From the Tower: Cold Stone Rotax Pan American Challenge 2014

Another stellar event to close out international Rotax season in North America

(Photo: Studio52.us)

Rotax Pan American LogoWe spend our entire racedays up in the tower, watching every on-track session while producing our EKN Trackside Live program, so not much time is spent roaming the paddock for the stories. This new ‘From the Tower’ column is our chance to delve deeper into some of the accounts that develop over a race weekend, those that may or may not have been included in the daily race reports. – DC

Over the October 15-19 weekend, nearly 140 drivers converged on the GoPro Motorplex for the Cold Stone Rotax Pan American Challenge 2014 event. Opening up the year on the west coast for the Rotax Challenge of the Americas, traveling to Utah for the US Grand Nationals, EKN’s trackside coverage for Rotax concluded at the Mooresville, North Carolina facility, witnessing history and celebrating four Rotax Grand Finals tickets awarded on the weekend.

Truly International
This year’s Pan Am was certainly an international event. The first few events back in 2010 and 2011 featured a majority of United States drivers, and that is still the case. This year’s entry list, however, featured drivers from 10 other countries, all vying for the coveted prize of becoming a Pan American champion (Columbia, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Australia, France, Jamaica, South Africa, England, Costa Rica). Two of the four tickets up for grabs went to England and Costa Rica, with Team USA gaining the other two. The MAXSpeed Group did its job, promoting the event to all points around the world, and in hosting another timely, and organized event. The crew, led by Richard Boisclair, Josh Smith and Garett Potter, provided another great atmosphere for a Rotax event, and have good plans for their inaugural hosting duties of the revamped Florida Winter Tour this coming January.

Dalton Sargeant put PSL and CRG on the podium in Senior Max (Photo: PSL Karting)

Dalton Sargeant put PSL and CRG on the podium in Senior Max (Photo: PSL Karting)

Chassis Diversity
For the last two seasons, the ‘perception’ is that you must race on an OTK frame in order to be competitive in Rotax Max Challenge competition here in the United States for Senior and Junior categories. This weekend at the Pan American Challenge showed any brand can be successful. The Senior Super Pole session featured five different brands, including two different OTK models (Tony Kart and FA Kart), along with Birel, CRG, and Intrepid. The big three – Tony Kart, Birel and CRG finished on the podium in Senior.

Dan Roeper and DD2 world champion Ben Cooper flew the Birel banner strong, with both earning the Super Pole title and were the quickest in their respective category throughout the weekend. Roeper has shown strong all season, placing runner-up at the Cold Stone US Grand Nationals and this past weekend at Pan Am. In Junior, Matt Solarczyk hovered around the top-10 all week, fighting his way into the fifth spot in the Prefinal. The Virginia pilot was

CRG has always been the benchmark in the DD2 division, but is making ground in the with their Senior/Junior model – Blackstar X2. Factory driver Jordan Lennox had two podium runs at the Florida Winter Tour and CRG-USA driver Joey Wimsett continued to make ground with the chassis. At the Pan Am event, Florida driver Dalton Sargeant joined the PSL Karting operation after spending the season developing his stock car career. Sargeant qualified in the SuperPole session, and was top-five in the opening heat races. Trouble in the final heat and the Prefinal dropped him to 15th on the grid for the Final. He ran the fast lap of the race to close up on the second lead group, and fought his way to the third position to land CRG and PSL Karting on the podium.

With the success of now multiple brands and the growth of the Rotax program world-wide, I expect to see more brands reach the top of the podium in 2015.

A very special moment for Jim and Ashley Rogero (Photo: Studio52.us)

A very special moment for Jim and Ashley Rogero (Photo: Studio52.us)

Father/Daughter Triumph Again
The core of the sport is family. Whether its your own family that attends the club event on a regular basis, travel across the country racing, or forming a family of friends at the track – it’s what makes a day at the track that much better. The father/son tandem is the most popular relationships at the track, but over the last decade we continue to see more father/daughter duos performing well. One pair is the Rogero’s with Jim and Ashley. Jim is a former racer and karter himself, and that gearhead attitude was passed down to Ashley. Since the days of her racing in the Cadet division, Jim has always been in charge of the wrenches, and helping to teach her daughter the little tidbits to find speed on-track along the way.

