EKN Trackside: 2015 United States Pro Kart Series – New Castle Sunday Report
Zeen doubles up for $3k payday, McAndrews stamps title with victory while Fenderson and Holden break Lemke streak
The final day of the 2015 United States Pro Kart Series decided the seven remaining championships to be decided. It was a busy day of action on the New Castle Motorsports Park facility, outside Indianapolis, with perfect racing weather conditions once again. A revised format offered qualifying, Prefinal and Final to allow for the championship ceremony to take place following the last checkered flag of 2015. Praga North America driver Andrick Zeen did what only three other drivers have been able to do in USPKS competition, win both main events in the Leopard Pro division ahead of Koene USA’s Elliot Finlayson becoming the third different series champion. Senior rookie Mike McAndrews locked the Yamaha Pro championship with his own drive from the back, starting 17th and earning the victory. Lance Fenderson and Zach Holden made it the first day two drivers not named Brandon Lemke won both Junior Finals since the opener in Mooresville.
Franklin Motorsports Leopard Pro
Derek Dignan (FA Kart) held the provisional pole for much of the session, before the checkered flag waved when Braden Eves (CompKart) used the draft. He posted a 1:04.558 to secure his second pole position in his second weekend in the Pro category. Dignan settled for second with point leader Elliot Finlayson (Tony Kart) in third. Roger Ralston Jr. (Arrow) and Jacob Donald (Praga) completed the fast five. Championship challenger Brandon Jarsocrak (Tony Kart) found himself 13th in the order while Saturday winner Andrick Zeen (Praga) was ninth, 26 positions better than yesterday.
Eves was able to retain the top spot through the opening corner with Dignan holding the second spot. Finlayson was under heavy pressure for the third position with a host of drivers behind him looking to move forward. Among them was Jarsocrak, into the seventh position by the end of lap three. Lap four, Ralston dropped Finlayson down to fourth, and nearly lost the spot to Bujdoso but fought him off and gained some ground as he was under pressure from Zeen and Jarsocrak. At the halfway point, Dignan assumed the lead for the first time on the weekend, dropping Eves back to the second spot. The fight continued for fifth with Zeen into the position, with Jarsocrak now looking for a way by Bujdoso. Lap seven, Eves moved back into the lead while Finlayson assumed the third spot from Ralston. Jarsocrak was able to move around Bujdoso for the sixth spot, now looking to reel in Zeen who ran alone in fifth. The gap closed on the leaders as Dignan moved back into the lead on lap eight, with Finlayson and Ralston inching up to the top two with their shuffling. Eves pulled the trigger again on lap nine, this time bringing Finlayson with him. Taking the white flag, Dignan helped to push Finlayson into the lead. At the checkered, Finlayson held on for the win and valuable championship points. Dignan drove to second over Eves and Ralston. Zeen ran fifth with Jarsocrak losing points to Finlayson with a sixth place performance.
Numerous false starts by the field resulted in Dignan losing his outside pole spot, moving Ralston up to the front row. The race was underway and quickly saw a number of drivers put out of contention with a turn one incident. Contact involving Eves, Ralston and Dignan triggered a large wreck that took out about a half dozen karts, including Eves and Ralston. Dignan continued on, losing a number of positions and losing hope for a hat trick on the weekend. Finlayson jumped out with the lead as Zeen slotted into second. The two pulled away with the Saturday winner striking quickly. By lap two, Zeen was in the lead and from there went untouched. The Praga North America driver continued fast and consistent lap times, extending his lead to over three seconds for his second victory of the weekend. That earned him another $1,000 payday, in addition to the $1,000 bonus for winning both Finals in the same weekend. IAME USA named him the weekend driver award as well.
