EKN Trackside: SKUSA SuperNationals XVII – Friday Report

Challenging day for competitors and staff against terrible weather conditions

In the 16-year history of the SKUSA SuperNationals, we’ve not had a week with this kind of ridiculous weather.  Rain, wind and cold temperatures have ravaged this year’s event, straining everyone involved, from the racers and the vendors to the SKUSA staff and, most aggressively, the dedicated corners workers who spent over 14 hours at their posts on Friday.  But even with the weather, the event must go on and those who can dig deep and find both strength and focus will rise to the top.  Wet weather racing is an art form, and is truly ‘the great equalizer’, to use the common phrase.  Horsepower becomes a non-factor and driver talent shines through.  The conditions made for great racing, and the excitement level was high.

The SKUSA crew needed to battle through the conditions just as the drivers did, and the consistent barrage of rain in this normally dry desert oasis brought with it the expected flooding and track issues.  Certain areas of the Rio parking lot held more water than others, as the drainage design of the lot flows water to the northeast corner of the track.  SKUSA eventually need to block off a certain part of the backstraight that was flooded with standing water, and they also went for double-yellows in the two corners leading onto the straight in an effort to minimize speed to eliminate aqua-planing.  This approach was only needed for a few races, and the rain eventually subsided and the track dried consistently throughout the evening.   While the day’s schedule pushed through into the late evening, the quality of the racing helped soften the pain of the cold night.

TaG Junior
Podium finisher from a year ago, Logan Sargeant (Tony Kart) piloted around the damp circuit to secure the pole position for TaG Junior. Christian Munoz (Tony Kart) was the top driver in the opening group for the class, posting a 1:00.461 lap time to set the bar for group two. In that run, only two drivers would drop below the one-minute mark, with Sargeant posting the fast time. New Rotax Grand Finals champion Juan Manuel Correa (Tony Kart) was the other driver into the 59’s, with Yurik Carvalho (Italkart), Carter Williams (FA Kart) and Austin Versteeg (Kosmic) completing the fast five.

The A vs. D heat race opened up the action for TaG Junior as Sargeant led the field to the green flag. Williams, starting outside row one, got the jump on the pole sitter to lead early. Sargeant would take the spot away, and go on to score the win. Brazilian Vinicius Paparell (Italkart) was the driver on the move in the race, coming from sixth to second in 11 laps. Denis Mavlanov (Top Kart) also came from outside the first three rows, up to third as Williams dropped to fourth ahead of Jake Kostecki (Tony Kart).

Correa led the B vs. C groups to the green flag, and never looked back. The new USA karting star retained the lead through the opening corners and drove off to the win by over eight seconds. Carvalho held off a challenge from Christian Munoz (Tony Kart) and Texan Austin Osborne (Tony Kart) while last year’s TaG Cadet winner Anthony Gangi Jr. (Tony Kart) advanced into the fifth position.

Over 40 karts on the track provided its bit of challenge in the DD2 qualifying session, as finding a clear lap was key to scoring the pole position. For DTM driver Robert Wickens, his final circuit was surprising best overall. The Canadian spoke with EKN after the session, and was shocked to find out his time was good enough for the pole position. Factory Birel driver Paolo de Conto and Wickens (Maranello) each posted their fast lap on the final circuit, with Wickens coming in three tenths quicker. Intrepid factory driver Bas Lammers – making his first DD2 start – was third with top Masters driver Andreas Matis fourth and Eugene Brittz (Birel) rounding out the fast five.

The heat race took time to get going, and then was red flag right after the start as a number of drivers got together on the straightaway. One of them involved was NASCAR driver Nelson Piquet Jr. (Tony Kart), who left the track under his own power, and took a trip to the hospital to check out a possible arm injury. Once restarted, Lammers jumped up and took the lead, but it was former world champion Ben Cooper (Birel) that would lead the majority of the 10-lap race. He and Wickens ran 1-2 until the native Canadian made contact with the British-Canadian, sending Cooper into the wall while they were making their way around lap traffic. Wickens went on to take the race win, followed by Matis, Conto, Antoine Lepesqueux (Sodi Kart) and Kyle Ensbey (Birel). Cooper would continue to end up seventh.

S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto
As has been the case for the last three years, the SuperNationals caps off what has been an exciting yet challenging Pro Tour. This year, the S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto class boasts one of the tightest championship fights as Ryan Kinnear (Intrepid) maintains a very slim lead over Colorado’s Christian Schureman (CRG). Right off the bat, things got interesting in S2 qualifying as Ben Schermerhorn (FA Kart) sat atop the P2 session for several minutes, before AJ Myers (AM Kart) stole the group’s pole, posting a 57.254 with less than a minute remaining in the session. In the P1 group, shifter rookie Oliver Askew (Tony Kart) stood on top for a majority of the run, that is, until the final minute when Pure Karting’s Augie Lerch (Tony Kart) clicked off an impressive 55.335 on a rapidly drying track. Askew was forced to settle for second, while Nerses Isaakyan (Parolin), Chris Jennings (DR Kart) and Connor Wagner (FA Kart) filled the top five.

