EKN Trackside: 2016 Challenge of the Americas – Tucson Preview – Part 2

Talented fields for Senior and Masters divisions in both Rotax and Shifter competition

Challenge of the Americas-2016-logoThe ninth edition of the Challenge of the Americas is set to begin this weekend as racers from across North America converge on the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona. Serving as the ‘premier winter karting series on the left coast’, a new era begins for the program set to contest three race weekends in a six-round championship format. Five Rotax categories will be joined two shifterkart divisions joining the series for the first time, expanding the reach and possible future growth of the series.

The Musselman Honda Circuit is among the most-challenging tracks in North America. The layout is a replica of the Suzuka circuit in Japan at 3/4-mile long and 12 turns, all with their own unique characteristics. The Challenge visited the Tucson circuit in 2012, and has returned every year since to open up each championship chase.

Three of the Challenge series champions will have the prize like no other. Each year, the Challenge of the Americas has presented tickets to the elusive Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals. This year, three drivers will earn a spot to compete at the ‘Olympics of Karting’ in 2016 while representing the Challenge and their respective countries. Those drivers to earn the most points in the six-round championship chase for Senior, Junior and Masters Max will earn a spot at the October 16-22 at the Circuito Internazionale di Napoli in Sarno, Italy near Naples.

For those who are unable to attend the Challenge of the Americas opening weekend, eKartingNews.com will be providing their ‘Trackside Live’ coverage for a fourth straight season. Viewers can enjoy the live timing from the event provided by Race Monitor, while listening to voice of the Challenge – Rob Howden – as he give the play-by-play call of the action as it happens. The EKN Live program can be streamed to your laptop or computer, and on mobile devices all from one page – eKartingNews.com/live. Daily reports, forum and social media updates can be accessed through the EKN Event Page.

Yesterday was a preview of the three younger categories of the Challenge of the Americas – Junior, Mini and Micro Max. Today is a look at the Senior Max, Masters Max, Senior Shifter and Masters Shifter.

Nash Motorsportz Senior Max

Christian Brooks is competing on CRG for 2016 (Photo: JFM Images)

Christian Brooks is competing on CRG for 2016 (Photo: JFM Images)

Four points separated the top two drivers in the 2015 Challenge of the Americas Senior Max championship chase. Five different drivers stood on top of the podium at the six rounds, but it was the driver with the most podium finishes and better performances overall from qualifying and the Prefinal that locked up the championship for Luke Selliken. The RPG / Kosmic driver drove his way to the title, edging out Senior rookie Christian Brooks by one position in the Final race. Selliken earned the Rotax Grand Finals ticket that is awarded to the series champion, and drove to a runner-up finish at the world championship, recording the best result by a Team USA Senior Max driver in the history of the event.

Fast forward 10 months, and a new Challenge is set to begin with the defending champion on the sideline. Selliken is not committed to compete in Tucson, and may be on the fences watching instead of trying to fight his way to the front. Brooks is more than ready to take on all challengers once again. During his rookie season, Christian stood on the podium in five of the six races, including a victory in Phoenix. The 2012 Challenge of the Americas Mini Max champion has changed colors for 2016, remaining with Nash Motorsportz but is now piloting a CRG machine, making up half of the karts that are non-OTK manufactured set to compete in Tucson.

The always fast Mason Marotta is returning once again, still looking for the elusive Challenge championship. Marotta led the way in the win column last year, however, was also part of the fuel situation in Sonoma which dropped him to fourth in the championship standings. Mason returns with Ryan Perry Motorsport aboard a Tony Kart. Senior sophomores Phillipppe Denes (Ryan Perry Motorsport/OTK) and Walker Hess (Rolison Performance Group/Tony Kart) finished inside the top-10 of the standings last year, and are among the only returning contenders from a year ago. Jim McKinney is a new Rolison Performance Group recruit as the Arizona driver has the speed to contend for podium finishes.

This year’s class of Senior rookies include some stout drivers. Indiana driver Zach Holden is making his Challenge debut this weekend, joining Koene USA. The Tony Kart driver made his Senior Max debut at the FWT last weekend, having never raced Rotax-powered kart prior. Kellen Ritter stepped up last year in Junior Max to contend for victories, earning his first two series podiums in 2015. Ritter moves up to Senior, joining the powerful Rolison Performance Group operation. The Breidinger sisters Annie and Toni (VRP Racing/Kosmic) are moving up to the Senior level as well. Both have grown year after year behind the wheel, posting their best finishes in their final year at the Junior level.

