EKN Trackside: 2023 Challenge of the Americas – Tucson – Preview
16th season of west coast winter series begins at Musselman Honda Circuit
The Challenge of the Americas program is set to embark on its 16th season, kicking off the 2023 championship with the opening two rounds at the Musselman Honda Circuit. The Tucson, Arizona will welcome at last 115 entries over eight categories in a revised offering of categories this year. The international west coast winter series will make history, becoming one of the first programs around the world to host the new OK-N category.
The Musselman Honda Circuit is one of the most rewarding layouts in North America for producing great racing. A replica of the Suzuka circuit in Japan, it measures out to 8/10-mile and 13 corners, contested in the counter-clockwise direction. The Challenge first visited the Tucson facility in 2012, making its ninth visit in total. Five rounds of practice on Friday officially kick off the event before Round One and Two are contested on Saturday and Sunday. Each round features a warm-up, qualifying, Prefinal and Final.
eKartingNews.com is proud to be entering the 12th season of Trackside Live program with Challenge of the Americas. EKN’s own Rob Howden will be calling the action all weekend from Tucson. Those unable to attend can listen in to the live broadcast. Bookmark www.ekartingnews.com/live and follow the EKN social media channels for more throughout the weekend in Arizona.
The biggest category entering the weekend, setting a new high for largest entry total of 37 is Senior 100cc presented by Forward Direction Motorsports. Last year’s champion Kyriakos Sioukas along with race winners Oliver Hodgson and Jake Drew are not on the entry list. 2021 champion Liam Letzch (GFC Karting) is the only driver in the field to win in this category. Many of the other names are either new to the series, have limited experience at the Challenge or moving up from the Junior ranks. Josh Campbell (RPM / Tony Kart) is among the most experienced with Frankie Mossman (PWR / CRG) a former Challenge racer who did not compete in the series last year. Second year Senior driver Chase Hand is making his Challenge debut and with the GFC Karting colors. Stephen Eisert (SSM / Exprit) is among the rookies in the class, having won in the Junior class last year.
The Junior 100cc presented by Nash Motorsportz is the second largest, welcoming 27 drivers. Christian Cameron is not slated to defend his championship from a year ago, who was also one of five different winners in the six rounds. The only driver to return that won last year is Alexander Gonzalez (Nash / EOS), who finished fourth in the championship last year. Keagan Kaminski (GFC Karting), Nixx Eggleston (Ruthless / OTK) and Spencer Smith (FDM / CompKart) are among the only other drivers returning from last year. At least nine drivers are making the move up from Mini to Junior this year, which include Ty Fisher (Racelab / JV Kart), Nico Sarphati (GFC Karting) and Kyle Drysdale (Ruthless / OTK).
The ROK Shifter presented by Swedetech Racing will also not see the 2022 champion defend his crown. Hunter Pickett will not be in Tucson, along with two-time Tucson winner Kyle Wick. Jacob Gulick (GFC Karting) was runner-up in the championship last year, winning once at PKRA and enters the weekend as the top championship contender. Micah Hendricks (Croc Promotions), Macy Williams (CB / OTK), and Cooper Becklin (AKR / Birel ART) are among those looking to challenge as well. The category features six new drivers to the Challenge and the class, including two from Leading Edge Motorsports with Gabriel and Ayrton Cahan.
Kevin Woods is not listed on the pre-entry list for ROK Shifter Master presented by Ron White Racing. There could be walk-up entries with the category sitting at 11 drivers. No former winners are listed, including Tucson double winner Jimmy McNeil and last year’s vice champion Cliff Kujala. Jonathan Vitolo (GFC Karting) and Nick Firestone (GFC Karting) are the leading candidates entering the weekend to be podium challengers. The class is also welcoming four new drivers, including longtime series supporter Joey Guyon (Ruthless / Ventesimo) making his debut behind the wheel at the Challenge. The ROK Shifter Junior presented by The Karting Collective is slated to make its debut in Tucson as well, however, zero drivers have pre-registered.
The OK-N engine platform will make its North American debut this weekend at the Challenge opener. The class, presented by P1 Engines, features eight drivers on the entry list. Six of the drivers are from California, including Senior rookie Jesus Vasquez Jr. (Nash / OTK) and former series champion Alex Keyes (AKR / Charles Leclerc). Indiana’s Chase Jones (MPG / Kart Republic) and Jeremy Cooper (CB / Redspeed) from Colorado are the two ‘outsiders’. EKN will have full coverage of the category throughout the weekend, including a breakdown of the engine selection for each driver in the Paddock Insider.
There will only be two Master categories at the Challenge for 2023, with the removal of the ROK GP divisions. Master 100cc will be the lone single-speed division, featuring 10 pre-entries. Defending champion Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart) is back, along with third-place finisher Preston Newberry (FDM / CompKart) and Luke Tracy (VemmeKart). Christopher Mann (Ruthless / Kosmic) and four-time Master ROK champion Derek Wang (Ruthless / LN Racing Kart) are making the switch over to the 100cc division this year.
The Mini ROK division presented by Alex Keyes Racing is at eight drivers entering the weekend. Several drivers have graduated up to the Junior ranks, leaving a void despite the combination of the Mini/Micro age groups for the 2023 season. Matt Guidera (RWR / CRG) is the only returning driver from Mini last year. Luca Popescu (Nash / Energy), Cam Becker (Race Factory / Kart Republic) and Paxton Romero (FDM / CompKart) are from the Micro class last year. Canadian Gabriel Balog (Racelab / JV Kart) and SuperNationals 25 winner Jackson Gibson (RPG / Kosmic) are making their Challenge debuts.
Be sure to catch the action on Saturday and Sunday with LIVE audio at www.ekartingnew.com/live or www.ekartingnews.com/radio and be sure to follow the EKN social media channels for updates, photos, videos and more!