EKN Trackside: 2018 Rock Island Grand Prix – Race Report
van der Steur grabs King of the Streets to lead multiple first time winners
Rory van der Steur scored King of the Streets and Open Shifter victories for his first Rock trophies (Photo: EKN)
The 2018 Xtreme Rock Island Grand Prix powered by Mediacom took place this weekend in the city streets of Rock Island, Illinois. The Quad Cities area welcomed karters from all over the country and the world, taking on the 6/10-mile street course over Saturday and Sunday. The Labor Day festival saw rain hit the event for the first time since 2012, thankfully washing away by the time heat racing began Saturday afternoon. Sunday was perfect racing conditions that brought some new track records, and a number of first time winners. Those included three two-time victors, all earning their first career Rock trophies, including Rory van der Steur, Morgan Schuler, and Riley Scott.
The opening class was the Travis DeVriendt Memorial Briggs 206 Heavy 1 with 33 drivers hitting the track. 2015 class winner Tony Neilson jumped out to the lead and showed the way until the final circuit. A group of drivers stayed in his draft until the white flag waved. Cal Stewart led the charge and freight-trained Neilson in the final corners. Stewart reached the checkered flag first, edging out Jeff Scott by 0.084 seconds. For Stewart, it was his third-straight win in the category, once again awarding the Rock trophy to the DeVriendt family. Justin Wishard was third with fast lap of the race, with Connor Lund pushing Neilson back to fifth.
The 80cc Shifter class went down to the wire with a close three kart lead group. It was four at the front with Chase Allard leading the first three laps until a mechanical issue put him on the sidelines. This handed the lead over to Heat winner Devon Smith-Harden. The TB Kart Indy driver would lead the rest of the race under pressure from teammate Kyle Kennedy and Gage Rucker. Lap traffic helped Smith-Harden to gain some space, reaching the checkered flag first. The victory gave Smith-Harden his first Rock trophy, and now can replace the one Josh Lane awarded to him in 2016. Kennedy ran second with Rucker third, while Tyler Sawyers and Troy Allard completed the top-five.
The Yamaha Heavy 1 Final ended on a bad note. The lead group of four, including Stewart, Neilson, Michael Dittmer and Casey Jacobs was intense, and on the final lap, contact was made. Stewart was leading with Neilson looking for a way past when the two hit, collecting Dittmer and Jacobs in a hard crash. Thankfully they all walked away. This however opened the door for Morgan Schuler to slip past and earn his first ever Rock trophy. Gage Rucker advanced to third with Dustin Bloome, Shane Wells and Troy Porter making up the top-five.
The following class was the Margay Ignite Junior division, making its third appearance at the RIGP. A great four driver battle went down the wire. After receiving the white flag, the quartet went three wide into turn one. However, a yellow flag was waving in the turn for an incident on the exit of the corner. Position changes happened and 2016 winner Ashton Wheeler came around as the leader to cross the line first. Penalties to him and Reid Sweeny put Jacob Bolen on top of the podium. Carter Pryor crossed the line second and remained their after the penalties with Wheeler put to third and Sweeny to fourth. Kayla Carlson won the battle for fifth.
Michael Welsh put himself into fourth overall in the win total after securing the victory in the Briggs 206 Heavy 2 class. Welsh’s last win was a decade ago, and the Davenport, Iowa driver was able to beat out one of the best in Tony Neilson. For much of the race, Neilson led with Welsh on his bumper. It came down the final lap with Welsh slipping past for the lead and reaching the checkered flag first by 68 thousandths over Neilson. Jeff Scott won the fight for third ahead of Cal Stewart and Justin Wishard, earning fast lap honors.
Last year, Rory van der Steur came two laps from winning the King of the Streets category, losing out to Austin Wilkins. The two returned to the RIGP and dominated the class once again. Rory started on the pole position and grabbed the holeshot, with Wilkins slipping in behind him. Wilkins would score the fast lap of the race, still three tenths off the mark he set in 2016, trying to run down Rory. It would not prevail with van der Steur leading the entire 20 laps for his first Rock trophy. Josh Lane won the battle for third ahead of Tim Hollowell and Scott Barnes from Bermuda. The class welcomed 25 drivers on the weekend, with Lane bringing together a number of contingency programs for the class. The goal is to bring more west coast drivers and teams to eclipse the 30-kart mark.
