EKN Trackside: 2021 Challenge of the Americas – PKRA – Sunday Report
Ruscitti, Kujala, and Letzsch score in second day of competition in Phoenix
After a tremendous day of racing on Saturday, the drivers returned to the Phoenix Kart Racing Association facility on Sunday for round two of the Challenge of the Americas presented by Royce & Baxter, and they were presented with overnight and midday rain that certainly made things interesting. Remo Ruscitti (CDD / Italkart) completed his perfect weekend by sweeping the action in the Shifter ROK category, while Cliff Kujala (Pure / Tony Kart) mastered the wet conditions to win in Shifter Masters ROK. Liam Letzsch (CB / EOS) had a career day, winning both Senior ROK and Senior 100cc.
IM USA’s Remo Ruscitti started the day off with a late surge in SwedeTech Shifter ROK qualifying, as the track was dry enough to have all 20 drivers on LeVanto slicks. In the final laps of the session, Ethan Ho (Redspeed) jumped to the top of the charts, but Ruscitti’s final circuit was enough to steal away the pole and the inside front row start for the Pre-Main. The Canadian held off Kyle Wick (GFC) for a majority of the Prefinal until Wick suffered a broken shifter linkage and pulled off-track with two laps to go. Ruscitti scored the win, but it was an all-out battle behind him. Jak Crawford (Birel ART) emerged in second at the line but given a two-position penalty for contact. That promoted Micah Hendricks (Aluminos) to the front row for the start of the Final. A rough start saw Hendricks on the sidelines before the end of the first lap, although Ruscitti emerged with the holeshot and established a comfortable gap and open racetrack to drive to his second win of the weekend. Behind him was a drive from the back as Wick recovered from his issues in the Prefinal to a runner-up position. Enzo Prevost (CRG0 was able to work past Jacob Gulick (GFC) for the third spot as the rain fell on the final circuit. Kol Bailey (CompKart) also recovered to finish fifth ahead of Alan Sciuto (GFC).
Michael Valiante (Italkart) was once again in the hunt from the get-go, qualifying on pole in Ron White Racing Master Shifter. The Canadian was 0.155 seconds ahead of defending champion Kevin Woods (RWR / CRG) and started from P1 in the Pre-Main in his attempt to sweep the weekend’s mains. Valiante maintained his position in the Pre-Main, at one time developing a one-second cushion on Woods, who was holding off Cliff Kujala (Pure / Tony Kart) during the early laps. Disappointingly, Valiante did not show for the main event, and on the green flag, new polesitter Woods baulked and fell to the tail of the field. Kujala launched well and took the lead, and simply never looked back. The veteran pulled way to a 2.7-second win. Nick Firestone (GFC) started sixth and went to third early, and then reeled in and overtook Garett McKelvie (GFC) for second. Alan Morte (RWR / CRG) solidified himself in fourth with Travis Irving (GFC) driving from the back to fifth, holding off Woods at the line.
Liam Letzsch (CBM / EOS) began his day with a pole run in qualifying for Forward Direction Motorsports Senior 100cc, laying down a 48.215 to edge Jack Doyle (OTK) for the fast lap. Saturday winner Blake Nash (Nash / EOS) put himself behind the eight-ball from the get-go, qualifying 19th. Letzsch dominated the action in the Pre-Main, winning by 3.557 seconds. The fight for second included four drivers – Jensen Altzman (Ruthless / Exprit), Kyriaskos Sioukas (AKR / EOS), Michael Michoff (SSM / Exprit), and Doyle – and while Sioukas eventually slipped by Altzman for second in the late going, Altzman took the spot back on the final lap. The main was run in wet conditions and Letzsch continued his impressive weekend performance, battling early with Altzman before stretching away to 3.814-second advantage. Altzman held on for second, having to hold off a charge by Mason Turnen (Tony Kart) over the second half of the race. Michoff and Dylan Wilkins (Exprit) completed the podium. An impressive run was put in by Saturday winner Nash, who came from the back of the pack after opening lap incident to advance to just outside the top-10 before being dumped by Roman Madrigal (SSM / Exprit) in turn three after overtaking him. Nash set the fast lap of the race in the process.
Stephen Eisert (SSM / Exprit) was the quickest driver in Italkart Junior 100cc qualifying, finding more and more speed throughout the session as the tires built up heat. Things were close up top until Eisert dropped a 49.498 to sit almost three tenths clear of Lanie Benjamin (Tony Kart). Eisert led flag-to-flag in the timed Pre-Main, holding off Benjamin and Saturday winner Christian Cameron (AKR / Tony Kart) to set up the fight for the outright race win. The same three broke away in the wet track conditions. Eisert led early until Benjamin picked up the pace in the second half of the race. Once out front in lap 12, Benjamin drove away to a 2.1-second advantage for her first COTA victory. Eisert and Cameron completed the podium with Lydia Small (Tony Kart) and Anthony White (RWR / CRG) completing the top-five.
Mike Smith (EOS) led the way in M2 Masters 100cc qualifying and had a large cushion over Timothy Meyer (EOS) for a majority of the session until Meyer laid down a lap on the final circuit to get to within 0.090 seconds. In the Pre-Main, Meyer got the jump at the start and pulled out to a comfortable early lead, but Smith closed back in, as did Brian Phillipsen (Redspeed). Although Smith was on Meyer’s bumper, he was never able to mount a serious challenge. The afternoon rain put the drivers on a wet track for their main event, and in the tough conditions, Meyers showed his skills and dominated, winning by 4.319 seconds. Phillipsen hounded Smith all race and finally slipped through with two laps to go to take over second. Smith finished third to cap the podium, while Dana Estes (VemmeKart) closed steadily over the final laps but came up just short in fourth. Steve Dunn (FDM / Compkart) completed the top-five.
