EKN Trackside: Cold Stone Rotax Pan American Challenge 2014 – Sunday Report
Three countries take home tickets to Rotax Grand Finals, Versteeg becomes first secured to 2015 event
The final day of the 2014 Cold Stone Rotax Pan American Challenge made history once again, as the seven categories put on an amazing show around the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina. A third straight day of picture perfect weather greeted ‘NASCAR Country’ as nearly 140 Rotaxians finished out the final major Rotax Max Challenge held in the Americas. A total of four tickets to the Rotax Grand Finals were awarded on the day. Three to the 2014 event in Valencia, Spain with Senior Max winner Ashley Rogero (United States), Ed Brand (UK), and Andre Fonseca (Costa Rica), while first in the world to the 2015 edition went to Junior Max driver Austin Versteeg. For complete coverage, visit the EKN Event Page.
CRG-USA Senior Max
It was an interesting first few laps of the Senior Max Prefinal event. Canadian champion Zachary Claman-Demelo (Intrepid) held the lead from the pole position as Super Pole winner Dan Roeper (Birel) was shuffled back to fourth behind Roger Ralston Jr. (FA Kart) and Kyle Kirkwood (Tony Kart). Kirkwood was on the charge early, up to second after lap two and into the lead on lap three. Demelo was put back to second until lap four when he came out of turn one with no power due to the throttle cable snapping, with Roeper nearly climbing up and over him on the exit. Kirkwood held a strong advantage at that point, until he dove off into the pits with no brakes. That awarded Roeper the lead with Ralston in second. Some hard racing went on for second, with Luke Selliken (Kosmic) eventually taking the position ahead of Thomas Issa (Kosmic). Ashley Rogero (Tony Kart) advanced from eighth to fourth with Ralston back to fifth ahead of Morgan Healey (Tony Kart). Elliot Finlayson (Tony Kart) started fourth but was shuffled outside the top-10 on the opening lap, and fought his way back to seventh. Roeper however was penalized three positions for contact, moving Selliken and Issa on the front row.
Selliken and Rogero hooked up at the front of the field in the Senior Max Final, and it appeared the two would settle the win to the end of the 22-lap event. Rogero looked to have a faster machine, and tried to lead the tandem however Selliken fought back to hold onto the lead. Lap seven however Rogero took over the lead and Selliken fought too much, and lost ground as he dropped back to fifth. That moved Roeper into second with a large group now fighting for third. That group eventually included Zachary Claman-Demelo. Starting shotgun in 25th, the Canadian champion was up to seventh in just two laps. He along with Kirkwood were into the top-10, and challenging for a podium finish. Out front, Rogero ran consistent laps to never let Roeper inch any closer. The Florida driver locked up her third straight on-track victory at the Pan American Challenge, her first in the Senior category after sitting out of the karting scene for much of 2014. Roeper drove to a respectable second, giving him more confidence going into the Rotax Grand Finals as a Team USA member. The third place battle got heated at times, and went to the end with Sargeant putting a third different chassis on the podium with his CRG in third. Demelo capped off a stellar drive to end up fourth with Selliken ending up fifth. Kirkwood was sixth with Finlayson seventh, Healey eighth and Issa ninth with Canadian Zacharie Scalzo (Tony Kart) rounding out the top-10.
PSL Karting Junior Max
The race to the Prefinal win came down to just two drivers. Polesitter Nick Brueckner (Tony Kart) was joined by Darren Keane (Tony Kart) at the front of the field. They pulled away after just one lap, and stayed locked until the final circuit. Keane went to the inside at the hairpin, washed up and made side-to-side contact with Brueckner. At the exit, Brueckner drove off the track with Keane holding the top position to the checkered flag. Officials however penalized Keane one position for the contact, giving Brueckner the win. It was a mad fight for third early on, until Trenton Estep (Tony Kart) was able to get away on lap three. Anthony Gangi Jr. (Tony Kart) broke away with fourth on lap four. Gangi eventually caught and past Estep, but Estep secured the position and the inside of row two for the Final. Christian Munoz (Tony Kart) was fifth for some time but he would eventually get caught by Aussie driver Jack Black (Tony Kart) and Matt Solarczyk (Birel). Austin Versteeg (Kosmic) and Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) caught the group as well, but it was Solarczyk that secured the fifth spot over Black. Versteeg was seventh after starting 13th with Samuel Lupien (FA Kart) ahead of Brooks. Munoz fell back to 12th.