Contact on the final lap again effected the outcome in the Yamaha Heavy 2 Final. Tony Neilson led the first 19 laps until shuffling on the final circuit put Carter Pease and Cal Stewart on the sidelines, giving the path for Morgan Schuler to slip by for his second victory of the weekend. Neilson ended up second with Todd Bolton up to third ahead of Gage Rucker and Don Newman.
It was a great two driver fight for the victory in the Margay Ignite Senior class. The category that began at the RIGP in 2015 welcomed its fourth different winner. 2016 victor Jeffrey Dolian battled with two-time Rock trophy holder Scott Barnes from Bermuda. They went back and forth for 15 laps, with Barnes securing the lead and the victory on the final lap, edging out Dolian by 76 thousandths of a second at the line. 2017 Masters winner Pete Vetter ran third with Gage Kemp and Keith Scharf completing the top-five.
Jeff Scott was able to break the streak by Tony Neilson in the Briggs 206 Masters division. Neilson came in winning the first three years of the category at the RIGP. Neilson led the first half until Scott and Michael Welsh dropped him to third. Scott was able to reach the checkered flag as the leader, earning his first career Rock trophy. Welsh was a close second with Neilson right there in third. Robby Warner was fourth with Jason Crane winning the fight for fifth.
Tim Goettsch put himself in a tie for third in the career win list with Kyle Wiegand and Jason Birdsell at 11 thanks to his win in Yamaha Medium. A number of drivers led in the 20-lap race, going down to the wire. Cal Stewart was leading at the white flag, with Goettsch able to work past for the victory. Tony Neilson finished third, earning fast lap of the race, as Aaron Bromberek and Carter Pease completed the top-five.
The Margay Ignite Masters class started with a red flag after two laps with a five kart pileup in turn one. Once restarted, Jeffrey Dolian and defending race winner Pete Vetter pulled away from the field. Dolian led all but the final circuit, with Vetter taking the lead and the victory away. Keith Scharf was third with Cup Karts North America promoter Greg Jasperson and Colin Predith making up the top-five.
15-year-old Riley Scott picked up two wins in his RIGP debut, scoring the victory in Briggs 206 Medium 1 and 2. Scott was able to edge out veteran Cal Stewart in Final 1. Stewart led the first 10 laps with Scott grabbing the lead and going on to score the victory. His father Jeff Scott drove to third with Neilson placing fourth, earning fast lap of the race. Justin Wishard ended up fifth. A few races later, Riley won his second Rock trophy on the weekend. Neilson led the first five lap before Scott took over the lead. The fight ended up being for second behind Riley, with his father earning the spot for a Scott 1-2 finish. Neilson was third with Stewart fourth. Joshua Skelley was fifth, earning fast lap of the race.
It was a wild one in the 125cc Masters division. AJ Noud grabbed the holeshot from the pole position, leading the first 10 laps under heavy pressure from Jason Campbell and Lance Lane. Noud made a slight error entering turn one, and it sent him into the barriers right in front of Campbell and Lane. Campbell took over the lead, only to retire five laps later. This gave Lane the top spot, going on to score his fourth victory in the category, his first since 2014. TB Kart Indy driver Jason Ewers was second with Christopher Rock in third. Chad Lee overcame a near disaster at the start to place fourth over race director Terry Riggins.
Open Shifter closed out the 2018 edition of the Rock Island Grand Prix. New King of the Streets winner Rory van der Steur dominated the 20-lap race for his second Rock trophy of the day. Rory duplicated the same feat of Austin Wilkins from last year, doubling up and doing so in front of Wilkins who placed second. The fight for third went down to the wire with Tim Hollowell scoring the position over Scott Barnes and TB Kart Indy driver Devon Smith-Harden, who started 14th.
With the streets back to normal, and all the haulers pulled away, the 365 day wait for the next Rock Island Grand Prix begins. The volunteers will recover over the next 24 hours before planning begins for the 2019 edition, celebrating the 25th running of the world’s largest street race.