EKN Trackside: 2023 United States Pro Kart Series Carolina Grand Prix – Sunday Report
Jones, Wick and Keeble cap off season with victories at Trackhouse Motorplex
The final laps of the 2023 United States Pro Kart Series were completed on Sunday as the Carolina Grand Prix concluded with the eight main events contested at the Trackhouse Motorplex. A colder day in Mooresville, North Carolina greeted the over 270 entries in attendance as racing began after 9am and continued until about 1pm before the final checkered flag on the season was waved. Eight class champions were decided along with the final eight winners on the year to wrap up the 11th season of the USPKS program.
The Franklin Motorsports X30 Pro division welcomed a fifth different winner on the season. Two-time defending champion Ryan Norberg (RPG / Kosmic) led the field to the green flag, seeking his first win of the 2023 while needing to finish 25th or better to clinch a third crown. Round Three winner Austin Garrison (SCR / Redspeed) and Hayden Jones (RPG / Kosmic) were able to break away from the field early before Senior rookie Ernesto Rivera – the X30 Junior and KA100 Junior champion of 2023 – ran them down by the halfway point to make it a four driver battle. Garrison led the majority of the race, including the second half and took the white flag as the leader. Jones had slotted himself into the second spot and caught Garrison by surprise with a move at the fast turn three prior to the long straight. Jones secured the position and was able to fend off their challenges through the final corners to claim his first victory on the year and first since last year’s series finale. Garrison was short at the line by 72 thousandths with Rivera able to slip past Norberg to claim the third spot. Dalton Hanes (CDR / Kart Republic) grabbed the fifth position, gaining five spots in the race.
Norberg clinched the series championship with his fourth-place result, his third straight. Diego Ramos (PSL / Birel ART) suffered a difficult weekend that saw him lose the championship lead early and finish out the season in the second spot. Garrison ended up third after only competing in four events, as did Harley Keeble (Sodi Racing USA) who finished out the championship in fourth ahead of fellow Brit and Senior rookie Brandon Carr (RPM / Tony Kart).
Kyle Wick (GFC) was able to go two-for-two on the season in the SRP Engines Pro Shifter category. Wick, making his second start of the season, launched off from the pole position and grabbed the holeshot. It was the winning move of the race with the Washington driver leading all 22 laps. Championship leader AJ Myers (Magik Kart USA) was sitting second for much of the race, just a few kart lengths back. Tahlon Yockel (Magik Kart USA) had late race pace, and was able to close on Myers, taking over the position with three laps remaining. Wick, however, had enough of a gap and drove to his second USPKS victory of the season by nearly eight tenths over Yockel. Myers settled for third ahead of Jacob Gulick (GFC) as Dalton Hanes (CDR / Kart Republic) secured fifth in his first Pro Shifter start.
Myers capped off the weekend as the inaugural Pro Shifter champion at USPKS, winning the title by 335 points over Marijn Kremers (PSL / Birel ART) – who did not compete in the class on the weekend. Yockel was a close third with Hunter Pickett (PSL / Birel ART) and Giorgio Carrara (IM / Lenzo Kart) completing the championship podium.
As expected, the Mike Doty Racing KA100 Senior class provided drama until the very end in both the race and the championship. Helio Meza (IRM / Tony Kart) had put himself into the championship fight with a sweep of his heat races and earned fast time in qualifying to put himself on the pole position for the race. He was shuffled back to seventh early in the 22-lap main event with outside front row starter Pauly Massimino (BJR / LN Racing Kart) and defending series champion Alex Stanfield (GWR / Gillard) showing the way at the front. By lap seven, Meza had fought his way back up into the lead and brought Harley Keeble (Sodi Racing USA) with him, who started back in 10th. Keeble moved into the lead on lap eight and from there, he and Meza pushed away from the rest of the field. With two laps remaining, they began shuffling for the position. Meza, knowing he needed to finish and not wreck to stay in the championship chase, still put the pressure on Keeble. In the final few corners, Keeble secured the position and reached the checkered flag first over two tenths ahead of Meza. The fight for third went down to the wire as Dalton Hanes (CDR / Kart Republic) advanced three spots to earn the position, just ahead of Connor Ferris (TFR / Kart Republic) and Stanfield.
As the race began, championship leader Peyton Phillips (Hi5 / Redspeed) was involved in an incident that dropped him down the order after starting 25th, ending his championship hopes. This left Meza and Ferris as the top two contenders for the title. Whoever beat who on track, would come away with the crown. Meza’s second place put him at the top of the standings by 17 points over Ferris to claim his first class championship after earning the Junior title in 2022. Phillips dropped to third with Cooper Shipman (IRM / Tony Kart) fourth in the final standings ahead of Braden Eves (MPG / Kart Republic).
It was a wild finish in the Rolison Performance Group X30 Junior category. The 22-lap race began with a four-driver breakaway including pole sitter Jackson Wolny (SCR / Redspeed), Enzo Vidmontiene (MottazSport / Kart Republic), Steven Miller (Nash / EOS) and top qualifier Diego Ardiles (RPG / Kosmic). Ardiles lost the group during the middle portion of the race but caught back up as they began fighting in the second half. As the group continued fighting for position, it allowed the second group of racers to mix in and make it a large fight for the victory. On the final circuit, Carter McMurray (TimmyTech / CompKart) was able to slip into the lead through the final double rights, leading the field to the last corner of the race. Ardiles was right there, and dove inside McMurray in the final turn. Ardiles came out as the leader and was able to grab the checkered flag for his first class victory. McMurray made contact with the exit barriers, allowing Vidmontiene and Miller to slip inside. As they did, both went for the same spot on the track and made contact coming down to the checkered flag. They wrecked prior to the line, allowing the rest of the field to slip past. Nathan Dupuis (SCR / Redspeed) came across the line in second with Davin Roberts (RPM / Tony Kart) in third. McMurray ended up fourth as Wolny completed the top-five.
