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SKUSA SummerNationals: What to Watch For

Let's preview the biggest event of the summer, shall we.

SKUSA flag waving
Photo Credit: Kart360

The weekend has come for the most highly anticipated race of the summer in North America, the SKUSA Pro Tour SummerNationals in New Castle, Indiana. The sports biggest names in North American karting will be in attendance and Kart360 will be On Location to showcase the amazing talent just outside The Racing Capital of the World.

New Castle has been a staple in national-level karting in the United States for over a decade now. The 1-mile course was a revolutionary circuit when it opened in 2004, paving the way for many of the modern facilities we have today. With seemingly never ending straightaways, the draft plays an excessive role in the outcome of most races at this facility and no race is over until drivers cross the checkered flags.

Weather has a chance to play a factor as it did in Phoenix. Scattered rain showers are predicted for each day as well as high temperatures coupled with some midwestern humidity in the 70% range. Enough to make you sweat just thinking about it.

Return of the Podcast by ORG North America

We debuted the Kart360 Podcast live to our fans late last year in Las Vegas with some great reviews. It was our intention to keep the podcast going as a monthly feature but logistically it fell through the cracks and has been stale in 2016. With the perfect opportunity to relight the fire, we’re bringing back the podcast Friday, July 22nd at 5:45pm EDT, live from inside the New Castle Grill where competitors will be enjoying their complimentary BBQ. We’ll have industry guests Justin Stefani (Compkart), Blake Deister (Top Kart USA), and Nick Mitchell and Ben Cruttenden (Benik Kart) to help guide our discussion.

Our broadcast partner this weekend is ORG North America, the fastest growing karting suit brand in the USA.  Their recognizable suits can be seen on drivers at Ben Cooper Racing, PSL Karting, Dallas Karting Complex, amongst many more. You can check them out and message them on Facebook at https://facebook.com/ORGNorthAmerica.

Can Eves keep it rollin’ in X30 Senior?

Braden Eves
Braden Eves
Photo Credit: Kart360

Braden Eves (MDD/Kosmic), the Ohio kid once known simply for outright speed and lacking of race results has exploded onto the premier level of the sport. His breakout performance came in round one in Phoenix back in April and now the 17-year old has a target squarely on his back in the toughest category in North America. In unfamiliar territory, Eves has an opportunity to make his biggest statement of the year this weekend if he can leave Indiana with the championship lead.

Despite winning seven of the eight official sessions in Phoenix, Ryan Norberg (Orlando Kart Center/Tony Kart) enters New Castle behind Eves, attributed to a DNF in his Sunday final. Since, the Florida resident has had a rollercoaster of a summer with both high and low points, and certainly looks to regain the consistency he had in Phoenix.

Perhaps the best three chances to win this weekend come in the forms of Kyle Kirkwood (PSL Karting/Birel ART), Brandon Lemke (Franklin Motorsports/Merlin), and Zach Holden (Koene USA/Tony Kart). The latter two have an enormous amount of track time in New Castle and if we had to guess, the winningest two drivers at the circuit in National competition. The former, Kirkwood, has as much natural ability as anyone on the continent and his BirelART-machine will be one of the few on every mechanics stopwatch during Friday practice.

Two drivers who will show well, but come to New Castle in new colors are Jake Craig (Jake Craig Racing/Tony Kart) and Austin Garrison (J3 Competition/Compkart). Craig has ran the colors of IPK (Formula K and Praga) the past couple of years since his Pro Tour Championship in 2014 for 2Wild Karting aboard a Tony Kart. This weekend the Californian is back on the Tony Kart, running his own operation and we couldn’t be more interested to see how he performs back on the product that he ran so well with in the past.

Garrison isn’t brand new to the Compkart chassis, but it will be the biggest stage he’s been on since joining the Fluo Yellow brand in late spring. Although missing out on a premier win since the change, Garrison has laid down the fast lap in one session or the other at nearly every stop since. If Garrison can work on his race craft, to go along with his outright speed, he’s certainly going to be in the mix late in those 20-lap main events.

