|November 29, 2012
|EKN Trackside: 2012 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals - Thursday Heat Races
|For complete coverage, click over to the EKN Event Page
With an eye on gaining a quality starting position in the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals main events on Saturday, drivers headed into Thursday action at Kartodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao, Portugal with a focus on running clean as each of the four classes (DD2, DD2 Masters, Senior, and Junior) would all be contesting two heat races per class, with the final qualifying race coming Friday, in addition to the Last Chance Qualifiers. The weather faired better than Wednesday as less to no wind hampered the straight speed for the drivers, dropping their overall lap times from qualifying, and providing some exciting racing throughout the day. Early calculations through the two races see an average of about 15 points per heat race may secure a spot in the top-30 moving on to Saturday’s action, so every point matters in tomorrow’s final heat race.
The talent-laden Junior Max field of drivers were once again the first to go into battle in Portugal, with Heat A vs. B kicking things off. Portugal's Bruno Bolido and Great Britain's Harry Webb led the field to the green, with Team USA's Oliver Askew and Santino Ferrucci launching from rows nine and ten, respectively. Despite an early attack from Great Britain's Josh White, Bolido not only held the top-spot, but eventually pulled away to a comfortable win. Behind the race winner, Ferrucci enjoyed a good start, slotting into 12th place by lap two. Unfortunately, the American's hard work vanished a lap later, when an off-course excursion sent him down to 23rd. For his teammate Askew, the race featured a steady move up the charts. When the action ended after seven laps, Borlido had scored the win over White and Japan's Kazuto Kotaka. Askew, running a mistake-free affair, crossed the stripe in 13th, while Ferrucci took the checkered flag in 25th.
The Junior Heat C vs. D was next on the docket, with Austria's Thomas Preining and Netherlands' Stefano Van Galen leading the field to the line. Juan Manuel Correa and Ashley Rogero represented Team USA in the race, getting the green in rows eight and 14. Correa avoided the first lap contact involving multiple karts to quickly join the top-10 in eighth, while Rogero also enjoyed a good couple opening tours, moving up to 20th. From that point forward, both racers were involved in duels for position, ultimately witnessing Correa finishing seventh, and Rogero 19th. Out front, a four-kart fight took place for the win, with Van Galen taking home the win ahead of Turkey's Berkay Besler, and Spain's Otero Alvaro.
| Juan Manuel Correa has the best results thus far in Junior Max, sitting inside the top-12 in both heats Thursday|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - GoRotax.com)
After the lunch break, the Junior racers returned to the track for their final heats of the day, commencing with A vs. C. Borlido and Preining were the front-row duo this time out, while Ferrucci and Rogero again got things underway from rows 10 and 14. After the initial start was waved off, Ferrucci showed great racecraft yet again to slot into the top-10 by the completion of lap one. With Rogero cracking the top-20 by the midway point, Ferrucci was a driver worth watching, looking for a way into the top-five. With most of the field running bumper-to-bumper in the closing stages, the order was only decided at the stripe. Bolido made it two-for-two on the day, again besting White, while Netherlands' Janneau Esemeijer was third. Ferrucci ended up eighth, while Rogero was 20th.
The final Junior race of the day was Heat B vs. D. With Webb and Van Galen at the front, Correa and Askew took the green flag in rows eight and nine. Avoiding the expected bumping and banging through the opening few turns, the American duo were soon just outside of the top-10 looking for a way to move up further. It was not to be though, as despite some solid driving, Correa crossed the start/finish stripe in 12th, just ahead of his teammate Askew in 14th. Webb converted the pole into a comfortable win over Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo and China's Guanyu Zhou.
