EKN Trackside: 2015 Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix – Saturday Report
Hamilton and Leesmann stand out in opening day of action on the BLVD
Day one of the 2015 Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix went into the books on Saturday as nearly 150 competitors took part in the opening on-track sessions for the seventh annual event in Southern California. Eight race groups took on the challenging street circuit for two rounds of practice, qualifying and the first round of heat races to set the stage for Sunday’s events. The weather was hot, much like it has been for the previous additions of the SOLGP program, nearly reaching triple digits. The racing on track was clean for the majority of the day, with the few run-ins with the barriers from time to time. The headline S1/S2 race group is shaping up to be a great battle going into Sunday, as is the rest of the categories here to close out the California ProKart Challenge championship season.
All the way from New Zealand, former S4 SuperNationals winners Matt Hamilton made his first start at the Streets of Lancaster, earning pole position for the S1 Pro category. His 40.337-lap was just one tenth off the track record, set by Jimmy McNeil in 2013. The Aluminos driver earned the pole position for the opening heat race over former winner Fritz Leesmann (CRG). Last year’s top qualifier in the combined S1/S2 group was Kolton Griffin (Tony Kart), placing third in this year’s session as an S1 rookie. Veteran Ron White (CRG) and two-time defending California PKC champ Billy Musgrave (Praga) capped off the fast-five. Alan Michel (Praga) led the S2 Semi-Pro contingent, with Jack Freese (Praga) and Carter Williams (FA Kart) second and third.
Leesmann grabbed the holeshot for Heat #1, and drove to the race win by leading all 10 laps. Hamilton kept it close, staying on his bumper and playing it smart, not forcing anything on day one of the event. They ran 1-2, pulling away thanks to fast laps of the race, recorded by Hamilton. White won the battle for third over Griffin and Musgrave. Michel took the win in S2, leading Freese and Will Preston (Aluminos).
The ‘Lancaster Kid’ Brenden Baker (Tony Kart) jumped to the top of the qualifying order quickly in TaG Senior, and remained there throughout the session to earn the pole position. A 43.979-lap put him under the 44-second mark, and the only driver to do so. California PKC championship leader Christian Brooks (Energy) was second in the order with veteran Wes Boswell (Praga) third. Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix Scholarship driver Austin Elliott (Tony Kart) was fourth with Nick Ramirez (Top Kart) making up the fast-five.
Brooks and Baker pulled away with Elliott trailing for the heat race. Brooks led the majority of the race, with Baker slipping through as the white flag waved. The two criss-crossed at the final corner on the final lap, with Baker edging out Brooks by seven hundredths of a second. Elliott drove to third with Boswell and Ramirez making up the top-five.
Jimmy McNeil holds the track record with a 40.252-second lap, when running in the S1 category in 2013. This year, back into the S4 Master Stock Moto division, he scored the fast time with a 40.888-lap and the only driver below the 41-second mark. California PKC point leader Darren Elliott was second, with Robert Marks third and last year’s SOLGP winner Rob Logan fourth, making it a CRG 1-2-3-4. Mike Mantel broke into the fast five in his Tony Kart, with he and Justin Bennett (Ricciardo) matching the same lap time. Bennett however was moved to the tail of the field after coming in underweight. California PKC S4 Super Master point leader Ken Schilling (Vemme) gained 10 points with the fast lap in classe, edging out Jim Kidd (Aluminos) and David Conyers (Aluminos).
McNeil and Elliott decided the heat race between themselves. Elliott took the lead briefly, before McNeil returned to the point. Elliott kept the pressure on but McNeil never missed a beat, scoring the win. Mantel worked his way up to third, but slipped back to fifth on the white flag lap, allowing Marks and Logan to move up to third and fourth. Kidd was able to get around Schilling for the Super Master heat win, with Conyers right there in third.
