- 2011 US Rotax Max Grand Nationals Report
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2011 US Rotax Max Grand Nationals Report
After an exciting week of racing at the 2011 US Rotax MAX nationals, the results are in.
The first day of racing was completed on Thursday for the 2011 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals presented by Ocala Grand Prix at the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. Qualifying and the first round of heat races took place on the 9/10-mile course for the seven categories in six race groups. The weather was perfect all day, as the temperatures were comfortable thanks to a slight breeze blowing in from Salt Lake. At this point, there was no clean-cut favorite in the Senior category but the young drivers shined on day one. Florida driver, Nick Neri, was top qualifier but Tristan DeGrand and Kiel Spaulding - all Senior rookies - led the way in the opening round of heat races.
Over 50 drivers filled out the field for Senior with the first group led by 2009 Junior champion Nick Neri (Tony Kart), making his official Senior debut after breaking his arm during practice at last year’s event. Put into the slower group of qualifying due to coming in half a pound light in yesterday’s final practice session. Neri’s time of 58.868 was quickest of the session in his second circuit, clear by two-tenths but a full grid of drivers waiting to take the track. The quickest out lap of the second group was 2005 champion Wes Phillips (CRG) with a 59.105 lap. Jesus Rios Jr. (Birel) was able to get clear track as he was able to better Phillips lap with a 59.091, still not quick enough to knock down Neri. Joey Wimsett (CRG) posted a similar time, slotting into the second spot on the group and third overall with Phillips falling to fourth. That all changed as a group of drivers hit the track with six minutes remaining. Phillip Arscott (Tony Kart), defending champion Stepanova Nekeel (Kosmic) and Andrew Palmer (Kosmic) went 1-2-3 on their out laps. Arscott bettered his time to get into the 58’s and sit atop the group standings, not quite enough to edge out Neri. With clear track, Arscott completed his third lap but unable to improve his time. At the checkered, Neri’s time held through the battle to score him the pole position. Arscott ended up second overall as he and Neri were the only drivers into the 58’s. Nekeel was third, Palmer fourth and Tristan DeGrand (Kosmic) capping off the fast-five.
Heat one for groups 1 and 3 began the heat races for Senior as top qualifier Neri and defending champ Nekeel filled out the front row. Clean throught turn one, Neri held the lead until they began shuffling for the lead. At the line for the first time, DeGrand held the lead over Neri and Nekeel. Sam Beasley (Arrow) got into the mix as well, moving to third by the completiong of lap two with Neri dropping to fourth as Nekeel led DeGrand. Neri tried to work by Beasley, and the two lost ground to the top two and allowed Wimsett into the mix for third. Lap three, DeGrand assumed the lead once again through a pass in turn 11, this brought the top-five together in one pack. Lap six, Beasley was into second and Wimsett around Neri for fourth. This put DeGrand out to about five kart lengths out front. Neri returned to fourth on lap eight and began putting the pressure on Nekeel. As they came down the straight, Nekeel seemed off power as both Neri and Wimsett went by. At the checkered, DeGrand too the win by six-tenths over Beasley, Neri, Wimsett and Nekeel with Formal up to sixth.
Arscott and Palmer led the way to begin the heat between groups 2 and 4. After two false starts, they got underway and it was ciaos as they ran through the first lap with numerous incidents around the course. As they completed the first lap, Kiel Spaulding (Tony Kart) was out in the lead with a 1.6-second lead over Phillips with NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger (Arrow) into third. Arscott fell back to ninth with Palmer out of the race in turn one. Phillips shook off Dinger by lap three and look to cut the gap Spaulding had gained in the opening circuits. After four laps, the lead was 1.4-seconds with both Spaulding and Phillips posting their fast lap of the race to that point. Spaulding went even quicker with Phillips unable to match, extending his lead back to 1.7-second as Dinger was coming under pressure from Jeremy Kane (Arrow) and Matt Hart (Arrow). Lap eight, Arscott pulled off to the pit lane as he was given the meatball flag for a damaged side nerf bar. Spaulding continued to push the fast lap of the race lower, taking the heat win by 2.9-seconds. Dinger held on to third over Kane and Hart. After the race, Phillips was penalized 10-seconds for a driving infraction, putting him back to ninth and moving Nick Rivellini (CRG) into fifth.
Andrew Longe (CRG) came out of the pit lane with the provisional pole in the DD2 qualifying session until 2010 runner-up Derek Wang (Kosmic) put down his fast time on lap two with a 57.707. TJ Fischer (Birel) was late onto the course and jumped into the second spot with his second lap of the session. Then Bronson Eggert (Birel) came on later to post a better time than Fischer. The positions kept changing as the session closed with Kristina Vorndran (CRG) moving into the third position, dropping Fischer down to fourth and Longe to fifth. They would finish that way with Wang earning the pole position. In the Masters category, Michael Ostrowski (Birel) was quickest with a 58.897-lap over Erik Jackson (Arrow), Andre Eriksen (CRG), Todd Ulman (CRG) and DJ Ortiz (Tony Kart).
