tavella trailed the leader. Verhagen kept them at bay all the way to the stripe as he scored the inaugural Cadet victory by a scant 82 thousandths of a second. Fineis was there in second with Tavella trailing in third. Mayer crossed the line in fourth, but was removed from the results after he bypassed technical inspection following the race. This move John Paul Southern Jr. (PCR) up from 11th on the grid to fourth, recording the fast lap in the process, and giving Fenderson some hardware in fifth.

Yamaha Rookie

Nic Sheppard held on in Yamaha Rookie to secure the sweep on the day (Photo: EKN)

Nic Sheppard held on in Yamaha Rookie to secure the sweep on the day
(Photo: EKN)

The USPKS official got underway at the inaugural event with the Yamaha Rookie division the first to hit the track under official conditions. Nic Sheppard (PCR) set the pace throughout the season, and was able to dip into the below the 57-second mark. His 56.490-second mark was the first official pole position of the USPKS. James Lynch (Tony Kart) was second in the order with Carter Cass (Merlin), Mark Fineis (Birel), and hometown driver Caleb Tate (Arrow) rounding out the fast five.

The opening heat race was a two driver battle with Sheppard and Fineis pulling away from the field. Sheppard was able to hold off Finies for the win as they gapped the fight for third by nine seconds. Lynch was the driver to win the battle, edging out Andrew Castelucci (Birel) with Kyle West (Merlin) rounding out the top-five.

The two drivers head it out in heat two, with Sheppard keeping up his perfect score after three on-track sessions. Sheppard kept Fineis off and score the win by four tenths after 10 laps. Castelucci moved to third, edging out Lynch for the spot at the checkered with Brian Tremper Jr. (Haase) moving into the fifth position.

It seemed the 16-lap main event was going to be a great battle with multiple lead changes early on in the race. Lynch was the driver on the move early, working up to the lead before Fineis and Sheppard took their turns at the point during the battle. Eventually Sheppard returned to the familiar position out front, with the top four running together. Never making a wrong move for the other three to take advantage of, Sheppard earned a sweep on the day as he edged out Fineis for the first ever USPKS Rookie victory. Lynch came home third with West and Castelucci rounding out the podium.

Another full round of action is set for Sunday, with continuing live coverage scheduled to begin at 9:30am when qualifying hits the track, all available athttp://www.ekartingnews.com/live

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