EKN Trackside: Rotax Challenge of the Americas – PKRA – Saturday Report
Craig, Reichelt, Rudolph and Versteeg sweep round three of action in Glendale
The Rotax Challenge of the Americas program put the first half of the championship chase into the books Saturday with the third round completed at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association (PKRA) facility in Glendale, Arizona. Picture perfect weather provided the right setting for the seven international Rotax Max Challenge categories as four drivers, bidding for the four Rotax Grand Finals tickets up for grabs to the class champions, drove to perfect scores on the day to put themselves at the top of the order.
Energy Corse America DD2/CRG-USA DD2 Masters
Point leader Gavin Reichelt (CRG) began where he left off in Tucson, scoring the pole position in qualifying to earn five bonus points toward the championship chase. The PSL Karting driver from New York posted a 45.395-second lap to secure the fast lap, edging out CRG-USA pilot Sabré Cook by 42 thousandths of a second. Her fellow Grand Junction, Colorado native – Christian Bird – now lives in the Phoenix area and was third in the order making his first start in the series with CRG West. Tucson podium finisher Andy Lee (CRG) was fourth with Bronson Eggert (Birel) in fifth. Alan Rudolph (CRG) was third overall, first in DD2 Masters, pacing a lap over one second quicker than Ben Johnston (CRG) and Mike Urban (CRG).
Reichelt used the pole position to run away with the win in the 17-lap prefinal. Early on, Cook and Bird kept close, but as the laps clicked off, Reichelt pulled out to a two-second advantage at the checkered flag. Bird challenged Cook for the runner-up spot, but the only female DD2 driver held on for the spot. Bailey Murphy (Tony Kart) was able to pick up the pace after issues in qualifying, working his way into the fourth spot early on, but retired on lap four with another engine issue. This allowed Lee to drive to fourth with Eggert in fifth. Rudolph drove away with the Masters win, placing fifth overall, with Johnston and Urban completing the order.
A four-driver pack formed, much like we saw at Tucson, to begin the main event for DD2. Reichelt led the field to the green flag with Cook, Bird and Lee in tow. Cook was quick early, as the CRG-USA driver took over the top spot. Reichelt took back the spot on lap five, as the leaders ran nose to tail. Cook was unable to make anything happen, as Reichelt drove to another victory, his third of the season to extend the championship lead. Cook and Bird completed the podium with Lee falling back and eventually pulling off after losing the side pod. He was classified sixth for being lite, moving Eggert to fourth and England fifth. Rudolph looked to close up early on the DD2 field, showing the way the entire 25 laps in the Masters race. The Bondurant instructor drove to a 31-second advantage over Johnston with Urban in third.
BBR Karting Mini Max
It was a busy 15-minute session for the Mini Max category, as the hot pit lane was used wisely by the young drivers in this category. Early on, point leader Jacob Blue Hudson (Energy) was the provisional polesitter until drivers made their way onto pit lane. Payton Durrant (Birel) was the first to strike, taking over the position until Tucson winner Dylan Tavella – moving over to a CRG chassis this weekend, laid down a monster lap of 49.646 seconds to clear the field by three tenths of a second. Hudson moved up to second, with Canadian Griffin Dowler (Tony Kart) in third. Durrant dropped to fourth with Zoey Edenholm (CRG) completing the fast five.
Tavella held the top spot through the opening corner of the 13-lap prefinal, with Hudson and the rest of the top-five slotting in behind. Blue took a turn at the top spot, but Durrant worked his way up to the point by the end of lap four, bringing Tavella with him. Out front, Durrant was able to stretch out a solid lead as Blue put the pressure on Tavella for the second spot as Dowler trailed the top three. With five laps remaining, Hudson was into P2, and began cutting down Durrant’s lead. The advantage was just three tenths with two laps remaining, and even less as they took the white flag, with Hudson moving into the lead. All four began the lap running nose to tail, with Durrant trying to keep Tavella back. Hudson drove a defensive line, and Durrant was unable to move around with the point leader scoring the win. Tavella settled for third with Dowler fourth and Collin Queen (Tony Kart) in fifth.
Hudson led the field to the green flag for the 18-lap main event with the outside line led by Durrant slow at the drop of the green. Zoey Edenholm (CRG) worked her way up to second by the end of the opening lap, directly behind Hudson with Dowler, Durrant and Tavella making up the top five. Both Dowler and Durrant were able to move past Edenholm for position by lap three, and on lap five contact shook up the order. Durrant and Edenholm went off at the end of the long straight, and both retired, leaving just three in the lead group. Hudson and Tavella locked up to pull away from Dowler, setting up for another dual for the victory. Tavella stayed locked on the bumper to Hudson lap after lap, losing some ground at a time, but reeled in the championship leader. Tavella tried, but Hudson would have none of it, as he picked up his second victory of the season. Dowler drove a solid third, his first podium of the season in the Ryan Perry Motorsports entry. Trey Brown (Tony Kart) came from eighth to fourth with CRG West driver Marco Kacic making it two Canadians in the top-five.
