Race Report: 2022 IAME USA Grand National Championship
Norberg and Zilisch score big with wins in Final and Shootout in headline categories at GoPro Motorplex
The second edition of the IAME USA Grand National Championship presented by Hunt Brothers Pizza took place on October 13-16 at the popular GoPro Motoplex in Mooresville, North Carolina. The inaugural event in July 2021 brought a new excitement to the sport and continued this past weekend with four thrilling days of competition with different track configurations, racing under the lights, and special Shootout races. The 195 entries in the seven IAME categories competed for a piece of the huge prize package offered on the weekend.
The event began with a day of practice on Thursday, along with the return of the Tuner Challenge in the CRG rental karts at GoPro Motorplex. Prior to the main event, the inaugural winner of the Trackhouse Karting Career Advancement Award was presented in a collaboration with IMSA, KHI Management and Trackhouse. Representatives for all three were on hand to present the award with John Doonan from IMSA, Kevin Harvick of KHI and Eric Jones from KartSport North America / MG Tires / IAME USA. Receiving a test in a Mazda MX-5 Cup car used in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires, with a full test day support from McCumbee McAleer Racing – Christian Miles of Paloma, Illinois. For the Tuner Challenge, Alex Karabourniotis (Forward Direction Motorsports / TimmyTech) took the win in the Light division with three-time SKUSA SuperNationals winner Daniel Formal (Rolison Performance Group) winning the Heavy category.
The format for the IAME USA Grand National Championship saw drivers begin with Qualifying and the opening round of heat races on Friday, competing on the ‘National’ layout. Saturday brought the second and third rounds of heat races on the ‘Short Course’. Those heat races set the lineup for the Sunday Prefinal. Points from the Prefinal were then added to the heat points, which set the grid for the main events. Both the Prefinal and Final were contested on the ‘National’ layout. Friday evening was the special CNCPE KA100 Shootout on the same ‘South Course’ layout as the Tuner Challenge from Thursday while the MG Tires X30 Shootout Saturday evening was on the ‘Double Loop’ course.
It was no shock to see five-time SKUSA Pro Tour and two-time defending USPKS champion Ryan Norberg (RPG / Kosmic) at the front of the field in the X30 Senior category. Norberg set fast time in qualifying with a 47.009-lap to be just over one-tenth quicker than Justin Adakonis (MDR / LN Racing Kart) and Alex Stanfield (GWR / Tony Kart). Norberg fought off Adakonis in the opening heat before leading all 15 laps of Heat #2 and Heat #3 to secure the pole position for the Prefinal. Adakonis started on the outside of Row One, leading the opening circuit before Norberg took control and led the remaining 17 laps. The 25-lap Final was an epic duel between the younger Adakonis and the experienced Norberg. The veteran was able to edge out the Adakonis in the final circuit, as Norberg took his second straight victory at the event. Stanfield drove the third step on the podium with Brian Boly (RPG / Kosmic) fourth and Canadian Ayden Ingratta (SCR / CRG) placing fifth in his Senior debut in the USA.
“I love racing this event because of the atmosphere and everything that IAME USA East does for the sport,” stated Ryan Norberg to EKN. “It was so fun getting to race under the lights. Winning all this money was amazing. There’s only one other race of the year that has the same level of excitement. It was a tough race in the final with Justin but in the end, we squeaked out a victory.”
The large 52 driver field for the KA100 Senior division required heat flights over the three rounds. Each group was defined after qualifying with John Burke (RPM / Tony Kart) edging out 2022 USPKS champion Alex Stanfield (GWR / Tony Kart) and Senior rookie Christian Miles (MDR / LN Racing Kart) by 48 thousandths with a 49.406-lap. Three drivers swept the heat races with Burke, Stanfield and Hayden Jones (RPG / Kosmic), each able to win two heat races. The field was then broken up into two Prefinals. The Prefinal B was won by Westin Workman (TimmyTech / CompKart), advancing up six spots to finish ahead of Stanfield. Prefinal A saw Adam Brickley (KSNA / Kart Republic) improve eight positions to win over Burke.