From the outside row one position, Eggert got the jump on Wang to take over the lead through the opening corners of the first heat race. The top two pulled out to a half-second lead over Vorndran but went away as Wang took back the lead into turn one as they began lap two. Eggert now came under pressure from Vorndran with the Fisther and Mauel close behind. With a great draft down the front straight, Vorndran passed Eggert for the second spot while Mauel took over the fourth position. At the halfway mark, Wang’s lead was over 1.5-seconds as the group behind him kept battling for position with Vorndran holding second over Mauel with Fisher to fourth and Eggert to fifth. Although Vorndran closed in the closing laps, Wang held on to score the heat win with Mauel, Fisher and Eggert completing the top-five. In the Masters race, Ostrowski took the win over Jackson and Ulmen with Eriksen back to fifth behind Ortiz.
One of the largest Masters field of the Grand Nationals hit the track for qualifying as 30 drivers made their bid for the pole position. Local driver and veteran shifterkart Masters driver Bonnier Moulton (Arrow) was quickest on the out lap of the session before California’s Jerry Henderson (Tony Kart) bettered his time. It was short-lived as 2009 provisional winner John Crow (Tony Kart) was close to the 1:00-flat mark. Crow, who took the checkered flag in Oklahoma was removed from the win for missing a spark plug washer, handing it to Mike Daniel (CRG). Crow set his lap and then slowed for a number of laps before turning in. Most of the field posted their fast lap of the session early on. Henderson ended up second with Moulton down to third. Scott Holmboe (Swiss Hutless) was fourth with Jason Bell (Tony Kart) rounding out the fast-five.
The first few rows were clean through the first corner to begin heat one but a spin mid pack sent the rest of the field shuffling around. Crow held the lead with Moulton into second and Henderson in third, as the top three pulled away from a large pack for fourth led by Scott Falcone (Arrow) with Bell pushing. Henderson was able to work by Moulton for second but only close to within eight-tenths of Crow as he took the win. Moulton settled for third while Bell got around Falcone in the final laps for fourth.
The Junior field of over 40 drivers was split into two groups with Sebastian Coulson (FA Kart) setting the mark for the first group with a 59.484-lap. The first laps atop the order shuffled around with a few drivers taking the spot provisionally before the top dogs hit the track at the four-minute mark. After five minutes, Jeremy Doll (Haase) held the top spot with a 59.142-lap. AJ Myers (Arrow) got into the mix on his out lap, jumping to second in the order to move Logan Bearden (Haase) down to third. Oliver Askew (Tony Kart), on his opening circuit, advanced to the pole position with 59.106 but was moved down the order as both Dalton Sargeant (Tony Kart) and Myers bettered his time - both on their second laps. Askew was unable to better his time on his second run while Sargeant bettered his time to a 58.499-lap. On his third lap, Askew jumped over Myers’ time. Ethan Lowe (Tony Kart) advanced to the fourth spot on his fourth circuit with Doll dropping to fifth. In the end, Sargeant’s time stood with Askew the only other driver below the 59-second mark. Myers was third with Lowe and Doll capping off the fast-five.
Sargeant and Myers led the groups 1 and 3 to the green light to begin the first heat run but like the Mini Max drivers, the red flag was brought out after two false starts. Once started, Myers got the jump on Sargeant with Bearden slotting into third. The top three broke out to a small gap as they completed the first lap with Sargeant returning to the top spot as they drafted into the first turn. With Sargeant at the point, Myers kept on his bumper as Bearden dropped off to the hands of Dore Chaponick Jr. (FA Kart), who was up to fourth from the seventh row in just three laps. Lap five, Chaponick was up to the third spot with Doll now on the heels of Bearden for fourth. Starting lap seven, Bearden and Doll worked together, drafting by Chaponick for position into turn one. With two laps to go, Chaponick worked back around Doll and began running down Bearden. At the line, Sargeant took the win over Myers. Bearden held off the late charge from Chaponick with Doll in fifth.
Groups 2 and 4 took to the track next with Askew and Lowe on the front row. During a false start, drivers in the back stacked up before turn one with one driver - Daniel Roeper (CRG) going over on his head. The red flag came out to attend to all the drivers involved, with everyone walking away. Askew took the lead when the race finally got underway with Lowe dropping in behind in second. Brennan Harrington (Kosmic) jumped up to third with Craig back to fourth and Enzo Mestre (CRG) up to fifth. Askew was out to an eight-tenths advantage over the first lap with Craig and Harrington dicing it out for third. At the halfway point, Askew had a two-second gap over Lowe with Parker McKean (Kosmic) now in the fight for third with Craig and Harrington. After some exchanges, Craig held the spot as they got the two laps to go signal. Harrington tried in turn one as the started the final lap but Craig held him back. This allowed McKean to challenge Harrington, but he was shut down as well in turn 10. Askew took a demanding win by over five seconds ahead of Lowe. Craig finished third with Harrington and McKean completing the top-five.
