EKN Trackside: Rotax Challenge of the Americas 2015 – Tucson – Sunday Report
Baker and Brueckner triumph, Bonilla doubles and Ilavia gives CompKart first major victory
The first weekend of the 2015 season completed with the second round of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas contested on Sunday. A warmer day in Tucson, Arizona at the Musselman Honda Circuit was a great welcome following three days of strong winds and colder than normal temperatures. Round one of the six-race championship series put in some impressive feature races, and Sunday was just as dramatic. Brenden Baker was quickest throughout the day in Senior Max, earning his first Challenge victory, as did Nick Brueckner and Sebastian Alvarez in Junior and Mini. Paul Bonilla and Diego LaRoque doubled up, giving them the head start toward the championship chase, while Michael Ilavia pulled off the move of the weekend to win his first DD2 race and give CompKart its first major victory.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
It was nearly the same results in Junior Max qualifying for Sunday as it was on Saturday. Nick Brueckner put his Orsolon Racing Tony Kart on the pole position early on with a 51.715-second lap. The Texan was able to edge out Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) by 14 thousandths. Both were in after the halfway point but none of the front runners were able to find the adjustment needed to improve. Kellen Ritter (Tony Kart) was third with David Ilavia (CompKart) fourth and Trey Brown (Tony Kart) fifth. Mason Cohen (Kosmic) was in the first group, able to end up sixth.
After the first attempt at a start was canceled, the field regrouped to get the race going on the second try and were clean through the opening corners. Brueckner led the way on the opening lap, but Robb struck on the second circuit. He brought Ilavia with him, but Brueckner retook the spot on lap three, dropping the CompKart back to fourth with Brown into the third spot. Robb established a good lead, and was able to maintain it over the 17 laps of the race for the win over Brueckner. The fight for third intensified toward the end. Ilavia caught Brown, and they battled which allowed Ritter to close back in. On lap 15, Brown dropped a wheel and Ritter took advantage, moving into third. Ilavia tried but fail in his first attempt, but moved to the fourth spot on the final lap to put Brown fifth.
The inside row, led by Sting Ray, got a great jump on the outside row with Brueckner falling back to third at the start of the Final. Ilavia started third and was second, only briefly as Brueckner moved back into his starting position by the fourth corner. Ilavia slotted in behind the top two, as they began to pull away from Jeff Fulham (Kosmic) and Ritter. By lap three, Ritter was back into the fourth position, but the top three already had a big advantage. Eventually, Ilavia lost the drafter as the top two pulled away. Ritter would catch Ilavia, and the top-four were separated in pairs. On lap 16, the leaders began to shuffle, contact between the two on lap 23 gave Ritter and Ilavia the chance to close in. Lap 24 was the turning point, as Robb returned to the lead with a move at turn five. Brueckner went deep into turn 10, which kept Robb on the outside. A little contact between the two put Robb into the marbles, and Brueckner off the track at the exit point. This moved Ritter into the lead and Ilavia into second. As they made their way around for the final lap, Ilavia attempted a pass at turn 9, but contact was made and Ritter was sent spinning. Ilavia nearly came to a halt, but continued on. This allowed Brueckner to slide into the lead, and go on to score the win. Ilavia beat Robb to the line for second, but the CompKart driver was penalized 10 seconds for the last lap contact with Ritter. The Canadian rejoined the race after his spin to finish eighth while the penalty put Ilavia ninth. This put Robb on the second step of the podium with Brown earning his first podium finish during his first weekend in the category. Fulham finished fourth with Toni Breidinger (Kosmic) up from 12th on the grid to a top-five finish.
PSL West Mini Max
The pole position went down to the wire in the 15-minute Mini Max session, with Sebastian Alvarez (CRG) holding on to the top spot. Early on, it was he along with Saturday winner Griffin Dowler (Tony Kart) and Austin Torgerson (Tony Kart). Jacob Blue Hudson (FA Kart) put his name into the mix until Alvarez went back to the P1 spot on his fifth circuit, bettering his time on the sixth lap. No one challenge until late when Payton Durrant (Tony Kart) began improving his time and inching his way closer. At the checkered flag, Durrant came 15 thousandths away from Alvarez’s 54.699-lap. Torgerson was only seven hundredths off the pole position time, with Hudson and Dowler completing the fast five.
The Mini Max division also had to restart their Prefinal, as Hannah Greenemeier was spun around just before the green flag waved. Once the second green waved, contact in the opening corner collected Durrant as his rear bumper broke off. Hudson was involved as well, allowing Torgerson and Dowler into the top three. They trailed Alvarez the entire time, as he led all 13 laps for the win. Dowler finished second with Torgerson third. Jak Crawford (Tony Kart) advanced from seventh to fourth with Filip Niemkiewicz (CRG) following through from eighth.
