EKN Trackside: 2020 SKUSA Winter Series – AMR 1 Report
Woods-Toth and Greenemeier score big X30 Senior wins in Homestead
Hannah Greenemeier earned her first SKUSA victory in the X30 Senior class to close out the opening weekend in Homestead (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
Superkarts! USA threw the green flag on its 2020 season this past weekend at the AMR Homestead-Miami Motorplex Presented by MG Tires, kicking off the third edition of the organization’s Winter Series in south Florida. The event set an series attendance record with over 240 entries, including the new inclusion of the popular Margay Ignite program. Warm temperatures in the high-70s and low-80s were accompanied by significant winds and a brief rain shower on Sunday, and the competition was good as it’s been with some truly epic battles for race wins. Canadian Patrick Woods-Toth (Prime / Birel ART) outgunned X30 Senior National #1 Ryan Norberg (RPG / Kosmic) in Saturday’s main event to score the win, while RPG’s Hannah Greenemeier (Kosmic) turned in a career performance to star in Sunday’s final. In the premier gearbox category – Pro Shifter – Mike Rolison’s lead shifterkart driver Kyle Wick ( RPG / Tony Kart) proved his worthiness of running the #1 plate by beating four-time SKUSA SuperNationals winner Bill Musgrave (MRC / Croc Promotion) to win both Saturday and Sunday main events. The Sunday final was particularly thrilling. More on that later.
A massive field of 53 drivers took the track for Saturday’s split X30 Senior qualifying sessions and Norberg came out of the gate on fire, winning the overall pole and then topping his Prefinal to lead the field to the green flag in the 22-lap main event. SKUSA split the X30 field into two Prefinals after qualifying, transferring 15 drivers directly to the main event. The remaining drivers ran a 10-lap Last Chance Qualifier, with 14 drivers extending their day into the final. Sebastian Montoya (Tony Kart) won the first Prefinal on Saturday over Thomas Nepveu (Birel ART) and Bryson Morris (Kosmic). Norberg was followed to the checkered in his Prefinal by Woods-Toth and Greenemeier.
The Saturday afternoon main event quickly evolved into a two-driver breakaway for Norberg and Woods-Toth, who were teammates at RPG during last year’s Winter Series. Now rivals, the final laps were truly epic and after taking the lead on the last circuit, Norberg tried everything he could to keep Woods-Toth behind him. Norberg kept his attacker on the outside during the last run into the turn five hairpin, and when he tried to early-brake in the final corner to defend against the over-under, Woods-Toth reacted by driving all the way around the outside to nip Norberg at the line by just 0.115 seconds. It was a thrilling lap that had everyone on their feet. Behind the lead duo, another intriguing story developed with British driver Louie Westover showing the pace of the Solo Kart chassis, working his way from seventh on the grid to take an impressive third. Westover worked throughout Friday practice to get comfortable on the unique parking lot circuit, a style of track that, while more normal in the US, is not something he ever encountered in England. Behind Westover, Nepveu was fourth while rookie senior Luca Mars (Redspeed) made a stellar debut with a fifth-place result.
Sunday’s split qualifying session was highlighted by an improvement in pace by Hannah Greenemeier, who timed in fifth on Saturday. The Colorado driver laid down a 46.941-second lap to edge Brandon Lemke (Merlin) for the outright pole, taking the inside front row starting spot for his Prefinal. In the 13-lapper that would help set the grid for main event, Greenemeier was shuffled back to fourth in the opening lap chaos and was then driven off the track in turn nine on lap two, dropping her to seventh. Not only has she increased her racecraft during her time with the Rolison Performance Group, Greenemeier has also developed her patience and her focus, and she simply reset and went back to work. It took her just six laps to work back to second, finishing behind fellow RPG driver Joao Renato Corbellini (Kosmic), having turned the fast lap of the race in the process.
