EKN Trackside: United States Pro Kart Series – Pittsburgh – Sunday Report

Kalish stamps Pro title with stellar drive as McAndrews, Russell, Cate, Holden, Verhagen and Kunz end season with victory

It was a brilliant performance put in by Leopard Pro champion Kyle Kalish (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

The final day of action went into the books for the inaugural season of the United States Pro Kart Series. The Pittsburgh International Race Complex provide the site for the final two rounds of the 2013 season, as Sunday hosted the eighth round of competition toward the seven championships. Despite some power outages around the Wampum, PA area, a few rain drops, and other hurdles, the USPKS and PIRC staff pulled together and completed the final day of action with no major hiccups. The changed format for the day, including qualifying, prefinal and final saw the racing completed before 4pm to allow competitors to enjoy an informal season-end awards ceremonies onsite.

Following the podiums for the seven main events on the day, the top five in all categories were honored for their efforts during the season. Prizes included a new set of Bridgestone tires for the top five, numerous free entries for 2014, gas cards, hotel nights, and much more. A KartLift Pit Cart was awarded in a raffle of drivers who competed in all four weekends – won by Simon Sikes.

The big winner of the day was Kyle Kalish as he put his name among the top contenders in the country with a solid performance throughout the Leopard Pro action, securing the victory and the championship. Six other drivers outlasted the competition on the day, some putting the icing on the cake for the titles, as others earned their first taste of podium glory and the sweet taste of victory. The momentum continued throughout the 2013 season, and many left the weekend looking forward to what could be an exciting season for the United States Pro Kart Series in 2014.

Leopard Pro

The Leopard Pro qualifying session saw Roger Ralston Jr. (FA Kart) bounce back from getting run over in the main event on Saturday. Posting a fast lap on the final circuit, his 55.579-second lap was best in the session. Championship leader Kyle Kalish (Merlin) was second quick, with Saturday winner Mark Dismore Jr. (FA Kart), Jesus Rios (iKart) and Andrew Bujdoso (PCR) making up the fast five. All would be within nine hundredths of each other, setting up for a great Fast Five session added to the schedule. They would run another one lap session to reset the order, and go for the $200 award for the KartSport North America Fast Five. Dismore, third to hit the track, would record the fastest lap and earn the pole position. Rios was second, dropping the provisional front row of Ralston and Kalish back to row two with Bujdoso in fifth.

Taking his fifth victory of the season, Mike McAndrews secured the Semi-Pro title (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Taking his fifth victory of the season, Mike McAndrews secured the Semi-Pro title (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

With the outside line, Rios was able to take the lead through the opening corner of the 14-lap Prefinal. Dismore would slot into second, with a group of drivers getting collected in a wreck at turn three. It would take Diz six laps before he would be able to find a way around Rios for the lead, sliding past at the turn two kink. From there, Dismore would drive away with the win. Jacob Donald (Arrow) was the driver on the move early, working his way into the top five at the start. By lap five, he was into third, dropping Kalish back. Three laps after Dismore was around Rios, Donald did the same to take over second. The second half of the race was Kalish, as the quickest driver on the track. He would move himself up to the second spot in the closing laps, placing about one-second behind Dismore. Donald would end up third with Rios fourth and Ralston in fifth.

The final began as expected with Dismore holding strong in the pole position and leading the way. On the flip side, Kalish was hung out to dry, dropping down to seventh in the opening corners of the 22-lap battle. Jens also found himself on the wrong end of the stick, getting involved in a turn three wreck that put him on the sidelines and out of the race, essentially handing the title to Kalish at that point. Donald would slot in behind Dismore for second with Rios, Ralston and Trent Walko (Exprit) making up the top five. Walko’s time in the top-five was short-lived, as he dropped back following some contact in turn six. Later in the lap, contact continued involving Kyle Smith (PCR), Jacob Knueven (Arrow) and Derek Dignan (FA Kart), taking them out of contention.