Alvarez made the day look easy, leading all 18 laps for his first Challenge victory. With a clean start, the Mini Max class began their main event, except for Hudson who was unable to get off the grid. Dowler retained the second spot early with Crawford, Torgerson and Kacic on the attack. Crawford took a turn at the second spot until Torgerson made his way to the front of the pack, as he and Dowler fought all the way to the end for the second spot. Torgerson came away with the runner-up position, with Dowler third. Kacic won fourth with Crawford an impressive fifth.
Nash Motorsports Senior Max
As he did on Saturday, Brenden Baker (Tony Kart) slapped on some new Mojo tires and put himself at the top of the order in qualifying. a 50.353-lap on his second circuit put him on the provisional pole position. No one during the remainder of the 15-minute session was able to get quicker, with a lot of cat and mouse games of finding a dancing partner on track after pit stops. Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) moved to the second spot on his second circuit to fill out the front row. Saturday winner Cedrik Lupien (FA Kart) ran in the first group, and the Canadian’s time held on for the third position. Louie Pagano (Tony Kart) ended up fourth with Senior rookie Phillippe Denes (Kosmic) in fifth. Fellow rookie Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) was the only driver to inch his way up the order late, moving up to sixth.
Baker made it look easy in the 17-lap Prefinal. From the pole position, he pulled out to a solid lead on the opening lap, with Marotta fighting off the group for second. Marotta closed in on the second lap, but Baker pulled out little by little to hold a 1.5-second advantage at the checkered flag. The race on-track was for third with Lupien holding the spot but was pressured by Rocha for much of the race. On lap 11, Rocha took the spot but he and Lupien continued for fight for the next four laps. This allowed Brooks to close in as well as Carlee Taylor (Tony Kart). Rocha secured the third spot with Brooks moving past Lupien for fourth on the final circuit. Taylor was right there in sixth with Denes in seventh.
Baker showed throughout the weekend that he was among the quickest drivers in the Senior Max division, and proved it with the victory in the Final. Rocha was able to get the jump on the front row drivers, moving to the lead through the opening corner. Baker fought back right away, moving back into the lead before the end of the first circuit. The top six broke away early on, mixing up the order behind Baker. Saturday winner Lupien took over the top spot on lap five, bunching up the lead group to nearly 12 drivers. After more shuffling, Marotta became the new leader with Baker getting to his bumper. The move the race occurred on lap 13 with Baker sliding past Marotta at turn one.
Lap after lap, Baker increased his advantage, eventually winning by over two seconds. The last 10 laps of the race was a battle for the second spot. Brooks was among the drivers in the group, and was into the fifth spot by lap 14. Brooks helped Pagano push past Lupien on lap 21, and then on lap 23, was into the third spot. On the final lap, Brooks was around Marotta at turn four, and pulled out a gap as Pagano challenge Marotta for position in the next corner. At the line, Brooks landed the runner-up finish, capping off a successful opening weekend in his Senior Max debut, and giving Nash Motorsportz a 1-2 finish. Marotta settled for third with Pagano placing fourth, earning the fast lap of the race. Luke Selliken (Kosmic) had a tough Prefinal, finishing 11th, but fought his way into fifth by the end of lap 25.
Motorsports Development Group Micro Max
The same top two drivers led the way in the 10-minute qualifying session for Micro Max. Saturday winner Diego LaRoque (Kosmic) was on the provisional pole before Josh Pierson (Tony Kart) took over the position. The two were together on the track, with Pierson using a draft to set his fast time. Their times were separated by just three hundredths of a second, with Pierson’s 58.614-lap best. Ashton Torgerson (Tony Kart) was third with Cole Keith Cotham (Tony Kart) fourth and Leland Honeyman (Benik) fifth.
The front of the field was shuffled up in the opening corner as LaRoque and Cotham made contact, dropping them to the tail of the field. Out front, Pierson and Torgerson led the way. Eventually Cotham worked his way back into the top-five and up to third, beating out Honeyman and Noah Warren (Tony Kart). The fight for the win heated up in the last few laps, with the top two going back and forth. It ended with a drag-race to checkered flag with Torgerson winning by 37 thousandths of a second. LaRoque was up to fifth at one point, but on lap four spun in turn one to drop him back to the tail of the field. He fought back to finish seventh, setting up for an inside row four starting spot for the main event.