The first half of the final was an all-out battle as Jacob Gulick (Kosmic) led a four-driver breakaway including Zachary Claman DeMelo (Kosmic), Nepveu and Greenemeier. Gulick led the first six laps before Nepveu took a turn up front, but while Gulick eventually went back by, he brought Greenemeier with him and this set up her move for the lead, which would in truth be for the win. ‘Hurricane Hannah’ led the final 12 laps enroute to her first senior win in SKUSA competition. After a pushback bumper penalty in his Prefinal dropped him to ninth, putting him 18th for the main event, Norberg put on a show working back to the lead pack, eventually finishing a stunning second. Nepveu rounded out the podium, followed to the line by the duo including Italian Leonardo Fornaroli (Kart Republic) and Westover. The Solo Kart driver followed up his Saturday podium with a strong top-five on Sunday.
The shifterkart categories had a light turnout for the opening rounds of the Winter Series. The grid featured four drivers in each of the three categories – Pro, Pro 2 and G1. In Pro, four-time SKUSA SuperNationals winner Billy Musgrave (Croc Promotion) faced off against reigning Pro Tour national champion Kyle Wick throughout the weekend, and the national #1 plateholder stepped to the forefront running his Rolison Performance Group Tony Kart, winning both main events after Musgrave grabbed the holeshot in each final. 2019 Pro Tour Pro 2 champ Race Liberante (CompKart) battled gremlins for most of the weekend and was not able to challenge for the wins, finishing third on both days. California and Florida were both represented on the top of the box in Pro 2, as Chente Salas (Croc Promotion) and Alan Isambard (Rosso Korsa) each garnered a victory. Salas won on Saturday with Isambard being joined by Connor Tebbe (Kosmic) on the podium. On Sunday, Baylor Griffin (Tony Kart) finished third as Isambard and Salas swapped steps. Msquared Karting / RPG driver Justin Peck dominated the action in the G1 class, while Ken Schilling (Aluminos) took second on both days. Brandon Reed (CompKart) finished third on Saturday and Anthony Stiffler (DR Kart) capped the podium on Sunday.
The dominant driver in the Junior classes in Homestead was Italian Andrea Kimi Antonelli. The 2019 WSK Euro Series OK Junior champion was running for KartSport North America on a Kart Republic, and he showed his abilities by winning all four of his main events on the weekend. The 14-year-old competed in both X30 Junior and KA100 Junior, and swept the action. In Saturday’s X30 Junior race, Antonelli pulled away early to control the race and took the victory by 2.060 seconds over Alessandro De Tullio (Exprit). Paul Bocuse (Redspeed) came on late in the race to battle Jeremy Fletcher (Tony Kart) for third, taking the spot by just over a half-second. Texan John Burke (Tony Kart) finished fifth.
De Tullio topped the field in Sunday qualifying, and then outgunned PSL Karting’s Sasha Maguet (Birel ART) to win the Prefinal and take the pole for the main event. Antonelli finished third in the Prefinal but he went immediately to the lead in the final and paced all 20 laps to win by 2.401 seconds over De Tullio. Fletcher improved on his fourth-place result on Saturday to take the final step on Sunday. Maguet finished fourth ahead of Lucas Staico (Tony Kart) in fifth.
Not only did Antonelli sweep the X30 Junior category, he also posted wins in both KA100 Junior races. After leading the field in qualifying and winning the Prefinal, Saturday’s final could have ended his winning streak early as he fell back to seventh in the early going, but those who found themselves in the lead did not feel any need to work together and pull away. Instead of lining up in an effort to drop those behind them, the opening laps featured multiple passes each lap, which kept the lead group packed together. This faulty strategy opened the door for Antonelli to pick his way back forward and it would only take him nine laps to get back to the lead. From there, he pulled away to a 1.5-second victory over his KSNA teammate and Junior rookie Christian Miles (Kart Republic). Miles was incredibly impressive all weekend, but a pushback bumper penalty knocked him off the podium and moved Brent Crews (Kart Republic) to second. RPG’s Josh Pierson (Kosmic) finished fourth on-track but was moved to third with the Miles time penalty.
Sunday’s final was all Kart Republic as the brand swept the top-four. KartSport North America drivers dominated the podium behind Antonelli, who stretched away to an 8.277-second victory. Crews matched his Saturday result with another strong second, while Miles completed a clean run to third, stepping onto the podium as he had hoped to do on Saturday. Overall, it was an extremely strong Junior debut weekend for the young driver from Quincy, Illinois. Thomas Annuziata finished fourth, extending the Kart Republic domination, while Mateo Rubio-Luengo bagged fifth in his DCT Racing Tony Kart.