The Ruthless Karting Senior ROK class was early in the class schedule, and qualifying was run during the change in track conditions. IM USA’s Andrew Zimmer (Italkart) rolled out on slicks and needed to use every available lap to build heat into his tires, and he laid down a strong lap at the end of the eight-minute session to steal the pole away from Jenson Altzman (Ruthless / Exprit). Gabe Tesch (Italkart) paired up with his teammate Zimmer to lay down the second quickest lap, locking out the front row for Italkart. Saturday winner Liam Letzsch (CBM / EOS) skipped the qualifying session but jumped in for the Prefinal, grabbing lead by lap six and winning by over one second. From the pole position, Letzsch led all 19 laps of the Final to secure his second victory on the weekend. Zimmer held off Altzman for the second spot with Macy Williams (CBM / EOS) fourth and Tesch fifth.
In Acceleration Kart racing Junior ROK, Jesus Vasquez Jr. (Charles Leclerc) rolled the dice with LeVanto slicks and the gamble paid off over the laps of the session as he was able to steal the pole away from Diego LaRoque (Tony Kart), who had went with wets. Saturday winner Frankie Mossman (J3 / Compkart) also ran the slicks, and his final lap pushed him on top of LaRoque on the time charts to secure a position on the front row for the Pre-Main. The opening corner of the Pre-Main was as far as Vasquez got as he went off, collecting Tristan Young (VemmeKart) in the process. Mossman took the lead as a result and he held off the race-long challenge of LaRoque, but a jumpstart penalty pushed Mossman back and elevated LaRoque for the win. Mossman bounced back from his penalty to take the lead early in the Main, and he eventually pulled away to a 6.4-second win. Vasquez was reeled in and caught LaRoque. The two went side-by-side into the hairpin, with LaRoque getting the worse of it. Vasquez continued and would finish second with Young in third and Deanna Hoffman (CBM / EOS) slipping past for fourth ahead of LaRoque.
The changing track conditions began to show in qualifying for Odenthal Racing Products Masters ROK, as Saturday’s winner Derek Wang (EOS) was one of the only drivers to elect for slicks in qualifying. Forward Direction Motorsports’ Adam Kasick (CompKart) stuck with the wets and posted the quickest time to take the pole for the Pre-Main, although Wang kept getting quicker and came with 0.074 seconds on his final lap. Kasick jumped out to an early 2.5-second lead in the Pre-Main, but even though he fell to third at the start, Wang reeled in the leader and took over the point on the penultimate lap. Kasick chased Wang to the line for second while Mike Smith (EOS) came out on top of a battle with Tim Meyer (EOS) and David Pergande (JHM / Tony Kart) for third. Wang left no doubt in the Main as he led from the start and pulled away to a 3.950-second win after 14 minutes of racing. Kasick was consistent all weekend and took second once again, while the fight for the final spot on the podium was waged between Luke Tracy (VemmeKart), Pergande and Smith. It was Smith who eventually worked his way through both drivers to finish third, while Pergande also found a way past Tracy to get back to fourth until a penalty for contact at the start dropped him down to sixth.
The drivers and mechanics in the GFC Kart Mini ROK class had a tough call to make in qualifying, as the track was not yet fully dry, and a mixture of slicks and wets found their way up top. Wet-tire shod Gage Korn (Race Factory) took the pole, but a late surge by Gavin Whitt (FDM / CompKart) and Cypress Andruss (GFC) on slick tires showed that once they built heat into their LeVantos, they had the necessary grip. Korn, Whitt, and Andruss pulled away from the field in the Prefinal and fought for positions. Korn led from start to finish, but behind him, Andruss ran second for a majority of the race before Whitt slipped past to take the runner-up position. Truly Adams (VLR) and Rocky Moran (Kart Republic) starred in the second group, coming up from 12th and 14th to finish fourth and sixth, respectively. An opening lap incident in the Main put both Moran and Andruss on the sidelines, while Antonino had to come from the back of the pack after a Prefinal DNF. Saturday’s winner went from 15th to seventh on the opening lap and methodically worked his way forward to eventually take the lead. Antonino teamed up with Whitt to pull away from the field and then held off the last lap challenge to score the win. Whitt capped off an impressive weekend in second, while Alex Chartier (Ruthless / Nitro Kart) came out of a wild battle for third, as five drivers where in a pack scrapping for the last step on the podium. The joy of the podium was short lived as Chartier came across the scales underweight. This moved Adams to the third spot, fast lap driver Kyle Drysdale (Ruthless / Nitro Kart) to fourth and Nixx Eggleston (CompKart) completing the top-five.
Jaxon Porter (Nitro Kart) continued his streak of topping the charts in Empire Karts Mini ROK, qualifying on pole over Ashton Woon (Nitro Kart) on a damp track. In the Prefinal, Porter again stretched away to score the win, with Braylon Underwood (Race Factory) coming out on top of a scrap with Woon for second. Woon turned things up in the 14-minute final as he hung with Porter early, and the two local drivers went at it for 16 laps, swapping the top spot on more than one occasion. Woon led the final laps and built a slight cushion with two to go, but Porter came back to be close at the line. Underwood came across the line in third, but a two position penalty for a starting infraction dropped Underwood to fourth Julian Sanchez (GFC) to sixth, moving Rhys Bowman (CompKart) to the podium and Jerome Rondeau (Tony Kart) into fifth.
With a full two rounds completed, Challenge of the Americas now puts its attention to southern California with the second stop scheduled for February 26-28 at the CalSpeed Karting facility in Fontana.