EKN Trackside: 2021 Challenge of the Americas – CalSpeed Preview
Middle event of program travels SoCal to continue 14th season
The 14th season for Challenge of the Americas presented by Royce & Baxter continues this weekend at the CalSpeed Karting facility in Fontana, California. Rounds Three and Four are set for February 26-28 as the middle event of the winter ROK Cup USA championship program. CalSpeed was the location for the unfortunate end to the 2020 program as the COVID-19 pandemic began just after the event. This year, the pandemic continues, however, the series began in Phoenix last month and this month’s race weekend at CalSpeed will go on as planned. Last year’s event at CalSpeed set a new series record with 138 entries, but with the Canadian border still closed has helped to limit the number of entries for this weekend. The pre-entry number has reached 122 for the two rounds of racing this weekend.
Teams and competitors will tackle the CalSpeed facility, competing on the 3/4-mile, 15-turn ‘Grande’ circuit in the clockwise direction for the first time in the nine-year history of the series visiting Fontana. Unofficial practice took place Wednesday and Thursday with official practice beginning on Friday. Five sessions are provided for the 10 categories competing with a separate round of racing on Saturday and Sunday, including qualifying, Prefinal and Final.
eKartingNews.com is proud to be providing the 10th season of Trackside Live program with Challenge of the Americas. Veteran announcer Tim ‘Chappy’ Chapman will be calling the action all weekend from CalSpeed. Those unable to attend can listen in to the live broadcast – presented this weekend by Courtney Concepts, Leading Edge Motorsports, and CRG Nordam. Bookmark www.ekartingnews.com/live and follow the EKN social media channels for more throughout the weekend in California.
A total of 19 drivers are set to compete in the Shifter ROK division. All eyes gunning for the championship will be on Remo Ruscitti (Italian Motors USA / Italkart), coming off two perfect victories in Phoenix to hold a 36-point lead over two-time runner-up Kyle Wick (GFC). Kol Bailey (J3 / CompKart) sits third in the standings with the top-six separated by just 100 points. Four rounds of racing still remaining leaves anything possible, including the number of SoCal drivers in the field. Among them is Race Liberante (Race Factory) returning to Shifter ROK after racing Senior 100cc in Phoenix.
Racing is expected to heat up in the Shifter Masters ROK division. Over the last seven rounds of the program, dating back to the finale in 2019, seven different drivers scored victory, including two different drivers to stand on top of the podium in the opening two rounds to begin 2021. Shifterkart veterans Michael Valiante (IM USA / Italkart) and Cliff Kujala (Pure / Tony Kart) each took a victory in the dry conditions Saturday and wet track on Sunday. Kujala enters CalSpeed as the championship leader by 35 points over defending champion Kevin Wood (CRG). Nick Firestone (GFC) sits third with Valiante back in fourth after sitting out the Sunday main event with a rib injury. The wildcard will be five of the 18 drivers making their first 2021 start that will be contenders once karts hit the track. 2018 champion Kalvin Chen (IM USA / Italkart), 2020 race winner Ryan Yop (Redspeed), 2018 winner Patrick O’Neill (RWR / CRG), Jeff Mills (RWR / CRG) and Nick George (Aluminos).
Liam Letzsch (CBM / EOS) left Phoenix with three victories in two categories, and leads the championship in both divisions heading into CalSpeed. Letzsch was five points short of a perfect weekend in Senior ROK, and has a solid lead in the championship with his two victories. Jenson Altzman is second in the points, but will not be in Fontana. That puts Andrew Zimmer (IM USA / Italkart) as the top challenger, sitting 56 points back. Gabe Tesch (IM USA / Italkart) returns with Kieran Rogers (IM USA / Italkart) rounding out the four-driver field. Letzsch was the top driver all weekend in Phoenix for the Senior 100cc class but was only able to win Round Two. Blake Nash (Nash / EOS) scored his breakthrough victory in Round One, but issues put him down the order on Sunday. Nash sits fifth in points heading into the weekend, with Altzman second. That puts Kyriakos Sioukas (AKR / EOS) as the lead challenger in the title chase, back by 64 points with Michael Michoff (SSM / Exprit) in fourth.
The Junior 100cc field has increased this weekend to 16 drivers, with the majority of the field from Phoenix returning. Among them are the top-three who showed the way all weekend. Christian Cameron (AKR / Redspeed) and Lanie Benjamin (SF / Tony Kart) each picked up their first victory in the category, but it’s Stephen Eisert (SSM / Exprit) at the top of the championship chase. Two runner-up results have him leading by 10 points over Benjamin with Cameron only 14 points out of fourth. G3 Argyros (SF / Redspeed) is fourth with Cooper O’Clair (J3 / CompKart) in fifth heading into CalSpeed. Only two drivers are registered for the Junior ROK division. Two-time winner in Phoenix Frankie Mossman (J3 / CompKart) and last year’s Mini ROK champion Tristan Murphy (VemmeKart) will battle over the two days.
Derek Wang (EOS) began his bid for three straight titles in the Masters ROK division. No driver in the 14-year history of the Challenge has won three straight in their respective categories. It was a near perfect score for Wang in Phoenix en route to two victories. Adam Kasick (FDM / CompKart) was the top challenger, and sits 32 points out of the point lead. Tim Meyer (HRT / EOS) and Mike Smith (VMI / EOS) are third and fourth, heading to their home track in CalSpeed. Former series champion Billy Cleavelin (RPG / Kosmic) is always fast in Fontana, sitting fifth but needing a solid weekend to catch up in the 10-driver field.
Both Meyer and Smith continue running double duty and head into CalSpeed 1-2 in the Master 100cc point standings. Meyer came out of Phoenix with the victory both days, leading the championship by 24 points over Smith, who won both main events last year at CalSpeed in his Challenge debut. New to the nine-driver roster for CalSpeed will be Carlos Calderon (Aluminos) who nearly pulled off the win at ROK the RIO in November. Calderon is among the three father/son duos racing in this class with David Fedler (FDM / CompKart) and Steve Dunn (FDM / CompKart) also having sons racing on the weekend.
John Antonino (Race Factory) won both main events in the Mini ROK division, both in different ways. Saturday was a dominant win while Sunday required a driver from the tail of the field to the top step of the podium. The championship lead is 40 points with Truly Adams (VLR) in second with two podium finishes in January. The 13-driver field will need to be on their game quickly with the top-two in the standings calling CalSpeed home.
Two different drivers earned their first Challenge victories in the Micro ROK category in Phoenix. Jaxon Porter (Ruthless / Nitro Kart) and Ashton Woon (DDW / Nitro Kart) each took home a first place trophy, as Porter left with the championship lead. The gap is only 13 points with Braylon Underwood (Race Factory) sitting there in third. The field has expanded to a record-matching seven drivers for the CalSpeed weekend.
Make sure to catch all the action on EKN Live all weekend and follow EKN on all the social media platforms for updates, images and videos.