Juan Manuel Correa (Birel) set the bar for the Mini Max class as he led the Group B session with a 1:02.888 before Group A hit the track. Christian Brooks (Tony Kart) jumped out with the provisional pole as the only driver into the 1:01’s. Brooks ran behind the 2009 Micro Max champion Logan Sargeant (Kart Mini), getting a great draft in the second lap of the session to place his quick time. Brooks time held through the session and ended up as the only driver under the 1:02 mark with a 1:01.905. Devlin DeFrancesco (Top Kart) ended the run second overall with Sargeant in third, bettering his time on lap nine. Christian Cole (CRG) posted his best lap on circuit seven to end up fourth with Austin Versteeg (CRG) capping off the fast-five.
After splitting up the field based on their qualifying times into four groups, group 1 and group 3 took to the track for their opening heat race with Brooks and Sargeant leading the field to the green light. Brooks kept the point as they made their way through the first few corners with Sargeant dropping back to fifth with Kyle Kirkwood (Arrow) up from third row along with Darren Keane (CRG) and Versteeg. The top five drivers pulled away in just the first three laps of the eight-lap contest. After some shuffling, Brooks jumped out to a seven-tenths lead as Versteeg was up to second over Sargeant and Kirkwood with Keane falling off the lead-chase group. On lap seven, Sargeant was able to get into the second spot and cut into Brooks lead very quickly with his fast lap of the race. Sargeant closed right up on the bumper of Brooks in the final corner. After some jostling in the esses leading into the final corner, Brooks held onto the lead and crossed in the first position. Sargeant settled for second, Versteeg in third, Kirkwood fourth and Keane back in fifth.
Groups 2 and 4 set off for their opening heat race with DeFrancesco and Cole on the front row. After two failed attempts, the race director pulled out the red flag to chat with the drivers in the field. Back on the track, the green lights went on with DeFrancesco into the lead and pressured by Royal McKee (Tony Kart) from the third row. McKee took the lead from Devlin while he came under pressure from Sebastian Sierra (Tony Kart). After shaking him off, Devlin went on the attack for McKee and retook the lead as they began lap four. The front two pulled out to a one-second advantage over Thomas Issa (CRG), Sierra, and Patricio O’Ward (Kosmic), up from sixth row after qualifying 12th overall. The front two battled to the final few feet with DeFrancesco taking the win by just 0.070-seconds over McKee. Sierra won the battle for third over Issa and O’Ward. Sierra however was removed in the tech barn, moving Issa up to third, O’Ward fourth and Cole fifth.
The Micro Max category kicked off the qualifying session with Neil Verhagen (Haase) as the provisional pole driver, using a couple partners to draft with around the track. His second circuit was quickest at 1:06.695. Eleven-minutes into the 15-minute session, the Birel drivers of Justin Sirgany and David Malukas worked together to better Verhagen’s time. Sirgany posted a lap of 1:06.616 to take over the pole position with Malukas just 0.047-seconds off. Their fast laps held through the end of the session to fill out the front row. Verhagen dropped to third alongside Nicholas Brueckner (Arrow) and defending champion Anthony Gangi Jr. (CRG) capping off the fast-five.
Sirgany and Malukas brought the field to the green light to begin heat one with Sirgany using the pole position spot to lead through the opening corners. Malukas ran second with Brueckner up to third with Verhagen back to fourth with Gangi making up the top-five. Six drivers made up the lead group with Mathias Ramirez (Tony Kart) joining the fight. The group shuffled around until Sirgany and Verhagen got a small advantage on the now fight for third. Getting the halfway signal of the eight-lap battle, Verhagen put on the pressure to overtake the lead, but Sirgany shut the door, allowing Gangi to close in bringing Ramirez and Phillip Varner (CRG). Gangi first worked by Verhagen for second and around Sirgany at the end of lap six. Both Verhagen and Sirgany worked by Gangi for the lead as they worked through the first corner of the final lap. On the exit, a few drivers made contact, shuffling up the order. Crossing the line for the checkered flag, Sirgany took the win over Varner, Ramirez, Gangi and Malukas.
With the first day in the books, drivers and the teams will work over the data collected on focus on recording two solid results in the two final rounds of heat races on Friday. The results will then sort the field for the Prefinal lineup and unfortunately those who must go through the Last Chance Qualifier tomorrow evening in Mini Max, Junior and Senior.
For Friday, there was a palpable tension in the Miller Motorsports Park paddock. After practice and both qualifying and the first round of heat races, the drivers knew that it was the day to make or break their chances at a national podium. You would have expected that the drivers would play intelligently, but you would have been wrong, as on-track issues were aplenty, especially those focused at problematic starts. In the three categories to decide the Team USA for the Rotax Grand Finals, Tristan DeGrand (Senior), Derek Wang (DD2) and Dalton Sargeant (Junior) were on their game in the first two days to start championship Saturday at the top of the charts.
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