EKN Trackside: 2022 SKUSA WinterNationals – NOLA – Sunday Report
Kremers doubles in Pro Shifter while Norberg begins ‘Drive for Five’ with X30 Senior triumph
Rolison Performance Group's Ryan Norberg scored his first SKUSA Pro Tour win at NOLA Motorsports Park, beginning his 'Drive for Five' titles
(Photo: Ken Johnson - OnTrack Promotions / Studio 52)
After soldiering through wind and heavy rain on Saturday to put the opening round of the 2022 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour in the books, over 200 drivers, their mechanics, and their families were treated to ideal weather on Sunday when blue skies and temperatures in the high 70s were the order of the day. The fifth annual WinterNationals, which was being held for the fourth time at the 1.1-mile, 17-turn NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, was wrapped up with extremely close racing highlighted by several thrilling finishes. Four-time SKUSA Pro Tour champion Ryan Norberg out-gunned his Rolison Performance Group teammate Nate Cicero for the win the X30 Senior, while 2020 CIK-FIA Karting KZ World Champion Marijn Kremers delivered a flawless performance to back up his Saturday triumph with another victory.
NOLA Motorsports Park has not been particularly kind to Norberg over the years, but he seemed intent on changing that trend on Sunday when he qualified on the X30 Senior pole with a lap of 1:01.476 to edge Cicero. The RPG duo held their positions through the 10-lap Prefinal to lockout the front row of the Final. The main event began with Norberg pulling out a slight advantage, but a four-driver lead pack formed by lap five with the addition of Thomas Nepveu (Kart Republic) and Alessandro de Tullio (Parolin USA / Parolin). Nepveu made a bid for the lead on lap six, but it didn’t go as planned, and Cicero was able to move into second as a result. This laid the groundwork for the rest of the race as Cicero pulled away from De Tullio and Nepveu and set out to reel in the leader.
Once Cicero arrived on the scene on lap 14, the a two-driver fight was on. Cicero hounded Norberg with ease, erasing any gap the veteran could develop through the tighter infield section each time they rolled down the long backstraight, which is one of the longest on the national karting circuit. Cicero made his move at the end of that run on lap 18 to take the lead, but Norberg returned the favor in turn 17 and he led to the line to get the two-to-go-signal. Cicero threw everything he could at his teammate in the remaining overtaking opportunities, but he simply could not complete a pass. Norberg ran a strong final lap and streaked across the line to win by 0.337 seconds, giving the Rolison Performance Group an impressive 1-2 finish. Nepveu bested de Tullio for the final spot on the podium, while Zach Claman Demelo completed the top-five, driving up from 18th on the grid.
PSL Karting’s Marijn Kremers was ninth in the X30 Senior final on Sunday, but he’d been on-track in an earlier main event as he was lined up to duplicate his Pro Shifter win from Saturday. Kremers was not intending to compete in Pro Shifter at NOLA, but a seat opened up on Friday morning when a teammate elected to sit out after injuring his ribs during Thursday practice. The former world champion fully leveraged the opportunity and backed up his Saturday win with another sweep of the action in Round #2. Kremers turned a 59.787 in qualifying to narrowly edge Connor Zilisch for the pole and he then jumped out to a quick lead in the 10-lap Prefinal to pace reigning SKUSA Pro Tour Pro Shifter champion AJ Myers (Magik Kart USA / Magik Kart) to the line to secure the pole for the final. The front row set the stage for the faceoff between the two titans, and while Myers got a strong launch from the outside, Kremers did not falter and he led cleanly as the duo powered out of turn 1. Myers knew he needed to challenge early and the American sent it aggressively to the inside at the end of the backstraight to lead for a brief moment, but Kremers perfectly executed the ‘check-up over-under’ to beat Myers to turn four. The race was over right there, as Kremers slowly and steadily pulled away over the course of 20 laps to a 3.874-second win. The Dutchman celebrated his back-to-back wins with some artistic donuts on the cooldown lap.
After his attempt at the lead on the opening lap, Myers settled in for the 20-lap run and took second, but things changed drastically behind him over the final laps. Hunter Pickett (GFC Karting / GFC) had third position in control, but he was done with three laps to go with broken fuel line. This advanced Zilisch up to the podium in third. The 16-year-old had stepped into Greg Bell’s Leading Edge Motorsports Formula K race package with zero notice when it became available after Danny Formal was forced to withdraw from the racing having tested positive for COVID. Connor was quick all weekend and was rewarded with a trip to the podium in third on Sunday. It wasn’t quite over as a late-race battle for fourth resulted in contact between Cole Shade (GFC Karting / Trackmagic) and Davide Greco (PSL Karting / Birel ART) at the end of the backstraight, leaving both drivers on the sidelines. This melee elevated Jacob Gulick (GFC Karting / GFC) to fourth and Jake French (PSL Karting / Birel ART) to fifth.
