2023 ROK Cup USA Florida Winter Tour – Tropicana Field – Saturday Report
It was a full day of wheel-to-wheel racing for the second day of competition at Tropicana Field as ROKKERs hit the track for heats two, three, and the prefinal. Working towards Sunday and the chance to stand atop the Florida Winter Tour podium, the action was hot on the track as cooler temperatures greeted drivers. After a slight delay in the morning due to circumstances beyond the control of officials, competitors hit the track 8:30am for their morning warm-up sessions.
ROK VLR Junior
Working their way through two heat races, VLR Junior drivers hit the track on Saturday afternoon for their prefinal that would set the grid for Sunday’s main events. With their strong results through the three-heat race format, Steven Miller (CDR) and Ernesto Rivera (Rolison Performance Group) would occupy the front row as between them, they earned the three heat race wins. Christian Cameron (PSL Karting) and Anthony Martella (Speed Concept Racing) rolled off from row two just ahead of Leonardo Escorpioni (Zanella Racing) and Shun Sekiguchi (Supertune) in row three.
Miller jumped to the point in the prefinal as Rivera was able to hold on to his outside front-row starting spot to run second. Escorpioni jumped two positions in the opening lap to third while Carson Wienberg (Tesoro Raceworx) followed suit to run fifth. Martella was a victim of the outside second-row starting position and fell to seventh early on before beginning to work his way back forward. Only four laps in and Miller looked like the driver to beat opening a gap over Rivera by one second. Turner Brown (Speed Concepts Racing) was making moves and gained five positions in four laps to run eighth. Escorpioni fell to third and then regained the second position while Miller was setting purple sectors lap after lap as he continued to stretch his lead. After falling back early, Christian Cameron proved the speed of his BirelART machine setting the fastest race lap on lap eight only to have Miller reset the mark a lap later. Weinberg moved to fifth while Diego Ardiles (Rolison Performance Group) disposed of Martella for sixth, but it was all Miller up front with a two-second lead. Miller scored a dominating win over Escorpioni as he led flag-to-flag while Cameron rebounded to finish third, Rivera fourth and Ardiles was by Weinberg in the late stages to steal the fifth position.
ROK VLR Senior
In the ROK VLR Senior class, it was an epic battle in the heat races between Helio Meza (Iron Rock Motorsports) and Wes Duchak (Rolison Performance Group) as both drivers solidified front-row starting positions for the prefinal. Meza led the field to the green flag as he looked to take control and pace the field throughout the 14 lap prefinal.
It was Meza who led early over Duchak and Gracian Rzedzian (Tecno Kart USA) as drama would happen behind them with Brayden Domingue (Iron Rock Motorsports) and Haopeng Zhang (Supertune) making contact while running in the top-five. Jed Perkins (Perkins Racing) slowed with an issue on lap two and was forced to retire as Zhang and Domingue continued near the tail of the field. With the front three remaining evenly spaced as the race reached mid-distance, Meza looked to be in complete control until lap eight when Wes Duchak began to claw his way back. Going purple and closing the gap from seven-tenths behind the leader to four, he managed to shrink it to just two-tenths a lap later as he looked to make a run at the win. Behind Rzedzian, Miles Hewitt (Tesoro Motorsports) was up to fourth and was looking to better his main event starting spot but when the checkered flag flew, it was Meza on top with the win followed by Duchak, Rzedzian, Hewitt, and Domingue. Following the race, Domingue was moved to the tail of the field due to an on-track penalty.
The driver to beat throughout the Mini ROK heat races was Team Benik’s Kai Johnson as he lined up on the premier pole position for the prefinal. Looking to take advantage of his inside front-row starting position and rocket away to the win, a handful of other drivers had a different idea knowing that they would need to get by Johnson early to have a chance. Max Cristea (Motazsport) lined up next to Johnson with Marco Romero (Team Benik) and David Zhao (Goodwood Kartways) occupying row two. The inside line would remain a Benik train as Tyrone Kemper Jr. (Team Benik) slotted his #141 entry into the fifth starting spot.
