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

Williams, Nash, and Letzsch score big wins to cap series opening weekend

Macy WIlliams became the first female driver to win in the ROK Shifter category at the Challenge (Photo: EKN)

The Sunday setting in Tucson for the second round of the Challenge of the Americas was absolutely idea, as the mercury rose to the high 70s by the times the main events hit the track. The track layout at the Musselman Honda Circuit is extremely racy and this played a role in many of the final outcomes. In ROK Shifter, Macy Williams (CB Motorsports / Gillard) stepped to the next level of outrun Jacob Gulick (GFC Karting / GFC) for the win, while Blake Nash (Nash Motorsportz / EOS) added a win in OK-N to complete the team’s sweep of the category’s global debut. The massive 38-kart Senior 100cc field ended in another stunning finish, with Liam Letzsch (GFC Karting / GFC) emerging with the win after an action-packing final lap.

After reeling in Gulick before coming just short on Saturday in the Swedetech ROK Shifter final, Macy Williams picked up where she left over, dominating the action on Sunday. The Colorado resident topped the chart in qualifying and then pulled away from Gulick over the final five laps of the Pre-Main. Williams got a clean holeshot to start the 20-lap main event and never faltered enroute to her first Challenge of the Americas victory. Gulick did his best to close the gap, but Williams was just as good over the last five laps as she was on Saturday, and he simply couldn’t overcome the deficit. Micah Hendricks (Croc Promotions) got a great start from P3 to hold the position throughout the race, however was removed from the results following tech inspection. That promoted Conner Wick (GFC Karting / GFC) to another third-place podium finish after getting by both Ethan Booher (GFC Karting / GFC) and Flinn Lazier (Ron White Racing / CRG) late in the race.

Blake Nash became the second winner ever in the OK-N category (Photo: EKN)

In the P1 Engines OK-N category, Nash Motorsportz continued their domination of the class, finishing first and second with Blake Nash and Jesus Vasquez. Nash swept the day, qualifying om the pole ahead of winning both the Pre-Main and the Main. Dustin Salaverria (The Karting Collective / Sodikart) went off on exit of T4 early in the Prefinal and came back on in last, racing back to fourth to salvage his starting spot for the final. In the main, with Nash and Vasquez way out front, Salaverria advanced to third and was chased by his teammate Chris Martin (The Karting Collective / Sodikart) all race. Alex Keyes (Alex Keyes Racing / Charles Leclerc) completed the top-five. Vasquez however was penalized two spots for a jump start, dropping him off the podium and moving Salaverria to second and Martin to third.

The battle in Forward Direction Motorsports Senior 100cc was even wilder than Saturday’s action, with the final laps including a great deal of contact and a ton of position changing. Top qualifier Liam Letzsch (GFC Karting / GFC) was back in the fight with Frankie Mossman (Precision Works / CRG) all day, with Mossman winning the Pre-Main over Zach Claman DeMelo (Racelab / JV Kart) and Josh Campbell (RPM / Tony Kart). Mossman received a pushback penalty after the race, which dropped him to 5th and inside row three on the main event grid. Once the main event began to unfold, it was looking like a carbon copy from Saturday with Mossman leading Letzsch. The only difference was the arrival of Travis Varney (FDM / CompKart) taking the place of eventual Saturday winner Chase Hand (GFC Karting / GFC) in third. That said, Hand was a focal point on the day having moved to the VLR engine for the day, which resulted in him starting last in the Prefinal. He drove from 37th to 10th in the Pre-Main, which inserted him into battle for the win when it was all said and done.

A last lap battle resulted in Liam Letzsch escaping with the victory in Senior 100cc (Photo: EKN)

The last laps were as exciting as expected, with Letzsch moving pass Mossman to the lead in turn one at the start of lap 19. Varney tagged along for the ride, moving Mossman back to third. The racing over the remaining laps brought Hand and Tim Carel (Kart Nick / Tony Kart) back into the fight, and it all came to a head in turn five on the final lap when Mossman passed Letzsch in turn four to go back to second. This stacked everyone up and then were three wide heading into turn five. Letzsch was able to escape with the lead in five and they continued to stack up behind him, including contact sending Varney off course and back on, collecting Mossman. This gave Letzsch a clean run to the checkered flag for his first victory in the class since Round Five in 2021. Hand took advantage to move into second, completing the drive from last on the day. Carel was there in third, holding off Campbell and Kane Martin (Nash Motorsportz / Tony Kart) for his first career series podium.

