EKN Trackside: 2022 Challenge of the Americas – Sonoma – Sunday Report
Pickett and others stamp series championships with victory in finale round
A third victory on the season in ROK Shifter sealed the second championship for Hunter Pickett (Photo: EKN)
The 2022 Challenge of the Americas closed out its championship season on Sunday at the Sonoma Raceway. For the 15th time, champions were crowned following the action in the sixth and final round of competition premiere west coast winter series. Weather was a major factor at the Sonoma, California facility with rain forecasted on the day. Officials revised the schedule, removing breaks and cutting a few laps off the Prefinals with full main event distances to try and beat the weather. Wind was strong all day, and the sun even showed up at the end during the podium ceremonies to help award the day’s winners and the 10 class champions.
GFC Karting’s Hunter Pickett became the first driver to win a second championship in the SwedeTech Racing Engines ROK Shifter class after securing his third victory on the season. Pickett was able to complete a sweep of Round Six, setting fast time in qualifying, winning the Prefinal and going on to earn the victory in the main event. It was a challenge early in the Final with veteran Ron White (RWR / CRG) grabbing the holeshot to open up the 20-lap race. Pickett took back the spot after just one lap and from there drove away to a three-second margin. White came under attack by Round Three winner Jacob Gulick (GFC). In the end, White came away with the position. Micah Hendricks (Croc Promotion) found extra speed on the day, advancing up to fourth after battling with Ryan Martin (RWR). With just a few laps remaining, Martin had a piece of floating plastic blow into his kart, and get caught up around the front brake disc. He shot to the middle of the track trying to brake, and nearly collected Hendricks. Martin spun to avoid hitting the tires but ended his race early. That moved Kyriakos Sioukas (AKR / EOS) to the fifth position.
Oliver Hodgson (J3 / CompKart) won his third main event in four rounds in the Forward Direction Motorsports Senior 100cc category. Hodgson was able to complete the sweep of Round Six, including wire-to-wire victory in the Final. He was trailed early by championship leader Kyriakos Sioukas (AKR / Tony Kart) and last year’s champion Liam Letzsch (GFC). When they began fighting for P2, this allowed Hodgson breathing room, along with him posting the fast laps of the race. At the checkered, Hodgson took the victory by over three seconds. Sioukas was able to earn the second spot to finish off six straight podium finishes toward his first series championship. Letzsch finished third on the day, second in the championship. Gino Sandoval (SSM / Exprit) drove to fourth with Masters 100cc champion Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart) earning a fifth-place result in moving to the Senior ranks for the final round.
For a third straight season, the Ron White Racing ROK Shifter Masters class ended with Kevin Woods (RWR / CRG) on top of the podium. Woods was able to complete a perfect score on the day to earn his third victory of the season, and his third straight series championship. Woods was challenged early in the Final as Jonathon Vitolo (GFC / Trackmagic) grabbed the holeshot. He led for four circuits until Woods reclaimed the top spot. From there, Woods drove away to nearly a two-second advantage after the 20 laps. Alan Morte (RWR / CRG) completed an impressive run of four straight podium finishes, working past Vitolo for the runner-up spot on the day. Double Tucson winner Jimmy McNeil (Aluminos) drove to third with Patrick O’Neill (RWR / CRG) putting four NorCal drivers into the top-five.
The new bar is set for most championships at the Challenge by Derek Wang (BBR / EOS) with a fourth straight title in the Odenthal Racing Products Masters ROK division. Wang completed the six-round sweep of the category, winning his sixth straight on the season. It was not a perfect score in the championship, as he missed out on the fast time in three of six main events. Wang was pressured throughout the 20-lap Final by former champion Billy Cleavelin (RPG / Kosmic) and Christopher Mann (Ruthless / Kosmic). Mann attempted to take the second spot away from Cleavelin on the final circuit, allowing Wang to go unchallenged to the checkered flag. Cleavelin held on for second ahead of Mann. David Pergande (JHM / Kart Republic) was fourth with Curtis Morte (SSM / Exprit) in fifth. Carson Bowers (CompKart) ran uncontested in the Ruthless Karting Senior ROK division for a fourth victory, earning the series championship.
The P1 Engines Masters 100cc welcomed a first-time winner and the second different on the season. Five-time winner and champion Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart) moved to the Senior class on the day, opening the door for a new winner. Preston Newberry (FDM / CompKart) took his shot, setting fast time in qualifying for a third time on the season. David Pergande (JHM / Kart Republic) had other ideas, grabbing the win in the Prefinal. Newberry was able to get the jump at the start of the 20-lap Final, as Pergande fell back to third behind Mike Giles (JHM / Kart Republic). By lap three, Pergande was up to the lead once again and drove away with fast laps of the race for his first career Challenge victory by five seconds. Newberry earned his third podium result of the season with a runner-up as Mike Weatherman (FDM / CompKart) earning his fourth podium on the year with a third-place result. Brett Harrelson (Nash / EOS) drove from the tail of the field to fourth with Michael McDonald (FDM / CompKart) working past Giles for fifth.
The Nash Motorsportz Junior 100cc category had five different winners going into the final round. Christian Cameron (AKR / EOS) broke the streak, earning his second victory of the season to stamp his name on the championship trophy. Round Five winner Stephen Eisert (SSM / Exprit) looked to be the only double winner, setting fast time in qualifying and winning the Prefinal. Cameron stepped up to battle Eisert for the top spot, with the two exchanging the position multiple times over the 20 laps. On the final circuit, they battle each other hard, and Cameron was able to win the drag race to the checkered flag for the victory. Alex Rantala (GFC) drove a strong race to put himself on the podium in the third spot, earning the position ahead of Round Two winner Preston Lambert (GFC / Trackmagic) with Max Altman (SSM / Exprit) in fifth.
A fourth victory in the GFC Karting Mini ROK division put Gage Korn (Race Factory) on top of the championship podium. Korn was able to pull off the sweep of Round Six, dominating the day in qualifying, the Prefinal and 16-lap Final. Korn went wire-to-wire in the main event, driving away to a near three-second victory to celebrate the title. Two-time winner Ashton Woon (Parolin) drove to the runner-up finish with Matteo Quinto (RPM / Tony Kart) joining them on the podium in third. Turner Brown (GFC) drove to fourth with Braylon Underwood (Race Factory) classified fifth. Cason Hodge (SSM / Exprit) won his fifth on the year in the VemmeKart Micro ROK class. Saturday winner Julian Sanchez (GFC) led early on until Hodge took over and drove away to the race win, celebrating the series championship with the victory.
The 15th edition of the Challenge of the Americas is now complete, with the summer season now approaching. The California ROK Championship will take place beginning on May 20-22 with the opener at the CalSpeed Karting facility in Fontana, California. That leads up to the big mid-summer classic at the Pat’s Acres Racing Complex in Canby, Oregon on June 24-26. It all closes out once again at the Sonoma Raceway on August 26-28. For champions in the ROK Shifter, ROK Shifter Masters, Senior ROK, Junior ROK, and Mini ROK divisions, those drivers have earned a ticket to compete at the ROK Cup Superfinal in October at the famed South Garda Karting facility in Italy. The other champions along with those finishing second and third in all categories earn tickets to compete at the ROK Vegas event in Las Vegas with ROK Cup USA later in 2022.