EKN Trackside: Rotax Challenge of the Americas 2015 – Tucson – Saturday Report
Wild Senior race decided in tech barn, as Robb, Bonilla and Cook begin journey toward Rotax Grand Finals tickets
The Senior Max Final was one of the best in the eight year history of the Challenge (Photo: SeanBuur.com)
The first race day of 2015 completed in Tucson, Arizona with the first round of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas program in the books. Drivers and teams battled strong winds early on in the day with clears skies giving the feeling of warm weather. The Musselman Honda Circuit is the perfect race track, providing optimal passing opportunities and today the drivers took advantage of that. Some epic racing throughout the day set the tone for the season. What could possible be the best Senior Max race in the eight year history of the series, the winner was decided after technical inspection with both Louie Pagano and Mason Marotta penalized, handing the victory to Canadian Cedrik Lupien. Sting Ray Robb earned his first win in the Junior division, with Paul Bonilla returning to the Masters Max category triumphant, as Sabre Cook began on top in DD2.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
Two groups made up the Junior Max qualifying session, as the 23-drivers were split down the middle after the final practice session on Friday. The opening group saw Mason Cohen (OTK) set the provisional pole position with a 52.542-lap. The second group was where the quick drivers were, with Nick Brueckner setting the tone early. The Orsolon Racing driver posted a lap more than a half-second quicker than the time he laid down in the final session on Friday. Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) was the fastest in that session, and was able to get behind a big group of drivers after making some changes, and was able to eclipse Brueckner’s time, putting them as the only drivers into the 51-second range. Three minutes remaining, Brueckner was able to find clean track and moved back into the pole position aboard his Tony Kart. The Texan was able to go even quicker on the final lap to secure the pole position with a 51.840-second lap. Robb was off by just 76 thousandths of a second. Kellen Ritter put two BBR Karting drivers into the top-three, as the Canadian was third in the session on his Tony Kart. Junior rookie Trey Brown (Tony Kart) was fourth in his first qualifying session on the full size kart with David Rafailov (Kosmic) rounding out the fast five.
The start to the Prefinal was clean in the first half of the field with karts spinning in the second half. Everyone continued on their own power, with Brueckner and Robb pulling away out front. Early on, Robb challenged for the lead, but was never able to take over the spot. Brueckner eventually pulled away to a one-second advantage after 17 laps. Ritter and Brown held their positions with David Ilavia (CompKart) up from eighth to fifth, with a group of drivers fighting for sixth.
Brueckner retained the lead at the start of the 25-lap event with Robb tucked in. He brought Ritter with him on the second lap, moving past Brueckner. By the end of the lap, the Orsolon Racing driver was back into second but Robb had extended a good lead. The top two were able to pull away from Ritter, with Brueckner inching his way closer to Robb. On lap 20, Brueckner was right on the bumper of Robb, and attempted a pass but saw the door shut. It put Nick back six tenths, giving Robb enough real estate to drive to the victory. Brueckner landed the second spot on the podium with Ritter an impressive third for his first podium at the Challenge. The fight for fourth went down to the wire with Ilavia scoring the position ahead of Brown.
PSL West Mini Max
New faces at the top of the order in Mini Max this year with a number of drivers graduated to Junior. The 15-minute session was dominated by three drivers. Fast driver on Friday Sebastian Alvarez (CRG) held the provisional until Payton Durrant (Tony Kart) jumped up to the top. Durrant held on to the end of the session with Alvarez off by 21 thousandths from the 54.923 lap of the Koene USA driver. Oregon driver Austin Torgerson (Tony Kart) was right there with the top two, coming in at just 42 thousandths off Durrant’s time. Canadian Griffin Dowler (Kosmic) was fourth with former Micro Max champion Jacob Blue Hudson (FA Kart) in fifth.
The Prefinal was decided at the opening corner as Alvarez was able to beat top qualifier Durrant for the lead at the exit. Durrant slotted into second with Hudson and Torgerson trailing. Hudson held second briefly, but Durrant was able to hold on to the runner-up spot. Alvarez took the win by two tenths with Durrant second. Torgerson moved up to third on the final lap, pushing Hudson back to fourth. Jak Crawford (Tony Kart), the 2014 Micro Max Challenge champion, ran fifth early on but lost the spot to Canadian Marco Kacic (CRG) with Dowler back to sixth.
