2019 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals – Monday Report

First laps completed for 20th edition of world Rotax championship

(Photo: Cody Schindel - CKN)

The glitz and glamour of the opening days for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals is behind all of the 360 drivers from 50 countries. Today was about getting on track and beginning the first steps to become one of the six world Rotax champions at the Circuito Internazionale Napoli for the 20th edition for the ‘Olympics of Karting’. The 14 drivers that make up Team USA took to the Sarno, Italy facility for three rounds of practice to sort out their Rotax powered machines.

Event Information

Time Schedule

Live Timing

DD2: Birel ART (72 entries)

Max Hewitt (Photo: Cody Schindel – CKN)

The quickest category of the event is the two-speed DD2 division, and times are dipping below the 1-minute mark. Times after the third round of practice are already nine tenths quicker then the qualifying time set in 2016. The lone USA driver is Texan Max Hewitt.

“My first practice started off rough. I only got 3 minutes out of the 15-minute session because of pickup and spark plug problems. So the rest of the day I’ve been playing catch-up. I think I have the first two sectors down to the tenth but I need to fix the last sector as I’m giving up at least 4 tenths there! The track itself is unlike anything I’ve been at before. Corners are deceiving and there’s a lot of grip being put down already so it is definitely a challenging track!”

#413 – Max Hewitt

Hometown: Houston, Texas
Qualified: RTX All Star Finals (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1 (odd): 33rd – 1:05.174
Practice 2 (odd): 29th – 1:00.500
Practice 3 (odd): 26th – 1:00.188

DD2 Masters: SodiKart (72 entries)

Tim Schutt (Photo: Cody Schindel – CKN)

Experience is key when competing at the international level. Seattle driver Derek Wang has been the top Team USA driver in the category for the last four years. His best finish was seventh in 2017 in Portugal, placing 12th in 2016 at this year’s circuit. Wang was top-five throughout the day in his group, putting him in the top-15 overall when combining the two groups. Mauel and Shutt are not in the seat as much as Wang but come with lots of experience as well. Each improved as the day went on with Shutt looking for more in his first trip to the RMCGF.

“I am proud to be born in the USA and the Rotax driver party is unlike anything else. Nothing but fun, laughter, and meeting new friends. The field is a tough bunch of old guys out here tearing it up. I’m looking for more speed tomorrow.”

#507 – Tim Shutt

Hometown: Troutman, North Carolina
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1 (odd): 24th – 1:02.201
Practice 2 (odd): 24th – 1:01.553
Practice 3 (odd): 21st – 1:01.272

#514 – Derek Wang

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Qualified: RTX All Star Finals (1st – Masters Max)
RMCGF Appearances: 8 – 2010, 2011 (DD2), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 (DD2 Masters)

Practice 1 (even): 3rd – 1:00.671
Practice 2 (even): 4th – 1:00.548
Practice 3 (even): 5th – 1:00.475

#527 – Nathan Mauel

Hometown: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
Qualified: RTX All Star Finals (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: 8 – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2017 (DD2)

Practice 1 (odd): 28th – 1:02.652
Practice 2 (odd): 22nd – 1:01.272
Practice 3 (odd): 18th – 1:01.153

Junior: Praga (72 entries)

Luca Mars and Connor Zilisch (Photo: Cody Schindel – CKN)

Both Zilisch and Mars are on their third week of being in Italy coming off the a week racing in Lonato on October 12. Spending the off week together and put in the same practice group, they have become a solid pair entering the event. Zilisch a former Mini international champion and Mars racing the CIK Academy Trophy program in 2019, they also bring lots of experience. Add in now Joshua Pierson, and Team USA has a trio of drivers sitting inside the top-30 after the opening day. Zilisch has the quickest lap of all three.

“This race is a great experience that everyone should go to at least once. The team experience is one seen nowhere else. It’s just a fair and fun to event to be at. It’s pretty unique that you get one set of tires and you have to find ways to conserve the tires while keeping up your pace. It takes a lot of testing with tire pressure to find the perfect number. This is my first time at this event and at Sarno, so it is a learning curve for me.”

#202 – Joshua Pierson

Hometown: Wilsonville, Oregon
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Trophy (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: 1 – 2017

Practice 1 (even): 21st – 1:02.992
Practice 2 (even): 15th – 1:01.641
Practice 3 (even): 16th – 1:01.534

#205 – Luca Mars

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: 2 – 2016 (Mini), 2018

Practice 1 (odd): 14th – 1:03.234
Practice 2 (odd): 25th – 1:02.156
Practice 3 (odd): 9th – 1:01.564

#215 – Connor Zilisch

Hometown: Matthews, North Carolina
Qualified: RTX All Star Finals (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1 (odd): 3rd – 1:02.576
Practice 2 (odd): 12th – 1:01.822
Practice 3 (odd): 6th – 1:01.419

Micro: Praga (36 entries)

Adam Brickley and Ben Maier (Photo: Ben Maier Racing)

The United States of America has two of the three world titles in the Micro Max division, with two drivers aiming to be the third. Both Adam Brickley and Ben Maier are making their international debuts this weekend in Italy. The two teammates under the Nitro Kart tent are now Team USA teammates. The two ran inside the top-15 all day. Ben Maier had the following on his Facebook page.

