Hamilton and Craig Shine in SKUSA Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix
Impressive racing highlighted by thrilling Saturday night Pro races under the lights for California ProKart Challenge finale event
Matt Hamilton defended his Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix victory in the S1 Pro division (Photo: DromoPhotos.com)
For the sixth straight year, Superkarts! USA has capped its California ProKart Challenge season on the BLVD of Lancaster, California, and once again a record turnout of the West Coast’s most talented drivers put on a superb show for a huge crowd who lined the street course throughout the weekend. The Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix Driven by Sierra Toyota has become a must-attend event for a majority of the Stock Moto, X30, and Swift drivers in the western half of the United States and it is gaining national attention as a ‘bucket list’ race, as well. Superkarts! USA made a few schedule changes for this year’s event, running the S1/S2 Stock Moto and X30 Senior race groups entirely on Saturday, similar to a standard PKC weekend, which put the drivers under the lights for their main events in front of a huge Saturday night crowd. This put Matt Hamilton (S1) and Jake Craig (X30 Senior) in a well-deserved spotlight, as they topped strong fields to win in their respective classes.
As it has every year, the Streets of Lancaster GP event reset the bar for excitement and pageantry. During the opening ceremonies, launched with the presentation of the colors by the Color Guard, a high-flying Navy SEALS team parachuted onto the front straightaway during the singing of the national anthem, carrying the American flag in tow. The event’s atmosphere was a party festival, as the beer gardens and bar patios were full, outdoor entertainment rocked the night post-race, and a superbike stunt show entertained the crowd during the short lunch break each day. Race winners were delivered to pit lane in one of Sierra Toyota’s new Tundras, and were then carried around the track after their victory interview so that they could wave to the crowd. To cap it all off, the winners of the S1, S2 and X30 Senior classes received free entry packages into the SKUSA SuperNationals 20, courtesy of Superkarts! USA and the City of Lancaster. It was another incredible edition of this growing race.
In the yearlong combined battle that is the S1/S2 group, the season finale at Lancaster saw the 2Wild Karting S1 Pro Stock Moto drivers rise to the occasion, sweeping the top five positions in the final. Kiwi Matt Hamilton made a return trip to California to defend his Streets of Lancaster GP win from 2015, and he would not be stopped on this occasion either, despite the impressive performances by Ron White and Carter Williams. Hamilton qualified on the pole position ahead of Billy Musgrave and Texan visitor Jake French, and would maintain his pace in Heat #1. Ron White continued to find speed throughout the day as he advanced from fourth to second, finishing ahead of Musgrave, Jarred Campbell and Jimmy McNeil. The same players fought up front in the second heat, with Hamilton winning over McNeil, but this only served to set up the fight for the win under the lights on Saturday night in front of a packed house. Hamilton again displayed his abilities on the quick five-turn Lancaster Boulevard circuit, pacing the field for 20 laps. Much of the excitement in the main came courtesy of Williams, who chased down White and passed him to sit second, before pushing Hamilton aggressively during the second half of the race. White would eventually get back by Williams to finish second, as Carter came home with an impressive third.
Coming into Lancaster, everyone knew that the fight for the prestigious win in the Phil Giebler Racing X30 Senior main was going to be a good one. The class had featured four different winners in five races, and the championship was on the line. Point leader Billy Musgrave set the pace early by topping Nick Ramirez by just under two tenths in qualifying, putting the two drivers on the front row for the opening moto. Title contender Nicky Hays was third in the timed session, ahead of Jake Drew. Jake Craig was making his first X30 Senior start of the California PKC season, and he capped the fast five. The biggest disappointment was for former GP winner Brendon Baker, who turned just one lap in qualifying after a minor driving miscue. In Heat #1, Musgrave led early before Ramirez moved to the point for good on lap three. Hays forced the issue in turn one and made contact with the inside barrier, and his resultant path put him in a collision course with Craig and they fell to 14th and 16th, respectively. They were both able to continue and fought back into the top-10. Baker put on the best show, knifing through the field to claw his way back up to an amazing third after his qualifying problems. The second heat was won by Musgrave, but the story in this 10-lapper was the recovery of Craig and Hays, who returned to the lead fight behind Baker in third and forth. On the flip side, Ramirez led for a time in the second heat race, but fell to the tail of the field on the final lap. The stage had been set for a wild race under the lights, and as the 20-lap race unfolded, the lead trio of Hays, Craig and Ramirez emerged to fight it out for the win. Ramirez had powered back through the field like a man on a mission, and he and Craig swapped the lead over the last three laps after Hays faded back into the field on lap 16. Craig finally asserted control on lap 18 and he would lead the final two circuits to score a popular win. Ramirez completed a thrilling recovery to get to the podium, while Baker took third. Baker was dropped to fourth after a penalty for a jumpstart, which advanced Jake Drew to third. Cody Kelleher rounded out the top-five, capping his season with three straight top-five finishes.