With Finalyson dropped to second, the focus was on how close Jarsocrak was. The point rival was third, and close up quickly on the championship leader. By lap 10, Jarsocrak took over the position, and Finlayson knew to keep him within reach, and did so. Jarsocrak finished the race second, with Finlayson third. The results gave Finlayson the championship crown by 44 markers. Behind them, the fight for fourth heated up as the laps wound down. Dignan, running laps comparable to Zeen, climbed up to fourth after falling back to 16th, finishing what was his best weekend of the season with a great recovery. Local driver Sam Cate (Tony Kart) came from 12th on the grid to complete the top-five. Mick Gabriel (iKart) ended up sixth over Jonathan Kotyk (Top Kart), who at one time was running in the fourth spot but dropped in the late stages of the race. Cal Stewart (Tony Kart), driving for the injured Colton Ramsey, finished eighth. Colin Warren had another fast lap of the race in his DR Kart, placing ninth with Mike McAndrews (Fullerton) wrapping up the day driving from 35th to 10th in 18 laps.
Comet Racing Engines Yamaha Pro
Down by 80 points going into the day, Dakota Pesek (Top Kart) took the 10 bonus points with the fast time in qualifying. A 1:11.810-lap was best in the session, helping to cut the margin to just 70 going into the Prefinal. Jake McWhirter (Tony Kart) moved up late into the second spot, with Joey Eppink (Tony Kart) and Kevin Nelson (Tony Kart) back into the fast five. Tony Jump (Arrow) completed the top-five, fighting for the third spot in the championship chase over TJ Koyen (Tony Kart), who qualified back in 17th. Championship leader Mike McAndrews (BirelART) ended up back in the sixth position.
The Prefinal began after three false starts with the entire field pushing one another. Once started, the field was clean through the opening corners with McWhirter jumping ahead of Pesek. They were joined by Eppink to form the lead group, while McAndrews led the second group of Jump, Nelson, and Cal Stewart (Tony Kart). Lap four, Eppink shuffled up the order, bringing McWhiter with him. That allowed McAndrews to close up on the top three, with Nelson losing the draft. On lap six, McAndrews attempted a pass on Pesek entering the double right handers, and contact was made. It appeared to be just racing, with Pesek turning down on McAndrews. Officials however penalized McAndrews five positions for the contact. Both went off but continued, dropping down to ninth and 12th, with McAndrews getting the worst of it. Out front, McWhirter pressured Eppink to the checkered flag, but it was the local driver scoring the win. Nelson won the fight for third over Jump and Stewart.
Starting 17th, there was no thought of McAndrews clawing his way back to the front and ending the year with a victory to lock in his first USPKS Yamaha Pro title in his rookie season. The storybook ending however came true. Eppink led early on until he was shuffled back and eventually given the meatball flag after losing his sidepod. That put Nelson and Pesek at the front of the field after the championship contender made quick work of the remaining front runners with Simpson trailing. The local driver worked his way up to the point by lap seven, leading Pesek and Nelson. McAndrews also made quick work of the field, up to fifth by lap five, and on the bumper of Nelson by lap 10. Into third on lap 11, the pressure was applied as the two championship rivals were nose to tail. Pesek bought his time, and disposed of Simpson before taking the white flag. On the final lap, McAndrews took over the second spot from Simpson at turn three. Heading into the I-70 corner, Simpson had nothing to lose, and dove inside both McAndrews and Pesek. On the exit, Simpson pushed Pesek wide, which allowed McAndrews to slip past for the lead and the victory. The fourth win of the season locked up the championship. Simpson beat out Pesek to the line for second with Dignan able to put Nelson back to fifth in the final order.
GT7 Motorsports Leopard Junior
Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart) found some speed overnight, and locked up his first fast time in qualifying for Leopard Junior on the year. His 1:05.666-lap secured the pole by 21 thousandths of a second over last year’s champion David Malukas (CompKart). Alex Bertagnoli (Merlin) was third with provisional champion Brandon Lemke (Merlin) and Zach Holden (Tony Kart) completing the fast five.
