|July 20, 2011 News
|EKN Trackside: United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals - Preview
Rotax Week is upon us and well underway as Rotaxians from all across the country have made the trek to Utah for the running of the 2011 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals presented by Ocala Gran Prix. The Miller Motorsports Park plays host to over 200 drivers in seven categories in Tooele, Utah for the first time in the event’s history. Aside from national glory on the line, competitors will be fighting for a chance to earn a position on the coveted Team USA squad for the Rotax Grand Finals in November, traveling to the United Arab Emirates.
Opened in 2006, the diverse facility has hosted a number of national and international events in many different genres of motorsports. The karting circuit was on the Stars of Karting national schedule for two years straight and now returns to the national limelight. The 9/10-mile ‘Star Trek’ layout - will be the circuit used for the Grand Nationals with lap times ranging around the 1:00-mark for the fast categories.
The MAXSpeed Group was formed just prior to the end of the 2010 season and took over the reigns of the United States Rotax Max Challenge from SSC Racing’s Joe Ramos. One of the pioneer’s in developing the Rotax brand in the country, this will be the first Grand Nationals without Ramos at the helm. This year, MAXSpeed Group principle Garry Lobaugh and his staff will be the new driving force behind the Grand Nationals in addition to a number of event supporters that includes presenting sponsor Ocala Gran Prix. They have brought in Rotax Grand Finals Race Director Nigel Edwards, video marshalling system and just announced the implementation of the Inis CIK Start Lights along with the Start Line Speed Gun and Display.
Among the seven divisions racing, there are a number of former national champions and rising stars that will make the more than 200 drivers on hand. The following is a look at each class with the entry list.
| Stepanova Nekeel will attempt to host the Grand National trophy up once again in Senior|
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
The Senior category will be the headline class throughout the weekend, thanks to the stellar driver roster set to contest this year’s event. Among those are two superstars in the motorsports world - Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger. Both drivers who love to get back to their roots during off-weekends in their NASCAR Sprint Cup schedules, the former karting stars will contest their first Rotax Grand Nationals this year. McMurray will pilot his own manufactured kart that he ran in WKA (JMK) while Allmendinger reunites with the KartSport North America squad aboard an Arrow kart.
Looking at the results from last year, seven of the top-10 drivers are returning - including the podium finishers. 2010 Rotax Grand Nationals champions Stepanova Nekeel put in a story-book performance last year. Purchasing the used chassis during unofficial practice for less than $1000 and turning it into gold by winning the main event was unforgettable. This year, Nekeel will be aboard a Kosmic chassis to defend his crown. Another stellar performance at last year’s event was from Ohio’s Sam Beasley. The current #1 driver in the EKN TaG Driver Rankings drove from 33rd on the grid to finish second, earning a spot on the podium and Team USA. The KartSport North America/Arrow driver is among the strongest drivers competing at this year’s event and is sure to battle for the crown. Last year’s #1 driver after December was Florida’s Daniel Formal - 2008 Junior champion. With a strong resume of Rotax events last year, Formal stood atop the EKN TaG Driver Rankings and earned the ‘Driver of the Year’ award. Like Beasley, Formal is a contender no matter where competes aboard his MRP Motorsport/Birel.
Formal’s teammates - Jesus Rios Jr. and Louie Pagano - finished fifth and sixth in their Senior debut last year while competing on Team USA as Junior drivers. They will be factors on the weekend as well. The final returning drivers from the top-10 last year are California’s Mason Marotta (Tony Kart) and Jeremy Kane (Arrow). Showing well thus far at the regional and national level in TaG competition, both drivers are primed for a repeat in the top-10.
Aside from Nekeel, other former national champions will be in the field. 2009 champ Phillip Arscott (Tony Kart) returns for his second crown, nearly a podium finisher last year before being taken out on the final lap. 2005 winner Wes Phillips (CRG) is never one to count out of the race. 2009 Junior champion Nick Neri (Tony Kart) will make his official Senior debut after breaking his arm during last year’s practice day. He’s been fast all season long aboard his Ocala Gran Prix entry. 2010 Junior champ Andrew Palmer (Kosmic) burst onto the national scene with his victory last year at New Castle. The J3 Competition driver will be looking for more glory, this year in his Senior debut.
|104||Wallace III||John||Tony Kart|
| Derek Wang is searching for another podium run in DD2 to return as a Team USA member in 2011|
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
With the absence of two-time defending champion Cody Hodgson, the door is wide open for the DD2 title this year. The two podium finishers from last year return - Derek Wang and Nathaniel Mauel. Both will be making the move from CRG to Kosmic this year, each looking to become the next DD2 national champion. Joining them are two returning drivers - Mitch Carey (Arrow) and Kristina Vorndran (CRG). Carey was quick in qualifying but unable to turn that into a podium run. Vorndran has a Pan American Challenge victory to her credit this season and looking to add more to her CV. TJ Fischer (Birel), Andrew Longe (CRG) and Bronson Eggert (Birel) will be newcomers to the category, challenging for the crown and the chance to be on Team USA.