The victory looked to be Brueckner’s early on, as the Texan pulled away early thanks to contact involving Estep and Gangi in turn one on the opening lap that put some space between he and the field. Solarczyk jumped from fifth to second with Brooks in third. Eventually, Versteeg was into the third spot as he and Solarczyk slowly reeled in Brueckner. On lap 17, all three were together with Solarczyk taking a turn before Brueckner reclaimed the spot. With two laps to go, Versteeg was in second and dove to the inside of Brueckner at turn one. It caught the Junior rookie off guard, and he went off course and flew over the curbing. That allowed Versteeg to pull away with Solarczyk trailing. With the checkered flag waving, Versteeg claimed the first Rotax Grand Finals ticket in the world for the 2015 event. It was a respectable result for Solarczyk, landing on the runner-up position of the podium with Brueckner earning his best result in 2014. Lupien won the fight for fourth, with Black scoring the fifth position.
Dallas Karting Complex DD2
Super Pole winner Ben Cooper (Birel) did not appear to have the speed early on, but turned up the wick in the second half of the race to win the Prefinal. Cooper led the opening laps with UK driver Ed Brand (Intrepid) on his bumper. Lap four, Brand took over the point with a draft move into turn four. Cooper looked to be off the pace, eventually letting Fred Woodley (Maranello) through for second. Cooper went back by, and then began running the fast laps of the race to reel back in Brand. On his bumper with two laps to go, Cooper dove inside at turn one to take back the lead. On the final lap, he began running a defensive line but Brand snuck past at turn four. Cooper retaliated at the hairpin, going back to P1 and holding off a final corner attempt from Brand to score the win. Woodley closed in late with the shuffling in front of him, placing third. Former world champion Pier-Luc Ouellette (Birel) advanced up fourth with Canadian champion Jeffrey Kingsley (CRG) spinning on lap five while trying to move around Woodley. Rotax Challenge of the Americas Masters champion Alan Rudolph (CRG) finished fifth.
With a number of drivers in the DD2 field holding a Rotax Grand Finals ticket already, it was an interesting scenario going into the 22-lap event. Cooper continued to show the after Brand got the jump on him at the start. By lap seven, Cooper secured the lead and held it until lap 14 when his airbox separated, causing him to come into the pits. Brand took over the point and drove off to a one-second victory. Woodley was running third behind the top two until a broken steering wheel put him on the sideline at lap 10. That moved PLO up into the second spot after he got rid of Rudolph and Reichelt. The drama came at the scales when it was rumored that Brand would bypass the scales to keep his Senior Max Rotax Grand Finals ticket, instead of taking the DD2 spot with a victory. Brand rolled over the scales, made weight and was through tech. However, officials handed down a three-second penalty for jumping the start. A protest was filed, and Brand won the argument, retaining the victory and moving to DD2 for the Rotax Grand Finals. PLO was classified second with Reichelt placing third. Rudolph was fourth but bypassed the scales to avoid any Rotax Grand Finals ticket scenarios, moving South African Eugene Brittz (CRG) to fourth and Jonathan Kotyk (Tony Kart) fifth.
Dallas Karting Complex DD2 Masters
The top three eventually pulled away in the 14-lap Prefinal for the DD2 Masters drivers. Polesitter Luis Schiavo (Intrepid) was joined by top qualifier Andre Fonseca (CRG) and Elvis Stojko (Maranello), making it a true international fight at the front with three different countries represented – Venezula, Costa Rica, and Canada. They stayed in the same order for the 14-lap event, with Schiavo scoring the win. Scott Roberts (Tony Kart) was up to fourth after starting sixth, but was moved back one position with Camilo Matiz (Tony Kart) taking over the spot late in the race.
Schiavo was unstopable in the 20-lap main event, earning another major victory in 2014. The Florida Winter Tour champion led every circuit, pulling away to a five-second advantage and put him as a contender for the Rotax Grand Finals. Fonseca and Stojko kept it close until they began to battle for the runner-up spot. On lap nine, Stojko tried to move inside of Fonseca at turn two and some contact was made. Stojko went off track but rejoined the course in sixth place while Fonseca continued in second to the checkered flag, earning the Rotax Grand Finals ticket. Matiz moved up to third, holding off Canadian John Cariato (Intrepid) to the line. Stojko moved to fifth, dropping Roberts back to sixth.
Orsolon Racing Masters Max
The intensity picked up for the Masters Max division as two fights for position took place. Polesitter Max Papis (Tony Kart) and Scott Roberts (Tony Kart) were out front with John Robischeaux (Kosmic) and Chris Bogart (Tony Kart) fighting for third. On lap six, Roberts ended Papis’ run at the front, taking over the lead. Papis stuck to his bumper until lap nine when he made slight contact entering turn four. Papis slowed to allow Roberts to go back around for the lead, but more contact was made with Roberts jumping over the curb. Roberts spun around and fell to the tail of the field, pulling off to pit lane. That left Papis to run alone out front to cross the line first. Robischeaux tried to hold off Bogart but what appeared to be a rib injury began to effect the driving of the Mississippi driver. Bogart would end up placing second with Robischeaux holding off Chad Wallace (Kosmic) after 14 laps.