The points were added to the heat races and put Stanfield and Miles on the front row for the Final. Starting 11th was 2021 USPKS champion and 2020 FIA Academy Trophy champion Connor Zilisch (GWR / Tony Kart). Zilisch, the inaugural IAME USA Grand National Championship winner last year, worked his way into the top-five just after lap eight while Stanfield and Miles were out front of the lead group before shuffling began. Burke and last year’s Shootout winner Pauly Massimino (SCR / CRG) fought for the lead until lap 15 when Burke and Massimino fell down the order. This allowed Stanfield to reclaim the top spot with Zilisch sliding into second. They ran 1-2 until Zilisch grabbed the lead for the first time before taking the white flag. Zilisch was able to hold to the checkered flag, grabbing a second straight victory. Workman made it a photo finish, challenging Zilisch as they crossed line, however, would be penalized four positions for improper nose clamps. That promoted Miles up to the second spot and Lucas Szabo (MDR / LN Racing Kart) to third. Massimino recovered to fourth as Frankie Mossman (SCR / CRG) climbed up 11 positions to fifth.
“What an awesome weekend beginning with the KA100 Shootout and then the main event victory for a second year in a row,” commented Connor Zilisch. “I had a ton of fun battling back from 12th in the main, and was just glad to be back at the kart track after a long break away from it. I’m looking forward to SuperNats at the end of the year, and hope to be getting back on the box there as well.”
A total of 23 drivers filled the field for the X30 Junior division, led at the beginning by Ernesto Rivera (RPG / Kosmic) with fast time in qualifying. His 48.318-lap was able to edge out the top-four by a total of 75 thousandths. Sitting third in the session was Caleb Gafrarar (RPG / Kosmic). Gafrarar jumped out to the lead and the win in Heat #1, going on to win the other two races to take the pole position in the Prefinal. Rivera and Max Taylor (RPG / Kosmic) put on the pressure in the 18-lap Prefinal, with Taylor coming away with the win and Gafrarar dropping to third. The trio was able to get away from the field in the 22-lap Final, with Gafrarar leading most of the race. On the final circuit, Gafrarar was able to edge out Taylor and Rivera for the victory. Enzo Vidmontiene (MottazSport / Kart Republic) drove to fourth with Max Garcia (MPG / WPK) in fifth.
The 38-driver field of KA100 Junior was very competitive with four different drivers at the top of the order over the first two days. 2022 CKNA Grand Nationals Junior winner Eli Warren (JSR / Redspeed) was able to set fast time in qualifying before Spencer Conrad (GWR / Redspeed), Caleb Gafrarar (RPG / Kosmic) and Cooper Shipman (IRM / Tony Kart) each won a heat race. Shipman was the driver to end the heat races in the top spot of the points to earn the pole position for the Prefinal with Conrad joining him on the front row. Starting fourth was Ernesto Rivera (RPG / Kosmic), who crept his way to the front, taking over the lead prior to the white flag and holding on for the race win. Rivera was dropped down the order on the opening circuit of the Final and was never able to get back into the lead group – which included Gafrarar, Conrad and Shipman. The trio exchanged the lead several times over the 21-lap event with Conrad able to breakaway at the end to claim the victory. Both Shipman and Gafrarar fell down the order on the final lap as Max Garcia (MPG / WPK) charged from 15th to end up second. Rivera won the fight for third ahead of Warren with Hudson Schwartz (OTK) up 16 spots as the hard charger of the race, finishing fifth.
It was an event sweep for the SuperNationals 22 winner and three-time Rotax Grand Finals champion Ben Cooper (RPG / Kosmic). Cooper set fast time in qualifying and won all three heat races before leading wire-to-wire in both the Prefinal and Final for the victory. Former USAC champion and NASCAR driver Josh Wise (Redspeed) was runner-up ahead of another Rotax Grand Finals champion for Ireland – Martin Pierce (Kart Republic). The legendary Max Papis (Orsolon / Tony Kart) was fourth with Alex Mueller (Tony Kart) rounding out the top-five.