Provisional Senior Max Entry List

No. Driver Team Chassis Hometown
300 Mason Marotta Ryan Perry Motorsport Tony Kart Bakersfield, CA
305 Kyle Loh Cambrian Go-Karts BirelART San Jose, CA
309 Matt England FA Scottsdale, AZ
310 Kyle Dupell Phil Giebler Racing OTK Salem, OR
315 Noel Dowler Ryan Perry Motorsport OTK Sherwood Park,
318 Walker Hess Rolison Performance Group Tony Kart Park City, UT
319 Jim McKinney Rolison Performance Group Kosmic Chandler, AZ
320 Coltin McCaughan Rolison Performance Group Kosmic Calgary, AB
322 Zach Holden Koene USA Tony Kart Greenfield, IN
326 Adam Smalley Rolison Performance Group Kosmic Battle Ground, WA
328 Christopher Mann Rolison Performance Group Kosmic Vancouver, WA
335 Spencer Kunz Go Kart Hero Kosmic Camas, WA
344 Christian Brooks Nash Motorsportz CRG Santa Clarita, CA
357 Josh Sarchet Rolison Performance Group FA Scottsdale, AZ
377 Miguel Mier Team KRS Tony Kart Frisco, TX
378 Annie Breidinger VRP/Breidinger Kosmic Hillsborough, CA
380 Toni Breidinger VRP/Breidinger Kosmic Hillsborough, CA
388 Derek Wang Ryan Perry Motorsport FA Bellevue, WA
398 Phillippe Denes Ryan Perry Motorsport OTK Carmel, CA
399 Kellen Ritter Rolison Performance Group Kosmic North Vancouver, BC

Cambrian Go Karts Masters Max

Former series champion John Crow is gunning for another Masters Max title (Photo: EKN)

Former series champion John Crow is gunning for another Masters Max title (Photo: EKN)

Throughout the history of the Challenge of the Americas, the Masters Max category has always seen the best racing and top Masters drivers in the country competing year after year for the championship. The level of competition stepped up last year with the addition of the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals ticket up for grabs to the series champion. Last year, that honor went to veteran Paul Bonilla who made his first ever start at the ‘Olympics of Karting’.

This year’s view for Bonilla of the championship chase will be different, as the two-time series champ will be watching from the fence line as a mechanic for the Full Throttle Karting operation, fielding three drivers. One of them is his rival from 2015, John Crow. With one victory and three runner-up finishes, Crow kept Bonilla honest and came up 16 points short of the championship. The 2009 series champion is looking to become the third different two-time title winner, with Bonilla and Donald Durbin Jr. (2013-2014) on that list.

Another possible two-time champ on the horizon is Scott Falcone. The 2011 title winner finished the 2015 Challenge as the driver on top, winning the final two rounds in convincing fashion. Last year was his debut with Rolison Performance Group aboard a Kosmic, and everything came together at the series finale. Now with a year under his belt, Falcone should be challenging off the trailer in Tucson. Other returning contenders include John Breidinger (VRP Racing / OTK), Chad Wallace (BirelART), and Perry Needham (CRG).

Notable names making a return to the Challenge, and are among the potential podium challengers. Veteran racer Billy Cleavelin contested the series finale and it ready to fight for the championship, joining the Rolison Performance Group to pilot one of their Kosmic machines. Mike Jones is a DD2 Masters national champion and former Team USA member. The Dallas Karting Complex driver is joining the fight in Masters aboard a Sodi Kart. Diego Pelosi last competed at the Challenge in 2013, earning two victories in Tucson. The Ryan Perry Motorsport / Tony Kart driver is always fast. FTK driver David Pergande (Tony Kart) returns, with Karting Coach co-owner Mike Weatherman (Zanardi) strapping on the helmet to contest the Tucson weekend.

Provisional Masters Max Entry List

No. Driver Team Chassis Hometown
604 Mike Jones Dallas Karting Complex Sodi Union Valley, TX
605 Chad Wallace Team Bad Ass BirelART Clackamas,
608 David Pergande Full Throttle Karting Tony Kart Katy, TX
609 John Breidinger VRP/Breidinger OTK San Francisco, CA
612 Roman Alekseenkov Tony Kart Santa Clara, CA
617 DJ Ortiz Team KRS OTK Plano, TX
619 Brian Taylor Ruthless Karting PCR Calgary, AB
622 Diego Pelosi Ryan Perry Motorsport Tony Kart San Diego, CA
626 Ed Quinn Full Throttle Karting Birel San Diego, CA
621 Perry Needham CRG Park City, UT
646 Vijayakrishnan Nagarajan Cambrian Go-Karts Birel Sunnyvale, CA
651 John Crow Full Throttle Karting Birel Corona, CA
652 Mike Weatherman Karting Coach Zanardi Littleton, CO
658 Billy Cleavelin Rolison Performance Group Kosmic Covina, CA
663 Scott Thompson Birel Simi Valley, CA
669 Philip Stoelman Dallas Karting Complex Sodi Dallas, TX
674 Kelly Heil Cambrian Go Karts BirelART Campbell , CA
692 Chris Patterson Ruthless Karting Exprit Calgary , Alberta
699 Scott Falcone Rolison Performance Group Kosmic Littleton, CO