Defending DD2 Master champion Todd Ulmen (CRG) returns to defend his crown. While no other 2010 podium finisher is returning, a host of talented drivers will challenge Ulmen for this year’s title. Texan DJ Ortiz (Tony Kart), SoCal’s Erik Jackson (Arrow) and NorCal’s Andre Eriksen (CRG) are all regional champions looking to add a national crown to their resume.
| Mike Daniel is searching to become only the second driver to earn Masters title twice|
(Photo: Sean Buur - Go Racing Magazine)
With 30 drivers entered, the Masters field with welcome its largest field since 2008 in Wisconsin. The ‘elder’ drivers in the Rotax Max Challenge will put on one of the best shows, thanks to the absence of 2010 champion Eric Jones who walked away with the title. Despite only three drivers returning from the top-10 last year - John Bonanno (Haase), Brent Harper (Swiss Hutless), Ken Maxfield - there were a number of talented drivers who were shut out that will be looking for better results this time around. Names like Scott Falcone (Arrow), Ron Rossetti (Arrow), Jason Bell (Tony Kart), Andy Seesemann (Arrow) and 2009 champion Mike Daniel (CRG). Joining the fun this year is shifterkart veteran Bonnier Moulton (Tony Kart), trying his hand at the Rotax nationals at his home track. John Crow (Tony Kart) and Jerry Henderson (Tony Kart) are other strong Masters competitors along with 2010 Florida Winter Tour champion Scott Homlboe (Swiss Hutless).
| AJ Myers is among the many contenders set to battle in the Junior category|
(Photo: Autosports Media Group)
Much like last year’s entry list, the Junior field is stacked once again with a number of contenders listed on the class roster, despite only one driver returning from the top-10 last year. AJ Myers (Arrow) is the lone driver returning from the top of the finishing order in 2010, and comes in with a solid resume - fifth in the Florida Winter Tour and victory at the Pan American Challenge in South Bend. Fellow Florida driver Dore Chaponick Jr. (FA Kart) comes in with a respected resume as well, earning the Florida Winter Tour championship.
Drivers from every part of the country will be representing their region at the Grand Nationals - Texan Logan Bearden (Haase), Illinois’ Brendan Harrington (Kosmic), California’s Jake Craig (CRG), Florida’s Olivier Askew (Tony Kart). Two notable drivers making the move up from Mini Max this year are two podium finishers from last year. 2010 Mini Max champion Jordan Perry (Tony Kart) will make his Junior debut along with third place finisher Dalton Sargeant (Tony Kart). A number of other drivers will be in contention come qualifying Thursday morning.
|8||Perry ||Jordan||Tony Kart|
| Cole Glasson is the only returning driver from last year's Mini Max podium|
(Photo: Autosports Media Group)
As noted below, defending champion Jordan Perry has moved up to the Junior category to open up the title to someone new this year. No matter, this year’s field is sure to produce some excitement. Returning from last year is runner-up Cole Glasson (FA Kart). A veteran now in the category, the Texas is sure to battle for the title this year again. Kyle Kirkwood (Arrow), Devlin DeFrancesco (FA Kart), Patricio O’Ward, Logan Sargeant (Tony Kart), and Thomas Issa (CRG) have been battling each other all season long at the Florida Winter Tour and Pan American Challenge. Their war rages on in Utah, this time for national glory. FWT champ Austin Versteeg (CRG) will be looking to improve on his 15th finish from one year ago, this time at his home track.
|501||Scott Jr.||Derek||Tony Kart|
|511||Robb||Sting Ray||Tony Kart|
|588||Buitrago||Juan David||Tony Kart|
| Anthony Gangi Jr. will defend his Micro Max championship|
(Photo: Autosports Media Group)
2010 Grand Nationals champion Anthony Gangi Jr. (CRG) will return to defend his title against the largest field in the history of the class (27 drivers). Justin Sirgany (Birel), Nicholas Brueckner (Arrow), Phillip Varner (CRG) and Neil Verhagen (Haase) all return after running in the top-10 last year. The entry level of the Rotax Max Challenge program will be exciting to watch all three days of action.
To follow the action throughout the weekend, be sure to visit the Official Discussion Thread