EKN Trackside: 2015 United States Pro Kart Series – New Castle Saturday Report
Zeen goes zero to hero in Leopard Pro, Dignan nearly pulls off hat trick as Lemke continues win streak
It was a perfect day for racing as the United States Pro Kart Series began the first of two rounds to conclude the 2015 championship series at the New Castle Motorsports Park. Saturday’s Round Seven action helped set up the final act in the seven title chases still yet to be decided, while wrapping up one on the afternoon. Racing was intense throughout the day, with the pressure on for drivers to perform well in the finale weekend. Praga North America driver went from ‘Zero to Hero’ on the day, after qualifying last, knifing his way forward in the heat races, and then driving away to the victory in the main event. KartSport North America driver Derek Dignan bagged two wins on the day, winning Yamaha Pro and locking up the Rok GP Senior championship with another victory, while coming in second behind Zeen in Leopard. Brandon Lemke piloted his Franklin Motorsports / Merlin to two more wins on the season, keeping his feature win streaks going into the final round on Sunday while earning the provisional class championships.
Franklin Motorsports Leopard Pro
Every point in the championship chase matters this weekend, and Brandon Jarsocrak took advantage. Ten points were up for grabs, and Jarsocrak (Tony Kart) took them with the Round Two winner posting a 1:04.440-lap. Championship leader Elliott Finlayson (Tony Kart) was second, putting the top two title contenders on the front row for the two heat races. Andrew Bujdoso (PCR) was third with Michael Geringer (Merlin) fourth. Happy Hour quick driver Roger Ralston Jr. (Arrow) was fifth in the final order. Title contender Andrick Zeen (Praga) had a flat tire, and only made one lap to secure a last place starting position for both heat races.
Finlayson got the jump on Jarsocrak to open up Heat #1, with the championship leader leading all but one lap. Jarsocrak was dropped back to third with Bujdoso moving up into second on the opening lap. Eventually, the top qualifier put himself back into second and helped to push he and Finlayson away. Contact between Bujdoso and Colin Warren (DR Kart) in a fight for third on lap five, with more contact involving others on lap six shuffled up the order behind the top two. As the leaders took the white flag, Jarsocrak took the lead for the first time, and held on to the checkered flag for the win and 50 points, gaining another five markers on Finlayson. Ralston drove to third with Cal Stewart, subbing for Colton Ramsey, placing fourth ahead of Emerson Reed (Merlin), making his Senior USPKS debut, climbing up from 14th. The driver on the move was Zeen, knifing his way up to 11th after starting 35th.
A hard wreck coming to the opening corner with an early green flag started the second heat race. Among them was Julia Boos (Tony Kart) and Emerson Reed (Merlin), who took a hard hit but was able to walk away. Out front, Finlayson grabbed the jump on Jarsocrak once again with Geringer pushing the opening heat winner back to third. Bujdoso joined them to form a four driver lead pack. Jarsocrak took the second spot back with a few laps remaining, and then on the white flag lap, took the lead from Finlayson. This time, it was at turn three, catching a sleeping Finlayson for the lead. Jarsocrak took another win with Bujdoso slipping past Finlayson for third at the line. Geringer ran fourth with Colin Warren (DR Kart) up to fifth. Zeen had another stellar drive to 12th, helping his main event starting position.
The focus had been on the top two of Jarsocrak and Finalyson all day, but the story belonged to Zeen. Earning a ninth starting spot for the main event, the Praga North America driver was in prime position to battle for the win. Finlayson got the jump on Jarsocrak after two false starts for the field behind them jumping the gun. They slotted into the top two positions, but Jarsocrak was shuffled back by Ralston, Stewart, Dignan and eventually Zeen. The Californian steadily improved his position, and Zeen was on the bumper of Finlayson by lap six. It took just three more circuits before taking over the top spot, and from there the consistent lap times gave him a sizable gap. At the checkered flag, Zeen scored the victory by 3.2 seconds, completing a day that included passing 55 karts in 34 laps of competition. Finlayson continued to move backward, with Dignan jumping up to second and Ralston pressuring for third. Dignan was quick, but ran out of juice having competed in three classes on the day, earning his best finish of the season. Finlayson was able to hold of Ralston for third, with Jarsocrak ending up fifth, just two back of his championship rival. Geringer drove to sixth with Stewart earning a seventh place result for Ramsey’s points chase. Bujdoso climbed up to eighth after starting 12th, with Braden Eves (CompKart) earning top rookie once again, placing ninth ahead of Warren.