EKN Team USA Driver Paddock Pass
Driver: Oliver Askew - #113
Hometown: Jupiter, Florida
Mechanic: Mike Maurini
Start: Group B - Row 9
Heat 1: 12th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 14th (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 27 pts / 22nd
The day began with Oliver sitting among the top-10 in the morning warm-up for his group, improving his pace from qualifying. Askew was slow to punch off to begin the opening heat race, catching the lights a little too late. He held up a number of drivers as they made their way through the opening kink down to the far part of the track. The Florida Winter Tour Junior Max champion was in roughly 20th position and began working his way forward by putting in some of the fastest laps of the race. After seven circuits, he took the checkered flag in the 12th position, up six from his grid spot. Clear through the start in his second heat, Askew was “cautiously aggressive” in his attack during the race and finished 14th. He and Mike Maurini are happy with the kart, and continue to adjust the engine and gearing based on the track and weather conditions given to them.
Driver: Juan Manuel Correa - #121
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Mechanic: Bryn Nuttall
Start: Group D - Row 8
Heat 1: 7th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 12th (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 19 pts / 11th
Florida driver Juan Manuel Correa continues to improve as the event progresses. Beginning the day 11th in his warm-up, Correa avoided an opening lap wreck in turn three to be able to sit eighth after the first circuit. He battled through the seven-lap heat to end up a strong seventh in the race. Contact, however, during the race bent the front end enough that his mechanic Bryn Nuttall took the #121 ride back to the Birel tent for examination before heat two. Climbing the result sheet again in his second heat race, Correa continued fight for every position he could. Another six positions were gained in seven laps to put him 12th in the final results. He stated that they continue to find better balance with the kart, and he needs to improve his line through the first of the two right hand corners leading on to the front straight.
Driver: Santino Ferrucci - #130
Hometown: Woodbury, Connecticut
Mechanic: Mike Ferrucci
Start: Group A - Row 10
Heat 1: 25th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 8th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 32 pts / 28th
It was a rough opening heat race for Ferrucci as the first race of the event saw a lot of contact and several wrecks during the seven-lap skirmish. During warm-up, Santino showed the same pace as he did in previous sessions. Starting 19th, he worked the opening lap well to move into 13th and was inching into the top-10 when he was pushed off track. Now outside the top-20, Ferrucci was charging back to catch a pack of racers when he was once again hit and spun on the front straight. He kept it going and crossed the line in 25th. The final result for Ferrucci in the second heat race was better, as he kept the kart straight and on-track. Making the jump to the top-10 within the opening lap, the U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals title winner was battling hard at the tail of the lead pack. He ran as high as sixth at one point and took the checkered flag in the eighth position. The race ended in the scale line with another competitor pushing and shoving him prior to going over the scales. Officials broke up the argument and later both were given a warning for their post-race actions.
Driver: Ashley Rogero #158
Hometown: Naples, Florida
Mechanic: Jim Rogero, John Russell
Start: Group Group C - Row 14
Heat 1: 19th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 20th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 38 pts / 42nd
Coming into the Grand Finals with high hopes after scoring the Pan American Challenge championship, the luck has just not gone in the direction of Rogero. Starting 27th, Ashley got a solid start to move up a few positions. While trying to gain more spots as they began lap two, she was collected in a wreck as they went through the kink turn one, a melee that included Jamaican Thomas Issa. Rogero came just inches away from the fence wall, and continued on in 20th. She gained another spot to end the race in 19th. On the outside of row 14 to start her second heat, Ashley - like many others - was shuffled back in the order. She continued to make progress despite the handicap and finished 20th after seven laps. While the results continue to be an improvement from qualifying, they are still trying to find the pace to move even further up the order, adjusting from the qualifying set-up to a better racing machine.
| Two top-15 finishes puts Danny Formal at the top for Team USA in Senior Max thus far|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - GoRotax.com)
For the karters chasing top honors in the Senior Max class, Heat A vs. B was the first obstacle to overcome. Pierce Lehane and James Singleton were the pair on front row, followed closely by Americans Phil DeLaO and Louie Pagano on rows three and six. Pagano enjoyed a solid getaway, moving into the top-10, running in close formation with his teammate DeLaO. The duo remained in the fight for places inside the top-10 lap after lap. Unfortunately, just as it appeared Team USA was headed to two solid results, Pagano suddenly fell down the order, leaving DeLaO to fight for a top-10 result. De La O, battling all the way to the checkered flag, was 11th in the end, while Pagano was an unrepresentative 25th. Australia's Lehane took the heat win, scoring the victory over Hungary's Ferenc Kancsar and Netherland's Jordi Van Moorsel.
