EKN Trackside: 2023 Challenge of the Americas – Phoenix – Sunday Report
Gulick leads GFC 1-2-3 repeat for final day of action at Phoenix Kart Racing Association
The second half of the 2023 Challenge of the Americas was completed on Sunday at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association. Another beautiful day at the Glendale, Arizona facility for the fourth round of the west coast winter championship. There was not as much drama as what we saw on the previous day, however, a select few drivers solidified their positions in the title chase looking ahead to the series finale next month in Sonoma.
It was a fight at the front of the Swedetech ROK Shifter category on the day. Two-time winner Jacob Gulick (GFC Karting) was challenge by teammate Keawn Tandon throughout the day. Gulick set the tone with a fast lap in qualifying while Tandon came away with the win in the Prefinal. He grabbed the holeshot at the start of the 20-lap Final, as the top two gapped the rest of the field. By lap 13, Gulick made his move on Tandon in the double left hand sweeper section, catching Tandon off-guard. That was the winning move of the race with Gulick driving away to 1.5 second advantage over Tandon. Ethan Booher was able to back up his first career podium on Saturday with another third-place performance, giving GFC another 1-2-3 result on the weekend. Round Two winner Macy Williams (CB Motorsports / Gillard) drove to fourth with Henry Barton (RWR / CRG) placing fifth.
Oliver Hodgson (CompKart) was able to complete the perfect performance on Sunday in the Forward Direction Motorsports Senior 100cc class. Hodgson picked up the fast time in qualifying to make up for missing that result on Saturday, and then proceeded to lead wire-to-wire in the Prefinal and Final. The main event saw him stretch out to a six-second advantage, due in part to the great battle for second that went down to the wire. Missing from that fight was championship leader Liam Letzsch (GFC Karting), who was waved off the track after lap seven for a broken rear bumper. Cooper O’Clair (CompKart) was also in that mix, until a broken exhaust sent him to the pit lane. On the final lap, Parker DeLong (Tony Kart) pulled an outside move on the banked ‘Daytona’ turn around Jesus Vasquez Jr. (Nash / EOS). He held the spot through the final two corners to finish runner-up. Josh Campbell (RPM / Tony Kart) was second for much of the race, but on the final lap was off track at the exit of the hairpin, and had to settle for fourth behind Vasquez. Lydia Small (Nash / EOS) put in her best result of the season, ending up fifth.
It was a stellar day for Blake Nash (Nash / EOS) in the new OK-N category presented by P1 Engines. After having to fight forward for his second win on the season, Nash dominated the day with a sweep on Sunday. Nash edged out Alex Keyes (AKR / Charles Leclerc) for fast time in qualifying by only six thousandths of a second before going wire-to-wire in both the Prefinal and the Final. The main event was uneventful after the start, as Anthony Freese (WCM / Birel ART) was turned sideways into the second corner after receiving the green flag. That stacked up half the field, taking them out of the race. Nash cruised to his third victory in the four races for the new FIA recognized category. Keyes drove to the second spot on track but received a 10-second penalty for contact with Freese along with a pushback bumper penalty. That promoted Round One winner Jesus Vasquez Jr. (Nash / EOS) to second and Dustin Salaverria (TKC / Sodikart) to third. Keyes ended up fourth with Flavio Aquini (Italcorse America) ended up fifth.
The Ron White Racing ROK Shifter Master class welcomed a new winner. Bud Grossenbacher (Racelab / TB Kart) was close to getting that first Challenge victory on Saturday until a flat tire took the win away. Sunday had a similar performance going, setting fast time in qualifying and winning the Prefinal. Grossenbacher grabbed the holeshot, and led three-time winner Jonathan Vitolo (GFC Karting) and multi-time series champion Kevin Woods (RWR / CRG) through the early laps. After the halfway point, Vitolo suffered an issue with his shifter linkage, and relinquished the second spot to Woods. However, Grossenbacher kept the consistent up front and avoided any issues to reach the checkered flag for his first series victory ahead of Woods by 1.3 seconds. Vitolo held on to cross the line in third, picking up fast lap honors before his mechanical issues slowed his pace. Chris Mueke (Italcorse) was fourth with Pat Beckley (GFC Karting) back in fifth after he had contact on the opening circuit with Nick George (Aluminos), who retired on that first lap.
It was another breakthrough victory in the Ruthless Karting Master 100cc division. Christopher Mann (Ruthless / Exprit) was on the verge of victory in all three rounds to open up the season. Sunday, Mann began the day as quick driver in qualifying and drove away to the Prefinal win. Eight-straight winner and defending champion Ian Koentges (FDM / CompKart) put on the challenge early in the 20-lap Final. Koentges took the lead on the opening circuit, however, before reaching the stripe, Mann returned the favor to remain the leader. From there, Mann put down fast laps of the race, including the quickest on lap 19 to reach the checkered flag 1.5 seconds ahead for his first Challenge victory. Koentges was second, ending his win streak at eight, and knowing more is to be done ahead if he wishes to repeat as series champion. Daniel Jones (RWR / CRG) was a solid third for a third trip to the podium, placing ahead of Luke Tracy (VemmeKart) and Ron Schoonover (JHM / LN Racing Kart).
Nixx Eggleston (Ruthless / Exprit) backed up his second victory of the season on Saturday with a sweeping performance Sunday in the Nash Motorsportz Junior 100cc division. Eggleston set fast time in qualifying before going wire-to-wire in both the Prefinal and Final. A busy start in the Final allowed he and Max Altman (Speedsense / Exprit) to break away from the rest of the field. Altman was never close enough to make a move, thus allowing Eggleston to lead all 20 laps for his third victory in four rounds. Alexander Gonzalez (Nash / EOS) was able to get away from the pack to end up third, claiming his fourth straight podium result. Heavy racing and contact shaped the rest of the order with Spencer Smith (FDM / CompKart) and David Ybarra (PWR / CRG) drove up to the fourth and fifth spot.
The Alex Keyes Racing Mini ROK class was a two-driver fight at the front of the field featuring top qualifier Braydon Wagner (GFC Karting) and Gabriel Balog (Racelab / JV Kart). Balog led the first four laps before Wagner took over the point. From there, Wagner led the rest of the 16-lap main event to reach the line first for the provisional victory. The win was taken away following a penalty for jumping the start, dropping him to third in the final order and promoting Balog to the top step of the podium for his second victory on the season. Paxton Romero (FDM / CompKart) was elevated to second to record his best finish on the season. Lucas Tarango (Ruthless / Nitro Kart) and Cam Becker (Race Factory / Kart Republic) completed the top-five.
The Challenge of the Americas will now prepare for the final stop on the 16th season for the program. Driver and teams will head to the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California on April 14-16 for the final two rounds to decide this year’s Challenge champions.