Before the green flag flew, disaster struck for Kemper as he slowed on the main straight and was unable to take the green flag forcing him to start from the back of the field for Sunday’s main event. Johnson led early over his Team Benik teammate Romero as Cristea, Zhao, and Santiago Namnum (FLC) rounded out the top-five. Namnum gained one position a lap later to move to fourth and was having his best drive of the weekend while Johnson opened a four-tenths of a second gap over Romero who had a similar gap over Cristea. Cristea would then set the fastest lap of the race on lap five, but Namnum bettered that a lap later as Royce Vega (Team Benik) moved into P5. Romero closed the gap on Johnson as the Beniks ran one-two, but Cristea was closing the gap on both showing great speed out of his Parolin. With the white flag flying, Johnson looked over his shoulder and saw a hard charging Romero and Cristea hot in tow. Defending when he needed, Johnson was able to secure the prefinal win with Romero in second, Cristea in third, Namnum fourth and David Zhao in the fifth position.
ROK Shifter Master
Earning the pole position and three heat race wins, Antonio Pizzonia (Orsolon Motorsports) started the ROK Shifter Master prefinal from the first position. Larry Pegram (Pegram Racing) went third, third, and second in his three on-track sessions and was tied in points with Jose Montalto (DRT Racing) but earned the front-row starting spot based on qualifying times.
Almost stalling at the start, Pizzonia was jumped by a pair of drivers and for the first time all weekend, found himself behind. Jumping to the lead was Pegram with Alex Mueller (Mueller Racing) in second. Pizzonia put together a solid second lap to regain the second position and would look to track down the leader. Falling more than a second behind, Pizzonia went purple on laps two, three, and four to get to the rear bumper of Pegram. A massive shunt earlier in the race forced Luis Mendez Ramos (AKT Racing) and Kori Matthews (VTM) to retire. As Daniel Dibos Sabogal (International Motorsports) moved into fifth just behind Luis Gautier (PSL Karting), Pizzonia made a successful bid for the lead on lap seven and found his way back to the point as Pegram was pushed back to second. Scott Presti (Presti Racing) was making headway deeper in the field as he gained six positions in seven laps to run seventh. Out front, it was smooth sailing for Pizzonia who had opened a one-second gap himself after only three laps out front and looked poised to take the prefinal win. Opening the gap even more with the fastest lap of the race on lap ten, the Orsolon Racing driver was in a league of his own. Pizzonia handily drove to the win over Pegram, Mueller, Dibos, and Gautier who held off the hard-charging Presti and Bran Chatfield (Carblos Racing Engines) whom each gained seven positions in the prefinal. Following the race, Gautier was given a penalty for an incident on track and dropped to sixth on the results sheets.
With first, second and third place results in the heat races, it was Speed Concepts Racing’s Ayden Ingratta who secured the pole position for the ROK Senior prefinal. The Canadian driver lined up next to 2022 OK World Champion Matheus Morgatto (PSL Karting) who remained consistent through the heats but was unable to find his way to the scale line first. Speed Concepts occupied two of the first three positions as Jorge Ortiz slotted himself into third after a disappointing qualifying session Friday but a strong set of heat races. Noel Leon (Alessandro Racing) was the heat two victor and starts the prefinal from fourth ahead of Cameron Weinberg (CRG Racing) in the fifth position.
Ingratta was able to hold the aggressive ROK Senior drivers at bay over the first lap as he controlled the field followed by his SCR teammate Jorge Ortiz. A pile-up in the third corner sent several of the front-runners to the tail of the field with drivers in the middle of the pack all benefiting. Ortiz would get by his teammate on lap three to move to the point and a lap later, Morgatto would also sneak by Ingratta for second. It was Karol Pasiewicz (International Motorsport) who was up three positions in three laps to run fourth as Morgatto went purple on lap five as he looked to close the gap to Ortiz. Morgatto made his move a lap later pushing Ortiz back to second as it was his turn to control the field. With rain threatening the area, drivers were jockeying for position to ensure they were in the best spot possible if the deluge did come. Pasiewicz snuck by Ingratta on lap seven and went purple on lap eight with the fastest race lap. Morgatto had opened a half-second gap on the rest of the field, but would it be enough with six laps remaining? Pasiewicz was again the fastest kart on track lapping two-tenths faster than both the drivers in front of him as he moved to second on lap ten. Noel Leon was looking to get by Ingratta on lap eleven as the two made contact causing heavy damage to both and dropping them outside the top-ten. Benefiting from the contact in front of them, Cameron Weinberg (Tesoro Motorsports), Connor Zilisch (Racing Edge Motorsports), and Blake Nash (Nash Motorsportz) all advanced forward to better their starting position for tomorrow. Morgatto took the win ahead of Pasiewicz, Ortiz, Weinberg, and Zilisch.