The second Senior heat race on the day witnessed Alexandre Finkelstein and Harrison Scott leading the charge to green flag, while Team USA's Sam Beasley, Danny Formal and Andrew Palmer followed on rows seven, eighth, and 15. After a failed first start, both Beasley and Formal got very good launches, with Beasley taking over eighth place, and Formal moving up to 11th. Palmer, likewise, was going forward early on, advancing a few positions deeper in the field. In a race that featured plenty of shuffling of positions, particularly at the front of the large field, the order was only decided within the final few turns. Formal, having gotten the better of his Team USA teammate Beasley in the closing stages, took the checkered flag in 10th. Beasley came home in 12th, and Palmer was classified 32nd. Oliver Hodgson scored the win, edging his Team Great Britain teammate Harrison Scott, while Japan's Ukyo Sasahara completed the top-three.
The afternoon collection of Senior heat races commenced with A vs. C. Lehane again started from the pole, and while Finkelstein was slated to start alongside the birthday boy on the front-row, but he didn't make the grid in time, leaving the P2 position open. Americans Pagano, Beasley and Formal started the race from rows six, seven and eight, respectively. The opening lap provided to be one of highs and lows for Team USA, as Pagano jumped up to seventh, while Beasley dropped to 24th. Misfortune further hit on lap two, as Formal fell to 19th. Unfortunately, the string of bad luck continued late in the affair, Pagano suddenly lost multiple positions. Formal recovered to 16th at the stripe, while Beasley and Pagano came home in 21st and 23rd. Lehane completed the daily sweep, capturing the win over Czech Republic's Petr Bezel, who emerged from a spirited fight ahead of Van Moorsel.
The final run on the day for the Senior karters was Heat B vs. D, which featured Singleton and Scott on the front row, Team USA's DeLaO on row three and Palmer on row 15. The opening few turns proved to be a hectic affair, with multiple karts going off-course and several drivers being forced to take evasive action. DeLaO was among those, falling to 18th place. With a kart that was obviously not right following the first turn fracas, the American set about just trying to finish. In the end, he earned a 22nd place result, ahead of Palmer who was never able to make any improvement on his 30th starting position. With the lead trio running nose-to-tail over the course of the final few laps, Scott emerged with a narrow win over Ireland's Charlie Eastwood and Great Britain's Ed Brand.
EKN Team USA Driver Paddock Pass
Driver: Phil DeLaO - #227
Hometown: Peoria, Arizona
Mechanic: Tim Lobaugh
Start: Group B - Row 3
Heat 1: 11th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 22nd (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 32 pts / 28th
The day was an up-and-down one for the reigning Challenge of the Americas champion. DeLaO held his ground through the opening lap of his first heat race to sit sixth. During the next lap, a driver nosed under him in one of the corners and a freight train continued through to drop him down the order. Phil finished the 11-lap event in 11th, about seven seconds back of the leader. He and mechanic Tim Lobaugh made changes to the gear and worked to get a push condition out of the Sodi Kart. In the second heat, he got a great start to sit fourth as they exited turn four, but the engine locked up and shut off under braking while setting up for turn five. The engine did not refire as he rolled through, and had to manually restart the engine. This dropped him down to 18th, but was not the end of the issues. DeLaO lost more spots as the race went on as his set-up was off for the conditions. He finished 22nd and heads into tomorrow once again looking for more speed.
