EKN Trackside: 2023 Rotax Max Challenge US Trophy Final – Saturday Report

Heat races completed in first day of competition at New Castle Motorsports Park

Defending race winner Oliver Hodgson among the favorites in Senior Max heading into Sunday (Photo: EKN)

The 2023 Rotax Max Challenge US Trophy Final completed the opening day of action at the New Castle Motorsports Park on Saturday with qualifying and three rounds of heat races contested for the five categories. Over 110 entries battled on the New Castle, Indiana facility with comfortable weather conditions around the National Reverse 1-mile circuit. The three rounds of heat races helped to set the line-up for the Prefinals to be contested on Sunday as the prelude to the main events, awarding 12 tickets to the 2023 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Bahrain.

The 36-driver Senior MAX put on a show all day long with top qualifier and defending race winner Oliver Hodgson (J3 / CompKart) winning one of the three heat races. Senior rookie Ernesto Rivera (RPG / Kosmic) was able to win Heat #1 and Heat #3, but a P6 in the second moto put him on the outside of Row 1 for the Prefinal with Hodgson on the pole position. Three-time Team USA member Ryan Norberg (RPG / Kosmic) put in three top-three results to retain the third spot on the grid for the Final. Fast Friday driver Diego Ramos (PSL / Birel ART) qualified fourth and finished fourth in all three heats to start the Prefinal on Sunday in fourth. One of the big stories on the day was Dalton Hanes. Joining Racelab for the weekend, making his first Rotax start on his first weekend on a TB Kart, Hanes overcame a flat tire in qualifying. He started each heat race in 18th and fought forward to fifth, seventh and fifth to start the Prefinal in P5.

Wesley Gundler has emerged as the top driver on Day 1 in Junior Max (Photo: EKN)

The Junior MAX field is nearly as large with 32 drivers battling on the weekend. Wesley Gundler (Fox+Son / Tony Kart) is making a statement on the weekend, winning two of the heat races to secure the pole position for the Prefinal on Sunday. Top qualifier Diego Ardiles (RPG / Kosmic) was able to finish runner-up twice with a P4 at the end of the day to stay on the front row, starting on the outside. Canadian Nathan Dupuis (SCR / Redspeed) and US Trophy West champion Nixx Eggleston (Ruthless / Exprit) advanced from eight and seventh on the grid to not start from the second row in the Prefinal. Simon Bulbaraella (AM / Tony Kart) qualified fifth and was able to hold that position on the grid after placing seventh, sixth and sixth.

Ben Cooper is the target in Masters Max (Photo: EKN)

Three-time Rotax Grand Finals winner Ben Cooper (RPG / Kosmic) was a late entry to the Masters MAX category. The Brit-Canadian has been the benchmark on the weekend, qualifying P1 and winning all three heat races to put himself in the hunt for another trip to the ‘Olympics of Karting’. Laurentiu Mardan (Tecno Kart USA) has been the top challenger throughout the day, finishing second twice to start alongside Cooper for the Prefinal. John Bonanno (Fulkrum / CompKart) qualified second but had a best finish in the heat races of fourth to now start Sunday’s action from P3. 11-time Team USA member and ‘Captain America’ Derek Wang (Ruthless / LN Racing Kart) qualified sixth but will now go from fourth in the Prefinal ahead of Christopher Mann (Ruthless / Exprit).

Isaac Malcuit won the final two heat races in Mini Max (Photo: EKN)

In his debut with PSL Karting / Birel ART, ‘King of the Castle’ Isaac Malcuit was able to claim two heat race wins in the Mini MAX division on the day. Starting fourth, he finished there in the opening heat before winning the final two motos. That puts him on the pole position for the Prefinal on Sunday, starting alongside last year’s event winner Gage Korn (MPG / Kart Republic). Korn was runner-up in the opening two heats before finishing third in the final to retain the second starting spot. Top qualifier Oliver Warner (MPG / Kart Republic) won the opening heat before placing fourth in the final two. The British driver will go from P3 alongside Fion Shi (RPG / Gillard). The sixth best qualifier improved in the final two heats to move up two spots for the Prefinal. Last year’s Micro Swift winner Macro Sammut (MDR / LN Racing Kart) qualified third, while finishing third and fifth in his first two heats. A P13 in Heat #3 put him fifth on the grid for the Prefinal.

Three textbook heat race wins for Lucas Palacio in Micro Max (Photo: EKN)

A perfect score thus far in Micro MAX for Lucas Palacio (TKG / Kart Republic). Palacio set fast time in qualifying and won all three heat races. They were not without challenge as Lucas Tarrango (Nitro Kart) finished second twice with Enzo DiGennaro (TFR / Kart Republic) also placing runner-up in one moto. They will start second and third on Sunday with Conner Lypka (CompKart) and Sterling Mulata (Kart Republic) going from P5.

All that remains of the 2023 Rotax Max Challenge US Trophy Final is the Prefinal and Finals on Sunday. Be sure to follow all the EKN Social Media outlets for updates, photos, videos and more from the Rotax Max Challenge US Trophy Final. Listen to the racing action by heading to the EKN Live page or tune in on the EKN Radio Network.

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