EKN Trackside: 2015 United States Pro Kart Series – South Bend Saturday Report
Cavkusic and McAndrews land victories in Pro categories as Lemke continues streak in Junior ranks
Franklin Motorsports driver Armin Cavkusic was quick all day, earning his first USPKS Leopard Pro victory (Photo: EKN)
The United States Pro Kart Series entered into the second half of the 2015 season with Round Five contested Saturday at the Michiana Raceway Park. The North Liberty, Indiana facility presented a challenge for the racers, with the difficult layout and the warm conditions over the day. The 146 entries on the day competing in the eight categories fought hard all day long, as the racing was intense and exciting. It was a mix of familiar drivers and new faces on the podium after the eight main events. Franklin Motorsports driver Armin Cavkusic performed his best ever, dominating the day in Leopard Pro while MRP driver Mike McAndrews conquered the Yamaha division for his second on the season. Lemke remained the top Junior driver, extending his USPKS win streak in both classes.
Franklin Motorsports Leopard Pro
The 32-driver field was split up into two groups for qualifying based on the morning warm-up. A dead transponder put Friday’s Happy Hour quick driver Armin Cavkusic into the slower group, as he set the provisional fast time with a 41.210-lap. That stood until the final moments of the fast group, with Elliot Finlayson jumping to the top of the order. Back aboard a Tony Kart, Finlayson posted a 41.158-second lap to eclipse Cavkusic’s time. Senior rookie Ryan Norberg (PCR) was a close third with Dustin Stoss (Tony Kart) fourth and 2014 champion AJ Myers (PCR) fifth, all within 82 thousandths of a second. Championship leader Brandon Jarsocrak (Tony Kart) was down in ninth, with the top-12 within two tenths of a second.
Cavkusic got the jump on Finlayson as the green flag waved to begin the opening heat race. The fight for second with Stross in the position early allowed Cavkusic to pull out to a solid lead. Finlayson eventually regained the position with Zeen coming up to drop Stross back to P4. They settled down and began to space out with PCR drivers Myers and Bujdoso trailing, as Cavkusic continued to extend his lead. The order never changed to the checkered flag, as Cavkusic scored his first USPKS heat win of the season by 3.4 seconds.
Finlayson was able to hold the top position when the green flag waved for the start of Heat #2. A group of karts collected in turn two, and then again in turn five, putting a handful of karts off the course. Out front, Cavkusic was on the bumper of Finlayson as they enjoyed a gap over Myers and Braden Eves (CompKart). Lap three, Cavkusic took over the lead and Myers closed up to pressure Finlayson for the second spot. Cavkusic continued the fast pace, pulling out to a 1.3 second advantage for the win.
Cavkusic and Finlayson remained the top two drivers in the main event, scoring a 1-2 finish in the Final. Finlayson got the jump on Cavkusic, leading the opening lap until the two-time heat winner reclaimed the top spot. From there, Cavkusic drove away with the fast laps of the race, the only driver into the 41-second range. After 24 grueling laps, it was nearly a six-second advantage as the Franklin Motorsports FA Kart driver scored his first ever USPKS victory. Finlayson ran a comfortable second, but was trailed by defending champion Myers the entire time. That was until a charging Zeen inched his way forward. Starting eight, Zeen’s pace continued to improve as the laps clicked off. Into fourth with four laps remaining, he set his sights on a top-three result. As they took the white flag, Zeen made a late move into turn one, with Myers chopping down quickly. Contact was made an their front/rear bumpers locked up. Myers rear bumper lodged itself between the tire and frame, but remained third. The champ ran a defensive line into the downhill turn six, nearly coming to a stop. Zeen got into the back of him, pushing him off line just enough to slip through for the position. That put Zeen third at the line, however, officials placed Zeen behind Myers in the final classification. Eves, making his USPKS Senior debut, landed the fifth position. Stross, second place in the standings, gained valuable points on title leader Jarsocrak by finishing sixth and the Round Two winner fell to 15th in the order.
Comet Racing Engines Yamaha Pro
Championship leader Dakota Pesek set the pace throughout qualifying, getting a challenge late in the session by Collin Griffin (Tony Kart). The Top Kart machine went 44.349 seconds with Pesek behind the wheel for the 10 points toward the championship and pole position for the heat races. Griffin ended up second with Derek Dignan (FA Kart) third in his return to Yamaha competition. Joey Eppink (Tony Kart) finished the session fourth with Nick Landi (FA Kart) making up the fast five.