This gave Kalish a place back into the top-five. He would eventually get to third by lap seven, pushing Rios and Ralston back. The following lap, he dispensed of Donald and held a clear path to Dismore, who was out front by 1.7 seconds at the halfway point. Lap by lap, Kalish pushed his Franklin Kart/Merlin to the limit, gaining ground on the veteran Dismore. The advantage was cut by a second after six laps, and become nothing in another three as Kalish had reached the bumper of Dismore. Beginning lap 21, Kalish made a late move at turn one, and made it stick to secure the top spot. Dismore tried to stay close to Kalish, but could not keep his Comet Kart Sales FA Kart glued to the track as he had earlier in the race. Unchallenged to the checkered flag, Kalish would earn the his second victory of the season and his first Senior championship. Dismore settled for second, missing out on the $2,000 bonus for winning both features in the same weekend presented by USPKS and HYTORC. Ralston drove to third with a bum arm, with Rios fourth and Donald back to fifth. Mike Giessen (iKart), Kyle Knecht (PCR), and Adam Crepin (Merlin) came from the back to finish sixth through eighth, as Robert Bujdoso (PCR) and Nick Martin (Parolin) completed the top-10.

Leopard Semi-Pro/Masters

Jim Russell Jr. finished out the year with victory in Leopard Masters (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Jim Russell Jr. finished out the year with victory in Leopard Masters (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Former point leader Austin McCusker (Haase) started out the final round with the top spot in qualifying. A 56.776-second lap put him on the pole position as provisional champion Mike McAndrews (Birel) was second. Chandler Horton (Tony Kart) put in a solid lap to end up third over Braden Eves (PCR) and Gresham Wagner (Arrow). Jim Russell Jr. (Parolin) was the top dog in Masters, laying down a 57.149-second lap. Michael Burton (Praga) was second quick, edging out provisional champ Chuck Gafrarar (Parolin) with Brian McHattie (Exprit) and Dan Stempfley (Tony Kart) completing the fast five.

The 14-lap Prefinal began with McAndrews and McCusker both spinning in the opening corner, handing the lead to Wagner who moved his way forward on the opening lap. The KartSport North America driver would lead until he retired on lap four. This put Eves in the lead as both McCusker and McAndrews were able to run down Horton. As the laps clicked off, the continued to track Eves and would eventually work around him for position as McCusker ran first and McAndrews second. The Masters group would see Burton take it to the two Parolin drivers. Leading early, he and Russell fought it out for the win. After 14 laps, it was Russell with the win over Burton. Gafrarar was third with Stempfley and McHattie completing the top-five.

McCusker and McAndrews set the pace in the main event for Semi-Pro. The two were at the front the entire time. With the championship already in hand, McAndrews solidified his crown with a fifth victory on the season. McCusker drove to second with Wagner able to hold off Horton at the line for third after Eves retired early with engine issues. The Masters group was Parolin 1-2 once again as Russell was able to outrun his teammate Gafrarar for his second victory of the season. For Gafrarar, it was a championship day as he was awarded an entry into the Championkart International Final in Jesolo, Italy this October. Burton ran a solid third with McHattie fourth and Stempfley fifth.

Yamaha Senior

Taking advantage of trouble out front, Sam Cate scored his first Yamaha Senior victory (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Taking advantage of trouble out front, Sam Cate scored his first Yamaha Senior victory
(Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

The top qualifier in the Yamaha Senior division was Eric Jones (Arrow). The KartSport North America team manager posted a 1:01.094-lap to secure the top spot by just 14 thousandths over his driver Derek Dignan, racing aboard a VSR Tony Kart. Camden Speth (FA Kart) was third with Sam Cate (Tony Kart) and Adam Crepin (Merlin) in the fast five. Point leader Joel Jens (Tony Kart) was tenth with challenger Tony Jump (Margay) in eighth.

The Prefinal began with Jones and Dignan hooking up to lead the field while they shuffled behind him. Speth slotted in behind with Jump advancing up to fourth on the opening circuit and Brandon Adkins (iKart) gaining two positions. The top four were hooked up and well out front of the fight for fifth, as Adkins came under pressure from a group of drivers. By lap five, he was able to secure the position and looking to run down the leaders. Up front, Dignan took his turn at the point as Speth helped to push him past Jones, with Jump coming through a few corners later. Cate and Jens were two of the quickest drivers near the halfway point, and were able to run down and around Adkins for position. Jones would move up into the second spot as Speth fell to fourth, until Jump advanced into the second spot to position himself for a shot at the win. Jump put the pressure on in the final lap, but the defensive line Dignan ran was enough to keep him back to score the win. Speth was able to work around Jones for third with Jens placing fifth over Cate.