Energy Kart USA Shifter Senior

Texan Jake French is among the talented field to contest the inaugural Shifter Senior category (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

Texan Jake French is among the talented field to contest the inaugural Shifter Senior category (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

New to Challenge of the Americas is the shifterkart divisions. Replacing DD2, Shifter Senior is stacked with talent for its debut in Tucson, featuring former DD2 drivers and top shifterkart drivers in the country. Two of the top US Open drivers from the Elite category are competing in Tucson. 2015 DD2 Challenge of the Americas champion Sabre Cook (Energy USA) finished third in the inaugural US Open championship while Jake French (Dallas Karting Complex / Sodi Kart) was runner-up at the series finale in Las Vegas.

His teammate Nathan Adds captured the US Rotax Grand National victory in 2015, and has steadily grown as a shifterkart pilot over the last few seasons. Pure Karting’s Kolton Griffin and Don Whittington are among the top-25 in the EKN Stock Moto Driver Rankings. Griffin (Tony Kart) finished 2015 ranked fourth with Whittington (Tony Kart) in 23rd. Jacob Neal (VRP Racing / Tony Kart) is a familiar face on the national stage, making a recent comeback to the driver’s seat over the past year in shifterkart competition. Lawson Nagel (Dallas Karting Complex / Sodi Kart) is making the jump from Junior level to Senior level competition.

Provisional Shifter Senior Entry List

No. Driver Team Chassis Hometown
6 Jake French Dallas Karting Complex Sodi Sachse, TX
26 Andretta Young Motorsports Development Group CRG Katy, TX
33 Jacob Neal VRP Racing Tony Kart Riverside, CA
55 Ben Schermerhorn BirelART Highlands Ranch, CO
66 Don Whittington Pure Karting Tony Kart Fort Lauderdale, FL
88 Kolton Griffin Pure Karting Tony Kart Phoenix, AZ
318 Nathan Adds Dallas Karting Complex Sodi Caddo Mills, TX
388 Colby Yardley Energy Kart USA Energy West Jordan, UT
36y Hunter Pickett Pickett Racing Aluminos Alamo, CA
96t Lawson Nagel Dallas Karting Complex Sodi Azle, TX
Sabre Cook Energy Kart USA Energy Grand Junction, CO

Dallas Karting Complex Shifter Masters

US Open inaugural champion Ryan Kinnear is among the first to contest the Shifter Masters category at the Challenge (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

US Open inaugural champion Ryan Kinnear is among the first to contest the Shifter Masters category at the Challenge (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

What the Shifter Masters field lacks in numbers, it makes up for in caliber of drivers. The five registered are among the best in the Masters ranks, including US Open inaugural champion Ryan Kinnear. The Champion Racing / Intrepid driver won the opener in Dallas, and finished runner-up the last two rounds to clinch the title. This will be his first Challenge of the Americas event, along with the others making the Shifter Masters debut.

Darren Elliott is synonymous with shifterkart racing, and the California native is set to add more hardware to his mantel. A Driver of the Year recipient in the late 90s by Shifter Kart Illustrated, Elliott has been reborn with a return to the sport and racing in the Masters division. The Nash Motorsportz / CRG driver swept in his only US Open start at Grand Junction, and is among the top shifterkart pilots of all time.

A trio of Arizona drivers round out the field, all competing on the successful DR Kart from DRT Racing. Nick Firestone is another successful Masters driver, finishing among the top-three a few years ago on the national scene. Jason Campbell and Joe di Vito join him and will be in the fight for the podium all weekend.

Provisional Shifter Masters Entry List

No. Driver Team Chassis Hometown
6 Nick Firestone DR Paradise Valley, AZ
23 Joe di Vito DR Scottsdale, AZ
33 Jason Campbell DR Gilbert, AZ
71 Darren Elliott Nash Motorsportz CRG Santa Monica, CA
85 Ryan Kinnear Champion Racing Intrepid Richmond, TX

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