EKN Trackside: 2020 Challenge of the Americas – Tucson Saturday Report
GFC sweeps Shifter ROK podium with Pickett up front as Drew dominates Senior ROK
The opening round for Challenge of the Americas was contested on Saturday, January 25 at the Musselman Honda Circuit. The 13th season for the premier winter series on the left coast kicked off the opening weekend at the Tucson, Arizona facility with the first of two rounds completed during a perfect day for racing. Just over 100 entries competed in the 10 categories, eight race groups, on the day to begin the championship chase that will be completed in Sonoma this March. A handful of drivers completed an opening round sweep to open up 2020 on a high note.
Dating back to last year’s event in Tucson, Hunter Pickett and GFC are now 3 for 3. Pickett dominated Saturday’s action, sweeping the opening round to victory. Picket lead all laps in the Prefinal and Final, securing fast lap in the main event for the victory. Cole Shade ran GFC wingman throughout the day, including the 22-lap main event to earn his first COTA podium finish with a runner-up performance. The fight to the very end was the third step on the podium. Early on, it was Keawn Tandon (DR Kart) and Race Liberante (J3 / CompKart). Their fighting late allowed Kol Bailey (GFC) to close in on the final circuits. Turn 11 to the checkered flag was a hard battle and drag race, with Bailey crossing the line ahead of Tandon and Liberante.
Jake Drew (FW / CompKart) was able to sweep the opening round in the Senior ROK division. Drew, who won twice in 2019, set the stage for the new season by leading every lap of the opening round for 2020. Drew led all 22 laps of the main event to a 2.8-second victory. Senior rookie Liam Letzsch (CB / FA Kart) set fast lap of the race, but drove to second ahead of Griffin Dowler (Apollo / Tony Kart). Bijoy Garg (SSM / Exprit) came up just short of the podium in fourth with Ryan Martin (RWR / CRG) in fifth.
The Shifter Master ROK class saw Kevin Woods (RWR / CRG) sweep the day for the opening round, but not without battle. Woods set fast time in qualifying, and fell back early in the Prefinal with Nick Firestone (GFC) grabbing the holeshot. Woods went on to win the race and start on the pole position for the Final, only to fall back early in the Final. Nick George (Aluminos) earned the holeshot, and lead the opening 11 laps. Woods worked past for the lead, and from there led to the checkered flag for his first COTA victory. George settled for second with Jimmy McNeil (Aluminos) holding off Firestone for the final step on the podium. Mike Jones (DKC / Sodikart) stalled on the start of the Prefinal, and worked his way up from 17th to finish fifth in the Final with fast lap of the race.
2017 COTA champion Billy Cleavelin started out his bid for the 2020 crown with solid footing after round one, driving away to victory in the main event. Cleavelin was able to win a solid Prefinal race to secure the pole position for the main event, leading all 22 laps to victory. On his tail was top qualifier Nick de Graaf (VemmeKart), stalking him the entire distance. No moves were made, and the two ran 1-2. Defending champion Derek Wang (BBR / FA Kart) was there for the first half of the race, but fell off a bit in the second half yet ran to the third step of the podium. Erik Jackson (JHM / Tony Kart) ran fourth with Tim Meyer (HRT / Kosmic) completed the top-five.
At the Challenge, the Junior ROK class will be one to watch as the season progresses. A number of young drivers trying to make a name for themselves will standout. The opening round saw two fighting until the very end. Top qualifier Alex Berg (RPM / Tony Kart) and Prefinal winner Enzo Deligny (LEM / Tony Kart) battled in the Final. Deligny led early while Berg took over for some time. On the final circuit, Berg left the door open for Deligny in turn one, and that was all he needed. The 2019 Mini ROK champion led the final circuit and reached the checkered flag first to earn victory in his first Junior race. Berg settled for second with AJ Zarcone making it a RPM / Tony Kart podium. Frankie Mossman (Nash / FA Kart) set fast lap of the race in fourth with Macy Williams (CB / FA Kart) in fifth.
The Senior 100cc category grew in size, yet saw one driver control the pace all day for the opening round. Oliver Calvo (LEM / Praga) dominated the division for a sweep of Round One, driving to a 4.7-second advantage in the main event over defending champion Colby DuBato (PKS / Ricciardo). The fight in the main event was for third, with Toby Longenecker (Aluminos) securing the final step of the podium ahead of Everest Fedler (FDM / CompKart) and Jackson Dunn (FDM / CompKart).
Alex Berg was flawless in the Junior 100cc class all day, earning a sweep to his first series victory. Berg (RPM / Tony Kart) set fast time in qualifying and led every lap in the Prefinal and Final. The advantage was six seconds after 22 laps in the Final over Jacob Hoover (Birel ART). Andrew Chapman (FW / CompKart) earned the final step on the podium over Kiefer Peet (Redspeed).
The Master 100cc category experienced the largest field in the history of COTA, welcoming seven driver to the opener of 2020. Tim Meyer (HRT / Kosmic) was able to sweep the day, not without a challenge. Nick de Graaf (MMK / Italkart) kept him honest throughout the main event, even leading a few laps. Meyer proved to be too strong, holding off de Graaf’s final attempt on the last lap to secure the victory. Stephen Brucker (JHM / Exprit) completed the podium in third with Dana Estes (VemmeKart) and Reynaldo Nieves (FDM / CompKart) completing the top-five.
A combined Mini ROK/Micro ROK race group provided some exciting racing throughout the day. The main event went to the checkered flag and beyond with Tristan Young (VemmeKart) crossing the line just 84 thousandths ahead of Nico Sarphati (GFC) for the victory. Sarphati was penalized 10-seconds for advancing after the commitment cones, thus dropping down to fifth in the order. That moved Alex Rantala (CRG) to second and Kyle Drysdale (Nitro Kart) to third on the podium. Cypress Andruss (LEM / Formula K) was then classified fourth. Breaking down the group by class, Young took the honors in Mini with Rantala and Prefinal winner Christian Cameron (Tony Kart) in third. Drysdale score the top spot on the podium in Micro ahead of Andruss and Sarphati.
Challenge of the Americas in Tucson continues to Sunday, with Round Two contested around the Musselman Honda Circuit with another perfect Arizona weather day forecasted. Drivers will try to match their success while others hope for improvement on the final day at the opening event of 2020.