Pesek was able to get away from the field early on in the opening heat race. After some shuffling for the second position, Griffin assumed the spot and was able to run down the point leader with a host of drivers behind him. While Griffin brought them to his bumper, Pesek held on for the win at the line. Griffin was second with Mike McAndrews (Birel), Dignan and TJ Koyen (Tony Kart) making up the top-five.
Once again, Pesek jumped out to the lead for Heat #2, but it was no easy drive like the first. McAndrews worked his way into the second position, and put the pressure on in the closing laps. Unable to make a move, Pesek withstood the heat from McAndrews to earn the win. Eppink drove to third over Griffin with Tony Jump (Arrow) coming from 11th to fifth, dropping Dignan to sixth.
Starting on the outside of row one, McAndrews got the jump on pole sitter Pesek to begin the main event. The fight was for second early on with Jimmy Clark (Arrow) positioning himself ahead of Pesek while McAndrews crept away. As the 24-lap event wore on, McAndrews lead shrunk with Clark and Pesek working together. Lap 16, Clark gave the second spot to Pesek after losing some ground, and then continued to fall down the order until retiring on lap 18 with a clutch issue. Pesek took on the challenge of reeling in McAndrews, closing in as the checkered flag neared. On his bumper for the final circuit, Pesek made a late and deep move into turn nine, causing contact. They continued on with McAndrews remaining the leader and going on to cross the line first for his second victory on the season. Pesek settled for the second position with Griffin coming away with third. Jump started 11th and drove up to the fourth spot, beating Jake McWhirter (Tony Kart)
Rok GP Senior
The two days in the Rok GP Senior competition belonged to Florida driver Dustin Stross (Tony Kart). Stross swept the action throughout the qualifying, three heat races, Prefinal and Final to earn a perfect score toward the Rok GP Senior title and ticket to the Rok Cup International Final. Championship leader Derek Dignan (FA Kart) came out of the heat races in the second position, finishing in the same position in the 16-lap Prefinal. Dignan fell back to fourth at the start of the 24-lap Final, but worked his way back to the bumper of Stross. Unable to work by for position, Dignan had to settle for second to Stross. Colin Warren (DR Kart) drove to third with Brandon Collins (Tony Kart) in fourth.
GT7 Motorsports Leopard Junior
Notching his fourth pole position of the season, championship leader Brandon Lemke (Merlin) added to his point advantage by earning 10 markers for a fast time of 41.374 seconds. Zach Holden, making his USPKS debut on a Tony Kart, was a close second, just 17 thousandths off Lemke’s time. The two were clear of the rest of the field, led by Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart), Michael d’Orlando (Tony Kart), and Gio Bromante (Merlin). The order changed after scales with Holden coming in under weight, dropping him to the tail of the field for the two heat races.
Fenderson was able to jump the start ahead of Lemke to begin Heat #1 as the green flag waved. By the time they were able to complete the first lap, Lemke was back into the lead position. Fenderson continued to drop down the order after contact with d’Orlando, moving Bertagnoli to second and Bromante third, and Austin Schaff (Merlin) into the fourth position. As the race went on, Lemke extended out to a 1.9-second advantage over Bertagnoli and Bromante for a Merlin 1-2-3. Holden fought back to fourth, dropping Schaff to fifth.
Lemke got away to begin Heat #2 as it was a hard fought battle for second. Bromante and Bertagnoli were in the trailing positions behind Lemke, but it was Holden once again climbing his way forward. Up into the top-five, he set his sights on the Merlin drivers racing for the second spot. Into third by lap nine, Holden claimed the second spot on the final lap to earn the runner-up position behind Lemke by 2.8 seconds. Bromante finished third with Bertagnoli fourth. Canadian Roman DeAngelis (Tony Kart) drove his way to fifth after starting seventh.
The feature streak continued for Lemke as the Franklin Motorsports / Merlin driver earned his fifth straight in the class. Lemke led all 20 laps, posting fast time in the process, to lead by four seconds at the checkered flag. Bertagnoli stole the second spot from Bromante after the opening lap, as the Junior rookie drove to the runner-up position on the podium for his best finish of the year, making it a 1-2 for Merlin. Holden was able to snag the third position on the final circuit from Bromante, with d’Orlando coming from 12th to finish fifth ahead of his Koene USA teammate DeAngelis.