In the first S2 heat (Groups A vs D), Lerch sat on the front row alongside Jennings, the Texas ProKart Challenge S4 Masters Stock Moto champ.  A poor start for Lerch and contact between himself and Boone on the opening lap Lerch pushed him outside the top five, beginning a drive back to the front. Boone was leading until he vanished from the track and the scoring monitor. Australian Jason Faint (Energy) inherited the point following the Boone retirement. A focused Lerch would eventually regain the ground he lost early on and he reclaimed the lead from Faint on lap 10. Lerch drove to the win ahead of Faint and Jennings, who held strong for a third place finish. Jordan Morris and Curtis Paul Jr. completed the top five.

The opening lap of the B vs. C heat race saw Askew and Christian Schureman (CRG) spend nearly the whole first lap running pod-to-pod. Schureman would take the lead and began working to pull a gap over Askew.  However, the Tony Kart driver’s race ended on lap three when he slid wide on the exit of turn four and made solid contact with the barriers. Despite his now sizeable lead, Schureman decided to make things interesting as he spun in turn five while overtaking a lapped kart with five to go. With his CRG sitting dead in the middle of the turn as he tried to fire back up, Isaakyan slipped through to take the lead, followed by Luke Shanahan (Arrow) and Ben Schermerhorn (FA). Issakyan would drive to the win with Shanahan and Schermerhorn in tow, while Schureman fought back to fourth. SKUSA Pro Tour point leader Kinnear finished fifth, one spot behind his primary challenger in the championship chase.

S5 Junior Stock Moto
The S5 Junior Stock Moto continues its steady growth with a solid field of drivers at this year’s SuperNationals.  Florida’s Kyle Kirkwood (Tony Kart) laid claim to the class on Friday, as he kicked things off early to stand atop the time charts during the entire qualifying session thanks to a 56.979-second lap time that he laid down on only his second circuit. Behind Kirkwood in qualifying was New Zealand youngster Marcus Armstrong (Aluminos), who was followed by Austin Garrison (Tony Kart), reigning class champion Jim McKinney (KGB) and 2013 runner-up Patricio O’Ward (CRG).

The heat race lasted only two and a half laps before red flags were flown around the circuit when several karts encountered issues with the large amounts of standing water at the end of the start/finish straight. After a near hour-long rain delay, the S5 drivers returned to the track for a full restart. Kirkwood and the rest of the field were not exempt from the slippery conditions. Kirkwood had consistent difficulty in turn four, nearly losing his lead several times as he pushed wide, but he luckily avoided contact with the wall. Despite the extreme lack of grip, Kirkwood drove to a near four-second win ahead of Garrison, and Carter Williams (FA Kart).

TaG Master
Some big names made up the 43 driver field, including a number of former SuperNationals winners, Pro Tour championship contenders, and notable names from motorsports. NASCAR’s Jamie McMurray and IndyCar driver Will Power were among the top drivers early on in the session. Both under the KartSport North America stable, McMurray was the provisional polesitter aboard his FA Kart, while Power took the spot about halfway into the run in his Arrow kart. With two minutes to go, Pro Tour championship leader Scott Falcone laid down a flier with clear track in front of him. His time of 59.972 would hold, with no others below the one-minute mark. It would be the second straight year he earned the pole position. Aussie Kip Foster (Arrow) ended up second, give KSNA the front row. Former Pro Tour champion Ethan Wilson (FA Kart) ended up third with Power fourth and three-time defending race winner Leonardo Nienkotter (Kosmic) completing the fast-five.

Falcone paced the field early on in the shortened eight-lap battle. Foster slotted in behind as they ran 1-2 until encountering lap traffic. One driver gave Falcone trouble and he spun around in turn two, after some help from Foster. Falcone continued on and got right behind Foster, who relinquished the lead back to the Pro Tour point leader. That brought Power into the mix, but they ran unchanged to the checkered flag with Falcone taking the win and earning valuable points toward the championship. Foster and Power crossed the stripe behind, with McMurray came up from sixth to make it a KSNA 1-2-3-4 finish while Bruno Fusaro advanced his Italkart up to fifth from seventh.

S1 Pro Stock Moto
From the onset of the S1 qualifying session, Pro Tour title contender Joey Wimsett (CRG) was the driver to beat. Coming out with the quickest out-lap, he was challenged for the pole position throughout the session but came away with the fast time. ‘Wild Thing’ Josh Lane (DR Kart) would take the position at the four minute mark, but Wimsett took it right back. His time held through to the end, scoring the pole for all three heat races and gaining 10 points in the championship fight. Veteran Ron White (CRG) moved up to second with Lane third in the DRT Racing entry. Defending Pro Tour Fritz Leesmann (CRG) was fourth in the timed run with Dutch driver Milan Dontje (Energy) completing the fast five.

