EKN Trackside: 2022 Challenge of the Americas – PKRA – Saturday Report
Gulick bags first shifterkart victory as Hodgson steals 100cc round in Phoenix
The halfway point of the Challenge of the Americas was reached on Saturday with the third round of the 2022 season contested on Saturday at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association. Clear skies all day at the Glendale, Arizona facility with cooler temperatures early before it warmed up by the main events to near 70 degrees. All seven race groups provided excitement throughout the day with new and repeat winners on the year.
It was a holeshot victory and a first for GFC Karting driver Jacob Gulick in the SwedeTech Racing Engines ROK Shifter division. Former champion and point leader Hunter Pickett (GFC) set fast time in qualifying, however, Gulick was able to pull out the Prefinal win with a holeshot. It was the same thing in the 20-lap Final, as Gulick grabbed the holeshot and drove away to a two-second victory over Pickett. The driver on the move was Hannah Greenemeier (MSquared / Tony Kart) as she was involved in contact in the Prefinal and out on the opening circuit. She was 13th after the start and got into the top-five late. On the final circuit on the final corner, she made a bold pass on Micah Hendricks (Croc Promotion), who pushed wide on the exit to avoid making contact with her. Greenemeier won the drag race to the line for the final spot on the podium, her first in the category – along with posting fast lap of the race. Keawn Tandon (GFC) completed the top-five in his first race of 2022.
Another first came in the Forward Direction Motorsports Senior 100cc division. British driver Oliver Hodgson (J3 / CompKart) was able to sweep the round at his now unofficial home track. Making his series and class debut, the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals champion set fast time, won the Prefinal and held off a host of drivers in the Final for his first series victory. It is only his second win in the USA, adding to the 2013 victory in NOLA. Double Tucson winner Jake Drew (GFC) grabbed the lead early for a few circuit before Hodgson positioned himself as the top driver. For Drew, he finished best in the championship contenders to add to his point lead at the halfway point. Kyriakos Sioukas (AKR / EOS) was right there in third. Liam Letzch (GFC) edged out Cole Schroeder (RPM / Tony Kart) at the line for the fourth spot.
It was a first win on the season for Cliff Kujala (Pure / Tony Kart) in the Ron White Racing ROK Shifter Masters class. Kujala was able to sweep the day at his home circuit to match the victory he grabbed a year ago in the wet weather. Kujala was challenged in the Prefinal by Bud Grossenbacher (Zanardi) and Kevin Woods (RWR / CRG), however, they made contact on the opening lap in turn five, and watched the race from the sidelines. That allowed Kujala to go unchallenged in the 20-lap Final. Jonathan Vitolo (GFC / Trackmagic) drove to second but was underweight at the scales. That promoted Nick Firestone (GFC) to second and Alan Morte (RWR / CRG) to third for his first podium in the category. Douglas Brandt (Factory Kart) and Brad Weiss (Pure / Tony Kart) completed the top-five.
The Odenthal Racing Products Masters ROK division was a third straight victory and sweep for Derek Wang (FTK / EOS). Wang was challenged all day by Christopher Mann (Ruthless / Kosmic), who did set fast time in Pre-Qualifying on Friday. Mann had a slow start in the Prefinal and lost ground to Wang in that race, however, the two were nose-to-tail in the Final. Mann was unable to make a move, as Derek led all 20 laps for his third straight victory. Billy Cleavelin (RPG / Kosmic) ended up third after Ed Quinn (JHM / Exprit) was sidelined with a mechanical. David Pergande (JHM / Tony Kart) and Mike Giles (JHM / Kart Republic) completed the top-five. In the same race group, Carson Bowers (CompKart) won the Senior ROK main event over Jonathan Neudorf (CompKart) while Tristan Young (VemmeKart) went uncontested in the Acceleration Kart Racing Junior ROK class.
One of the best races of the day was in the Master 100cc class presented by P1 Engines. Brett Harrelson (Nash / EOS) set fast time in qualifying and went out to win the Prefinal, only to be penalized for jumping the start. That put him in row two behind David Pergande (JHM / Redspeed) and Mike Weatherman (FDM / CompKart). They were joined at the front by Preston Newberry (FDM / CompKart) and eventually double Tucson winner Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart), who started 11th after dropping a wheel in the Prefinal. Pergande led early but it was Weatherman to led the majority of the race. That was until Koentges knifed his way forward and into the lead by lap 13. The group fought back, including Newberry who made an amazing move to go from third to first at one point. Koentges proved to be too strong, taking back the lead and going on to score his third straight victory. Newberry ended up second, earning his first series podium with Weatherman crossing the line in third. He was given a five-second pushback bumper penalty, thus dropping him to fifth and promoting Harrelson to the podium in third and Pergande to fourth.
The third different winner on the year in the Nash Motorsportz Junior 100cc division was welcomed on Saturday. Christian Cameron (AKR / Tony Kart) attempted to be the third different winner, setting fast time in qualifying. In the Prefinal, Jesus Vasquez Jr. (Nash / EOS) – making his first start of 2022 – took over and held off Stephen Eisert (SSM / Exprit) for the race win. Eisert led the opening circuit of the main event until Vasquez returned to the top spot. From there, Vasquez established a two-second gap after 20 laps for his first victory of the season. Eisert drove to the runner-up spot for his first podium of the season as did Cameron in the third position. Cooper O’Clair (J3 / CompKart) ended up in fourth with Round One winner Alexander Gonzalez (Nash / EOS) in the fifth spot.
It was a five-driver lead pack in the Final for VemmeKart Mini ROK. Round One winner Gage Korn (Race Factory) led the way on the day with fast time in qualifying and winning the Prefinal. He led the first half of the Final before the pack began to attack. The lead challenger was Round Two victor Ashton Woon (Parolin), taking over the lead with five laps to go. The big mover of the race was Kyle Drysdale (Ruthless / Nitro), coming up from sixth at the start to taking over the lead with two laps to go. Woon and Korn worked together to slip past Drysdale on the final circuit, with Ashton escaping in the lead and going on to score the victory. Drysdale fought back, and took second ahead of Korn. Nico Sarphati (GFC) was in the mix all race, along with point leader Matteo Quinto (RPM / Tony Kart), as they finished fourth and fifth.
Cason Hodge (SSM / Exprit) put in another sweeping performance in the GFC Micro ROK division. Hodge led the entire day in the category, while placing eighth overall in the combined race group with Mini. The margin of victory was 27 seconds for Hodge, joined on the podium by Luca Popescu (Nash / EOS) and Julian Sanchez (GFC). Paxton Romero (FDM / CompKart) and Cam Becker (Race Factory) completed the top-five with both making their series debuts.
Sunday brings on Round Four action for the Challenge of the Americas at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association to begin the second half of the championship chase. Tune in all day to EKN Live at www.ekartingnews.com/live and watch for updates, photos, videos and more on the EKN Social Media outlets.