Woltjer Racing Engines Yamaha Junior
Championship leader Brandon Lemke set the tone for the day in qualifying, posting the quick lap in the session by over two tenths. His Merlin chassis went 43.251 to beat out Zach Holden, moving over to the OTK models for the first time in USPKS competition, piloting a FA Kart in Yamaha. Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart) was third in the order over Matthew Northrop (Tony Kart) and Gio Bromante (Merlin).
Lemke drove away with the win in the opening heat race, pulling out to about 1.5 seconds at the checkered flag. Holden had his hands full for the second position throughout the 10 laps, with Fenderson and Bromante, with Northrop a close fifth.
It was a fight for second in Heat #2 once again as Lemke had things controlled at the front of the field. Northrop worked his way into the second position by lap four, dropping Holden to third and a handful of others behind him. With some solid laps, Northrop was able to pull away to hold second comfortably while Lemke continued to run fast laps of the race toward the win. Bromante won the fight for third, ahead of Fenderson and Holden.
The only exchange for the lead in the 20-lap Final was in the opening corners. Holden got the jump on pole sitter Lemke, but by the end of the first circuit the championship leader was back into the lead. From there, the Franklin Motorsports pilot pulled out to a gap as a fight for second brewed between Holden and Northrop. The Innovative Performance driver worked past Holden for the position on lap six. Lap after lap, Northrop matched the pace of Lemke and inched his way closer at times. The two were separated by just a few kart lengths, but Northrop never was able to get close enough as Lemke earned his third straight victory, fourth on the year. Northrop drove to a well-deserved second place as Bromante ended up third. Holden fell to fourth with Collin Campbell (Top Kart) making his USPKS debut with a fifth place run.
Orlando Kart Center Mini Rok Cadet
Tyler Maxson (Benik) landed his first pole position of the season in the Mini Rok Cadet division. A 45.572-lap on his fifth circuit landed him the fast time, beating out Jason Welage (Top Kart) by over a tenth. Nicholas d’Orlando (Tony Kart) was third with Sam Mayer (Merlin) and point leader Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) filling out the fast five.
It was a heated battle at the front with the order changing a lot during the first few laps. On lap six, contact between Welage and Ugo Ugochukwu (Benik) took them out of the running. Out front, Mayer was able to escape with the lead with d’Orlando trailing. d’Orlando had the fast lap of the race, but was unable to close in to make a move for the win over Mayer. Maxson drove alone in third with Reece Gold (Benik) moving up to fourth over DeFrancesco.
DeFrancesco started at the tail of the field with an engine change, which changed the front order of the field. At the start, Mayer was able to work up into the lead on the opening circuit with Maxson slipping back to second. He fell a few more positions , and Ugochukwu worked by for the second position, and continued down the order with Aidan Harrington (Merlin) up to third after starting ninth. The fight was for second with Mayer out to over three seconds ahead. Ugo and Harrington were joined by Gold, d’Orlando and others. At the line, Harrington took the second spot from Ugo with Gold and Kaden Wharff (Top Kart) making up the top-five.
The two heat wins gave Mayer the pole position and he took advantage once the 20-lap main event began. The Franklin Motorsport / Merlin driver jumped out to a big lead early on with the fight for second raging on. Eventually, d’Orlando and Maxson worked together to close in on the leader, and it worked. Maxson took over the lead on lap 13 with d’Orlando following through. Maxson got out to a few kart length advantage on the trailing two drivers, with Mayer trying to get back into the second spot. Once they started working together, it looked to be a three driver fight for the win. On the final circuit, d’Orlando went into defensive mode, and contact was made with Mayer trying to work past. They continued on in the same positions, as Maxson scored his first major Cadet victory. At the line, d’Orlando finished second however officials move him behind Mayer in the results for the last lap contact. Harrington ran fourth for much of the race until last lap contact between he and Welage sent him off the course. Welage earned the position while Harrington was unable to finish. Kyle Thome put a second Merlin chassis inside the top-five.
Switch Racing Engines Yamaha Cadet
A quick lap as the checkered flag waved to end the session, Kyle Thome (Merlin) secured his first pole position of the season. His sixth lap, posting a 46.599-second lap put him above Jason Welage (Top Kart) in the order. Point leader Sam Mayer (Merlin) was third in the order with Benik drivers Lachlan DeFrancesco and Tyler Maxson making up the fast five.
