EKN Trackside: 2019 ROK Cup USA ROK the RIO – Saturday Report
Formal outlasts and Ramos escapes for victories in the shadow of the Rio in Las Vegas
The 2019 ROK Cup USA ROK the RIO completed the week long event outside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino on Saturday, November 2 with a full day of main events. A total of 10 divisions began their on-track action on Wednesday, and battled through the first three days before the final hand was dealt to decide this year’s ROK the RIO champions. The week began with colder temperatures, however, the winds went away and the typical Las Vegas weather greeted the 310 entries for the big show.
The day began with the 100cc Senior category as Jake Drew (FW / CompKart) and Jenson Altzman (Ruthless / Exprit) led the field to the green flag. A three driver lead group formed with third-place starter Billy Musgrave (Croc Promotion USA). Drew led the first 19 laps with Musgrave on his bumper the entire time. Altzman, the defending winner, nearly lost the draft of the top two, however, their jostling in the closing laps allowed him to close back in. On the final circuit, Drew ran the defensive line down the long back straight, while Musgrave went to the outside with Altzman giving him a push. Musgrave powered past Drew, yet when they got to the corner, Drew drifted wide under braking. Musgrave had to go into the marbles to avoid contact, and this allowed Altzman to slide under both. In similar fashion to his win last year, Altzman led the final few corners to lead only the final circuit to earn the victory. Drew came across the line in second with Musgrave in third. Austin Osborne (Tony Kart) drove up from eighth to fourth with Henry Fall-Hand (MMK / OTK) holding his starting spot in fifth.
The Mini ROK category went down to the final circuit with a great duel between east coast and west coast. North Carolina’s Caleb Gafrarar (PSL / Birel ART) earned the pole position off his two heat race wins while California’s Kai Sorensen (Supertune / Tony Kart) challenged from his third place starting spot. Gafrarar led the opening seven circuits of the 18-lap battle until Sorensen – the Florida Winter Tour champion – took control. Gafrarar stuck himself on the rear bumper of Sorensen and waited until the final lap to make his move. Sorensen went defensive down the long straight, and Gafrarar set him up for the over-under on the exit. Gafrarar left the door open in turn 9, and Sorensen took the opportunity. They swap the lead there and then again in turn 10, with Gafrarar leading into the penultimate corner. He ran defensive and was unable to keep the kart from drifting wide. That allowed Sorensen to cross over and take the lead through the final corner, holding it to the checkered flag. Italian Riccardo Ianniello (NF / FA Kart) ran solo in third while Colombian Sebastian Garzon (AM / Exprit) came up from 13th to fourth and Anderson Leonard (Supertune / Tony Kart) completed the top five.
Ryan Kinnear left no room to question who would come out of the competitive Shifter Master ROK division as the winner. Setting fast time in qualifying and winning all four heat races, the Phil Giebler Racing / Ricciardo driver grabbed the holeshot for the 25-lap main event. From there, Kinnear went untouched to lead the entire distance to win by nearly two-seconds. The man on the move all race was Mike Beeny (MSquared / Tony Kart). Starting eighth, the veteran from Utah knifed his way forward with fast laps of the race to earn the runner-up position. That pushed back last year’s winner Jordon Musser (PSL / Birel ART) down to third. The fight for fourth went to Challenge of the Americas champion Rod Clinard, beating out his Ron White Racing / CRG teammate Kevin Woods.
The Senior ROK main event began with the battle we anticipated early before things unraveled after the halfway point. Three-time world title winner Ben Cooper (PSL / Birel ART) led the field to the green and retained the lead through the first 11 laps. Current EKN Driver Rankings #1 Ryan Norberg (RPG / Kosmic) moved up from fifth to take over the top spot, setting up what we thought would be a great battle between two of the best. Cooper, however, did not have the pace in the second half of the race, and drifted back as Norberg pulled away. With the 48-driver field and contact toward the back, Norberg came across lap traffic quicker than expected. He was unable to navigate them as quick as he hoped, and officials were not able to black flag them off the track. These lappers did not help Norberg, but it did help Canadian Thomas Nepveu (PSL / Birel ART). Once on Norberg’s bumper, Nepveu wasted little time before attacking. His aggressiveness on lap 19 in turn 11 results in major contact between the two. They kept their foot in it, and more contact was made down the front straight and into turn one. On the exit of the corner, they both ended their race in the barriers. This handed the lead to Brazilian Diego Ramos (REM / Tony Kart), who paced the now lead trio for the final five laps for the victory. Cooper was able to work past Jacob Gulick (RPG / Kosmic) on the final circuit to earn the runner-up spot. IndyCar driver Zachary Claman Demelo (REM / Kosmic) came across the line in fourth, but was penalized for a driving infraction. That promoted Axel Cabrera (AKT / Kosmic) to fourth, up 16 positions, and Jake Craig (Orsolon / Tony Kart) in fifth.
The final morning main event was the 100cc Junior division, with Jorge Ortiz (Supertune / Tony Kart) going wire-to-wire. Starting on the pole position after placing top-three in all four heat races, Ortiz led all 20 circuits to claim the victory. The battle all race long was for second, taken by Max Opalski (RPM / FA Kart) ahead of Alex Berg (RPM / Tony Kart), Chloe Chambers (MDR / Kosmic) and Cole Schroeder (Ruthless / Exprit).