Alvarez held the lead from the pole position with Dowler moving ahead of Durrant. The two went back and forth early for several laps for the runner-up position, until Hudson came in and took the spot. Once there, he helped the group to reel in Alvarez, which began some jostling for the win. On lap 14, contact shuffled the group up, including Durrant going off course and dropping back to eighth. Then on lap 16, contact took Torgerson and Hudson out of contention. During that time, Dowler took over the lead and was able to drive away to the victory. Crawford was second, but Kacic was able to move into the position by the checkered flag, also scoring the fast lap of the race. Alvarez ended up fourth with Niemkiewicz in fifth.
Nash Motorsports Senior Max
The first driver to retain the top spot from Friday Final Practice to Saturday Qualifying was Brenden Baker. Recently moving from California to Texas, the Nash Motorsportz driver set the fast time on his second lap. The Tony Kart driver continued to get quicker little by little, resetting the pole position mark on his seventh lap with a 50.601-second lap. Louie Pagano (Tony Kart) came just 35 thousandths off Baker’s time to secure the second spot. 2014 Team USA driver Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) made a late surge, getting quicker in the final laps of the 15-minute session, but ended up third. Luke Selliken (Kosmic) ended up fourth with his Rolison Performance Group teammates Walker Hess (Kosmic) and Blaine Rocha (Kosmic) just behind.
Baker and Marotta led the field to the green flag for the Prefinal, with Baker holding the lead through the opening lap. Marotta took over the position, and fighting for second gave him the room to pull away during the first half of the race. Baker came under attack from Selliken, who jumped from fourth to second, moving past both Pagano and the pole sitter in turn one. Pagano took second before Selliken and Baker pushed by for position the following lap. Lap five, Baker took over the second spot away from Selliken, and the top four would run that way to the checkered flag. Baker and Selliken were able to close up the gap on Marotta, but the margin was a full two tenths at the line. Pagano dropped back, running fourth, with Jake Craig (Formula K) into fifth after starting seventh.
The second half of the Senior Max Final was one for the memory banks. It appeared to be a two driver battle for the victory including Marotta and Baker. Lap after lap, Baker looked to be the quickest of the two. On lap 16, the two were enjoying about a one-second advantage when Baker made his move for the lead. That prompted Marotta to strike back, and just that quick there lead was eliminated with Pagano, Selliken and Craig now on attack mode. The group began to shuffle, dropping a driver from the lead back to fifth in turn five, and then changing position at the end of the straight.
By the end of lap 20, it was nine drivers in the lead group as the shuffling continued. On lap 24, Selliken was into the lead with Baker on his bumper. The two made contact at the end of the long straight, with Baker going off-road and coming back on track, only to have the chain come off. Selliken dropped down the order, with Pagano in the lead. Twice, he along with Marotta and Jonathan May (FA Kart) went three wide on the exit of turn one into turn four. Contact was made going into and on the exit of the corner, with May getting the brunt of it. Pagano retained the lead and took the checkered flag first with Marotta second.
The emotions went from a high to low, as in technical inspection, Pagano was removed from the results for an improper carburetor part, while Marotta suffered a five position penalty for a float height infraction. This moved Cedrik Lupien (Tony Kart) onto the top step of the podium, after running 12th on the opening lap. Craig was classified second with Selliken in the third spot. Rocha recovered from a tough Prefinal to end up fourth with Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) finishing fifth in his first Senior Max Final.
Motorsports Development Group Micro Max
The top position in the Micro Max qualifying session went down to the wire as nearly the entire 13-driver field posted their fast lap on the final circuit. Diego LaRoque’s final lap of 59.212 secured the pole position aboard his Kosmic, nipping Josh Pierson (Tony Kart) by 73 thousandths. Cole Keith Cotham (Tony Kart) was third with Ashton Torgerson (Tony Kart) fourth and Carson Morgan (Tony Kart) completing the fast five.