To end the delayed morning session, the S1 drivers completed their first heat under the lights, and what a show it was. White, from the outside of row one, grabbed the holeshot over the younger Wimsett, with Lane moving up to second as well on the opening lap. Lane was aggressive early, and White was looking to keep the lead. As they began lap two, Lane narrowly went up and over the back end of White, and spun sideways. Wimsett and Dontje both went by on the inside but Lane was quick to react. Grabbing the clutch, he launched away from his spin, and dove deep inside of both drivers in the following corner, coming away with the second position once again. Like he did in qualifying, Wimsett showed he was the quickest driver on the course, working his way into the lead by the end of lap four, pulling away to a three-second win. Dontje followed him through to end up second, dropping White back to third. Lane ended up fourth with Bray, who was up higher early on, dropped back to fifth after a spin around the halfway point.

S4 Master Stock Moto
Texas ProKart Challenge S4 champion Chris Jennings (DR) is a former winner at the SuperNationals, so running at the front is not something new to the DRT Racing driver. Running in the S2 group during the morning sessions, Jennings held a slight advantage over the rest of the S4 group. Early on, Pro Tour championship contender Brian Fisher (DR) was the provisional polesitter until Jennings took over at the six minute mark. As the session went on, Jennings got faster and secure the pole position with a 55.862-lap. His Texas PKC rival and Pro Tour point leader Jordon Musser (Birel) was second in his 3G Kart Racing entry. Kiwi driver Matthew Hamilton put the Aluminos chassis third in the order with defending race winner Bonnier Moulton (Tony Kart) fourth. Acceleration Kart Racing’s Curtis Cooksey (CRG) capped off the fast five with Fisher dropping to sixth in the order.

Trouble began early before the lights went out to begin the A vs. D heat race. Cooksey was forced to pull off to the side as he suffered from a stuck throttle on the grid. With his spot empty, the race kicked off with Moulton grabbing the holeshot. Derek Wang (FA Kart) however had other ideas, putting himself into the lead before they completed the opening. He pulled out to a solid lead with Moulton trailing in second. Wang held the lead throughout the race, and scored the win, but Moulton was the quickest driver on the track and closed up right up to the bumper of Wang in the closing laps. Jennings ran third with Robert Marks (CRG) and defending Pro Tour champion Eddie Olpin (Kosmic) in fifth.

Last year’s SuperNationals saw Brian Fisher fighting against the regular contenders, using his holeshots to propel him into the mix right away. The opening heat race for him was the same as a year ago, grabbing the holeshot in the B vs. C race from row two. Fisher led early with Hamilton second and Musser third. Contact however in turn four sent Fisher backwards, handing the lead to Hamilton and dropping the DRT Racing driver back to fifth. Hamilton would go on to score the win, giving the Aluminos its first checkered flag at the SuperNationals. Musser was second with Erik Jackson (Tony Kart) up to third. Fisher ended up fourth as Italian Gian Cavaciuti (GP) completed the top-five.

Rotax Junior
For the first time in SuperNats history, Rotax Junior racers are part of the paddock this year. Along with their two-speed counterparts – DD2 and DD2 Master– the Juniors took to the track on Friday to set the grid for their heat races. Newly crowned Rotax Junior World Champion Juan Manuel Correa (Tony Kart) spent time at the top of the speed charts but, in the end, it was Rinus Van Kaimthout (CRG) who posted the fastest time before the checkers flew.

The class struggled to get things started in their heat race as they required three attempts to get their first moto underway. Austria’s Thomas Preining (CRG) grabbed the holeshot and led the opening lap, while Leonard Hoogenboom (OTK) began to pressure Correa on the start of the third circuit.  With the pressure from behind, Correa knew it was time to go. The next lap with Hoogenboom hot on his heels, Correa executed a pass for the lead on Preining and brought Hoogenboom through with him, dropping Preining to third. The front three would stay in that order through the checkered flag, while Clay Van Eerd and polesitter Van Kaimthout rounded out the top five.

TaG Cadet
As was the case with S2 and the other split groups, the TaG Cadets saw the affects of a drying track as times dropped from the P2 group to the P1 group. In the first group of qualifying, Alessandro Famularo (AM) was the driver who came the closest to breaking the one-minute barrier as he ran a 1:00.396, earning him the provisional pole. Luis Perez Jr. (Tony Kart) was five thousandths of a second back in second, while Rafael Villagomez (CRG) was slotted third.  When the quicker P1 group hit the track, the times drop drastically.  It wasn’t long before Jack Doohan (Tony Kart) eclipsed the quickest P2 time, earning him the pole thanks to a flying 59.185. Brothers Alex (Arrow) and Neil Verhagen (Arrow) ran virtually identical times to sit second and third.

