EKN Trackside: Challenge of the Americas 2016 – Tucson Saturday Report
McKinney earns first series win in Senior while Breuckner, Cleavelin, French and Kinnear sweep round
The ninth season for the Challenge of the Americas got racing underway on Saturday at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona. Five Rotax Max Challenge categories and two Shifterkart divisions around the 3/4-mile course, beginning the championship chase for the six-round title fight. Rolison Performance Group finished with a big day in the opening round with two victories thanks to Senior Max driver Jim McKinney and new Masters Max pilot Billy Cleavelin. Last year’s vice-champion in Junior Max Nick Brueckner swept the day as did Shifter drivers Jake French and Ryan Kinnear.
New names at the front was the story going into the weekend for the Nash Motorsportz Senior Max division. Christian Brooks was there in his rookie season, and became one of the favorites entering the weekend. The Nash Motosportz / CRG driver produced, earning the pole position in qualifying and drove away to the win in the Prefinal. The field caught up for the 25-lap main event as Rolison Performance Group drivers Jim McKinney, Michael Michoff and Kellen Ritter kept pace to begin the Final. Brooks led the first 10 laps before McKinney found a way around for the lead at turn four. McKinney (Kosmic) stretched away in the next couple of laps, maintaining the advantage as Brooks went into defense mode with Ritter on his bumper. The third-year Senior driver McKinney drove away to a 2.2-second advantage at the checkered flag for his first Challenge victory. Brooks fought off Ritter for the second spot, however was removed from the results with an improper emulsion tube in the carburetor. This put Ritter to runner-up and Michoff in third to put two Senior rookies on the podium. Nathan Adds (Sodi Kart) ran fifth early on, but relinquished the position to Canadian Noel Dowler (Exprit), but with the Brooks DQ the two finished fourth and fifth.
Phillippe Denes finished second in the Prefinal, however, was disqualified for an illegal needle in the carburetor to put him dead last in the 24-kart field. The Ryan Perry Motorsport driver bounced back to drive to a ninth position behind Walker Hess (Rolison Performance Group / Tony Kart) and Coltin McCaughan (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) with Mason Marotta (Ryan Perry Motorsport / Tony Kart) completing the top-10. All moved up one position after Brooks DQ, making Zach Holden (Koene USA / Tony Kart) in tenth after a DNF with a flat tire in the Prefinal.
Billy Cleavelin made his Rotax debut in 2015 at the Challenge series finale in Sonoma, challenging for the wins and reaching the podium in the final round. The veteran has teamed up with Rolison Performance Group to go for the Cambrian Go-Karts Masters Max championship and the Rotax Grand Finals ticket to the title winner. The chase began with a perfect score, as Billy swept the opening round. Cleavelin (Kosmic) set fast time in qualifying, and then went on to lead every lap of the Prefinal and Final. 2015 vice-champion John Crow ran P2 in his Full Throttle Karting / Birel ART machine with RPG getting two on the podium with Scott Falcone (Kosmic) right there in third. The action on track was for the fourth position, with Brian Taylor (Tony Kart) earning the position in the Prefinal. He would get shuffled back at the start of the Final, with Diego Pelosi assume the spot. Canadian Christopher Patterson (Exprit) moved into the position on lap nine, holding on for the remainder of the 25-lap race to earn the position. After trouble in the Prefinal, Dallas Karting Complex driver Mike Jones (Sodi Kart) started dead last in the 19-kart field. The 2014 DD2 Masters national champion posted lap times similar to that of the leaders, climbing his way through the field to end up fifth at the checkered flag.
The day in Rolison Performance Group Junior Max belonged to Nick Brueckner. The Texan racing under the Orsolon Racing / Tony Kart operation led throughout the day to sweep the opening round. Brueckner began by qualifying by more than four tenths of a second over the next driver in qualifying, before racing away to a one-second win in the Prefinal. The final was much of the same, leading the 25-lap event to the victory by over four seconds of a second. Trey Brown (Nash Motorsport / Tony Kart) ran to second, holding off a charging Matthew Taskinen (Rolison Performance Group / Tony Kart). Zoey Edenholm (Koene USA / Tony Kart) ran to fourth with Max Fedler (Unser Racing / Tony Kart) making up the top-five after starting 18th, earning fast lap of the race to shut out the perfect score for Brueckner.
Jake French made it look easy in the debut of the Dallas Karting Complex Shifter Senior to the Challenge of the Americas program. French (Dallas Karting Complex / Sodi Kart) made it a perfect score on the day, leading from qualifying to the final checkered flag. Pure Karting drivers Kolton Griffin (Tony Kart) and Don Whittington (Tony Kart) completed the podium. Jacob Neal (VRP Racing / Tony Kart) over came missing the qualifying session due to repair time after an off in warm-up, advancing up to fourth with Champion Racing / Intrepid driver Harold Gottsacker IV in fifth.
In the same race group, Ryan Kinnear recorded a perfect score in the Energy Kart USA Shifter Masters division. Kinnear was challenged all day by veteran Darren Elliott (Nash Motorsportz / CRG) until the start of the final when Elliott missed the start due to a detached carburetor. Kinnear won the class by over 21 seconds ahead of Nick Firestone (DR Kart) and Juan Garcia (Sodi Kart).
It was a two-driver battle all day in the Go Kart Hero Mini Max division. Diego LaRoque (Benik) won the opening round, earning fast lap in qualifying to secure the five bonus points toward the championship. The Mini Max rookie led most of the Prefinal before Canadian Marco Kacic (CRG) made a last lap pass stick to secure the win. The two led the way in the Final, with LaRoque getting the jump at the green flag from the outside of row one. Kacic put himself on the bumper on LaRoque until lap 16, making the move for the lead. The CRG Nordam pilot held on for the remaining two laps to earn the opening round victory over LaRoque. Austin Torgerson (Tony Kart) won the battle for third over Joe Brienza II (Tony Kart) and Cooper Becklin (Birel ART).
It was a clean sweep for Ashton Torgerson for the opening round of the Ryan Perry Motorsport Micro Max division. The Tony Kart driver led the way from qualifying to the Final, earning a perfect 120 points to begin the championship chase. His lead challenger was Carson Morgan (Benik) as the California driver ran second in the Prefinal and Final. Enzo Scionti (CRG) completed the podium with Tuesday Calderwood in fourth and Piers Aspiras (BirelART) in fifth.