Race Report: IAME USA Grand National Championship
Inaugural event at GoPro Motorplex dishes out big cash prizes and IAME International Finals tickets
The inaugural IAME USA Grand National Championship took place on the July 29-August 1 weekend at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina. The top-notch facility welcomed over 160 entries in seven IAME categories for a unique four-day event that included racing under the lights, different track configurations, special races and a huge prize package.
Among the prizes on offer were IAME International Finals tickets for the winners in the X30 Senior, X30 Junior, X30 Masters, and Mini Swift division. Winners in the KA100 Senior, KA100 Junior and Micro Swift each took home a brand new IAME engine. The top-three in each category earned a set of MG Tires with the top-five awarded an IAME USA Grand National Championship trophy. Cash purse was established for X30 Senior and Junior. The top payday was $7,000 for X30 Senior, with $2,500 to second and $1,250 for third. Fourth earns $1,000 with $750 to fifth. A $5,000 check was handed to the winner in the X30 Junior Pro class, with $1,500 to second and $1,000 for third. $750 goes to fourth with fifth place taking home $500. Second and third in the X30 Masters, KA100 Senior, KA100 Junior, Mini Swift and Micro Swift were given a $300 cash card and $100 cash card respectively. All top qualifiers in the seven classes earned a $100 cash card as well.
The 27 drivers in the X30 Senior division put on a show over the three days of competition. The standout performance was by local driver Dalton Hannibal Hanes, who posted a 47.689-second lap time to secure the top position ahead of the many national level stars in the field. Racing began and it was what we expected with three different drivers winning the three different heats. Four-time SKUSA Pro Tour champion Ryan Norberg struck first before four-time defending USPKS champion Brandon Jarsocrak had his say. Then, Senior rookie and 2020 FIA Karting Academy Trophy champion Connor Zilisch scored the win in Heat #3 to level the playing field. The Prefinal helped to set up the grid for the Final, with Norberg able to win that and lock up the pole position for the Final. Zilisch was third, which landed him on the outside front row. Contact in the opening corner essentially decided the top spot as Norberg was able to get away clean as others were involved in contact, including Zilisch, Jarsocrak and more. Norberg led all 25 laps to claim the $7,000 payday and inaugural race victory. Pauly Massimino came away with the runner-up spot while Hanes fought back from 14th on the grid, posting fast laps of the race to end up third. Tyler Wettengel and Indy Pro 2000 driver Braden Eves completed the top-five.
Similar to the Senior division, the X30 Junior race was a tough battle throughout the weekend with the 28 drivers all-in for the big money purse. Jeremy Fletcher set the tone in qualifying with a 48.944-second lap to earn him the pole position for the three heat races. Issues in the opening heat dropped him down the order as Justin Adakonis took the race win. 2021 SKUSA Winter Series champion Kai Sorensen, back in the USA after racing in Europe all season, drove to the win in Heat #2 after starting third. Fletcher held off all the challenges in Heat #3 to be the third different race winner. Consistency was key and is what gave Carson Morgan the pole position for the Prefinal with finishes of third, fifth and second. Morgan was able to secure the race win in the Prefinal to retain the pole position for the Final. He led the opening 10 laps until Adakonis took the spot for two circuits. Morgan returned to the point and led the remainder of the 22-lap race, celebrating a $5,000 payday. Adakonis crossed the line in second, but was given a two-position penalty for avoidable contact. This promoted Ayden Ingratta to the second spot with Christian Miles ending up in third. Fletcher rounded out the top-five.
The KA100 Senior division featuring 27 drivers was a battle all weekend long with two drivers able to shine in the P1 position. Former SKUSA SuperNationals winner Pauly Massimino set fast time in qualifying and won the opening two heat races. Connor Zilisch then took the top spot away in the third heat and the Prefinal to claim the pole position for the main event ahead of Massimino. Zilisch was shuffled back to fifth by the halfway point with Massimino coming under attack from USPKS champion Brandon Lemke. They began racing for the top spot with just a few laps remaining, allowing Zilisch along with Gavin Bayliff to close back in. On the final circuit, Zilisch took advantage of Massimino and Lemke running the defensive line, driving around the outside of the bowl corner at the end of the long back straight. That was the winning move as Zilisch took home the victory. Lemke came across the line in second but was given a two-position penalty for avoidable contact. That promoted Tyler Wettengel to second who came out of the shuffle for position that included contact between Bayliff and Massimino. Thomas Annunziata took advantage of that as well, moving up to third with the Lemke penalty. Cole Morgan completed the top-five.
Carson Morgan was running double-duty on the weekend, and was also part of the 35-driver category of KA100 Junior. Sebastian Wheldon was classified P1 in qualifying to secure the top spot with Morgan back in the third position. Morgan came back in the opening two heats for the wins while Cameron Weinberg stole a win in Heat #3. Morgan secured the pole position for the Prefinal but lost out on the win in a last lap battle to finish fourth behind race winner Helio Meza. The result still put Morgan on the inside of row one for the Final, which was run on a drying track after mid-day rain, and cut down to 15 laps. Morgan was able to go wire-to-wire for the victory, but not without pressure from Meza in the final circuits. Jeremy Fletcher was third with Parker DeLong in fourth. Cooper Shipman crossed the line in fifth, but was put down to seventh with a pushback bumper penalty, thus promoting Elliot Cox to the podium.