In Harden Motorsports Group Master Shifter, Vincent Cossard (PSL Karting / Birel ART) scored the win over Victor Jimenez (Rolison Performance Group / Tony Kart). Tim De Bellboy (PSL Karting / Birel ART) completed the podium in third.
Danilo Ramalho (Racing Edge Motorsports / Kosmic) duplicated his Saturday performance in the X30 Master class, winning by 5.481 seconds over Mario Barrios (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic). Barrios suffered a flat tire in Round #1 with just two laps to go, but he did not have any issues on Sunday and took the second step on the podium. Pete Vetter (Rolison Performance Group / Exprit) was once again third in the final tally.
In Rolison Performance Group X30 Junior, Caleb Gafrarar (RPG / Kosmic) picked up where he left on from Saturday’s win by qualifying on the pole on Sunday morning. Gafrarar edged Helio Meza (Iron Rock Motorsports / Tony Kart) and Ayden Ingratta (Speed Concepts Racing / Redspeed) by just 0.043 seconds in a close session. Gafrarar led a majority of the Prefinal, but Meza would eventually get by to take the win and the pole for the final. In the 20-lapper, Meza led the 30-kart field through the opening corners but Gafrarar attacked immediately at the end of the backstraight to take the point. The RPG driver paced the first five laps before Ingratta slipstreamed past on the straightaway with help from Max Taylor (Mike Doty Racing / LN Kart). A five-kart lead group quickly developed, adding Meza and Max Garcia (WPK) to the mix. Gafrarar went back to the lead for several laps over the second half of the race before Ingratta retook it on lap 17, but it would all come down to the final lap when Gafrarar got freight-trained from second back to six on the backstraight before contact in the turn 6-7 chicane sent him spinning. Ingratta held the lead, but it was now Garcia working his rear bumper. Over the final two corners, both of which are prime passing opportunities, Ingratta was perfect and kept a tight line to hold back Garcia, who couldn’t afford to try a wide line in the last turn to set up for an over-under as he had Meza right behind him, ready to pounce. Ingratta, Garcia, and Meza stood on the podium at the end of the day, while Parker Delong (Ryan Perry Motorsports / Tony Kart) capped a strong drive forward in fourth ahead of Christian Miles (Mike Doty Racing / LN Kart). Gafrarar dropped to ninth with his spin, and Taylor did not complete the final lap and was officially classified in 26th.
Peyton Phillips (Iron Rock Motorsports / Tony Kart) was the quickest in qualifying in Ryan Perry Motorsports KA100 Senior, timing in just 0.005 seconds ahead of Oliver Calvo (Leading Edge Motorsports / Redspeed). Alex Stanfield (GWR / Tony Kart) advanced from fifth on the grid to win the Prefinal over Cedric Lupien (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) and Jeremy Fletcher (GWR / Tony Kart). In the main event, those same three drivers pulled away early and Fletcher would eventually take hold of the race, stretching away to a 2.077-second advantage at the checker. It was his second victory of the weekend, having captured the X30 Senior final on Saturday. Stanfield ran alone over the final quarter of the race to finish second, but the battle for third continued as Gia Cicero (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) hounded Phillips for the final podium step all the way to the checkered flag. Phillips crossed the line in third, but an incident responsibility penalty dropped him to seventh and promoted Cicero to third, her first SKUSA Pro Tour podium. One of the impressive stories from the KA100 Senior final was Calvo’s recovery from a Prefinal DNF due to an errant chain. Oliver powered forward from 28th on the grid to finish fourth in the final classification after penalties were issued. He also turned the fastest lap of the race on the final circuit. Lupien faded a little mid-race and would eventually finish fifth.