Driver: Sam Beasley - #217
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Mechanic: Ben Beasley
Start: Group C - Row 7
Heat 1: 12th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 21st (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 32 pts / 30th
Things looked positive for Sam Beasley when the day began for the three-time U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals runner-up, as he ended warm-up as the sixth quickest driver of his group. Starting 13th, Beasley got a great launch and was eighth early on. Once the field settled down, he kept falling away from the lead group and eventually into the grasp of competitors charging through the field. Sam would lose four positions after 11 laps to end up 12th in the final order. Complaining of no power out of the corners, he and his father Ben went to work trying to cure the issue for the second heat race. The changes they elected to make did not solve the problem as the kart's performance was worse. After getting pushed off running the outside lane at the start, Beasley managed to hold on and finish the race in 21st. They will continue to study their data and adjust for more speed tomorrow for the final heat race in hopes of a good finish to move them up the heat race points order.
Driver: Danny Formal - #230
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Mechanic: Donald Formal
Start: Group C - Row 8
Heat 1: 10th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 15th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 25 pts / 18th
Danny Formal was happy with his result of 10th in his opening heat race. Coming off a top-five in warm-up, the U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals champion grabbed a good start and he laid down some fast laps to run down more positions, including working around fellow Team USA driver Sam Beasley. Formal's fast lap was just two tenths off that of the leader, and he went to a front-end change and more teeth on the rear sprocket heading into heat two. Disappointingly, these adjustments sent Danny in the wrong direction as he finished 15th. He was shuffled back early after starting on the outside line but was able to make up a few positions. With the kart not to his liking, he drove like a man frustrated and made some mistakes that cost him some time. The plan for tomorrow is to go back to what was working previously, and to try to fine-tune this baseline with only minute adjustments as opposed to wholesale changes.
Driver: Louie Pagano - #254
Hometown: Camarillo, California
Mechanic: Chris Lobaugh
Start: Group A - Row 6
Heat 1: 24th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 23rd (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 46 pts / 47th
When things looked to be going in the right direction for Louie Pagano today, this positive momentum ended rather quickly. The first heat saw a decent start for the Pan American Challenge runner-up, as he came around in the 10th spot after starting 12th, and was in an early fight for position. As the 11-lap opening heat wore on, Louie began falling down the order as he simply lacked competitive straight-line speed. He would eventually finish a disappointing 24th as his competition ate him for breakfast on the long straightaway here in Portamao. Looking at the data after the race, he was nearly 1000 RPM lower than the rest of Team USA. Pagano and mechanic Chris Lobaugh went to work trying to find the answers for this lack of overall speed. A great start in the second heat of the day put Pagano up to the seventh position, a good sign. As the race went on, Pagano was once again tracked down by a large group of drivers. Louie continued to fight for every spot possible, and with just two laps remaining, he was spun entering turn three. He made contact with the outside barrier but was able to continue. He dropped to 23rd, forcing a need for a solid result in the final heat race to position himself higher in the final point standings. At this point, he'd not in danger of totally missing out on the LCQ, but he's 14 points out of a direct transfer into the Prefinal.
Driver: Andrew Palmer - #272
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Mechanic: Justin Stefani
Start: Group D - Row 15
Heat 1: 32nd (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 30th (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 62 pts / 66th
It’s been a difficult experience for the 2010 U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals Junior Max champion, who is making his first start in the Senior Max category at Grand Finals. After a tough result in qualifying, Palmer was forced to find his way forward in the heat races. Neither result went as hoped, placing 32nd and 30th in the two heats of the day. A wreck in the second heat forced he and mechanic Justin Stefani to replace a radiator and bent axle in his Sodi Kart. Tonight and tomorrow morning, they will continue to find a way to increase the low-end speed out of the kart and engine to find a better pace.
| Alan Rudolph rebounded from a spin in heat one to finish second during his second DD2 Masters heat race|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - GoRotax.com)
The DD2 Masters drivers were next on the racing docket, with Heat A vs. B set as the opening affair. Martin Henry and Florent Lambert were the duo on the front-row, followed by Team USA's Alan Rudolph, Johnny Blair and Bill Lester on rows four, seven and 13. After two failed attempts to start, the third time around featured Rudolph getting a great launch to vault into fourth. The American's superb start was all for not by lap four, as while battling for a place inside the top-three he was shuffled all the way back to 19th after contact with the driver directly in front of him. Blair was going the other way, however, making his way into 12th by the final third of the 11-lap affair. This was where the American took the checkered flag, although he would be disqualified at the scales when he came in justy 0.1 kg light. Rudolph recovered to finish 14th while Lester avoided any incidents and came home in 22nd. Former Grand Finals champion and Canadian Scott Campbell scored the win, just holding off the advances of Great Britain's Florent Lambert and Great Britain's David Griffiths.