A total of five drivers ended up battling in the X30 Masters class after eight were registered. John Bonanno clocked in the only time under the 49-second mark in qualifying to lead the way in the timed session. Bonanno was a DNF in the opening heat, allowing local driver Alex Mueller to cruise to the race win. Bonanno came back to win the next two races along with the Prefinal to retain the pole position for the main event. Rain hit the area prior to their Final, sending everyone scrambling for rain tires. Bonanno led the opening circuit but spun on the exit of the Esses, dropping him down the order. That allowed 2019 USPKS champion David Galownia to take over the lead until Alex Mueller grabbed the spot. From there, Mueller drove away to lead the remainder of the 16-lap race as the provisional winner. However, Mueller would be removed in tech, thus promoting Galownia to the top spot of the podium and earning him an IAME International Final ticket. Bonanno was able to work up to the runner-up position with Chris McGinley positioned as the final kart running after Paul Montopoli retired after lap 11.
It was a breakout victory in the Mini Swift category as class rookie Carson Weinberg notched his first major win in the division. Weinberg was fourth after qualifying with Texan Oscar Iliffe posting a 53.448-second lap to edge out the 26-driver field. Iliffe was only able to win one of the heats, as Kai Johnson and Enzo Vidmontiene were able to win Heat #1 and Heat #2 respectively. Iliffe remained on the pole position for the Prefinal and lasted until turn nine when he raised his hand with a mechanical issue. That allowed Weinberg the opportunity to strike and he did with a win in the Prefinal and the pole position for the main event. It was Johnson and Vidmontiene who showed the way during the first part of the Final as Weinberg settled into third. The second half of the 20-lap race was exciting, with Iliffe able to climb up and challenge for the top spot after starting 13th. Vidmontiene led with the white flag displayed and three drivers vying for the position. One of them included Oliver Wheldon, who took over the top spot with a half-lap to go. Weinberg was able to take advantage of Wheldon and Vidmontiene holding the defensive line, slipping past both at the hairpin and holding off a charging Iliffe at the line by 44 thousandths of a second. Wheldon ended up in third with Vidmontiene in fourth while Johnson completed the top-five.
The opening category in the race order was the Micro Swift class, which featured 15 drivers. Brazilian Augustus Toniolo was the top driver in qualifying, edging out North Carolina’s own Keelan Harvick by just 51 thousandths of a second. Harvick was able to strike first in the opening heat race before Toniolo scored the win in the final two heats. It was Harvick who got to the checkered first in the Prefinal, yet Toniolo held the pole position for the main event based on his overall point total. The fight at the front included both drivers and three others as Ethan Tovo, Lucas Palacio and Jackson Tovo were also in the mix. It all came down to the final circuit with Harvick holding a defensive line ahead of Toniolo and Palacio. A fight for second in the latter half of the circuit gave Harvick just enough room to reach the checkered flag first to add to his 2021 win total. Jackson Tovo was fourth credited with fast lap of the race with Ethan Tovo in fifth.
During the four days, two shootout races took place for the X30 Senior and KA100 Senior divisions. The CNC Performance Engineering KA Shootout was run on Friday evening while the MG Tires X30 Shootout was held on Saturday.
The X30 Shootout had heat winners Ryan Norberg and Brandon Jarsocrak have issues in the other races, putting them further back in the field. That allowed Connor Zilisch to start from the pole position with Braden Eves on the outside. Zilisch led the majority of the first half of the race until a charging Norberg was able to slot himself into second. Contact was made between the two fighting for the lead, collecting Nate Cicero at the same time. This gave Eves the lead with a host of drivers behind him. Jarsocrak was able to take the lead at the white flag, and from there the fireworks were lit. Massimino was able to get a run down the back straight to slip past Jarsocrak. Contact fighting for position took Jarsocrak and Westin Workman out of the race as Massimino was able to drive away and lead the only lap that matters at the checkered flag. Eves ended up second with Hayden Jones in third. Norberg recovered to fourth with Brian Boly in fifth.
Friday evening’s KA Shootout was swept by Connor Zilisch. It was Zilisch leading the qualifying practice and both heat races. Massimino was the driver to challenge Zilisch in the 15-lap Final, leading four laps until Connor took over on lap 11. From there, Zilisch was able to lead the rest of the way to the victory. Massimino was credited with fast lap of the race in his runner-up performance. Tyler Wettengel was third with Brandon Lemke fourth and Gavin Bayliff in fifth.
The common theme following the inaugural IAME USA Grand National Championship was fun. Drivers and teams enjoyed the unique four-day event, with no championships on the line and only the focus of the main events Sunday on the minds of the competitors and team members. And, one of the largest paying events of the year helped please those who ended up on the podium. This will help build the momentum for what is expected to be an annual trip for all to the IAME USA Grand National Championship.