It was a hard fought opening lap for the front runners with Fenderson leading before Malukas held the spot, until Lemke took the spot himself. Malukas ended the lap with the lead, with Holden up to the second spot ahead of Fenderson and Lemke. The top six ran together with Bertagnoli and Sam Paley (Tecno) right there. The gloves were off with the entire field shuffling for position corner after corner, with only a win on the mind of the drivers with the championship in the hands of Lemke already. Holden led at the halfway point with Lemke and Fenderson right there. The shuffling continued on, with Lemke going off into the grass as they began lap eight. That dropped him back to eigth, still with the group of karts in front of him. All the fighting allowed Holden to pull out to an advantage on the fight for second. At the checkered, Holden scored the win by just over two seconds ahead of Malukas. Fenderson drove to third with Bertagnoli holding off Lemke for the fourth position.
The season ended with a bit of controversy surrounding the last Final of the year. After a hard fought Prefinal, another battle raged on in the Final for Leopard Junior. A busy first lap put Malukas to the point, but only for one lap as Holden assumed the lead and pulled out to a solid lead over a fight for second. Malukas, Fenderson and Lemke were among the battle, with Bertagnoli right there. After completing lap nine, Bertagnoli tried to pass Fenderson for the second spot. The two made contact in turn one, with both going off. Despite the hard contact, both walked away but unable to continue. This left Lemke in the second position, with only five laps to go. Lemke closed up on Holden in the closing laps, with the two nose-to-tail on the final circuit. Lemke was able to use the draft down the final straight to reach the checkered flag first for the provisional win and what would be his eighth straight on the year in the category. Officials however penalized Lemke to finish behind both Fenderson and Bertagnoli for the contact on lap 10. This put Holden on the top step of the podium, giving him the official victory. Malukas was credited for second with Paley third, Austin Schaff (Merlin) fourth and Myles Rowe (Top Kart) with his best finish of the year in fifth. The penalty only ended the win streak, as Lemke secured the championship before the race began with a massive lead over the rest of the drivers.
Woltjer Racing Engines Yamaha Junior
After getting shut out in qualifying Saturday, provisional champion Brandon Lemke (Merlin) set the fast time in the Sunday session. A 1:10.428-lap was better than Zach Holden by just six hundredths of a second. Local driver Drew Lindley (Tony Kart) put himself up to third late in the session, dropping Ben Varner (Merlin) and Lance Fenderson (Tony Kart) down the order.
The field was shuffled up in the opening lap with Fenderson and Holden coming away with the top two positions. Lemke and Lindley were fighting for position behind them, as Lindley got shuffled back down the order. Lemke dropped to fifth with John Paul Southern (Top Kart) and Stephen Dial (Merlin) moving up to third and fourth. Holden stayed locked on Fenderson’s bumper the entire time, pushing them away from the duo racing for third. Coming to the line, Holden pulled out for the win, edging out Fenderson by two thousandths of a second. Lemke closed up on the fight for third in the closing laps, and was able to go from fifth to third on the final straight, beating Dial and Southern to the line.
The lead group in the Final began with five, and drop to four with Southern joining Fenderson, Holden and Lemke at the front. Eventually, Southern lost the draft and it was only three. Lemke and Holden fought for the second spot, allowing Fenderson to get away. Holden took the second spot and left Lemke, closing in on Fenderson inch by inch. Holden was on Fenderson’s bumper, but never made a move for the win with Fenderson scoring his first Junior victory. Lemke’s streak came to a close at five, moving his finish to second after Holden failed post-race tech with a broken muffler. The championship was a lock, with Lemke scoring his first USPKS title. Southern ended up third in the race with Dial and Sam Paley (Tecno) completing the top-five.
Orlando Kart Center Mini Rok Cadet
Gaining speed overnight, James Lynch (Haase) shocked the paddock with fast time in qualifying. His 1:13.677-lap put him first over point leader Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik), who enters the day just nine points ahead of Sam Mayer. The Merlin driver spun in the session, but was able to secure fourth in the order behind Jason Welage (Top Kart) and ahead of James Egozi (Benik).
Lynch and Welage broke away from the field to begin the 10-lap Prefinal. Mayer worked his way to the front of the second group, including Kaden Wharff (Top Kart) as DeFrancesco dropped to fifth. The top two stayed in line, pulling away from the field lap after lap, with no change until the run to the checkered flag. Welage pulled out for a drag race, and crossed the line first by 37 thousandths of a second. DeFrancesco worked his way up to third, gaining points over Mayer in the fourth spot with Egozi moving to fifth over Wharff.