As part of a very delayed afternoon group, the TaG Cadets prepared to run their first round of heat races as the night quickly approached. By earning the pole in P1 qualifying, Doohan made good on his prime starting spot in Heat #1 (A vs. D) as he avoided the carnage that happened behind him in the opening corners. Doohan took off and hid, pacing the field for the entire race before being run down and passed on the final lap by Rasmus Lindh (Praga). Petr Ptacek Jr. followed his Praga teammate past Doohan to steal second, leaving for polesitter to settle for third.

The second heat race (B vs. C) was a brotherly affair as the Verhagen brothers shared the front of the field with the d’Orlando duo.  When it all shook down, Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart) would drive to a slim win over Neil Verhagen.  After taking the lead on lap one, Neil worked on pulling out a lead but it was not to be, as d’Orlando was quickly advancing from an already prime starting spot near the front of the field. d’Orlando was to P2 by lap three, and was soon in the lead. Recovering from a sub-par qualifying effort was Riley Dickenson who was into fourth by lap three, and wrapped the night with a well-earned third place finish.

One of the most exciting sessions of the weekend is the qualifying run for the KZ2 drivers. Karting’s version of Formula One is as competition of tenths of a second, with every inch around the course analyzed to the fullest. Former Anthony Abbasse (Sodi Kart) came out of pit lane with the provisional pole, and continued to post fast laps. The session was just between the track going from wet tires to dry MG tires, as the beginning of the session the track was still damp, but at the end the dry line formed. One driver was on slick tires – Jason Faint (Energy). By the six minute mark, Faint was into the top-10. American Fritz Leesmann (CRG) moved to the top of the order just a minute later, with former world champion Davide Foré (CRG) and Canadian Phillip Orcic (CRG) into the mix. Faint continued to get quicker and just two laps later was up to second overall. As the checkered flag waved, Foré and Abbasse timed it just right to be the final karts on the track. As they crossed the line, they went 1-2 in the order with Foré on top. Abbasse settled for second with Faint third. Orcic and Belgian Xen De Ruwe (CRG) cap off the fast-five with Leesmann ended up sixth overall to fill out row three for the start of each heat race.

Abbasse grabbed the holeshot, holding the advantage of the outside front row position slot on the grid for heat one. Foré slotted into second with De Ruwe, Intrepid factory driver Bas Lammers and Moran Weber (CRG) making up the top-five. Leesmann fell down the order while Orcic suffered a flat tire, putting the Canadian on the sideline. Abbasse would lead until lap five when Foré would take over the point. From there, the CRG factory driver racing under the CRG-USA tent drove to the win with Abbasse on his bumper. The drivers on the move were Praga factory drivers Jonathon Thonon and Patrick Hajek. Thonon starting 11th and Hajek 18th, their goal toward the front for the main event finished with a solid first heat race effort into the top-five. Lammers would cap off the top-five, involved in contact with De Rewe early on in the race.

TaG Senior
The TaG Senior qualifying sessions were the first full-dry sessions as all the racers were on dry tires. The second group had the benefit of a faster track, and as the session wore on, times continued to drop. A number of drivers held the provisional pole until a mad dash in the final minutes mixed it up even more. At the checkered flag, it was former TaG Junior winner Joao Vieira (Tony Kart) scoring the pole position, with Parker McKean (Kosmic) making it a 1-2 result for Rolison Performance Group. Aussie champion David Sera put his KartSport North America Arrow third in the order, with Top Kart drivers Marco Maestranzi and Jake Johnston completing the fast-five.

Vieira was able to turn his pole position into a win in the opening heat race featuring group A versus group D. He and Maestranzi paced the field early and were joined by Johnston, Nicholas Rowe (Arrow), and Chris Wehrheim (Top Kart). Johnston would take over the second spot on lap three, dropping Maestranzi down to fifth. The Top Kart factory driver worked his way back to third, as Vieira crossed the line just over one-second ahead of Johnston. Wehrheim would end up fourth with Rowe back to fifth.

Fifteen-time Australian champion Sera led wire-to-wire in the B vs. C heat race. He went untouched to the checkered flag to start out his Vegas event with a win. Behind him was a great battle for second that included Dalton Sargeant (Tony Kart), NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger (FA Kart) and former Tag Junior champion Felipe Fraga (CRG). The veteran Dinger schooled the two young guns, placing second with Fraga third and Sargeant fourth. Another elder driver in the TaG Senior category, Jess Peterson put his Leading Edge Motorsports/Praga back to fifth after starting third.

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