The KA100 Senior field expanded from just two drivers in 2019 to 15 entries to start off 2020, and the grid included some extremely talented pilots. NTT IndyCar Series driver Santino Ferrucci was in town for the event and had initially planned to run three categories, although he would drop X30 Senior in favor of just KA100 Senior and Margay Ignite Senior on Sunday. Ferrucci was running with Chris Rock Motorsports on a Swiss Hutless, and ended up sweeping all three sessions on the day. In the first main event of the doubleheader weekend, Ferrucci pulled away with Franklin Motorsports driver Colton Ramsey (Exprit) to fight it out for the win, trading places up front. The back and forth nature of the scrap, which featured some defensive lines, brought reigning SKUSA Pro Tour KA100 champion Austin Osborne (Tony Kart) back into the fray. Ramsey led to start the final lap and ran the inside line in the hairpin turn five, but Ferrucci did the over-under to retake the lead heading into the right-hand turn seven. He would remain unchallenged for the rest of the lap, coming away with the win while Osborne attacked to steal second from Ramsey. Nate Cicero (Kosmic) and Julia Boos (Tony Kart) filled out the remainder of the top-five.
On Sunday, a new name rose to the forefront. Cicero powered his Rolison Performance Group entry into the fight for the win, and he would eventually get past both Ferrucci and Boos to see clear track in front of him. Cicero did not turn a wheel wrong from there and was the first to the stripe after 20 laps of racing, scoring his first SKUSA victory. Boos and Ferrucci were second and third, while Ramsey and Osborne capped the top-five.
Orsolon Racing’s Renato Jader-David (Tony Kart) was the dominant driver in X30 Master, topping all three sessions on Saturday. Crosslink Competition’s Miguel Mier (Exprit) was certainly on his game, as the reigning SKUSA Texas ProKart Challenge champion took second ahead of Kim Carapaletti (CompKart). Orsolon’s Michael Auriemma (Tony Kart) finished fourth ahead of Frank Runco (Tony Kart). The new player on Sunday was Solo Kart USA’s Adam Pettit, who qualified fourth behind Jader David, Danillo Ramalho (Kosmic) and Mier. Pettit advanced to second behind RJD in the Prefinal and the took the lead at the start of the Final, pacing the first 13 laps. Jader David was pushed back to fourth at the start, but he methodically worked his way forward to take the victory and a commanding championship point lead. Pettit maintained his pace and was rewarded with an impressive second-place finish over Ramalho, who started 11th and powered his way to the podium in third. Mier finished fourth, while Salvatore Sparacio made it two Solo Karts in the top-five.
SKUSA announced in early-October that the spec Margay Ignite program would take the place of the 206 Senior and Master categories for 2020, and the Ignite community responded with 30 drivers taking part. The racing was tremendous, as expected, with professional drivers Santino Ferrucci and Gabby Chaves traveling to Florida to battle with four-cycle stars like Evan Stamer, Alexander Searle, and Zack Skolnick, as well as the quick father-son duo James and Jed Perkins. These seven drivers formed the lead pack in every on-track session, and Saturday’s race came down to Ferrucci and Perkins fighting for the win on the final lap. Perkins, the 54-year-old veteran, tried every avenue on the final circuit but could not find a way around the NTT IndyCar Series driver as Ferrucci scored the win, but a blocking penalty cost him three seconds and moved Perkins to the victory over Skolnick and Chaves. Ferrucci fell to fourth in the final tally. In the Ignite Masters class, Florida driver Dan Breitenstein controlled the action on Saturday to take the win. Tim Hannen worked forward to finish second while Vince Carey rounded out the top-three.