Perfect on the weekend, Andre Nicastro has been the driver to beat in Master ROK. Courtesy of his pole position in qualifying and three heat race wins, Nicastro put his Racing Edge Motorsports Kosmic on the inside of the front row for the prefinal. William Isaias (International Motorsports) lined up second ahead of Canadian David LaPlante (Premiere Karting) in third. Martin Stone put a second REM driver in the top-five lining up fourth while Miguel Mier (Orsolon) started on the inside of row three in fifth.
With more than a second lead after three laps, Nicastro was running away with the ROK Master prefinal as he outpaced Isaias and LaPlante in second in third who had swapped positions on the opening lap but changed again a few laps later. Sylvain Coulombe (Premiere Karting) gained two positions from sixth to fourth early on with Martin Stone in fifth. While the front three remained unchanged, Stone and Mueller (Private) were able to get by Coulombe to advance to fourth and fifth respectively. Nicastro continued to pull away from the field with a 3.6-second gap with four laps to go and while most would take it easy in this situation, Nicastro was still resetting quick time lap after lap. Nicastro scored the win ahead of Isaias, LaPlante, Stone and Mueller.
Despite missing out on the pole position in qualifying, Matheus Ramalho (URace) would earn the inside front row starting spot for the prefinal after a trio of heat race wins. As the dominant Micro driver on the weekend, Ramalho aimed to continue his momentum in the prefinal as he lined up next to Antonio Pizzonia Jr. (Orsolon Racing) on the front row. Maxwell Macha (SLA Racing) had three heat race results in the top-five to start his quest for a prefinal win from the third position alongside Iron Rock Motorsports’ Nico Orbezo. Joao Bonadiman (Orsolon Racing) finished the third and final heat race in the third position and started the prefinal from P5.
While Ramalho led the field to the green, it was Pizzonia who led the opening lap ahead of his rival. Macha retained his P3 starting spot to run third while Bonadiman was ahead of Orbezo for fourth and fifth respectively. Ramalho made his move back to the point to lead lap three as the front pair had a small gap on the group of drivers battling for third. Bonadiman snuck by Macha on lap four to put a pair of Orsolon Racing drivers and Brazilians second and third on track. With passes happening throughout the field, the top-five seemed to have settled into a rhythm as the race reached the halfway mark. Pizzonia set the fastest lap of the race on lap six at a 39.880 but was unable to get by Ramalho. Macha got by Orbezon on lap seven as the action started to heat up. Pizzonia waited until lap eight to get by Ramalho for the lead as the front two were three seconds ahead of the third-place runner. Nico Orbezo showed his speed on lap nine resetting the fastest race lap, but Liam Nachawati (Cruz Racing Development) took those honors away on lap ten. Orbezo made a late race move to grab the fourth position but up front, it was Ramalho who made a last lap, last corner move to take the win and remain perfect on the weekend so far. Pizzonia crossed the line second, Bonadiman third, Orbezo fourth, and Macha in the fifth position.
A pole position in qualifying and two heat race wins gave Anthony Martella the prefinal pole position in ROK Junior in his first event with Speed Concepts Racing. Lining up next to JC Karting’s Oliver Wheldon, Wheldon broke the tie in points after the heat races with Ernesto Rivera (Rolison Performance Group) based on the better result in qualifying. Steven Miller (CDR) will start fourth and hoped that the experience from his VLR Junior prefinal would come into play as he lined up just ahead of Christian Cameron (PSL Karting) and Sebastian Garzon (Orsolon Racing).