In 2012, Ashley entered the US Grand Nationals a contender in the Junior Max category. A wreck in the Prefinal put her at the tail of the grid for the Final, and she put in a respectable drive to finish 11th in a stacked field. Missing out on the Rotax Grand Finals tickets there, the two decided to load the kart in the back of the pick-up truck, and make the 2,000 trek to The Track at Centennial for the Pan American Challenge. Rogero, who never visited the facility before, worked her way in qualifying and the heat races to fifth on the Prefinal grid. She knifed her way into the top spot, and then drove away for the victory and her first Rotax Grand Finals ticket.

Rogero locked up her second straight by finishing second at the US Grand Nationals at GoPro Motorplex last year, placing right behind eventual world champion Juan Manuel Correa. With the ticket in hand, Ashley raced for the victory at the Pan Am at NOLA Motorsports Park last October. After qualifying second, she swept her heat races to start pole position for the Prefinal. Rogero fought hard with Correa and UK driver Guan Yu Zhou, making a great last lap pass for the victory. In a controversial move, she bypassed tech however it did not take away the stellar on-track win.

Working on building a stock car career, Rogero was away from the competition side of karting. She kept in shape, racing at the GoPro Motorplex throughout the summer. With the Pan Am coming to town, she and Jim partnered up with the kart in the back of the pickup and taking on the Senior Max field for the first time. Just as they have done before, they kept working and working to fine tune their kart. After qualifying 12th, she started the Prefinal eighth. She advanced her way into the fight for the runner-up spot, classified third to start inside row two. She locked onto Luke Selliken’s bumper early out front, and then took over the lead on lap six. With consistent lap times, and never making a mistake, Rogero won her third straight on-track Pan American Challenge feature. Her career certainly has put her on the pedestal of not only top female karters, but as a racer in general.

Ugo Ugochukwu completed the spin and win in Micro Max (Photo: Studio52.us)

Ugo Ugochukwu completed the spin and win in Micro Max (Photo: Studio52.us)

Spin and Win
The Cold Stone Rotax Pan American Challenge began with the Micro Max division. It’s the future of Rotax racing, and karting in general. The young drivers are always learning, and always having a great time on and off the track. Koene USA driver Ugo Ugochukwu matched the same feat of 1985 Indy 500 winner, performing an on-track spin, and continuing on to win that same race. Ugo qualified fourth, won a heat race, and ended up starting third in the Prefinal. He won to line up on the pole position for the main event. Leading the opening circuit, the lead group made their way into the fast uphill turn three. Ugo got loose at the exit and a slight nudge spun him around. He kept the throttle down and did a complete 360 degree spin, getting his Tony Kart pointed the correct direction and continued on. He rejoined the race in the eighth position, with the leaders well out ahead. Something we don’t see too often in Cadet racing, Ugo fought his way back. Running just a tenth quicker with fast laps of the race, and the lead group shuffling for position, Ugo caught up and began to knife his way forward. Up to third by the white flag, Ugo took advantage of the top two drivers fighting for position, slipping past both near the same spot that he spun. He held it together for the final corners, and scored the victory to complete the ‘Spin and Win’ scenario.

Austin Versteeg completed his second straight come from the back victory weekend (Photo: Studio52.us)

Austin Versteeg completed his second straight come from the back victory weekend (Photo: Studio52.us)

Zero to Hero
Junior Max driver Austin Versteeg and Mini Max pilot Lance Fenderson overcame troubles in their qualifying session, to advance forward through the heat races and Prefinal, to be there at the end for the Final victory. Versteeg, who had a similar issue at the US Grand Nationals, started each heat in the 31st position, passing 53 karts in three races to land 13th in the Prefinal grid. The new Mazda Road to Indy driver drove up to 7th in the Prefinal, and was able to reach the lead group in the Final. Posting the fast laps of the race, Versteeg ran down the leader and was able to secure the top spot, scoring the victory and the first Rotax Grand Finals for the 2015 event. Fenderson had a starter issue on the grid for the Mini Max timed session, and was classified 25th. Two solid heat races, gaining 33 positions in the three races to end up 16th for the Prefinal. The 14-lap event Sunday morning gave Fenderson the amount of time to move up even further, posting fast laps to just miss out on the win at the checkered flag by 24 thousandths of a second. Fenderson finally reached the top spot on the opening lap of the Final, engaged in a three-driver fight for the win. In the final circuits, the Benik driver was able to get away and cross the line unchallenged for his first Pan American Challenge victory. Both drivers showed the never quit attitude all weekend, and certainly showed having a fast kart doesn’t hurt either.

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