On Sunday, Perkins again put a stamp on his outright pace, qualifying on pole by 0.022 over Stamer. In the Prefinal, the lead seven-kart group formed once again, but the racing was a little more aggressive. Eventually, a lead trio pulled away as Ferrucci took the win over Stamer and Perkins. In the 18-lap Final, the race would come down to just four drivers with Chaves setting the pace ahead of Ferrucci, Stamer and Jed Perkins. The lead quartet was separated by just a second when the white flag was displayed by SKUSA National flagman Aaron Likens, and the battle was on. Chaves led for the first half of the lap but was slowed slightly coming out of the inner portion of the track and as he pinched the exit of turn nine to avoid contact with a lapped kart, Ferrucci ran the outside to take the lead, running around the slightly slower machine. Chaves quickly reset and rolled through the left-hand turn 10 to set up the run down the long straightaway to the final corner. Chaves had just enough room to pull to the inside of Ferrucci as the two karts slide through the last turn side-by-side, lightly leaning on each other as they tracked to the exit. Chaves had the better position and enough momentum to take the win. Disappointingly for Ferrucci, who did what he could to hang on, Stamer worked a late turn-in and apex from P3 to get a better run to the line, and he too slipped past Ferrucci for second. However, it would not stick as Stamer ended up with a three-second penalty for a jump start, which dropped him to fifth, moving Ferrucci and Perkins to second and third and Searle up to fourth.
Breitenstein was again the frontrunner in Masters on Sunday, but he was chased by Franco Cipullo all race long. Over the final two laps, as Breitenstein settled into a steady pace to avoid any errors having put a couple of lapped karts between he and his competition, Cipullo turned up the wick, posting his fastest lap with three to go. He eventually caught Breitenstein on the final lap in turn nine and made an aggressive big for the lead, stealing away the position after a little contact. Cipullo would go on the take the win with Breitenstein in second. Tim Hannen made his second trip to the podium, finishing third in Round 2.
2018 SKUSA Pro Tour Micro Swift champion Max Garcia (Kart Republic) came out of the gate in Homestead and made his intentions known in the Mini Swift category. Garcia swept all three sessions on Saturday, winning by 3.829 seconds over Franklin Motorsports driver Austin Jurs (Merlin). The Illinois driver drove extremely well and emerged from a battle with Matias Orjuela (Parolin) and Sebastian Wheldon (Kosmic), turning the fast lap in the progress. Nitro Kart’s Parker DeLong capped the top-five.
Jurs continued his speed improvement into Sunday, scoring the pole position over Orjuela in qualifying to earn the pole for the Prefinal, as Saturday winner Garcia timed in fifth. A three-driver breakaway pack consisting of Wheldon, Garcia and Jurs formed early and Wheldon edged away slightly to take the checkered. This set up for the storyline of the main event as Wheldon was simply too strong for his competition, eventually taking the lead for good on lap 12. The St. Petersburg, Florida driver eventually developed a 0.747-second advantage over Texan Helio Meza (FA Kart) to score his first SKUSA victory. Jurs capped a very impressive weekend with his second straight third-place finish. Garcia finished fourth ahead of Miguel Costa (Kart Republic).
The Micro Swift class was dominated by two drivers on the day, as Oliver Wheldon (Kosmic) and Kia Johnson (FA Kart) split the wins. Johnson topped Saturday qualifying, but Wheldon was on the move in the Prefinal, coming from 14th to score the win over Vivek Kanthan (Kosmic). In the 20-lap final, Wheldon and Johnson pulled away from PSL Karting’s Jackson Pearsall (Birel ART) to fight for the victory, and while Johnson crossed the line for the on-track win, a three-second penalty for blocking advanced Wheldon to the top of the podium. Pearsall scored his first SKUSA podium in third, finishing well ahead of James Moss (Tony Kart) and reigning SKUSA Pro Tour Micro Swift champion Jack Iliffe (Tony Kart).
Sunday race again had Kai and Oliver facing off, but this time, Johnson did not make a mistake and led every lap enroute to a 2.079-second win. Iliffe moved to the podium for Round 2, finishing ahead of Salvador Della Vecchia who advanced 11 positions to finish fourth. Asher Ochstein (Benik) completed the top-five.
The SKUSA crew will head back to Homestead on the February 7-9 weekend for the final two rounds of the Winter Series to see who will be crowned champions. The two-weekend ‘winter training’ format sets the stage for the 11th edition of the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour which kicks off with the fourth running of the WinterNationals, returning back to the NOLA Motorsports Park on March 13-15.