The 22-lap main event was full of fireworks for the Yamaha Senior category. Jump was able to catch Dignan sleeping when the green flag waved. As the field made their way into turn five, Dignan got into the back of Jump and it triggered a scramble by the rest of the field. It collected Jens and Donald, as they would retire with damaged equipment, along with Dignan. Jump continued on but would find himself back in 11th – a good distance back from the core of the field. This allowed Jones to escape with the lead as Speth latched himself on his rear bumper. Behind them, Cate was alone in third with a host of drivers fighting for the fourth position.

The top two continued to pull away and ran nose to tail until about the halfway point. Septh took the lead for the first time, which would not slow their pace down as they continued to put down fast laps of the race. As they took the white flag, Jones moved back into the lead and held it as they entered turn nine. Running a defensive line, Speth tried for a little space that Jones left to the inside. Diving hard inside, the two made hard contact with Jones taking the brunt of the impact. This slowed them down drastically, allowing Cate to slide past for the lead. He would cruise the final corners and score his first victory of the season. The scuffle for fourth became the fight for second. Jump – running lap times similar to the leaders – tracked down the shuffling group in the closing laps and found himself advancing past them all in the last few corners to take the second spot overall. Travis Reisig (Arrow) found some speed during the feature race and was third to the line with Burton and Crepin rounding out the top-five. Speth would end up sixth with Jones pulling off due to a broken brake pedal following the wreck. Jens, classified 11th, would end the day as the champion thanks to his five wins on the season.

Yamaha Junior

Zach Holden outran the competition once again in Yamaha Junior (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Zach Holden outran the competition once again in Yamaha Junior (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Provisional champion Zach Holden (Top Kart) posted the quick lap in qualifying to begin the final round of the season. His time of 1:00.213 was best of the session as Nick Luedeke (PCR) was second best. Jacob McWhirter (Tony Kart) was third with Sheldon Mills (Top Kart) and Emerson Reed (Top Kart) in the fast five.

Holden used the pole position to set up a good run through the opening corner and the lead for the start of the Prefinal. Luedeke was able to hold the second spot as they were joined by McWhirter, well out front of the field. Holden and McWhirter were able to drop Luedeke from the lead pack to make it a dual for the win. David Malukas (Top Kart) was on the charge, coming up from eighth to fourth, and ran down Luedeke to set up a fight for the inside row two starting spot for the main event. McWhirter led as they took the white flag with Holden on his bumper. Heading into turn nine, Holden ducked to the inside, and took the lead from McWhirter. They would go side-by-side through the esses with some contact, and Holden would come away with the lead and the win as McWhirter settled for second. Malukas would end up third with Luedeke and Reed completing the top-five.

The start of the Yamaha Junior 22-lap main event would see the top two of Holden and McWhirter out front. McWhirter held the lead briefly before Holden retook the spot and began pulling away. Luedeke and Malukas were within the leaders early, until Holden pulled out to a solid lead and left them to fight for the second spot. Eventually, Malukas would fall off the pace and lose the group, leaving them to fight it out. Out front, Holden drove away to one second advantage that he held to the checkered flag, earning his fifth victory of the season and stamping his name on the championship trophy. Luedeke would eventually secure the second position as McWhirter settled for third. Malukas ran fourth with Nolan Ruocco (Haase) crossing the line in fifth, but was penalized two position for contact. That put Gresham Wagner (Arrow) into the fifth spot and Theo Chick (Kosmic) sixth.

Yamaha Cadet

Neil Verhagen was able to edge out the competition in Yamaha Cadet (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Neil Verhagen was able to edge out the competition in Yamaha Cadet (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Coming back from losing Saturday’s feature race by inches, Neil Verhagen (Arrow) scored the pole position for the final round of competition on the season. He would edge out Saturday winner Giovanni Bromante (Top Kart) by a tenth of a second. Simon Sikes (Arrow) was third with Lance Fenderson (Top Kart) and point leader Sam Mayer (Merlin) completing the fast-five.