Comet Racing Engines Yamaha Pro
The championship was locked for Mike McAndrews and Dakota Pesek heading into the weekend, making every point gained this weekend crucial to the title chase. McAndrews struck first, earning 10 points for posting fast lap in qualifying, laying down a 1:11.802-lap aboard his BirelART machine. Local drivers Joey Eppink (Tony Kart) and Jimmy Simpson (Eagle) took second and third with Steven Arens (Arrow) and Kevin Nelson (Tony Kart) making up the fast five. Pesek (Top Kart) ended the session back in ninth after finishing the day first in Happy Hour on Friday.
McAndrews led all 10 laps of the opening heat race, coming down to a photo finish. The driver on the charge was Pesek, working into the top-five and then second by the white flag. Contact between Eppink and Nelson left the top two alone to the checkered flag. McAndrews won the drag race to the stripe by 0.010-seconds. Tony Jump (Arrow) won the battle for third with Adam Crepin (Tony Kart) and Derek Dignan (FA Kart) into the top-five.
The second heat began with contact in the opening corner, as Pesek was sent sideways. He collected Nelson and Jump, among others to shuffle up the order. Out front, McAndrews was joined with Simpson, Eppink, Arens, Crepin and Dignan. At the halfway mark, it was just five with Dignan losing the draft. Simpson and Eppink kept to the bumper of McAndrews, with the moves beginning on the final lap. Simpson took the spot before Eppink assumed the point at the cell tower. At the line, Eppink held off McAndrews for the win over Simpson, Crepin and Arens.
McAndrews and Crepin started the 18-lap Final from the front row, and slotted into position. Crepin, showing his best speed all season, jumped into the lead and set the pace early on. Eventually, he would get shuffled out of the lead group, and continued falling back and then retired early. With the DNF, Pesek started from the 10th position but was into the top-five by the end of lap one. Dignan started fourth and was joined McAndrews at the front along with Pesek. The three pulled away with Dignan leading the charge. Dignan gapped the two championship drivers, but they settled down and reeled in the leader. On the final lap, Pesek attacked McAndrews for the second position. Contact was made in turn three, with McAndrews pushing off the course. This gave Dignan enough breathing room over Pesek for the remainder of the lap, as the KartSport North America driver landed his first Yamaha victory of the season. Pesek crossed the line second, but was place in third behind McAndrews for the contact. Arens won the battle for fourth over Stewart and Eppink, while Nelson went from last to seventh in the order.
GT7 Motorsports Leopard Junior
Zach Holden made it only the second time all season that someone had bettered Brandon Lemke in an on-track session for the Leopard Junior class this season at USPKS. Holden (Tony Kart) was the first to do so back at Shawano when he qualifying first in Round Three action, and completed the same feat this morning with fast time in the session. A 1:05.112-lap was quickest, better then Lemke by just over a tenth of a second. David Malukas, in his USPKS debut aboard a CompKart, was third with Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart) and Connor Tebbe (Kosmic) completing the fast five.
Keeping the streak closed off continued for Holden, as he held off Lemke for the opening heat win. Holden led wire-to-wire, but not without a final lap fight. Lemke took the lead after receiving the white flag. Holden made his move at the inner hairpin, holding the lead through the I-70 corner. The two drag raced to the line, with Holden edging out Lemke by one hundredth of a second. Malukas drove in third with Alex Bertagnoli (Merlin) up to fourth and Fenderson down to fifth.
Holden and Lemke battled all eight laps for the Heat #2 win. Lemke assumed the lead after the halfway point and the two continued swapping to the white flag. Holden took the point away into the first corner, with Lemke striking back at turn five. They swapped again at I-70, with Lemke holding on to score the win. Fenderson won the battle for third over Bertagnoli with Malukas back to fifth.
Once again, it came down to Holden and Lemke for the victory in the Final. Holden jumped out to a big lead, as Lemke fell back in the opening lap after challenges from Bertagnoli and Malukas. Lap by lap, Lemke kept Holden in sight and then began closing in the second half of the race. With two laps to go, Lemke was able to make his move. Lemke assumed the lead and spent the last few corners holding Holden off. At the line, it was Lemke scoring the seventh straight victory by 54 thousandths of a second. Holden settled for second once again, with Malukas beating out Bertagnoli for third with Fenderson placing fifth.