Robischeaux attempted to start the main, but the rib injury was just too much, leaving just five drivers on the track for the 20-lap Final. Papis was on rails the entire time, going on to earn a five-second margin of victory. It was the second major win in two events at the GoPro facility, as the Italian native is planning an assault on the Florida Winter Tour in a few months. Roberts and Bogart ran close together for the second position, with the Ocala Gran Prix driver holding off the OVRP pilot. Wallace drove to fourth with Derick Boyle (Intrepid) retiring early.
Race Tech Development Mini Max
The start of the 14-lap Prefinal lost two of the contenders with both d’Orlando brothers retiring early. Nicholas was involved in a wreck in turn three on the opening lap, nearly going over but stayed on all four wheels. Michael had dropped out of the top-five, and then retired after lap two with the engine just shutting off. Out front, polesitter Enzo Fittipaldi (Tony Kart) was joined by four others. Eventually, he and Tyler Gonzalez (AM Kart) – who started 13th – were out front. They went back and forth some, but still kept a gap on the group behind them fighting for third. Among them was a charging Lance Fenderson (Benik). Starting 16th, he charged from the tail of the field in every heat race to reach mid pack. He was into the fifth position by lap nine, and put himself into third two laps later. He ran down the two leaders, helping to push Enzo past Gonzalez on lap 13. Fenderson took over the lead as they received the white flag. Running a defensive line, Enzo waited for the final corner, pulling off on outside-inside move to set up the drag race to the line. At the flag, Fittipaldi won the race by 0.024-second. Gonzalez lost the third spot to Harry Coulton (Birel) on the final lap, coming up from the 10th grid position. Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) fell from third to fifth, with Sebastian Alvarez (CRG) and Filip Niemkiewicz (CRG) trailing.
A three drivers breakaway formed in the 16-lap Final with the top three from the Prefinal lining up and pulling away. They shuffled early, with all three taking a time at the point before Fenderson retained the position. Fittipaldi led in the middle portion of the race until Fenderson took over with three laps remaining. The battle for second on the final circuit allowed the Benik driver to get away and to the checkered flag for the victory. Coulton was able to edge out Fittipaldi for the second position, finishing his rookie season in Mini with a podium result. The side show was watching the progress of Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart) and Matthew Latifi (Tony Kart). Bothere were into the top 10 before the halfway mark after starting at the tail of the field. They eventually caught the battle for fourth, which went down to the wire as the Canadian Latifi scored the position with d’Orlando fifth.
Carolina Motorsports Park Micro Max
The Prefinal win went down to the wire with Ugo Ugochukwu (Tony Kart) edging out polesitter Reece Gold (Tony Kart) at the line. One driver was missing at the front as Justin Arseneau (CRG) arrived to the grid after it had closed. When the race started, Gold and Ugochukwu were able to break away. Valeria Vargas (Birel), who started seventh, was there with them until she fell back into the clutches of Jak Crawford (Benik) and Leland Honeyman (Benik). Instead of working together, the group fought for the third position, leaving the top two to settle the win themselves. Ugo stayed on the bumper of Gold until making a move on lap 11 of the 12-lap event at the hairpin. Gold tried a pass at the final corner, but Ugo was able to duck back to the inside and win the drag race to the checkered by 0.019 seconds. Crawford won the fight for third with Honeyman fourth and Sebastian Montoya (Birel) as the fight for third grew to six drivers at the end.
From the pole position, Ugochukwu led the Micro Max field on the opening circuit of the 14-lap Final. As they made their way to turn three on the second lap, Ugo got loose and did a complete 360 degree spin. He kept his foot on the gas, and only fell back to the eighth position. That promoted Crawford to the point until Montoya and Gold took a turn. Crawford return to the lead while Ugo was advancing his way forward, running fast laps of the race. Ugo had put himself into the third position as the field took the white flag. Crawford and Gold fought for the lead through the turn 1-2 complex, with Ugo slipping past both for the lead. The young driver was able to hold on to the point to the checkered flag, completing the ‘Spin and Win’ similar to that of 1985 Danny Sullivan at the Indianapolis 500. Gold secured the second position in the final corner from Montoya, however was handed a three-second penalty for a start lane violation. That put Montoya on the second step of the podium with Crawford in third. Gold would be classified fourth with Tyler Maxson (Tony Kart) fifth.