Ernesto Rivera (RPG / Kosmic) had locked up the championship with a third victory on the season prior to the finale weekend, moving up to Senior. Wolny came away with the second spot on the championship podium with Vidmontiene in third, Miller fourth and Dupuis in the fifth spot.
The BBS Racing Engines KA100 Junior was another race that went down to the wire on the day. A five driver lead pack was established the featured multiple lead changes with pole position driver Diego Guiot (IRM / Tony Kart), Enzo Vidmontiene (MottazSport / Kart Republic), Sebastian Garzon (Orsolon / Tony Kart), Steven Miller (Nash / EOS) and Ty Fisher (Racelab / TB Kart). As they continued their fighting for position late in the race, a second group joined in to grow the fight within the lead pack. As they took the white flag, Vidmontiene was leading and through the final circuit, emerged as the leader to take the checkered flag first to claim his first victory of the season. Garzon came across the line in second but was penalized for contact, dropping him to fifth in the order to move Guiot up to the runner-up spot ahead of Miller with Mason Walters (BJR / LN Racing Kart) up into fourth.
The championship was decided before a wheel was turned on the Trackhouse Motorplex facility with Ernesto Rivera (RPG / Kosmic) taking the championship. Guiot ended the season in second ahead of Miller with Austin Olds (MPG / Kart Republic) in fourth and Vidmontiene in fifth.
The opening category for the main events on the day was the Speed Concepts Racing KA100 Masters field. The race was stopped for a red flag after the opening lap with Max Papis (Orsolon / Tony Kart) suffering an arm injury. The race was restarted with Scott Kopp (FMS / Exprit) jumping out into the lead before he relinquished the spot and eventually lost a chain retiring on lap 10. Mike Rolison (RPG / Kosmic) had put himself into the lead by that point but was getting chased down by Danillo Ramalho (Sodi Racing USA). Ramalho grabbed the lead on lap 15, and held it until the final lap. Rolison made his move early, bringing Round Three winner Laurentiu Mardan (Tecno Kart USA) with him. As they entered the hairpin, Mardan went defensive, and Ramalho went all the way to the inside. They made contact, which allowed Rolison to go unchallenged for his fourth victory of the season. The contact allowed William Isaias (IM / Kart Republic) to slip by Ramalho and Niki Coello (FMS / Gillard) past Mardan by the time they reached the checkered flag. Ramalho was penalized a total of eight positions for two incidents, including the red flag incident and the last lap contact. That promoted Coello to the third spot, Mardan fourth and moved Miguel Mier (Orsolon / Tony Kart) into the top-five.
Rolison essentially had the championship locked heading into the weekend but not mathematically clinched. His performance on the weekend provided him with a 192-point advantage in the end to claim the inaugural championship ahead of Mardan – who only ran four of the five race weekends. Coello finished third with Mier fourth and Mario Barrios (RPG / Kosmic) ending up fifth in the final standings.
Three drivers were the lead pack in the 20-lap DNJ International Services Mini Swift main event. Royce Vega (Benik), Round Three winner Michael McGaughy (RPM / Parolin) and Max Cristea (MottazSport / Parolin) dropped pole position driver Lucas Palacio (TKG / Kart Republic) early and broke away from the field. McGaughy led the first half of the race until Vega took over at the point for the second half. Vega – a Mini rookie on the season – was strong during the late part of the race and on the final circuit, took advantage of the other two fighting for the runner-up spot. Vega was able to run unchallenged to the checkered flag to claim his first victory in the category. Cristea won the fight for second over McGaughy. Luuk Taal (Sodi Kart) won the fight four fourth ahead of Antonio Pizzonia Neto (Orsolon / Parolin) – who was the hard charger of the race, advancing 16 spots in 20 laps.
Palacio had the championship locked and avoided any damage on the weekend, finishing back in ninth on the day but left as a USPKS champion. McGaughy finished in second with Cristea third despite missing the third round of the season. Vega moved up to fourth with his victory as Travis Pettit (TKG / Kart Republic) completed the championship podium.
It was a perfect final chapter to the season for Parker Ives (RPM / Nitro Kart) in the Team Ferris Racing Micro Swift class. Ives swept the action over Friday and Saturday to start on the pole position for the main event. He jumped out to a good lead early and continued to stretch it out over the course of the 20-lap main event. His quickest lap of the race came on lap 17, pulling out to a 10-second advantage at the checkered flag for a wire-to-wire victory and a fourth of the season. Cade Wolfe (TimmyTech / CompKart) won the battle for second ahead of Aston Wyatt (Speedsportz / Birel ART) with Colton Schniegenberg (GWR / Energy) and Isaac Payn (Parolin) completing the top-five.
Ives locked up the championship in the end by 322 points over Maxwell Macha (SLA / Sodi Kart) with Wyatt in third. Schniegenberg was fourth with Round Four winnerEnzo DiGennaro (TFR / Kart Republic) classified in the fifth position.
The final chapter on the 11th season for the United States Pro Kart Series has been written. A lot of memories and unforgettable moments were made across the five events in all eight categories. The attention now turns to 2024 and the 12th edition of the USPKS program, slated to begin in April with event locations to be announced soon.