Bromante was shuffled as Verhagen led the opening lap of the 14-lap Prefinal. Sikes jumped to second with Austin Schaff (Merlin) up to third and Mayer also able to move past the polesitter on the opening circuit. They continued to shuffle around with Verhagen and Bromante able to break away as a big group fought for the third position. Sikes and Drew Lindley (Birel) were able to hook up and slowly reel in the top two, forming a four driver lead pack. Beginning lap 10, Sikes and Lindley drafted past Bromante for position and began setting up for a way around Verhagen. Lap 12, Lindley moved around Sikes for the second spot, and began pushing Verhagen to pull away from Sikes. On the final lap, Verhagen began running a defensive line which allowed Sikes to close back up. Holding the inside line, Verhagen held on for the win with Lindley edging out Sikes for the second spot. Bromante held on for fourth with Schaff ending up fifth ahead of Mayer.

As they always do, the Cadet division provided another spectacular finish with their main event. The race began with Verhagen and Lindley leading the way to the green flag, but it was Sikes who sneaked his way to the point through the opening corners. As the completed the lap, Verhagen was back at the point. Sikes responded by taking the position back but just as quick, he dropped a wheel on the exit of turn one and fell back to fifth. At the same time, Verhagen was shuffled back as well, leaving a number of drivers to take a turn at the point. By lap nine, Verhagen was back at the point, leading a group that included Bromante, Sikes and Lindley with another three drivers trailing. Sikes continued to be the driver making moves, working up to the lead and then losing spots again. On lap 18, Bromante made his move as he took over the lead from Verhagen. With two laps to go, the shuffling heated up even more, as Verhagen was put back to the fourth spot, only to reclaim those two spots he lost and back on the rear bumper of Bromante. As they began the final circuit, Verhagen was able to get inside of Gio at the apex, and steal the lead away. Holding the defensive line around the remainder of the course, Verhagen would edge out Bromante at the line by 48 thousandths. The shuffling on the final lap would see Lindley lose his front nose cone, thus giving him a DQ for the finish. That move Sikes to third, Schaff to fourth as he led the second group and Mayer fifth. The disqualification gave Mayer just enough points to claim the class championship by 10 markers over Verhagen.

Yamaha Rookie

Griffin Kunz won his third Yamaha Rookie feature, and clinched the title (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Griffin Kunz won his third Yamaha Rookie feature, and clinched the title (Photo: DavidLeePhoto.com)

Championship leader Griffin Kunz (Praga) set the pace in qualifying, posting a 1:05.016-lap. Nic Sheppard (PCR) was the top challenger, over two tenths off the pace. Mark Fineis (Birel), Elliott Budzinski (Praga) and James Lynch (Tony Kart) completing the top-five.

The front four were able to break away from the pack with Kunz leading Sheppard, Fineis and Budzinski. As they reached the halfway point, Budzinski lost the lead group with Fineis at the point as Sheppard and Kunz pushing him forward. Fineis continued to lead as they took the white flag with Sheppard all over the back bumper. Kunz however was able slide past Sheppard in turn 11, allowing Fineis to take the checkered flag. Sheppard fell to third with Budzinski fourth. The race for fifth went to the line as Lynch was able to fight his way back to the position over Robert Noaker III (Praga) and a host of others.

It was a five kart lead group for the 22-lap main event with Lynch joining the group that ran up front in the Prefinal. By lap six, the two championship contenders were 1-2 with Fineis out front and Kunz second. At the halfway point, Kunz put himself into the lead with a move down the front straight. Fineis returned the favor on the start of lap 15, sizing up the run to the checkered. Kunz came back a couple corners to retake the position, and retain the lead again. They did another back and forth on lap 17 with Kunz still holding the point. Lap 21, Fineis was finally able to secure the lead on a turn three pass, dropping Kunz back to second briefly until Fineis went wide at turn 11. That gave Kunz a path back to the point as they took the white flag. Kunz was able to fend off Fineis the entire lap and score the victory. The result made it a tie for the championship with Kunz earning the title on his three wins to Fineis’ two. Sheppard ran to third as he beat Lynch and Budzinski to the line.

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