One of the most interesting and championship changing finishes occured in the Mini Rok feature. Welage started on the pole position and was joined by four others at the front. Benik drivers DeFrancesco and Egozi were joined by the Merlin karts of Mayer and Noaker. Just 14 points separated DeFrancesco and Mayer entering the race, meaning every position mattered. Early on the racing was heated, with partnerships out the window as every driver seemed to be on their own. Four each took a turn at the point, except for Noaker. With two laps to go, DeFrancesco lost the draft, falling to fifth with Mayer leading the way. The championship seemed gone for the Benik driver, until the final straight to the checkered flag. Mayer led coming out of the I-70 corner, with Welage pulling out to pass for the win. Behind him, Noaker got a great run and they went three-wide. At the stripe, Noaker scored his first USPKS victory by just 36 thousandths of a second over Welage. Egozi was able to slip past Mayer at the same time, stealing third and dropping Mayer to fourth in the order. Falling three spots in the final few feet to the checkered cost Mayer valuable points to fifth place finisher DeFrancesco, with the title going to the Benik driver by just four points.
Switch Racing Engines Yamaha Cadet
A late charge by point leader Jason Welage (Top Kart) stole 10 points from Sam Mayer. The Merlin driver held the provisional pole for nearly the entire session, with Welage slipping in a 1:16.442 to better Mayer’s time by over a tenth of a second. Robert Noaker III (Merlin) was third with James Lynch (Haase) and Aidan Harrington (FA Kart) completing the fast five.
A three driver pack formed at the front with Welage leading Mayer and Noaker. Harrington led the second group that included Lynch, Garrett Adams (FA Kart) and Nic Sheppard (Tecno). The lead trio remained unchanged until the final lap. Noaker moved to the lead at the I-70 corner, but Welage came back on the run to the checkered to score the win. Mayer settled for second with Reece Gold (Benik) bringing Lachlan DeFrancesco (Benik) with him into the top-five.
Welage led the field to the green flag of the Final with DeFrancesco earning a great start, working his way into the lead by the end of lap one. The two were able to pull away, running nose to tail and leaving Mayer alone in third. Nothing changed at the point until the final lap, Welage took the draft to the checkered flag, using it to get to the line first by 91 thousandths of a second, locking up the championship with third win on the season. DeFrancesco settled for second, both in the race and the championship. Kaden Whraff (FA Kart) drove from seventh to third, bringing Tyler Maxson (Benik) with him to drop Mayer to fifth.
QPS Employment Group Yamaha Rookie
Momentum continued in the favor of Owen Mahle (Top Kart). The Saturday race winner secured the fast time in qualifying with a 1:17.828-lap to edge out Lucas Smalec (Merlin) by just 44 thousandths of a second. Championship leader Donald Whorton II (Tony Kart) over Isaac Beekman (Praga) and Alex Grapsas (Tony Kart).
Seven drivers battle for the win in the Prefinal. Mahle led the majority of the race, but was shuffled back with two laps to go. With two laps to go, Mahle was shuffled back with Hinds taking over the lead. On the final lap, Smalec was able to get the run to the checkered flag, reaching it first for the win. Hinds settled for second with Whorton in third. The point leader was penalized four spots for blocking, moving Bennett to third, Elliot Cox (Top Kart) to fourth and Nicholas Terlecki (Birel) to fifth.
Contact on the opening lap of the Final took Saturday winner Mahle to the sideline with a bent axle. Out front, Hinds assumed the point with Smalec trailing. The large lead group formed once again, with Whorton the driver maing the moves in the second stage of the race. Leading with the white flag out, Whorton led until the final straight. The drag race to the line was won by Smalec, earning his first victory of the season. Hinds was second by 38 thousandths of a second. Whorton drove to third, clinching his the class championship. Bennett drove to fourth with Cox completing the top-five in the Final.