Ian Koentges extended his win streak to seven in Master 100cc (Photo: EKN)

Despite the fact that Christopher Mann (Ruthless Karting / Exprit) topped qualifying in Ruthless Karting Master 100cc, no one was going to stop defending champion Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart) from winning his seventh straight Challenge race.  Mann was able to keep Koentges behind him for 13 laps of the Prefinal before ceding the position, locking in a front row start for the main event. To begin the Final, Mann got a much better start to assume the lead and chaos of the first circuit from Koentges to fourth behind Preston Newberry (FDM / CompKart) and Ron Schoonover (JHM / LN Racing Kart). Koentges moved himself up to second by lap four, taking four laps to run down Mann and take back the top position. From there, he drove to a seven tenths margin of victory over Mann. Luke Tracy (VemmeKart) was able to bounce back from missing the Prefinal to drive up to the third spot for his first series podium. Daniel Jones (RWR / CRG) was fourth with Newberry dropping to fifth.

Nixx Eggelston came away with his first career Challenge victory in Junior 100cc (Photo: EKN)

In total, four drivers won their career first Challenge victory on Sunday, including in the Nash Motorsportz Junior 100c division. Nixx Eggleston (Ruthless / Exprit) opened up the day with quick time in the qualifying session before Keagan Kaminski (GFC Karting / GFC) came up from seventh to win the Prefinal, looking for redemption from Saturday after recording a DNF in the main event. Kaminski set the pace for the first seven circuits of the Final before Eggleston returned back to the point. Toward the end of the race, last year’s Mini ROK champion Gage Korn and MPG Motorsports / Kart Republic teammate Austin Olds put themselves into second and third. Korn grabbed the lead on lap 16 and held the spot for two circuits before Eggleston reclaimed the spot. Once there, they battle behind him for the second spot, allowing the Arizona driver to run unchallenged to his first career checkered flag at the Challenge. Kaminski fought back to second with Alexander Gonzalez (Nash Motorsportz / EOS) completing a drive from 14th to the podium in third. Graham Trammell (Precision Works / Kosmic) ended up fourth with Olds placing fifth in his Challenge debut.

Jonathan Vitolo doubled up in the win column in ROK Shifter Master (Photo: EKN)

The primary combatants in Ron White Racing Master Shifter made themselves known in Happy Hour on Friday, with Jonathan Vitolo (GFC Karting / GFC) and Nick George (Aluminos) topping the field. The duo went back and forth all day on Saturday with Vitolo emerging to score his first Challenge win. On Sunday, he backed up the performance by sweeping the day. George tried to put up a fight on the main event but Vitolo just keep getting quicker and his consistency paid off with a 1.943-second triumph. Pat Beckley (GFC Karting / GFC) matched his Saturday performance to once again make a trip to the podium in third. Joey Guyon (Ruthless Karting / Ventesimo) challenged Beckley early but settled into fourth, while the fight for fifth between three drivers went David Jones (Aluminos) as he was chased by Walker Lytle (Tony Kart) and Bill Pyles (CRG) all race long.

Gabriel Balog was named winner in the Mini ROK division (Photo: EKN)

The Alex Keyes Racing Mini ROK victory was decided on the track and then off with penalties. Jackson Gibson (SpeedSense / Gillard) removed the gremlins that were hounding him over the first two days of action to earn the fast time qualifying and drive to the win in the Prefinal. The main event was a four-driver fight early on until Braydon Wagner (GFC Karting / GFC) went off course on the exit of turn four. This left Gabriel Balog (Racelab / JV Kart) and Luca Popescu (Nash Motorsportz / Energy) to fight for the victory. Gibson and Popescu each took a turn at the point but in the closing laps, Popescu was able to keep the position and reach the checkered flag first. Popescu however would be penalized 10 seconds for contact, involving Wagner’s off-track excursion, and thus drop him down to fourth in the final results. That promoted Balog to the victory in his Challenge debut weekend. Gibson ended up second with Paxton Romero (FDM / CompKart) joining them on the podium in third. Cam Becker (MPG Motorsports / Kart Republic) completed the top-five.

The focus now moves to the month of March and the middle portion of the 2023 Challenge of the Americas. Round Three and Four will be held on March 3-5 weekend at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association facility in Glendale, AZ. EKN will be providing full Trackside Live coverage, including Mike Smith on the mic to give the play-by-play call.

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