Holeshot Drive Systems Senior Max
The earlier you could post a lap, the better in Senior Max as the third to fourth circuit was primetime on the Mojo tires to set the quickest lap of the session. Defending series champion and point leader Phillip Arscott (Kosmic) set the bar with his fourth lap, a 45.802-second mark. Round two winner Jake Craig (Tony Kart) was second with Fast Friday driver Louie Pagano (Sodi Kart) in third. Drivers dropped into the pit lane and returned to the track with about six minutes to go. Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) moved up to second, and that triggered more movement as Craig bested Arscott’s time by three hundredths of a second. Craig’s lap withstood the final push to the end of the session, earning the five bonus points for the pole position. Arscott settled in second, with Marotta third, Pagano fourth and former champion Phil DeLaO (FA Kart) fifth. Jim McKinney (Tony Kart) set the provisional pole in the opening group, and ended up sixth overall.
Craig had his 2 Wild Karting Tony Kart on a rail in the prefinal as he drove away to a three-second win. He was pressured early on by Marotta, until he fell under attack from the rest of the top-five. Consistent laps, including the fast lap of the race, allowed Craig to pull away to the race win, with Pagano emerging as the second best driver on the track. Arscott was also able to work past Marotta, the same lap as Pagano did, and they ran that way to the checkered flag. DeLaO retained the fifth position with Senior rookie Blaine Rocha (Kosmic) up from 11th to sixth.
Making it look easy all day, Craig completed the day’s sweep as he scored maximum points toward the championship. Craig led all 25 laps of the main event, posting the fast lap of the race, pulling away to a 2.5-second margin of victory. Behind him, the top six ran together, minus Pagano and DeLaO for a time as they got together on the opening lap. Pagano dropped to seventh, with DeLaO outside the top-10. Arscott slotted into the familiar role of second followed by Rocha, Roger Ralston (Arrow) and Marotta. Pagano was the driver on the move, able to reach the top-five once again by lap seven. He continued to move forward, working by Ralston, putting himself within podium contention.
The race was a battle for second and third, with Rocha putting on pressure to Arscott, with Pagano returning the favor to Rocha. No exchanges were made as Arscott recorded his third straight runner-up finish with Rocha running a defensive line to the checkered flag to cross the stripe third. Officials however penalized Rocha one position for blocking, moving Pagano up to the podium in third, and dropping the rookie from his first chance at a top three. Ralston was able to fend off Marotta with a photo finish for fifth, coming across the line five thousandths ahead of the Californian in an east coast vs. west coast battle. For Ralston, it was the first top-five finish for the KartSport North America driver. Behind that was a battle for seventh that included Jim McKinnney (Tony Kart), DeLaO and Stepanova Nekeel (Tony Kart). Veteran Matt Johnson (FA Kart), who started 17th, fought his way into the top-10 and joined the group by the halfway mark. They raced hard but clean for the remainder of the race. Nekeel however dropped out with carburetion issues, with Johnson driving up to seventh over McKinney and DeLaO. Andrew Wiener (ART GP) completed the top-10.
Black Flag Racing Micro Max
The MicroMax qualifying session came down to the wire. Max Wright (Energy) showed great speed to lead early in the session, but found himself falling from the top of the charts when Sebastian Davis’ Tony Kart came to life. Davis posted a 52.468 on the seventh circuit of the 10-minute session, and that lap was never challenged through to the checkered flag. Like Davis, Austin Torgerson (KGB) was mired deep in the pack early but turned it up at the end of the run to sit second with a 52.653-second lap. Local driver Tyler Ruth (KGB) got his weekend off to a great start by timing in third, ahead of Diego LaRoque (CRG) and Cole Keith Cotham (Birel). Point leader and Tucson double-race winner Jak Crawford (Birel) struggled with a mechanical issue that hurt his top RPMs, and he couldn’t get into the top-15. This hurdle would only serve to put a spotlight on the young Nash Motorsports driver.
The prefinal provided a ton of excitement, as the race came down to the wire. Davis did not get a great start and fell back to third as Torgerson led from the off-pole. Davis would eventually work his way back to the point, but it was Wright who had the best pace in the lead pack through the final laps. A confident last lap move at the end of the backshute gave the Energy driver the win and the pole for the main. Davis held on for second to maintain his position on the front row for the final, finishing ahead of Ethan Arndt (Tony Kart). Big kudos went to Crawford, who fought his way back up to fourth after starting 19th. Crawford, who swept the mains in Tucson, returned to form and set the fastest lap of the race in the progress.
Crawford completed his comeback in the 14-lap main event, working his way into the lead before the halfway point with a strong move past Davis at the end of the backstraight. The Birel pilot would stretch away over the final laps to post a 3.254-second advantage, his third straight COTA race win. Davis and Wright were left to battle amongst themselves for the final two positions on the podium, and they finished in that order. Josh Pierson (Tony Kart) started ninth and worked his way forward throughout the race, holding fast lap at one point, and then made a last lap pass to steal fourth. He however was removed from the results following tech for a carburation issue, as did AJ Hernandez. That moved Arndt up to fourth and Diego LaRoque (CRG) into the top-five.