The Leading Edge Motorsports S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto main event featured a three-driver battle between Hunter Kelly, Hunter Pickett, and Robert Heck Jr., and while everyone expected a thrilling fight to the finish, it was not to be. An S1 driver in front of the trio made contact with the barriers with two laps to go, and while shooting across the track he collected all three, ending the chance for a showdown. Alan Michel capitalized on the chaos and emerged as the S2 race winner, finishing ahead of Jason Pettit and Josh DeLosier.
After qualifying fourth in the Outsource Utility Contractor S3 Rookie Stock Moto, Royal McKee turned his game up a notch in winning both heat races and the main event. Top qualifier Garrett McKelvie shadowed McKee all weekend and would finish second in both heat races and the 20-lap final, making it an exciting class to watch. Prescott Campbell asserted himself on Sunday and rose to the occasion, finishing third, which was his best finish of the year. Dean Heldt was the top man in the Rolison Performance Group S5 Junior Stock Moto class, scoring the win over Kent Hatada.
The battle in the Nash Motorsportz S4 Master and Mike Manning Karting S4 Super Master Stock Moto classes capped the weekend in style, positioned as the feature race on Sunday afternoon. Two-time GP winner Rob Logan was sidelined in S4 Master qualifying when his spark plug boot popped off, dropping him to 13th for the first heat race. Logan immediately rocketed through the field during the opening 10-lap heat race, finishing behind veteran Robert Marks and fast qualifier Alan Michel. Logan wasted no time in taking over the lead in the second heat race to give him the pole position for the 20-lap main, as Marks again paced Michel for the runner-up position and the outside front row starting position. The final was all Logan, as he led green to checker, pressured all the way by first Marks, and then Michel. It was a thrilling battle that kept the crowd entertained. This was Logan’s third Streets of Lancaster win, and he commented in his post-race interview that he absolutely loves the race and is now focused on continuing his success at the SuperNationals in November.
The S4 Super Master class saw the return of a former S4 Master frontrunner in Jonathon Allen. The SoCal resident raced in S4 the initial years of the Pro Tour, and while he has since moved to SCCA Spec Racer Ford competition, he’s coming back to pilot his shifter thanks to the launch of the new Super Master category. Allen was quick out of the gate, topping PP Mastro and Darrell Tunnell in qualifying. Allen paced the field in both heat races, with both David Conyers and 2015 SOLGP winner Patrick O’Neill taking turns in the top-three. Early in the main, O’Neill jumped into the lead turning the quickest laps of the class, but his race came to an end on lap 12, handing the lead back to Allen. It appeared as though the 50-year-old would walk to the victory, but Mastro turned up the heat late in the race and reeled in Allen over the final laps to cross the line on his bumper, less than two tenths back. Tunnell maintained a solid pace all weekend to complete the podium in third.
The 2016 season has been a fact-finding mission for veteran driver and team owner Mike Rolison in the Vemme Kart X30 Master category, as he plans to add the ProKart Challenge program to the 2017 travel schedule of his operation. With a focus on learning the tracks and coming to grips with the IAME X30 powerplant, Rolison has been on fire, winning three races this year. He kept up this trend on the streets of Lancaster as Mike dominated the weekend, qualifying on the pole and topping every session to score his fourth victory. In the timed run to set the grid for the opening heat race, he edged John Crow by a tenth while Vatche Tatikian sat third. Nick de Graff and Rob Brackett completed the top-five. In Heat #1, Rolison turned the fastest laps to stretch out a little gap over Travis Irving and de Graff. The second heat was more of the same, with another Rolison win, but de Graff improved on his pace to run second, bettering the fast time of the leader. Tatikian finished third to start the final alongside Kevin Manning, who advanced for fourth ahead of Irving. In the main, Rolison ran away and hid once again, eventually scoring a five-second win over de Graff, who equaled his best finish of the year. Street racing is close-quarters action and chaos erupted on the final lap, as Tatikian and Manning were embroiled in a scrap for the final position on the podium. Manning made a move up the inside on Tatikian as they exited the right-hand turn three heading to the left-hand turn four hairpin, and a defensive maneuver by the lead driver pinched Manning into the barriers. Kevin was catapulted from his kart by the impact, and suffered a collarbone and wrist injuries. He is expected to make a full recovery and plans a return at the SuperNationals. Tatikian was put behind Manning in the order, which opened the door for an impressive third place finish by Erik Jackson, who powered up from 18th in the 20-lap main after failing to finish both heat races. In the aftermath, Gary Lennon and Irving completed the top-five.