Things amped up to begin the afternoon session when the Master ROK class took the green flag and continued through to the checkered flag. Contact at the front of the field included contenders Billy Cleavelin (RPG / Kosmic), Tim Meyer (LEM / Kosmic) and Paul Bonilla (FTK / GFC). Even more drivers were collected in turn two as the field went through, nearly blocking the entire track. The track was cleared in time for the field to come around to complete the opening lap with Danilo Ramalho (Kosmic) leading from P2 grid position. Polesitter Renato Jader-David (Orsolon / Tony Kart) fell back to fourth early but fought his way to second, and went right after Ramalho. The two Brazilians made contact while fighting for the lead on lap 11, thus moving Magno Gaia (Orsolon / Tony Kart) into the lead. Scott Falcone (RPG / Kosmic) started 14th but was fourth through the opening lap thanks to the contact in turn two. He was now into the second spot and grabbed the lead on lap 19. He led two laps before Gaia took the position back, setting up for a last lap battle. Coming to turn 11, Gaia went inside of Falcone, and the two made contact on the entry to the corner. Both went into the wall, and that allowed Vatche Tatikian (PGR / Ricciardo) to slip past, going from third to first and taking the checkered flag. It was a great drive by the 2019 Canadian Karting Championships winner, coming up from 10th. More contact between Renato and Ramalho allowed Falcone to come off the wall and cross the line second. Ramalho was third, however, he was given a five-second penalty for pushback bumper, and Falcone two positions for a starting infraction. This promoted former Challenge of the Americas champion Erik Jackson (Vemme) to second and Eric Molinatti (RWR / CRG) to third on the podium. Falcone ended up fourth with Rob Kozakowski (Ruthless / Exprit) completing the top-five.
Saturday was a moment young Kai Johnson will never forget. The six-year-old was able to hold off three drivers to win the Micro ROK main event. Johnson (AKT / Energy) started outside the front row with Enzo Vidmontiene (Benik) on the pole position. Enzo slipped back early and retired on lap five. Johnson and Luis Umana (AM / Exprit) swapped the lead after that until Umana slipped down the order. This left Johnson leading with Canadian Jordan DiLeo (Goodwood / Intrepid), Carson Weinberg (Benik) and Oliver Wheldon (JC / Kosmic) on his bumper. Johnson would fend off their attempts to claim the lead, and reached the line first for the victory. Weinberg was second with Wheldon to third as DiLeo fell from second to fourth in the final circuit. Jacobo Vegas (AKT / Energy) won the battle for fifth.
One of the great moves of the weekend was in the 100cc Master class, pulled off by eventual winner Tim Meyer (LEM / Kosmic). Meyer was running third behind front row starters Jonathan Silva (FW / CompKart) and Colby Wallace (Ruthless / Tony Kart). Lap 11 of the 20-lap race, Meyer dove inside Wallace and continued ahead to get alongside Silva at the end of the straight. It was a great deep brake move to take over the lead. From there, Meyer held off the fight from Wallace and Rob Kozakowski (Ruthless / Exprit) to earn the victory. Defending race winner Silva ran fourth with Ricardo Arruda (MDG / Birel ART) in fifth.
The Junior ROK win was a duel between Florida Winter Tour champion Luca Mars and vice-champion Enrico de Lucca. They started on the front row together with Mars (SCR / Tony Kart) in the pole position. He led the first three laps until the Brazilian took over. Mars studied de Lucca (NF / Kosmic) until the final circuit when the two went back and forth for the lead. Mars came up just short in a drag race to the line with de Lucca taking the victory by only four hundredths of a second at the line. Behind them, Connor Zilisch (LAK / Tony Kart) came on late after drifting back at the start, returning to his third starting position. Alessandro De Tullio (AM / Exprit) was fourth with top qualifier Guilherme Figueiredo (HR / Tony Kart) in fifth, up eight spots in the 25 laps.
The event concluded with the 42 drivers in the Shifter ROK category. Mathias Ramirez and Daniel Formal – the top two finishers from a year ago – controlled the pace all week. Each earned two heat wins and filled up the front row. The two were able to get away quickly with contact behind them including third place starter Jake French (PSL / Birel ART) and Ron White (RWR / CRG) at the kink of the back straight. That sent the field scrambling to avoid them, allowing the top two the opportunity to build a gap. Ramirez (GFC) had a good lead until a slight mistake allowed Formal (LEM / Formula K) to close back in. The two swapped the lead a number of times leading up to the final circuit. Formal assumed the lead and Ramirez pushed a bit to hard at the kink, making slight contact with the barrier that bent the axle. That allowed Formal to go unchallenged for the victory. Ramirez held on for the second spot, one short of defending his win from last year. The battle for third went down to the wire with Nick LeDuc (KC / Sodikart) earning the position, up four spots ahead of two Rock Island Grand Prix King of the Streets winners. Race Liberante (FW / CompKart) drove to fourth with Remo Ruscitti (CDD / Italkart) in fifth.
The second edition of the ROK Cup USA ROK the RIO was a huge success, welcoming 300 drivers from around the world to Las Vegas. The momentum is building for the ROK program here in North America thanks to the build up of this event, and momentum is sure to carry over into 2020 when the Florida Winter Tour and Challenge of the Americas kick off in January.