The Prefinal was a three-driver fight for the win. Pierson took a turn at the point but it was LaRoque leading toward the end with Cotham right there in third. On the final lap, Pierson went deep inside at the end of the long straight, allowing LaRoque to criss-cross and reestablish the lead for the win. Cotham followed through and was able to get to the line in second. Pierson held off Torgerson for third with Morgan winning the battle for fifth.
LaRoque and Pierson drove away from the field early and made it a two-driver battle for the win. LaRoque led the majority of the race with Pierson at the point for six of the 14 circuits. The Arizona driver led the most important lap of the race, taking the checkered flag first ahead of Pierson by one tenth. Cotham was third but a carburetor violation removed him from the results, putting Torgerson onto the podium. Leland Honeywell (Benik) was classified fourth with Noah Warren (Tony Kart) fifth.
Six drivers make up the DD2 field, but as we saw last year, the quantity does not match the quality. All six are in position to fight for the wins this weekend, and get the chase to the championship started on the right path. Arizona driver Bailey Murphy (Tony Kart) was the provisional pole sitter early on, but by the halfway point the order began changing and drivers made their pit stops. Michael Ilavia (Compkart), making his first Challenge start, moved up to the top of the order as the only driver below the 50-second mark. The third circuit by the was a 49.994, with no one able to better that mark. Veteran karter Matt Jaskol (CRG) was second in his PSL West entry, off by just 61 thousandths. Last year’s vice-champion Sabre Cook (CRG) was third, only 97 thousandths back of Ilavia’s time. Murphy dropped to fourth overall with Christian Bird (CRG) in fifth.
Cook was able to take over the lead on lap two of the Prefinal, and walked away with the win. The lap times between she, Ilavia and Jaskol were close, but Cook was more consistent. Ilavia led the opening lap, but then settled in second, back by three seconds at the checkered flag. Jaskol ran the fast lap of the race, finishing third with Murphy fourth and Ben Schermerhorn (CRG) fifth.
The Final was all Cook, as the CRG-USA driver led all 25 laps for the victory. The front three ran close together for the opening laps, before Cook drove away lap after lap. In the end, she nursed home an overheating engine, but held on for the first victory of the season. Ilavia was a solid second spot, with Jaskol falling back with a flat tire. Bird eventually took over the spot and joined the top two on the podium. Schmerhorn drove to fifth with Murphy having engine issues throughout the Final in sixth.
Cambrian Go-Karts Masters Max
As he did throughout Friday, John Crow showed the way in the Masters Max qualifying session. Paul Bonilla (Tony Kart) paced the field on the opening laps, before Crow (Birel) moved to the pole position on his fourth circuit with a 52.238-second lap. Bonilla settled for second, only 17 thousandths off his time. Canadian Christopher Patterson (Tony Kart) and Joey McGuire (Birel) made a late charge, dropping former champion Scott Falcone (Kosmic) down from third to fifth.
By far the best Prefinal of the day was in the Masters Max category, Only three drivers led during the 16-lap event, but it seemed like nearly everyone in the top-eight held time at the point. Crow led early with Patterson up into second, dropping Bonilla to third. Falcone was on the charge, taking over the lead before Bonilla took his turn. Every lap, the order was always changing as the drivers drove hard, but very respectable. Falcone led the majority of the second half of the race until two laps to go when he came out of turn four, and the engine went flat. It dropped him back to fourth but he was quickly into second as they began the final lap. Bonilla saw Falcone dive deep inside at the end of the straight, and Falcone slid way wide, allowing Bonilla to slip back through and go on to score the win. Crow ended up second with McGuire third, Patterson fourth and Ken Maxfield (Arrow) in fifth as Falcone ended up eighth.
Troubles continued for Falcone as he fell back to 15th when a driver spun in front of him on the opening circuit, forcing him to take evasive action. Up front, Bonilla retained the lead from the pole position with Crow second and McGuire third. They along with Maxfield pulled away from the rest of the group. Nothing changed until lap 13 when McGuire took over the second spot. All four were evenly matched, unable to gain on inch on another. After 25 laps, Bonilla scored the first victory of the season. McGuire crossed the line in second, but was disqualified for a carburetor issue. That promoted Crow to second and landed Maxfield the third step on the podium. Falcone, the quickest driver on the track, managed to drive his way up to the fourth spot with Middleton in fifth.