As it had been the case all day, the second DD2 Masters heat race featured groups C vs. D. This time out it was Guy Pansart and Cristiano Morgado who lined-up on the front row, ahead of Rene Martinelli, Mike Jones, and John Crow representing Team USA on rows nine and ten. Of the trio, Jones enjoyed the best start, quickly advancing up to 14th place. Crow was soon giving chase in 18th, as Martinelli went the opposite direction, falling to 25th by the midway point of the race. Involved in dices until the checkered flag waved, Jones was the first Team USA driver to the stripe in 16th, followed by Crow in 19th, and Martinelli in 22nd. South Africa's Morgado ended the hard fought battle for the win with the victory over France's Pansart and Finland's Mika Salo, who is not the former Formula One driver.
The afternoon program for the DD2 Master's drivers started with Heat A vs. C, and the pair of Martin and Pansart on the front-row, while Americans Rudolph, Martinelli, Crow, and Lester followed on rows four, nine, 10, and 13. Unfortunately the action was initially delayed after three failed attempts to start. After a speaking to from the Chief Steward, the race began with Rudolph taking over fifth. The Team USA driver, however, was not done going forward, joining the top-three by lap three. It was not all good news for Team USA though, as Martinelli was caught out on lap one, falling to 28th, behind both Crow and Lester on the cusp of the top-20. Out front, Rudolph was in contention for the win, right until the checkered flag waved. Rudolph just missed giving Team USA its first win of the 2012 Rotax Grand Finals, crossing the line in second. Crow was the next American to the stripe in 20th, just edging his teammate Lester, while Martinelli was 28th. Great Britain's David Griffiths scored the win, while Argentine's Martin completed the top-three.
The final DD2 Masters race on Thursday, as expected, featured Heat B vs. D. Lambert and Morgado were duo on the front-row this time out, leading the American squad was Blair and Jones on rows seven and ten to the green flag. Making the most of the standard opening lap opportunities, Blair was soon challenging for a place in the top-10, with Jones not far behind. This proved to be where the duo remained from start to finish, avoiding any trouble. Blair took the checkered flag in 11th, while Jones crossed the stripe in 15th. Canadian Scott Campbell made two-for-two on the day, leading Morgado and Brazil's Fernando Guzzzi to the finish. Post race, Morgado was moved back to fourth, promoting Lambert into the top-three.
EKN Team USA Driver Paddock Pass
Driver: Johnny Blair - #413
Hometown: Puyallup, Washington
Mechanic: Eric Armstrong
Start: Group B - Row 7
Heat 1: DQ (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 11th (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 43 pts / 45th
Johnny Blair, the U.S. Masters Rotax Grand Nationals champion, is still the guy having the most fun on the week. During the opening circuit of his first heat race, Blair held onto his 14th starting position and set himself up for the 11-lap event. His pace was good, about two tenths off the leader’s time and he advanced up to 12th in the order. At the scales, however, he came in just 0.1kg underweight and was excluded from the results. Heading into the second heat, knowing he needs to make up positions early, he adjusted the tire pressure for the kart to come in sooner than in the opening heat. After adding a few extra pounds, he returned to the track for his second heat race. Blair was up to 11th quickly and on the tail of a good sized group. The tire pressure change did not help him in the long run, as the pack continued to pull away to the checkered flag. He was classified 11th, and heading into tomorrow is going back to the original tire pressure setting with the mindset on finishing the last heat race unscathed.