“Today was a combination of trying to save our tires and still put down some good laps to see where we stand. We made some great progress. For all you karting folks, the draft here is significantly greater than New Castle, so the pack comes back together every lap. We learned the flow of the event. Get in line to enter parc ferme, once in parc ferme, we mount tires and fuel tank. Then wait there a while. Then get allowed onto the grid. Sit there a while. Then do the session. Then back to scales and parc ferme to take off the tires and fuel tank and check them in until next session.”

“Praga has a full support tent that has setup parts, spares, and helpful advice for tuning. So we stopped in there a few times. Other then the few odds and ends we buy there so far the entire event has not cost a cent. Such a great thing Rotax does! And the day ended with Adam Brickley getting stuck in a glass elevator!”

#4 – Adam Brickley

Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1: 6th – 1:13.184
Practice 2: 11th – 1:11.136
Practice 3: 10th – 1:10.701

#9 – Ben Maier

Hometown: Stevensville, Maryland
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (2nd)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1: 7th – 1:13.332
Practice 2: 12th – 1:11.207
Practice 3: 14th – 1:10.811

Mini: CompKart (36 entries)

Alex McPherson-Wiman (Photo: Cody Schindel – CKN)

Also making their international debuts are the two Mini drivers for Team USA. Weinberg was the quickest of the two, improving his position within the field. Colorado’s McPherson-Wiman improved his pace throughout the day, but needs more time in order to be more competitive by qualifying. Alex’s hometown is the site of the 2007 US Rotax Grand Nationals at The Track at Centennial. It was the site of the first event EKN worked with live audio over the internet, working with RaceFanRadio that week. He is under the guidance of Forward Direction Motorsports’ Greg Welch.

“Overall the day was ok. He is a super cautious kid in general so I knew it would take a day to get up to pace. Unfortunately, we have an engine issue, and Rotax kept the kart overnight to keep working on it.  It probably makes up around half our 2.5-second gap to the leaders. He has been progressing well and is gaining confidence and comfort every session. Once he let’s go of his nerves and puts some trust into the kart, he will be right there.

#103 – Cameron Weinberg

Hometown: Carrollton, Georgia
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1: 32nd – 1:09.380
Practice 2: 26th – 1:07.252
Practice 3: 15th – 1:06.486

#109 – Alex McPherson-Wiman

Hometown: Centennial, Colorado
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (2nd)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1: 34th – 1:10.174
Practice 2: 34th – 1:09.647
Practice 3: 35th – 1:08.527

Senior: SodiKart (72 entries)

Ryan Norberg (Photo: Cody Schindel – CKN)

It has been five years since Ryan Norberg has been to the RMCGF. What exactly has he done in that time? Not much! All kidding aside, that puts Team USA at a lower end when it comes to experience at the Olympics of Karting, however, the three drivers are very talented. JDG is coming off a solid overall performance in Lonato two weeks ago, and Wiley is only two tenths off Norberg after the final session today. Norberg is inside the top-20 overall, and gave us his take on Day 1.

“The first day of practice went well. It’s always difficult for drivers to adjust to a new kart and track at the same time but that’s just part of the fun for this event. The first session went well for me. In the second session, we had a rubber seal in the bead lock break causing a flat tire. In the final practice of the day, we struggled with track position and didn’t get a clean lap. Because of the long straight, everyone is looking for a draft so it is difficult to get a good lap in without traffic. I’m excited for the changes we made for tomorrow and looking for some better speed. Hoping Team USA shows up strong on Saturday!”

#303 – Jace Denmark-Gessel

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Open (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1 (odd): 8th – 1:01.202
Practice 2 (odd): 12th – 1:00.920
Practice 3 (odd): 17th – 1:00.811

#304 – Ryan Norberg

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Qualified: Stars & Stripes Trophy (1st)
RMCGF Appearances: 2 – 2013, 2014 (Junior)

Practice 1 (even): 5th – 1:00.938
Practice 2 (even): 11th – 1:00.944
Practice 3 (even): 9th – 1:00.716

#307 – Travis Wiley

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Qualified: RTX All Star Finals (replacing Nick Brueckner)
RMCGF Appearances: None

Practice 1 (odd): 32nd – 1:02.309
Practice 2 (odd): 29th – 1:01.456
Practice 3 (odd): 24th – 1:00.982

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