Ryan Schartau kicked off the Ryan Perry Motorsports X30 Junior battle by topping qualifying ahead of Jagger Jones and Oliver Calvo, as just over a tenth separated the top three. Calvo took Heat #1, locked in a lead duo with Kameron Perry, who was having his best outing of the year. Ryan Schartau was right there in third, ahead of California PKC point leader Dante Yu. Calvo continued his control of the field in Heat #2, this time finishing ahead of Yu, who had to deal with a charging Zoey Edenholm. Jones and Perry remained at the pointy end of the field in fourth and fifth, respectively. Sadly, Schartau was involved in an incident that dropped him to eighth. The 20-lap final was a thrilling battle between Calvo, Edenholm and Yu. Edenholm locked onto the leader’s rear bumper and pressured Calvo over the second half of the race, but Oliver ran a mid-track line down the straightaway each lap as Edenholm sized up her competition for a last lap pass. That overtaking attempt never materialized, as Zoey followed Calvo home across the line for a 1-2 finish. Yu finished third ahead of Jones and Perry.
The battle in PKS Kart Supplies Mini Swift was thrilling with a five-driver pack setting the pace through the 16-lap main event and eventually deciding the outcome. To start the weekend, Anthony Willis topped the field in Saturday qualifying, outpacing Dominic Gorden and Carson Morgan. Daniel Inzunza and Cole Cotham capped the fast five. In the opening heat race, Morgan showed his hand as he and Willis teamed up to pull a slight advantage over the trio of Cotham, Inzunza and Gorden. Willis and Morgan swapped positions in Heat #2, with Willis stretching away by a second to take the win and the pole for the main. The main event featured all five drivers once again, but it was Willis who led Inzunza to begin the last lap. After a little jostling, Inzunza was the first to emerge from the Turn 4 hairpin, and the final run down the straightaway proved to be the exclamation point for the race. Inzunza ran the inside of the track all the way to the final corner in an effort to hold back Willis, but as soon as the leader darted right to set up for the corner, Willis made his move to the inside to beat his competition to the exit. There was only a kart width of room, but Willis was going for the win. This impressive overtaking maneuver would have worked, had it not been for that fact that Morgan was close enough to perfectly time the outside-inside line to beat both drivers out of the corner. Willis and Inzunza had sacrificed their exit speed battling each other, and Morgan took full advantage to slip past for his second straight California PKC win. Gorden followed through for second with Willis able to hold off Cotham for the final step on the podium.
Frankie Mossman led the way in Team Topkart USA Micro Swift qualifying, but it was Kai Sorensen who worked from his fourth place starting position to win Heat #1 when Mossman ran into trouble on lap five after leading the first half of the race. Behind Sorensen, Mathias Coito and Enzo Deligny finished second and third in the opening moto. Sorensen continued to run at the front of the field in Heat #2, and he would do the same in the 16-lap main event as well. Although he may not have needed it, Sorensen benefitted from an opening lap incident that happened behind him on the exit of the hairpin, giving him a massive lead to begin the feature race. Mossman, Coito and Piers Aspiras were all involved in the shunt, which left Sorensen to walk away and win by over seven seconds from Ethan Nascimento and Deligny.
Superkarts! USA will now look forward to the California ProKart Challenge season-ending awards banquet on October 22. Drivers, families and teams will return to Lancaster for the outing, as this year’s championship celebration will be held at BeX Bar & Grill. Tickets and event details will be available shortly through the SKUSA website and online store.
For more information on anything related to Superkarts! USA, please visit the website – www.superkartsusa.com and be sure to follow the Superkarts! USA Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts – or call the SKUSA head office at 951-491-0808.