ROK Florida Winter Tour Palm Beach: Saturday

Ugochukwu flashes brilliance in Junior, Kremers is the driver to beat in Shifter.

Start of ROK Shifter in Palm Beach 2018
ROK Shifter takes off towards turn one in heat racing action on Saturday, led by Birel ART drivers Martijn Kremers and Robert Wickens. Photo: Nick Leone/Kart360

The first thoughts that come to mind when one thinks of karting is: fast, exciting, loud. Today the karting scene of ROK Cup USA FWT round 1 personified those exact thoughts, as we witnessed immaculate racing from heats one to three. The style of driving was reminiscent of what we may witness in a final, with last second divebombs, aggressive starts, and intense hot laps. Certainly getting off to a strong start is both psychologically rewarding and beneficial for fine chassis tuning.

Shifter Senior has been absolutely immense from qualifying to this very moment three heats later, with the top threats including Marijn Kremers, Robert Wickens, Rubens Barrichello, AJ Myers, Danny Formal, and Mathias Ramirez. The overall battle for first was consistently between Kremers and Wickens, from qualifying all the way to heat three. However it was the young Dutchman who got the jump every heat, utilizing the “flag drop start” to his benefit. Heat 3 saw the heat turn up a bit, as chaos early on saw two aborted starts and key roll drivers such as Barrichello demoted down the field. Once things got underway, it was Kremers once more who got to a flying start, gaping Wickens and assuring his domination going into  Sunday. 

Another young driver displaying a dominant run is younger by something like ten years, and he goes by the name Ugo Ugochukwu. The ten year old received the “okay” to race in the junior category and has been nothing less of resilient against the likes of Tyler Gonzalez, Matheus Morgatto, Jeremy Fairbairn, and Sebastian Montoya. In addition to taking pole position, and winning two of the three heat races, Ugochukwu took victory in comfort come heat three. Matheus Morgatto however appears to have something reserved for us come tomorrow, as he has been stealthy and poised all weekend. In addition to Morgatto who has evidently grown as a driver, it appears Sebastian Montoya is beginning to grow his legs. The Colombian has been the only driver other than Ugochukwu to claim a heat race victory. To our personal surprise the usual honcho of junior category, Tyler Gonzalez, has not claimed a victory yet. Perhaps come tomorrow, the reigning FWT champ will show us just why he is held to such a standard. 

In Senior, Ryan Norberg with pole position and two heat victories is looking to be the favorite come Sunday. It will not come easy however, as Diego Ramos of Piquet Motorsports has applied consistent and aggressive pressure on the American. Undoubtedly this will be tomorrow's highlight, unless Ryan Macdermid, Eduardo Barrichello, or Dustin Stross can find an extra tenth or two. The trio has battled one another for the third spot, in an attempt to find that extra tenth needed to bring the fight to positions one and two. Norbergs increase in pace brought some off guard as he was considerably off in practice, however Ramos was not disturbed by his presence. The Brazilian made a daring last lap pass in the turn 7 “S” complex, making it stick and taking victory by three hundredths of a second as they drag raced to the finish. More drama unfolded come heat three, where a ten kart mid pack pile up during lap one turn one saw a parking lot type scenario. Fortunately no one was hurt, and it did not seem to influence the races final result. Norberg would cruise home to the win, with a more than comfortable one second gap. 

Gaps were unheard of in Mini ROK, as first through sixth were separated by less than a second not in terms of time, but track position. The class was separated into two groups, A vs C and B vs D as 41 drivers in total may be rather hectic on track at once. Group B vs D was the closer of the two groups with, Nikita Johnson, Alex Popow, Paul Bocuse, Diego Laroque, Carson Morgan, and Leonard Anderson fighting for the top spot. In group A vs C Alex Powell, Connor Zilisch, Kai Sorensen, and Jack Jeffers have been the quickest and well rounded drivers to beat this weekend. In the mist off all the action, Nikita Johnson seemed the most composed as he made the lethal moves when they counted. As Carson Morgan and Diego Laroque fought for the lead, Nikita Johnson would out brake them both in turn one heat three to take the lead and the win. Drag races to the finish were also quite common as Carson Morgan, James Egozi, and Leonard Anderson crossed the line within one tenth of another, Zilisch coming out on top with Fletcher second and Powell third. 

Micro ROK despite being small has presented us with some excellent action as, Caleb Gafrarar, Parker Delong, Danny Dyszelski, and Matias Orjuela. Caleb Gafrarar and Danny Dyszelski had a close last lap battle in heat two, where Caleb would go on to take the win by two hundredths of a second. From their it appeared Danny was fully aware of the situation, and checked out in terms of pace, winning heat three by over a second. 

Master Shifter has been run by Orlando Kart Center owner Andre Martin who has been under heavy pressure from Farshad Bagheri. The two have raced incredibly close yet wonderfully clean against one another, swapping victories and looking to be the main battle for Sunday. 
Master has been run by the man Gaia Magno himself, but after a DNF in heat one, the Brazilian will start fourth. Wesley Phillips has been the driver trailing Magno but experienced a difficult few heats, starting pole will be a real treat for him. h penalties, incidents, and mistakes on tracks some impactful driver are well down the field an

Heat racing has come to an official close, we experience the pre-final next with the all mighty feature race lurking in the near future. From what has accumulated thus far, we would not be surprised to see a zero to hero situation or vice versa. Sunday will have one more opportunity to make up places before it counts.