LaRoque was quick to move forward at the start of the 14-lap Final, into the lead by the third lap of the race, joined by three others at the front. Torgerson led the opening two laps with Pierson in the lead for two another two before LaRoque took over and led the remainder of the race. Pierson kept on his bumper, but was unable to make a move for the lead as LaRoque won his second of the weekend. Cotham was right there in third, with Torgerson in fourth. The fight for fifth went to Honeyman, with Noah Warren (Tony Kart) and Jace Gessel (Tony Kart) trailing.
Saturday’s action was dominated by Sabre Cook from start to finish. Sunday’s action looks to bring the field closer together, judging by the qualifying session. Matt Jaskol (CRG), now with a full day of racing a DD2 under his belt, posted the fast lap of the qualifying session to earn the pole position. His 49.888-lap put him 22 thousandths ahead of Cook (CRG). Bailey Murphy (Tony Kart) found speed overnight to end up third with Michael Ilavia (CompKart) moving up to fourth on the final lap, pushing Christian Bird (CRG) to fifth. The top-five finished within two tenths of each other on the fast lap. Jaskol however was removed from the results for a carburetor issue, moving Cook to the pole position and Jaskol back to sixth on the grid for the Prefinal.
Five drivers put in a strong performance in the 17-lap Prefinal, all in the hunt for the win. Ilavia took the lead at the drop of the green, but he and Cook made slight contact to allow Bird, Murphy and Jaskol by. Cook fought back to take over third on lap three, taking over second the following lap with the same move into turn four. Beginning lap five, Cook took over the lead at turn one from Bird, as he was then shuffled back to fifth before the lap completed. Cook led the remainder of the race to score the win. Murphy ran strong in second but was run down by Ilavia, who went from fifth to second in six laps. Murphy drove to third with Jaskol past Bird on the last lap for fourth.
Cook got the jump on Ilavia as the green flag waved for the start of the 25-lap Final. Ilavia fell back to fourth through the opening corner, with Murphy and Bird getting through. Ilavia quickly moved his way forward, retaking third and moving to second on lap three. Cook enjoyed a comfortable lead, but Ilavia cut the advantage and was into the lead by lap nine. That triggered some great racing between the two, allowing a charging Jaskol to join the fight in a three kart lead pack. The PSL West driver took his turn at the point on lap 11, and the shuffling continued which included a three-wide attempt going into turn two. All three came out without issue, and the fight continued on. Cook retook the lead and it appeared she would begin to pull away. Ilavia put his head down, and posted fast laps of the race to close the gap and keep on Cook’s bumper. Cook kept a consistent pace, resetting her own personal fast lap. On the final lap, Ilavia tried to time a pass into turn one, but fell short. It appeared Cook would need to fight off a turn 10 pass, but Ilavia dove inside at turn nine, leading onto the long straight. The move was perfect, and Ilavia made it to the checkered flag to earn his first Challenge victory, handing CompKart the big win. Cook settled for second with Jaskol in third. Murphy finished fourth with Bird in the fifth spot.
Cambrian Go-Karts Masters Max
Saturday winner Paul Bonilla (Tony Kart) began Sunday where he left off, on top of the time sheets. A 51.989-second lap put the former series champion on the pole position for the Prefinal, edging out another former champ, John Crow (Birel) by 53 thousandths. The third champion in the field, Scott Falcone (Kosmic), was third with Joey McGuire (Birel) and Christopher Patterson (Tony Kart) completing the fast five.
The Prefinal began with the field bunching up as they entered turn one, and Patterson getting spun around in the middle of the field. That shuffled up the order behind Bonilla, as he jumped out to a big lead over the field. Crow suffered as well, falling back to 11th on the opening circuit as Falcone was able to move into second with McGuire and Maxfield behind. On lap 3, Maxfield spun on the exit of turn five, moving Jim Carey (Zanardi) into the top-five. Crow however was on the charge during the 17-lap race. Moving through the top-10, he was fourth by the halfway point and took third from Falcone on the final lap, posting the fast lap of the race. Bonilla took the win by four seconds over McGuire, with Falcone back to fourth and Maxfield recovering to fifth over Carey.
It was decided in the opening laps who landed on the podium with Bonilla and Crow able to escape the field and pull away to decide the win on their own. Crow matched Bonilla’s pace lap after lap, even recording the fast lap while keeping Bonilla’s bumper just a few feet away. Bonilla just kept his pace consistent, leaving no room for Crow to attack. After 25 laps, Bonilla took the second victory of the weekend by four tenths over Crow. McGuire drove in the third spot all race, with Falcone moving into the fourth spot early after getting shuffled back. 2014 US Grand Nationals champ Maxfield completed the top-five.