The esses going up the hill decided who came out with the lead to begin Heat #1 and it was DeFrancesco from the fourth position, pulling a large advantage over Thome and a host of others. Mayer was a victim of the opening lap skirmish, dropping down to the tail of the field after spinning backwards into the grass. On lap eight, contact shuffled up the order for second, with Welage into the second spot and Luca Mars (CompKart) getting the brunt of the contact, spinning around on the exit of turn four. DeFrancesco took the win by 1.5 seconds over Welage. Thome held off Noaker for the third position with Maxson a close fifth. Mars ended up 12th with Mayer climbing back to 14th. Noaker was penalized for the contact, and was place behind Mars in the final classification, moving Parker Abed (Merlin) to fifth.
Mayer, looking to make up for a bad start in Heat #1, came away with the lead on the opening lap of Heat #2. Pushing Thome back to second, DeFrancesco followed through for the position as they began lap two. DeFrancesco planted himself on the bumper, beginning some criss-cross action on lap three. After the jostling, DeFrancesco was shuffled back to P6 with Thome back into second ahead of Welage, Maxson, and Reece Gold (Benik). Welage was able to move into second, and then took the top spot away from Mayer as they began lap eight. Mayer returned the favor with the same pass into turn one with two laps remaining. Mayer held on to score the win, helping his point total for the main event grid. Welage was second with Thome third ahead of Maxson. DeFrancesco worked past Mars for the fifth spot on the final circuit. DeFrancesco however was penalized for early contact with Aidan Harrington (Merlin), placing Lachlan into the 15th position.
The Final was a hard fought battle to the end with Mayer coming out as the victor. Welage sat on the pole position with Thome starting on the outside, as the pole sitter set the pace during the opening laps until Maxson and Mayer worked their way to the front. Once in the lead positions, they established a gap on the field briefly until getting run down by a group of drives. DeFrancesco and Welage moved into to the mix, as did Gold. Despite the exchanging for position, Mayer led the majority of the laps at the line. On lap 17, contact between DeFrancesco and Maxson allowed Mayer to slip away with Welage moving into the second spot. They remained in the top two positions, as Mayer landed his third victory of the season and Welage his third runner-up. The fight for third lasted until the checkered flag, with DeFrancesco bouncing back to earn the position over Maxson with Gage Rodgers (Birel) slipping in for fifth.
QPS Employment Group Yamaha Rookie
The five-minute qualifying session belonged to Alex Grapsas. The Tony Kart driver shot to the top of the order in the opening laps, and remained there throughout the session to land his first pole position of the season. Championship leader Donald Whorton II (Tony Kart) nearly edged him out, coming eight thousandths short. Lucas Smalec (Merlin) was within two hundredths of Grapsas’ time, with Praga drivers Aidan Hinds and Nico Montileone completing the fast five.
Hinds was able to climb his from fourth to the lead in the opening laps of Heat #1, with Whorton following through. Hinds was able to get away, but the group closed back in led by Whorton. As they began lap seven, Whorton drafted past Hinds for the lead, bringing Ben Chejfec (Tony Kart) and Smalec with him. Before the lap finished, Chejfec took over the lead from Whorton at the top hairpin. Smalec moved himself into second the following lap but was shuffled back as they took the white flag, with Hinds back into third and on the bumper of the top two. Whorton took the lead at turn nine, and was able to hold on to the win. Chejfec ended up second with Hinds in third. Smalec ran to fourth with Conner Churchill into the fifth position after starting eighth.
A four driver breakaway formed in the second heat race, with Whorton leading the train. Churchill and Chejfec joined the leaders with Hinds and Grapsas right there. Shuffling at the halfway point put Chejfec into the second spot, dropping hinds to third. On lap seven, Chejfec assumed the lead with a move into the first corner, relegating Whorton back to the second spot. Whorton returned the favor beginning lap nine, and took the white flag as the leader with Chejfec, Hinds and Grapsas right there. Whorton held on for the win, with the order remaining the same, as Churchill and Smalec finished fifth and sixth.
One of the best races of the day was the Rookie Final, with the top six together and racing with the respect and skill of seasoned veterans. Championship leader Whorton led the six driver pack early on before Chejfec took the point. They went back and forth for the lead numerous times until Whorton assumed the position with two laps remaining. Hinds put himself into the second spot when the white flag was displayed, and nearly worked past for the lead. Whorton remained strong and held on at the checkered flag by 84 thousandths over Hinds. Churchill began the race at the tail of the lead group, but kept patient to work his way into the third spot by the end of the 16-lap race. That pushed Grapsas to fourth with Chejfec fifth as Smalec ended up sixth.