Driver News: Versteeg Earns Solid Results in Two Top United States Karting Events
Utah pilot claims first SKUSA Pro Tour victory in Colorado, scores top-10 at United States Rotax Grand Nationals
The month of July was a busy one for rising karting star Austin Versteeg. The 14-year old spent the past three of four weekend’s trackside, competing at some of the top events of the season. Highlighting the journey was a victory at the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour SummerNationals, his first in only the second season competing in the TaG Junior category. Next was a top-10 performance at the United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals, recording his best result in the Junior Max division in just his second year.
The July 19-21 weekend took the Utah driver to nearby Grand Junction, Colorado for the SummerNationals as over 200 drivers from across North America converged on the Grand Junction Motor Speedway for the third and fourth rounds of the Pro Tour championship. Versteeg entered the weekend leading the TaG Junior point standings, thanks to consistent finishes throughout the April weekend in Tucson, Arizona at the SpringNationals, including a third and fourth place finish in the main events.
The weekend came with a new beginning for Versteeg, as he made the move to the Rolison Performance Group operation – based out of Oregon – to pilot the popular OTK Kosmic chassis. The move also aligned him with two of his championship rivals, as all three became teammates on the weekend, working together on and off the track to achieve optimal results. At the end of the practice day Friday, Versteeg was finding the new ride very comfortable and fast, among the top drivers at the end of the day.
Round three filled out Saturday’s race action with Versteeg looking to add to his point lead. By just one-tenth, Austin missed out on 10 bonus points and the pole position as he recorded the second quickest lap in the qualifying session. His 55.501-second lap placed him on the outside of the front row for the opening heat race. The first eight-lap battle saw Versteeg lose the second spot in the opening lap to one of his teammates. He would take it back on lap two and held it to the end for the runner-up position. The events of heat two were very similar to the previous race, as Austin lost one spot at the start but retook the position to set himself up for a front row grid position for the 18-lap main event. The first nine laps of race saw the lead pack shuffling for position, including Versteeg. Following some contact, Versteeg took advantage and bolted himself into the lead. Once out front, Austin ran consistent fast laps with the group behind him fighting for the runner-up position. Versteeg took the checkered flag for his first Pro Tour victory, 2.2 seconds ahead of the pack.
“It’s very exciting to earn my first SKUSA Pro Tour victory,” commented Versteeg following the weekend in Colorado. “We’ve been working very hard to achieve this goal, and to finally do so shows the efforts were worth it. Standing on top of the podium was a very good feeling, and has given me the motivation to return here more in the near future. I would really like to thank first and foremost my engineer Mike Speed, who is really developing my driver skills to a new level.”
The following day hosted round four of the series as the SummerNationals closed out. Austin was unable to match the pace he recorded in Saturday’s qualifying session, ending up eighth in the final order about two tenths off the pole position. Starting the first heat from outside row four, Versteeg’s engine was not pushing out the same power as he felt after receiving it back from technical inspection on Saturday night. Despite all his efforts, Austin finished in the 13th position. With the lose of some power, he drove back to the Now in the middle of the pack, Versteeg’s mission in heat two was to survive first and then gain as many positions as possible. He would do just that, moving up to 10th after eight laps. Austin had the same mindset for the 18-lap main event, as securing the most points possible was key to keeping the championship lead. The pace of the top-10 was very similar from the top of the order down. Versteeg ran laps comparable to that of the leaders, driving up to eighth when the final checkered flag waved.
“Sunday morning during qualifying and the first heat race, the engine was not quite like it was Saturday,” added Versteeg. “They tore the engine down to the cylinder, and it seemed to be down on power, so we fought with it all day long Sunday. I spent more time adjusting the carburetor instead of focusing on my driving, which cost me some positions early on in the day. I put me head down and managed to run as quick and consistent as possible, thankfully not losing to many points on the day.”
Versteeg then traveled to North Carolina during the July 29-August 3 for the 2013 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals held at the GoPro Motorplex. Austin competed in the Junior Max division that saw 59 drivers competing, with Versteeg looking to improve on his 23rd place finish a year ago in South Bend, Indiana, while battling for one of two tickets to compete at the Rotax Grand Finals later this year. Visiting the Mooresville, North Carolina facility for the first time, Austin spent the opening days learning the course and adjusting to working with the Tony Kart chassis with Ocala Gran Prix. On Wednesday, weather disrupted the final practice session and the harsh rain conditions slowed Versteeg’s pace and put him in the slower group for Thursday’s qualifying session. He made the best of it, posting the fourth quickest lap of the group, just 55 thousandths off the quick time. After the second group hit the track, Versteeg would be placed 15th overall in the results and placed in Group C to start each of the three heat races from row four.
Over the three heat races, Versteeg put himself on the contenders list as he improved his position in each of the events. Austin ran to third place finishes in two of the races, while recording fast lap. The results from the heat races placed Versteeg in the eighth starting spot for the Prefinal Saturday morning. Jumping up to the top-five on the opening circuit, he settled in and ran to the checkered flag just trailing the lead pack and moving up to fourth. The 20-lap event began with Versteeg jumping up to third on lap one, setting up for a run at the podium. As the opening laps wore on, Versteeg began to loss some straight-line speed. The issue continued lap after lap, but Austin never quit as he pushed harder through the infield sections of the course. He was able to regain one spot in the late stage of the race to end up ninth in the final order.
“It was a bitter-sweet ending to Rotax Grand Nationals,” commented Austin. “We struggled in the wet conditions, and it cost me in qualifying, but we rebounded through the heat races and the Prefinal. Mechanical issues happen in racing, and it’s something we will rebound from. We showed to have the speed to compete for the win and the podium, and now we can take that to the Pan-American Challenge to have a shot at becoming part of Team USA for the Rotax Grand Finals.”
Austin would like to thank Rolison Performance Group for their support during the Superkarts! USA weekend and the entire Ocala Gran Prix operation during his week at the Rotax Grand Nationals. Another thank you goes to Mike Speed for his mechanical expertise and guidance, along with Jamal Yanaki at Activatek, Garret Potter at NOLAMotorsportsPark and Todd Campbell for their help toward Austin’s 2013 season. Visit www.austinversteeg.com for more information and to follow his path during the rest of the year.