A battle of former Pro Tour champions in qualifying for TaG Master with two-time title winner Ethan Wilson (FA Kart) edging out 2013 champ Scott Falcone (Tony Kart). The gap was just 28 thousandths between the two, as Wilson laid a 44.959-lap to secure the front row for Heat 1. California PKC point leader Vatche Tatikian (FA Kart) was third with title contender Brian Phillipsen (Tony Kart) right there in fourth. Trevor McAlister (Praga) returned to the seat for the first time in 2015, qualifying fifth.
After two false starts, it was Tatikian and Phillipsen at the front of the field leading the way for the eight-lap race. The two swapped the lead a few times before Phillipsen secured the position and the win. Wilson fought back to second with McAlister following through to third. Nick de Graaf (MMK) advanced to fourth with Tatikian dropping to P5 in the final laps, and Falcone back to seventh.
Robert Heck Jr. (CRG) set the pace in the S3/S5 Stock Moto race group. Heck posted a 41.898-second lap to earn the pole position for the opening heat race. Point leader Aaron Schmitt (Praga) held the spot provisionally, but was shuffled down to second. Josh Early (Top Kart), Matthew O’Donnell (Praga), and Garrett McKelvie (Praga) competed the fast-five. Callum Smith (Praga) led the way in the S5 class, seventh overall with Hunter Kelly (Praga) second in class, 10th in the order.
Heck took the holeshot to lead the opening laps of the heat race. Schmitt took the lead while completing lap three, which was the deciding pass of the race. Schmitt won the race by three tenths of Heck, who had fast lap of the race. McKelvie moved up to third, dropping Early to fourth and Michael Korody (Praga) up to fifth. Smith won the S5 class, placing seventh overall, ahead of Dean Heldt (GP) and Anthony Freese (Praga).
The order continued to shuffle throughout the TaG Junior qualifying session. In the closing minute, California PKC championship leader Nicky Hays (Ricciardo) was able to nip Dante Yu (Tony Kart) for the fast time. A 44.623-lap was better by 39 thousandths for the pole position. Gary Lyles (Tony Kart) was two tenths off in third with Ethan Barrett (Kosmic) right there. Hannah Grisham (Tony Kart) held the provisional pole, but was shuffled back to fifth.
A three driver battle formed in the heat race, with Hays and Yu joined by Barrett. The trio went back and forth, until the final lap. Contact sent Yu around on the final circuit, leaving Barrett to score the victory with Hays right on his bumper. Jagger Jones (Tony Kart) drove from 10th on the grid to third, with California PKC point leader Trey Brown (Tony Kart) following him through. Trenton Sparks (Kosmic) advanced one position from sixth to fifth in the 10-lap event. Yu was able to continue to finish, ending up 11th in the final classification.
In the closing laps of the TaG Cadet qualifying session, Ryan Schartau (Tony Kart) was able to lay down a monster lap to secure the pole position. A 40.319-second lap was quicker by three tenths of a second. Tomas Mejia (Tony Kart) was demoted to second with Oliver Calvo and Shea Weston making it a Tony Kart 1-2-3-4. California PKC point leader Anthony Willis put his Benik fifth in the qualifying order.
Calvo was able to work up to the bumper of Schartau early on in the heat race, and took the lead quickly. The two pushed away from the rest of the field, leaving Mejia and Weston back with a group fight for P5. Calvo made a last lap pass stick, scoring the win over Schartau. Mejia and Weston followed through with Joseph Daniele (Benik) winning the fight for fifth.
The top-five in the TaG Cadet Rookie qualifying session finished within nine hundredths of a second separation for their fast laps. Aiden Kempf (Tony Kart) was able to secure the fast time, a 41.289-lap. Bianca Bustamante (BirelART) moved up to second late, with George Diakoumopoulos (Benik) third, Seth Huntley (Italcorse) fourth and Braydon Perry (Top Kart) fifth.
It was a great three driver battle for the win in the heat race, with Kempf joined by Bustamante and Diakoumopoulos. Each took a turn at the point, with Kempf scoring the win ahead of Diakoumopoulos and Bustamante. Perry moved up to fourth with Alexander Diakoumopoulos (Benik) up to fifth.