Nash Motorsportz’ Jesus Vasquez Jr. (EOS) turned up the wick on Sunday, after finishing just outside the top-10 on Saturday before a pushback bumper penalty dropped him deeper into the final classification. Vasquez qualified on the pole in the morning session, just 0.033 seconds ahead of Ernesto Rivera (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic). A lead group of four drivers developed in the Prefinal, which was won by Parker Delong (Ryan Perry Motorsports / Tony Kart). Vasquez remained in the hunt, finishing third behind Caleb Gafrarar (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic). In the Final, the early laps were hectic as no one seemed content to run in line, which kept the lead train stacked with as many as eight drivers at one time. Vasquez, Mesa, and Delong each led during the first half of the race but, at the halfway point, Delong took the lead as he and Meza worked to pull away. It would not happen, and the final laps were thrilling as a result. On the final lap, Meza led the train down the backstraight but Gafrarar made his move to the inside in turn 3, only to have Meza come back on the inside of turn 4. The two made contact in turn 5, sending Gafrarar sideways, which allowed Vasquez to slip underneath to take a lead that he would not give up over the remainder of the lap. Camryn Reed (Iron Rock Motorsports / Tony Kart) was on the move throughout the race within the lead group and she worked through the last lap chaos to push Vasquez across the line to take second, but a pushback bumper penalty dropped her to fourth. This moved Meza back to second and Stephen Eisert (Ryan Perry Motorsports / Tony Kart) to the podium in third. Eisert worked hard through the race to advance, and his patience paid off with a solid third-place result. Reed was fourth ahead of Oscar Iliffe (Iron Rock Motorsports / Tony Kart). Gafrarar ended up in seventh after the last lap contact.
Tyler Roberts (Parolin USA / Parolin) led the way in Parolin USA Mini Swift qualifying, turning a 1:07.862 to edge Vivek Kanthan (Parolin USA / Parolin) for the pole in the Prefinal. Roberts teamed up with Saturday winner Jack Iliffe (Iron Rock Motorsports / Parolin) in both the Prefinal and the Final, as they pulled out to a 1.524-second gap over Oliver Wheldon (JC Karting / LN Kart). The main event quickly developed into a two-kart race as Roberts locked onto the rear bumper of Iliffe for 19 laps. Roberts made his move on the final lap, driving around the outside of Iliffe as he defended on the backstraight, completing the move in turn four, the second of the double-apex left-hander. Roberts looked poised to jet away to the win, but he went on the defense in turn 10, which allowed Iliffe to close the gap slightly. Iliffe retook the point in the final corner with a perfect over-under to edge Roberts for the win. Sadly for Jack, after all that work, a penalty FOR ‘passing under a yellow flag’ dropped him to eighth and elevated Roberts to his first SKUSA Pro Tour win. In 2021, Roberts had qualified on the pole at the WinterNationals, but wasn’t able to leverage that pace into a trip to the podium. With a year of national racing under his belt, he now has the experience needed to challenge for the series championship. This win will be massive for Robert’s momentum heading into the summer season. The remainder of the top-five saw Wheldon take another podium in second after a race-long battle with Kanthan who took third, while Carson Weinberg (Speed Concepts Racing / CRG) caught and drove through a three-kart pack including Gage Bailey (Iron Rock Motorsports / Benik), Keelan Harvick (Harvick Racing / Parolin), and Alessandro Truchot (Parolin USA / Parolin) to finish fourth ahead of Bailey, turning the fast lap of the race in the process.
After sweeping all three sessions on Saturday, Team Bendik’s Troy Ferguson (Benik) had to work a little harder on Sunday. The Seal Beach, CA driver qualified fourth, and held that position in the Prefinal. Jaxon Porter (Nitro Kart) was the quickest driver in qualifying, timing in just 0.031 seconds ahead of Drew Walz (MottazSport / Birel ART). The top-four in Micro Swift qualifying were separated by just 0.090 seconds with Luke Giglio (MottazSport / Birel ART) sitting between Walz and Ferguson. The lead group in the Prefinal welcomed in Rocco Simone (Parolin USA / Parolin) and Jackson Gibson (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) into the fray, and they would end up first and second to lock out the front row for the Final. The main event quickly developed into a three-driver lead group with Simone, Walz, and Ferguson. Walz and Simone both led early, but Ferguson took the lead just past the halfway point and would not relinquish it, winning by 1.028 seconds. Simone and Walz battled for second, with Simone taking the spot. Royce Vega (Team Benik / Benik) finished fourth ahead of Gibson.
The three-event, six-round SKUSA Pro Tour will be back in action on the June 10-12 weekend at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah. Ahead of that event, SKUSA racers will contest the opening round of the California ProKart Challenge on April 23-24 at Buttonwillow and the second Texas Sprint Racing Series at Speedsportz Racing Park in New Casey, Texas on May 20-22.