With seven different teams represented in the top seven, Speed Concepts Racing would lead JC Karting, Rolison Performance Group, Chad Dokken Racing, PSL Karting, Orsolon Racing, and Racing Edge Motorsports to the green flag for the 14-lap prefinal. Martella got a great jump and took the lead at the exit of the first corner as Rivera moved his way to second. Mayer Deonarine (Racing Edge Motorsports) moved forward four positions to third as Wheldon fell two to fourth, ahead of Cameron and Steven Miller. By the end of lap three, Martella and Rivera had already opened a 1.3-second gap on the third-place runner and extended that to 1.5 seconds a lap later. Rivera would keep Martella honest early as he was locked to the rear bumper of the new SCR driver and on lap five, snuck by to take the lead while Miller was able to get by Cameron for fifth and in doing so, set the fastest race lap. With the drivers third on back getting organized and the leaders battling, the gap began to shrink at the mid-race distance but was back over the 1.5-second mark a lap later with Wheldon, Miller, and Cameron getting by Deonarine. Martella chased Rivera up front as they matched fast laps on lap eight as it turned into a two-driver race for the win. Oliver Wheldon was now the fastest driver on track in third but with four laps remaining, catching the leaders was likely not going to happen. Rivera went on to score the win and pole position for Sunday’s main event while Martella had to settle for second ahead of Wheldon, Miller, Cameron and Garzon. Enzo Vidmontiene (Zanella) had a strong run forward gaining eight positions to finish inside the top-ten. Following the prefinal, Steven Miller was given a three-position penalty for contact as he was pushed down to seventh on the result sheets.
ROK VLR Master
It was a pole position and three heat race wins for Laurentiu Mardan (Tecno USA), who has been the class of the VLR field in the Masters competition for the past few seasons. Mardan would lead the field to the green flag in today’s prefinal after narrowly hanging on to the heat three win with what seemed to be an engine issue. Alex Dal Bon (LFB Racing) started second just ahead of Mark Pavan (Goodwood Kartways), Luis Quinones (Rhino Kart Team), and Ryan Molina (Private).
Mardan pushed his Tecno Kart to the lead at the opening corner and never looked back. Breaking down his race he set purple laps on laps one, two, four, five, seven, eight, and ten. The Tecno Kart USA driver had a .800 gap at end of lap one and a 2.544 gap at the end of lap four and 3.095 at the end of lap five. By the halfway mark, Mardan was 4.001 ahead of Dal Bon and a lap later, that gap had stretched to 4.573. It was 5.156 at the close of lap ten and stretched to 6.213 with two to go before 7.549 when the checkered flag flew.
Mark Pavan was the biggest loser over the first circuit dropping three positions much to the delight of Alex Dal Bon, Luis Quinones, Ryan Molina, and Gallo Barros who ran second through fifth respectively. Pavan was able to get around Barros on lap six to regain one of the three positions he lost and a few laps later, was by Molina for fourth to earn another one back. Mardan scored the win ahead of Dal Bon, and Pavan, who was able to get by Quinones on the final lap, and Molina who finished fifth. Unfortunately, Molina was found to have a technical infraction post-race that saw him disqualified and he will be forced to start last tomorrow.
Marijn Kremers (PSL Karting) nipped AJ Myers for the pole position in Friday’s qualifying session by a scant .004 but it was AJ Myers (Magik Kart USA) who got the best of the pair throughout the three heat races to earn the pole position for the prefinal. While the front two swapped heat race results, Canadian Josh Conquer (Carblos Racing Engines) remained consistent finishing with a trio of third-place results to start the prefinal from P3. Pedro Piquet (Piquet Sports) would begin his prefinal from the fourth position just ahead of the row three starters of Vincenzo Sarracino (VS10 Kart) and Giorgio Carrara (International Motorsport).
Myers got the holeshot from his pole position as Kremers, Conquer and Piquet settled into the second through fourth positions while Carrara advanced forward to fifth. Kremers had the pace to stay with Myers and had the fastest lap on laps three and four as he closed the gap that he lost over the opening two laps. On a track that proved to be easier to pass when tires were newer became more difficult as the day wore on. Hunter Pickett (PSL Karting) was able to get by Sarracino for sixth but the top-five remained unchanged as the race reached the halfway mark. Myers turned up the wick on lap seven to retake the fastest lap from Kremers, but lost time a lap later as Kremers was two-tenths of a second faster than Myers. Kremers made a bold, and surprising, move in the last corner on lap ten to elbow his way by Myers for the lead. The next lap, Kremers was another two-tenths faster than Myers to open a half-second gap and that was all she wrote. Kremers, a former KZ World Champion, drove to the win and pole position for the main event with Myers in second, Conquer in third, Carrara in fourth with Hunter Pickett moving forward again late in the race to finish fifth.
ROKKERs will return to the track Sunday morning for the ROK Cup USA Florida Winter Tour Round #1 Main Events. For a complete set of results, click HERE.