EKN Trackside: 2023 Challenge of the Americas – Tucson – Saturday Report

Hand and Gulick score main event wins, Vasquez makes history as first OK-N winner

Jesus Vasquez Jr. became the first ever winner in the OK-N category (Photo: EKN)

The opening round of the 2023 Challenge of the Americas was run on Saturday at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona and karting history was made during the competition debut of the FIA OK-N category. Nash Motorsportz driver Jesus Vasquez dominated the main event to score the historic victory and his name will forever be in the record books. In the ROK Shifter class, GFC Karting’s Jacob Gulick held off race-long pressure from Macy Williams, while a last-lap, last-corner dust-up in Senior 100cc gave the victory to Chase Hand, who won in his first race with GFC Karting.

The P1 Engines OK-N class is in the spotlight this weekend, as it makes its international debut. Nine drivers answered the call and, out of the gate, Nash Motorsportz’ Blake Nash (EOS) put himself in the discussion for the win when he topped qualifying. Nash’s teammate Jesus Vasquez (EOS) moved to the forefront in winning the Prefinal and he never let off the throttle, dominating the 20-lap main as well. Nash chased him early, but Vasquez was the quickest driver and simply pulled away late in the race. Behind the Nash 1-2, Dustin Salaverria (The Karting Collective / Sodikart) and Chase Jones (MPG Motorsports / Kart Republic) went back and forth for third, each holding the position for a time. In the end, Salaverria secured the position and completed the podium. Jones finished fourth ahead of Chris Martin (The Karting Collective / Sodikart).

Jacob Gulick captured his second career ROK Shifter victory (Photo: EKN)

The fight for the Swedetech ROK Shifter win made itself known during Friday’s Happy Hour, when Jacob Gulick (GFC Karting / GFC) and Macy Williams (CB Motorsports / Gillard) were at the top of the charts. Gulick qualified on the pole and held Williams at bay during the Prefinal. The two stood out in the 20-lap main event, driving away from the rest of the 13-driver field. Gulick held the point the entire distance, but not without some late race pressure by Williams who kept him honest through the closing laps. Gulick celebrated his second career Challenge victory by four tenths over Williams. Connor Wick (GFC Karting / GFC) rounded out the podium in third with Micah Hendricks (Croc Promotions) and Ethan Booher (GFC Karting / GFC) up to fifth with an impressive run in his Challenge debut.

Chase Hand won in his Senior 100cc debut at the Challenge (Photo: EKN)

The Forward Direction Motorsports Senior 100cc began with chaos at the start with Josh Campbell (RPM / Tony Kart) getting spun around in the opening corner. This led to several drivers getting collected and retiring early. Up front, Prefinal winner Frankie Mossman (PKW / CRG) led a quartet of drivers including former series champion Liam Letzsch (GFC Karting / GFC), Lydia Small (Nash / EOS) and Chase Hand (GFC Karting / GFC). Everything came to a head on the final run down the backstraight when Letzsch made contact with Mossman’s left rear, sending them both off-line. This allowed Hand to pull the over-under and emerge from the corner with the lead, followed closely by Small. Letzsch recovered to cross the line in third, ahead of G3 Argyros (PKW / CRG) and Mossman. The official results however penalized Small 10 seconds for contact, dropping her off the podium and down to eighth. This promoted G3 to the podium with Connor Chinn (GFC Karting / Trackmagic) into fifth.

Archer Eversman drove to his first Challenge victory in the Junior 100cc category (Photo: EKN)

The Nash Motorsportz Junior 100cc class welcomed a first-time series winner. Alexander Gonzalez (Nash / EOS) was the driver to beat as the day began with fast time in qualifying and winning the Prefinal. He was joined at the front of the field in the Final by Forward Direction  Motorsports / CompKart pilots Spencer Smith and Archer Eversman, and a host of others early on. At the halfway point, contact between Eversman and Gonzalez sent the latter off into the marbles and down the order. This allowed Eversman and Smith to break away from the rest of the field. Eversman and Smith made things exciting over the final two laps, battling in virtually every corner to see who would lead, and this scrap brought Gonzalez back to the fight on by the time the white flag waved. Eversman was able to hold back his teammate over the final corners to score his first Challenge victory with Gonzalez unable to reclaim any more spots then third. Kyle Drysdale (Ruthless / OTK) and Erik Doan (SSM / Exprit) up to fifth.

Defending Master 100cc champion Ian Koentges won his sixth straight in the class (Photo: EKN)

Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart) dominated the action in the Ruthless Karting Master 100cc category. After qualifying on pole and walking to a solid Prefinal win, Koentges needed to hold off early-race challenges from Chris Mann (Ruthless Karting / Kosmic) to maintain the lead. Through the middle laps of the 20-lap final, Koentges’ consistency allowed him to pull away steadily, his pace never wavering by more than two tenths of the second. In the end, this allowed him to build a 5.086-second advantage at the checkered flag. The fight for the final step on the podium was waged all race long between Preston Newberry (FDM / CompKart) and Daniel Jones (RWR / CRG) with Newberry holding the position during the first half of the race. Jones eventually got passed and appeared to be set to build a gap, but Newberry fought back over the final three laps to take his bid for the spot, but came up just short. Ron Schoonover (JHM / LN Kart) capped the top five as he out-ran Andrew Wait (The Karting Collective / Sodi Kart).

Jonathan Vitolo bagged his first Challenge victory in the ROK Shifter Master division (Photo: EKN)

It was a two-driver show in the Ron White Racing ROK Shifter Master class. Jonathan Vitolo (GFC Karting / GFC) set the tone with quick time in qualifying before Nick George (Visila / Aluminos) took control in the Prefinal. George was able to grab the holeshot from the pole position in the Final until Vitolo took the position away on lap two. From there, Vitolo set the pace ahead of George, driving to his first series victory in the category. Pat Beckley (GFC Karting / GFC) was a close third with Joey Guyon (Ruthless / Praga) holding off Morne Van Taak (VTM / TB Kart) for fourth.

Matt Guidera was the fourth different first time winner on the day, taking top honors in MIni ROK (Photo: EKN)

Matt Guidera (PWR / CRG) came out of the gate as the frontrunner in Alex Keyes Racing Mini ROK, qualifying on the pole, and despite leading the early laps of the Prefinal, he fell back over the second half of the race. In the main, early contact between the leaders – Luca Popescu (Nash / Energy) and Gabriel Balog (Racelab / JV Kart) – shook everything up, dropping them from P1 and P2 to sixth and seventh. While Popescu battled his way back into contention, Guidera took full advantage of the opportunity to run away to an insurmountable lead and score his first Challenge victory. Popescu worked his way back forward to battle for the podium with Braydon Wagner (GFC Karting / GFC) and Jackson Gibson (Speed Sense Motorsports / Exprit). He would emerge from the dice to finish second ahead of Wagner. Gibson ended up fourth ahead of Paxton Romero (FDM / CompKart).

All the drivers will be back in action on Sunday for Round #2 of the series. Tune into the live audio commentary, beginning at 9:30 am, on the EKN Radio Network app or on www.ekartingnews.com/live

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