Woltjer Racing Engines Yamaha Junior
Zach Holden put an end to the Brandon Lemke streak in the Yamaha Junior division, posting the fast lap in qualifying. Holden (Tony Kart) landed a 1:09.926-lap to be the only driver under the 1:10-mark. Lemke (Merlin) moved up to second late, pushing down Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart) to third with Drew Lindley (Tony Kart) and Sam Paley (Tecno) completing the fast five.
Lemke was shuffled back at the drop of the green and going through the opening corner, was pushed off into the dirt. He came back on the track sideways and caused a number of karts to make contact. Lemke rejoined in the eighth spot with Matthew Northrup (Tony Kart) getting the worst of the incident. Out front, Holden was joined by Fenderson and Paley, with Ben Varner (Merlin) closing in after two laps. Fenderson took over the lead on lap three, with Holden giving him a good push to break away from Paley and Varner. Holden waited to the checkered flag to make his move, inching past Fenderson for the win at the line by 0.013. Paley ran third with Varner fourth, as Lemke drove back up to fifth.
Contact at start including Lemke once again, this time bringing Fenderson with him in the dirt on the outside of the corner. They continued on in the 10th and 11th position to complete the opening lap. Holden was joined by Paley and Lindley at the front, with the trio swapping for position, holding a three-second advantage over the fight for fourth. On the final lap, Holden took the lead at the I-70 corner, but Paley was able to draft back before the checkered to score the win by three hundredths of a second. Lindley took third with Lemke up to fourth over Dial.
Holden and Paley, the two heat winners, led the field to the green flag for the main event start. Holden showed the way with Dial advancing up to second on the opening circuit with Lemke in third. Lemke went from third to first on lap three, and showed the way for the remaining circuits of the 15-lap race. Holden kept it close, and it looked like he would make a move until the final circuit. Holden fought a terrible wheel hop, and it hit him at the wrong time, losing ground with two laps remaining and unable to challenge Lemke to the checkered flag. It was the sixth win for Lemke, with Holden runner-up. Fenderson drove from 10th on the gird to third with Lindley fourth and Maks Kowalski (Merlin) fifth.
Vortex Rok GP Senior
Derek Dignan (FA Kart) earned the Rok Cup International Final trip thanks to his performance over Friday and Saturday. Dignan landed fast time in qualifying, and won the opening heat race. Colin Warren (DR Kart) fought back to win Heat #2 to close out Friday, but Dignan responded with a win in Heat #3 Saturday morning. Dignan continued to show the way in the Prefinal, locking up the championship, and putting a stamp on it with the Final victory.
Orlando Kart Center Mini Rok
Robert Noaker III was able to land the fast time in qualifying for Mini Rok, his first of the season, posting a 1:13.318 on his final circuit to secure the pole position for the heat races. Aidan Harrington (Merlin), after flipping in the Yamaha Happy Hour Friday, was second in the order. Championship leader Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) moved up to third on the final lap, pushing Kaden Wharff (Top Kart) and Kyle Thome (Merlin) down the order. DeFrancesco was dropped to the tail of the field following the session for a tech issue, moving him to 16th on the grid for both heat races.
Noaker led the first four laps of the opening heat race until Sam Mayer (Merlin) worked his way up from the eighth starting spot into the lead. Thome made it three drivers in the lead pack with two laps remaining, an all Merlin 1-2-3. Noaker got help from Thome to push Mayer back to third as they began the last lap. Coming to the checkered, Noaker held on for the win over Thome and Mayer. DeFrancesco worked his way up to the fifth position by James Egozi (Benik).
Four driver breakaway formed in Heat #2. Wharff was at the point until he was shuffled back by the two Merlin drivers of Noaker and Harrington. Benik drivers Egozi and Maxon filled out the lead group. Egozi led at the white flag with Harrington second. Their fighting for the second spot gave Egozi some distance out front, with Thome closing up on the and bringing the charging DeFrancesco with him. Egozi held on for the win with Maxson coming up to take second over Thome and Noaker. Gold drove to fifth with Harrington swapping spots with DeFrancesco after contact coming to the checkered.