Driver: John Crow - #419
Hometown: Long Beach, California
Mechanic: Brian Robson
Start: Group C - Row 10
Heat 1: 19th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 20th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 39 pts / 37th
The warm-up session for the Challenge of the Americas DD2 Masters champion was solid, running in the top-10 of his group and quicker than he had been all event. Crow neither lost nor gained any positions once his first heat race began. Following fellow Team USA driver Mike Jones, he bounced around the order and ended up finishing 19th, nearly eight tenths off the pace. He credited much of the lack of speed to his own demise, as he feels he needs to drive better under race conditions. While he drove a more aggressive race in his eye during the second heat, the results were still the same as Crow ended up 20th. The pace is still off what he pulled in the warm-up early in the day, so some homework was on the docket for he and mechanic Brian Robson regarding the chassis settings and a few engine adjustments.
Driver: Mike Jones - #428
Hometown: Sachse, Texas
Mechanic: Yonny Alberto Pena Hernandez
Start: Group D - Row 10
Heat 1: 16th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 15th (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 31 pts / 29th
Morning warm-up was the same result for Jones as he’s experienced from the beginning of the week. Still suffered from engine issues, Jones was back to the Rotax trailer, where he was presented with a new engine for the opening heat race. Jones was racey from the very beginning of the first heat as he jumped up a number of positions early in the going. Posting lap times faster than he had all week, he was able to end the race in 16th. That said, a broken engine gasket was leaking oil all over the right rear tire, causing a loose condition for the Texan. He continued to make strides in the second heat, gaining spots at the start once again and driving his way to 15th in the final results. The Pan American Challenge champion stated that he now has something to work with, and can concentrate on adjusting the chassis more than the engine. Moving the seat for more rear grip was on the docket for Friday's morning warm-up.
Driver: Bill Lester - #435
Hometown: Windermere, Florida
Mechanic: Cale Wyse
Start: Group A - Row 13
Heat 1: 22nd (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 21st (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 43 pts / 43rd
The opening heat race was Lester’s first wheel-to-wheel action at the Grand Finals, and he survived. After 11 laps, he finished up in 22nd after starting 25th. He still battled a loose condition with his Haase, and began adjusting his driving style to keep chasing the right balance for the kart. The track conditions and chassis settings are much different than he anticipated following the Team USA test in Ocala. The pace was quicker in the second heat race, but the result was similar as he crossed the line in 21st. He was complaining of low RPM coming out of the corner, and upon inspection, it was discovered Lester's intake reeds had been damaged. Replacement reeds and additional adjustments to the chassis could get Lester further up the order in the final heat race.
Driver: Rene Martinelli - #437
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Mechanic: Brian Fletcher
Start: Group C - Row 9
Heat 1: 22nd (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 28th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 50 pts / 50th
Martinelli showed speed early in the morning, but was unable to back it up with strong results in the heat races. The Florida driver did not make it through the opening corners without contact, and he fell back down the order. Rene continued to fight and finished 22nd, but did not show the pace he had in warm-up. They made massive changes to the chassis during the break, and then discovered that his intake reeds were damaged. Once repaired, he was ready to progress in heat two. Another incident in turn three at the beginning of heat dropped him down the order once again, and he ended up finishing 28th. Going into the final heat on Friday, they are going to make drastic changes to the chassis to see where they stand, as they are predicting a run in the Last Chance Qualifier tomorrow afternoon.