Nash Motorsportz Masters Max
Point leader John Crow was unable to attend this weekend’s event in Phoenix, handing the championship lead to defending title winner Donald Durbin Jr. (Birel). Looking to add to his lead, the NorCal driver earned five more points with the pole position in qualifying, but not without a challenge. Durbin was quickest early on, but last year’s PKRA winner Ken Maxfield (Arrow) was able to make some changes on pit lane to better his time. He stole the top spot in the session for a few laps, using no draft and working on the track alone. Durbin ducked into pit lane, making adjustments to his Birel machine of his own, and came back to steal the position away by just six hundredths of a second. Maxfield settled for second with Brian Phillipsen (Tony Kart) also coming on late to move up to third. Justin Peck (Tony Kart) was fourth with Larry Hayashigawa (Tony Kart) in fifth.
A three-driver pack drove away at the start of the prefinal with Durbin and Maxfield joined by Peck after contact with Hayashigawa, Phillipsen and Kurt Fisher (CRG) dropped them down the order. That allowed Jacob Zamora (Arrow) and James Dix (Birel) the early top five. Hayashigawa and Phillipsen hooked up and put themselves into fifth and sixth quickly, applying pressure to Zamora by lap five. Hayashigawa worked past Zamora at the end of the long straight, with Phillipsen trying to go past as well but made contact with Zamora. He went off course and dropped back to eighth, as Zamora now had to fight with Dix and Fisher. Out front, Durbin and Maxfield pulled away from Peck with Maxfield able to pace the lead duo for much of the 17-lap event. With two laps to go, Durbin was able to move past Maxfield for the lead position. Maxfield tried to move back inside at the end of the long straight, but locked up the brakes and nearly drove off trying not to hit Durbin. They went on to cross the line 1-2 with Peck in third. Hayashigawa drove to fourth with Phillipsen to fifth ahead of Fisher.
Durbin and Maxfield put on a two-man show in the Masters main event, as they pulled away early to decide the victor among themselves. Maxfield led for the majority of the race until Durbin took over the point at lap 17. From there, the Cambrian Go Karts driver posted the fast laps of the race to earn a 1.3-second victory for his second of the season and extended his point lead. Maxfield held strong for as long as he could, but did not match the pace of Durbin late and settled for his best finish of the season. Behind them was a great fight for third that included four drivers early. Peck led the group early that included Hayashigawa, Fisher and Phillipsen. On lap 11, Phillipsen retired early and then Fisher would lose the draft, leaving the two Tony Karts of Peck and Hayashigawa to fight for the final podium step. They went back and forth, but Peck held off Hayashigawa to the line for the third position as Fisher completed the top-five. That was until tech when both Hayashigawa and Fisher were removed from the results for carb-related issues, putting Zamora fourth and Steve Wiener (ART) fifth.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
California driver Callum Smith (Energy) was the provisional polesitter after the first group hit the track. Tucson winner Austin Versteeg (Kosmic) was quick out of the box, dropping a 46.600-second lap to secure the position. No one would match the pace, as the Rolison Performance Group driver cleared the field by three tenths for the top spot in the session. Arizona driver Jake Boyle (CRG) was an impressive second with Ryan Martin (Tony Kart) third. Point leader Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) was down the order for much of the session, having ignition issues. In the final few minutes, he was able to clear it out and secure the third spot, dropping Martin to fourth and Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) in the fifth spot. Brooks was penalized during the session however and was dropped to sixth in the order, moving Phillippe Denes (ART GP) to fifth.
Versteeg took advantage of the pole position to run away with the prefinal win by more than three seconds. It was a fight for the second spot with Boyle getting a slow start at the drop of the green, which shuffled up the group. He dropped outside the top five with Smith working his way into the second spot. The drivers on the move however were Denes and Brooks, as they fought their way to second and third, with Smith dropping back to fourth. Robb would complete the top-five with Boyle there in sixth.
The warm-up laps were the only time the Junior Max field was within reach of Versteeg the entire main event. The Utah driver put together a perfect feature race, getting a great jump at the wave of the green flag, posting consistent laps, and posting fast time of the race. After 25 laps, it was a six-second advantage as Versteeg put himself into the lead of the championship standings. Behind him, Brooks led the fight for the second position early on until Denes moved his way from fourth in the order to second by lap 15. That triggered the go sign to the rest of the group as they began jostling for position. Robb dropped Brooks to fourth and then on lap 24, took over the second spot while bringing Smith with him. Going to turn 10, Robb left plenty of room for Smith and Brooks to slide past for position, as Smith scored the runner-up position. Smith would not make it past tech, removed from the results for a float issue in the carburetor. Brooks and Robb would move up to the podium with with Kyle Wick (Kosmic) up to fourth from seventh and Denes with another top-five.