The Mini Rok Final featured some hard, close racing the entire 15-lap distance. Welage was unable to make the start in the second heat, and started from 16th on the grid. By lap nine, the Top Kart driver was into the lead after Mayer led the opening laps. Welage triggered some shuffling for the lead with Gold moving up to the point just two laps later. Mayer fell to third, but stayed close with the top two. On the final lap, Mayer charged to the second spot at turn five, dropping Welage to third. Gold however got loose on the Green Corner exit, which allowed both Mayer and Welage past for position. Gold retook second from Welage and the I-70 final corner, and with some pushing from Welage, was able to reach the checkered flag first to land his first victory on the season. Welage was second, off of the win by 38 thousandths of a second. Mayer settled for third with Thome and Egozi completing the top-five. Pole sitter Noaker retired after four laps.
Switch Racing Engines Yamaha Cadet
Point leader Jason Welage (Top Kart) added to his championship lead with the fast time in qualifying. A 1:15.603-lap was best in the session, and for 10 bonus points in the championship chase. Challenger Sam Mayer (Merlin) was second in the order with Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik), Reece Gold (Benik) and Robert Noaker III (Merlin) making up the fast five.
Welage and DeFrancesco were able to break away from Mayer in the opening heat race. Welage led the majority of the race, with DeFrancesco sizing up the point leader. On the final lap, DeFrancesco made his move at the I-70 corner, and held on to the checkered flag for the win. Mayer was about five seconds back in third with Kyle Thome (Merlin) winning the fight for fourth over Gold.
Welage was able to break away from the field in Heat #2. The advantage was a half second after eight laps, with Gold winning the battle for second over Mayer, DeFrancesco and Maxson.
The two heat winners of Welage and DeFrancesco made up the front row for the Final, with the top qualifier on the pole position. Both were demoted on the opening lap by Mayer, and then down the order with Gold coming through to take the lead. Behind him was a hungry pack of drivers. At one point, there were at most seven ready to take the lead, but Gold held strong and was able to keep the lead until DeFrancesco took the point with two laps remaining, and the shuffling continued until contact on the final circuit including Mayer and Garrett Adams (FA Kart). The Florida driver DeFrancesco emerged as the leader, and held on through the final corners to cross the line in front for his first victory in the category in 2015. Welage won the drag race for second ahead of Gold with Noaker and Kaden Wharff (FA Kart) completing the top-five.
QPS Employment Yamaha Rookie
Owen Mahle, fresh off a win at the Route 66 Sprint Series program here at New Castle last weekend, set the pace for the Rookie category Saturday morning. Mahle (Top Kart) posted a 1:17.536 to secure his first USPKS pole position of the season. Alex Grapsas (Tony Kart) was second with Bayne Bennett II (Tony Kart) in third for his best qualifying effort of the season. Round Six winner Conner Churchill (Tony Kart) was fourth with Lucas Smalec (Merlin) in fifth. Point leader Donald Whorton II (Tony Kart) found himself back in eighth.
Mahle assumed the lead for the opening heat race from the pole position with Happy Hour fast time driver Elliot Cox (Top Kart) moving up from seventh with Bennett right there. Cox took the point for a brief time on lap six, but Mahle retained the lead. Mahle held on to the checkered flag for the win over Cox and Bennett. Aidan Hinds (Praga) drove up to fourth with Whorton following through for fifth. Hind however was moved to the tail of the field for losing his rear bumper in the race.
Once again, Mahle was the pace setter in the second heat race, joined by Cox in the second spot. This time, Hinds and Whorton joined them to make it a four driver lead pack. Whorton lost the draft with two laps remaining, making it just three for win again. On the final lap, Mahle and Cox went back and forth until they drag raced for the win. Cox came across the line first with Mahle holding Hinds off. Whorton was fourth with Smalec fifth.
After missing out on the win in Heat #2, Mahle was not to be denied in the Final. Starting on the pole position, Mahle led the entire 12-lap feature for his first on the season. Whorton and Cox trailed the top qualifier for the entire way, mixing it up in the final laps and losing the draft. Mahle pulled out to a 1.1-second advantage by the checkered flag. The challengers were joined in the closing laps by Hinds and Bennett, but Cox won the fight to finish runner-up. Whorton crossed the line in third with Hinds and Bennett right there.