Driver: Alan Rudolph - #448
Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Mechanic: AJ Whisler
Start: Group A - Row 4
Heat 1: 14th (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 2nd (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 16 pts / 15th
Starting on the inside of row four for all of his heat races, Rudolph has a little advantage with this position. Alan took it to his competition in the opening heat race, grabbing an excellent start to jump into the fourth position on the opening circuit. The racing was intense within the lead group, and Rudolph was looking to improve his position when he made contact with the driver ahead of him, who broke very early entering turn 11. His front bumper got locked into the rear bumper of his opponent, and they both spun around and watched the pack stream by. Rudolph remained focused and continued on in the 19th spot, driving his way forward to 14th by the end of the race, posting the fast lap of the race on the final circuit (1:00.238). While the spin was disappointing, his pace was cause for much optimism. The second heat played out much better for the veteran driver as he came out of the first few corners in the fifth position and began working forward immediately. After jostling for a number of laps, he finally secured the second spot late in the race. The Florida Winter Tour and U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals champion had the pace for a possible win, but the leader was driving quite erratically, and Rudolph elected to sit back in second place and converse the position. Minor tweaks are possibly on tap for the final heat race, as they are still looking for the pace to pull away from the field once out front.
| With two finishes in the top-8, Cody Hodgson is setting himself up for battle for the DD2 title|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - GoRotax.com)
The quickest karts at the Grand Finals, the DD2 class chase for supremacy resumed on Thursday with Heat A vs. B. Xen De Ruwe and Simon Wagner were the two drivers leading the field to the green flag after the first start was waved off, while American Cody Hodgson commenced things from row two. The opening few turns set the stage for what would be a back and forth affair up-front...at least for second and third. Hodgson, having initially slotted into third, dueled with second place lap after lap, swapping the position several times, particularly during the closing stages of the 11-lap affair. Hodgson in the end, came home a strong third, behind Belgian De Ruwe and Canadian Nicholas Latifi.
Next for DD2 was Heat C vs. D, with a front-row consisting Shaun Slavin and Ben Cooper. Team USA racers Joey Wimsett, Fritz Leesmann, and Kristina Vorndran lined-up on rows three, 11, and 14 respectively for the 11-lap race. After the initial attempt to start was waved off, Wimsett timed his launch to perfection, jumping up to third. Leesmann and Vorndran followed suit, with the duo rapidly up into 14th and 19th. Unfortunately, Vorndran's race ended shortly thereafter, placing her 31st on the final score sheet. Wimsett though kept the spirits up for the Team USA supporters, fighting all the way to checkered flag, taking home a superb third place finish. Leesmann advanced to cross the stripe in 15th. The Canadian Cooper, thanks to a bold outside pass on lap one secured the win over Great Britain's Slavin.
After the lunch break and the other classes held their final heat races of the day, the DD2 karters were back on-course, with Heat A vs. C first up. This time it was De Rruwe and Slavin who led the charge to green flag, with Team USA's Wimsett and Leesmann giving chase from rows three and 11. While the polesitter made it through turn on unscathed, chaos erupted behind, resulting not only in a shuffling of the order but two karts off into the barriers. This promptly resulted in a full-course caution. When the action resumed on lap five, Wimsett was in 12th, having lost several positions through the first few corners, as Leesmann sat 27th after the opening lap melee. Looking for a way to regain the dropped spots, Wimsett was able to work his way forward to 11th at the checkered flag, while Leesmann came home in 24th. Up-front, the lead pack of four karts swapped places on a regular basis. This ultimately led to Switzerland's Kevin Ludi gaining and advantage as other battled, securing the win over Portugal's Tiago Ribeiro and Canada's Latifi.
The day's racing action concluded with DD2 - Heat B vs. D, as Wagner and Cooper lined up on the front-row. After three failed starts and a visit from the Chief Steward, similar to the a previous heat race in the day, the action finally commenced with Team USA's Hodgson and Vorndran on rows two and 14. Hodgson enjoyed a good getaway, sliding in behind the race leader through turn one. That was, however, the highest he would go during the 11-lap Heat, slowly losing ground as the race progressed. Hodgson in the end took the checkered flag in ninth, while Vorndran was unable to complete the race, one lap short and classified in 33rd. Canada's Cooper made it two-for-two on the day, holding off Austria's Wagner virtually the entire race. Completing the top-three was Latvia's Konstaintins Calko.