It was a fight to the very end in the Mini Swift category with 28-drivers fighting for the top spot. Max Cristea (MottazSport / Kart Republic) edged out the field for fast lap in qualifying before winning the opening heat race. Isaac Malcuit (Nitro Kart) and Felipe Jesus Benito (Redspeed) each took a heat win of their own. It was Benito that earned the pole position for the Prefinal with Malcuit on the outside of the front row. A wild 17-lap race ended with Lucas Palacio (TKG / Kart Republic) leading only the final lap to secure the race win, bringing Salvador Della Vecchia (Energy) with him. Malcuit ended up sixth yet was still able to secure the pole position for the Final as Benito fell to 12th and started the Final from seventh. Malcuit slipped back to sixth while Michael McGaughy (RPM / Parolin) and Della Vecchia and Travis Pettit (Magik) fought for the lead during the opening circuits of the main event. By lap seven, Malcuit returned to the point and led until the white flag when Palacio led for the first time. The final circuit was wild one, with Malcuit emerging with the lead at the checkered flag for the victory. Della Vecchia missed out on the win by 98 thousandths with the rest of the field shuffling in behind as Pettit crossed in third, Cristea fourth and Palacio fifth. This is Malcuit’s sixth Grand National win on the season, winning four times at the WKA Grand Nationals in August to be the EKN Driver of the Month and winning the CKNA Grand Nationals earlier this month.
Nitro Kart was able to defend its home turf in the Cadet divisions as Ashton Woon took the victory in the 18-driver Micro Swift class. Royce Vega (Benik) was able to set fast time in qualifying and won two of the heat races. Winning the first heat race was Nicolas Orbezo (IRM / Kosmic). Vega led the field to the green flag in the Prefinal and was joined at the front by Woon, who started third. Vega led the first 15 before Woon took over on the final circuit to take the win. Vega began the 20-lap Final leading the opening eight laps. Woon was shuffled down to fourth at the start and fought his way to the lead by lap eight. Vega continued slipping down as Alexander Procuna (Parolin) and Parker Ives (Nitro Kart) moved up into the battle for the lead. Woon and Procuna swapped the lead multiple times, including the final circuit. At the line, Woon scored the victory by 99 thousandths ahead of Procuna. Ives ended up on the podium in third with Vega fourth and Marco Sammut (MDR / LN Racing Kart) in fifth.
The CNCPE KA100 Shootout was held on Friday evening on the ‘South Course’. The 14 drivers selected to compete all drew for position to start the opening heat, with the second heat starting spot reversed based on the pea pick. Points were tabulated to set the grid for the main event. Hayden Jones (RPG / Kosmic) and Connor Zilisch (GWR / Tony Kart) won the two heat races as Zilisch earned the pole position for the Final. He slipped back to third at the start behind Jones and John Burke (RPM / Tony Kart) before Jones fell to the tail of the field. Burke led until lap eight when Zilisch grabbed the top spot. Christian Miles (MDR / LN Racing Kart) was able to join the fight to make it a three-driver battle to the end. At the line, Zilisch was able to secure the victory by six tenths over Burke. Miles crossed the line in third but a pushback bumper penalty dropped him to sixth, moving Alex Stanfield (GWR / Tony Kart) to third. Jones fought back to end up fourth with Finnegan Bayliff (TKG / Kart Republic) classified in fifth.
The MG Tires X30 Shootout took part on Saturday evening with the same format, however, contested on the ‘Double Loop’ layout. Jeremy Fletcher (RPM / Tony Kart) and Ben Cooper (RPG / Kosmic) were the two drivers to win the heat races as Fletcher gained the pole position for the main event. Starting 11th, Ryan Norberg (RPG / Kosmic) made quick work in the 15-lap Final as Fletcher led the way. It was lap eight when Norberg was able to grab the lead and from there, drove away to a three-second advantage at the checkered flag. Fletcher settled for second with Connor Zilisch (GWR / Tony Kart) completed the podium. Jones ended up fourth with Nate Cicero (RPG / Kosmic) placing fifth.
The second annual IAME USA Grand National Championship brought fun and excitement once again, with support from outside the industry with KHI Management, IMSA, and Trackhouse. The future is bright for the event, however, with a busy 2023 schedule forming, the question now is when will the 2023 edition be held, and what unique changes can be made to make it even bigger.