EKN Team USA Driver Paddock Pass
Driver: Cody Hodgson - #329
Hometown: Escalon, California
Mechanic: Alex Speed
Start: Group B - Row 2
Heat 1: 3rd (Avs.B)
Heat 2: 8th (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 12 pts / 9th
One of the drivers who is looking to give Team USA its best finish is former top-five finisher Cody Hodgson. With a seventh in qualifying, he was quickly up front and away from the dangers of the wildness that is mid-pack racing here at the Rotax Grand Finals. Hodgson looked strong in his opening heat race, placing third to begin his bid for the Grand Finals title. He was second on the exit of the third corner to begin the 11-lap event and engaged within a battle including Florida Winter Tour champion Nicholas Latifi from Team Canada. The two exchanged the runner-up spot a few times before Hodgson settled into third, securing a valuable position toward the final point standings. Cody got another great start to sit second after the opening lap, just ahead of Senior Max champion Ben Cooper, who is now racing for Team Canada. An axle shift slowed his pace through the left-hand corners, and Hodgson actually lost positions over the 11-lap event. He ended up eighth, better than what could have happened considering the condition of his kart. Cody's content to leave the kart and engine settings alone moving forward, as he believes that he has the pace to contend.
Driver: Fritz Leesmann - #338
Hometown: Elk Grove, California
Mechanic: Neil Hodgson
Start: Group C - Row 11
Heat 1: 15th (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 24th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 38 pts / 40th
Fritz Leesmann's struggle at the Rotax Grand Finals continued during Thursday’s action. Rotax officials changed his cylinder overnight, however, the problem still existed during the opening heat race. Despite gaining a number of positions on the opening lap, Leesmann plateaued at 15th as his pace was still six tenths off that of the leaders. Between heat races, they make a carburetion, coil and pipe change in hopes of gaining the straight-line speed he was looking for. The progression of a wreck at the start of his second heat, which resulted in a full course caution, just caught Leesmann enough that he dropped toward the back of the field. The pace is still not there, and the search for speed continues for the Challenge of the Americas DD2 champ.
Driver: Kristina Vorndran - #359
Hometown: Dudley, Massachusetts
Mechanic: Wes Phillips
Start: Group D - Row 14
Heat 1: 31st (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 32nd (Bvs.D)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 64 pts / 71st
With difficulties throughout practice, Kristina Vorndran has been climbing back since qualifying yesterday. She continued to make progress in the opening heat, jumping up the order to sit within a group just behind Leesmann. However, just laps before the finish, her engine would not run, as a clutch problem slowed her down and put off the circuit. Despite the DNF, she was happy with the performance of the kart and engine, as they continue to find even more balance and a faster pace. She was spun around in the opening lap of her second heat race, but once she got going, her lap times were just a few tenths off the leaders. Making up some positions, she attempted to gain one more on the final lap and the other driver made contact, taking both out of the race before the checkered flag. She’s happy with her pace now and is looking forward to moving up in the final heat to set up a better starting spot for the Last Chance Qualifier.
Driver: Joey Wimsett - #361
Hometown: Beavercreek, Oregon
Mechanic: Mike Rolison
Start: Group C - Row 3
Heat 1: 3rd (Cvs.D)
Heat 2: 11th (Avs.C)
Points / Position (Unofficial): 14 points / 12th
The rolling starts here at the KIA facility are very unpredictable, as the inside line earns a distinctive benefit over the outside. Thankful to be on the inside row for the opening heat race, Wimsett took advantage and was into third by the time the field exited the third corner. From there, he kept pace with the top two drivers and was really happy with the way feel of his kart and engine. Finishing third, Wimsett and mechanic Mike Rolison looked at small changes to the front of the kart to increase their pace just a little bit more. Starting on the outside for his second heat, Wimsett was hung out to dry and fell back to 12th before the full course caution came out. Wimsett was caught a little off-guard when the race went back green, and he was forced to spend much of his race closing back up on the group in front of him. The U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals champ managed to gain one spot to finish 11th, but is still happy with the chassis and engine they have working right now.