No clear favorite in S1

Jake French
Expectations are rising for Texan Jake French.
Photo Credit: Kart360

In the S1 Pro Tour Championship, the top eight drivers are within 163 points of each other -- the closest championship on the Pro Tour. This is in large part thanks to ever changing weather conditions in Phoenix that forced the front runners to the back with the wrong tire choices and the mid pack karts found their way to the front with a nothing to lose attitude.

Kiwi driver, Daniel Bray (GP VCI Mexico/GP Kart) had a hell of a Sunday in Phoenix that has catapulted him to the top. We could be mistaken, but it appears this is the first time Bray has visited the New Castle facility and he will need to be up to speed quickly. Billy Musgrave (MRC/Praga) benefited from that rain condition on Saturday that earned him his second Pro Tour win. His first win? Last year at this very circuit. If he plans to land back home in California with the S1 points lead, he’ll need to duplicate those results from a year ago.

Danny Formal (DRT/DR Kart) flew into Indianapolis earlier this week from his home country of Costa Rica. After a forgetful Saturday in Phoenix due to engine trouble in one heat, he picked it up on Sunday scoring a heat win and second in the final. Formal is no stranger to New Castle and a win this weekend would not come as a surprise.

Typically we won’t say much about a driver in sixth in the point standings, but this an exception. Oliver Askew (PSL Karting/BirelART) can be the best driver in North America when he’s on top of his game. In Phoenix, he floundered, first choosing the wrong tires on Saturday and a DNF on Sunday. Luckily, he’s still in the points chase and has a solid opportunity in front of him this weekend. It would surprise us if we do not see the factory BirelART pilot on the top step one of the two days.

Jake French (DKC/Sodi Kart) just may be the cinderella story this weekend in the headline shifter category. Much of the attention will be on Formal, Bray, and Askew -- for good reason -- but we certainly are not sleeping on the driver in the bright orange and black. The Texan ran so well in Phoenix, it was a shame he could not leave with any better than a third place on Sunday. We think he can better that this weekend.

Edgar, Yu highlight loaded X30 Junior field

Dante Yu and Jonny Edgar racing hard
Dante Yu (J3 Competition/Compkart) and Jonny Edgar (Team Benik/Kosmic).
Photo Credit: Kart360

It was a minor surprise to see Jonny Edgar (Benik Kart) do so well in Phoenix at his first Junior-level event in the states. The Briton was a force in cadets, but jumping right into Juniors and competing with the best was impressive. New Castle brings a list of new challenges to the young driver, but should not hinder him from staying near the top of the charts as he did in Phoenix.

Much like Eves, Dante Yu (J3 Competition/Compkart) also broke out in Phoenix for the biggest win of his young karting career when he grabbed the win on Sunday. Yu has competed a lot since Phoenix, mainly in his home state of California, but has also made a couple of trips to Europe for some X30 action. He ran well last weekend in New Castle as preparation for this huge event and will be one of a few on our list to get a win this weekend.

Alex Bertagnoli and Sam Mayer come to Indiana waving the flag for Franklin Motorsports and Merlin Nation in Junior. If there’s any circuit in the country outside of Badger Kart Club in Wisconsin that this team has had the most success, it’s New Castle. Bertagnoli put us on notice last year in Las Vegas when he ran with the best in the world in his first year of Junior. The Wisconsin native has kept that momentum rolling into his sophomore season and has as good of chance as any at the win. Mayer, fresh out of cadets a year ago, has too many laps at the New Castle facility to count. That experience of the draft and how races unfold here could come into play and earn the young gun a podium spot.

Four more drivers have our attention and that is of course Jagger Jones, Oliver Calvo, Nicholas d’Orlando, and Tyler Gonzalez. Jones (RPM/Tony Kart), Calvo (PKS/Top Kart), and d’Orlando (J3 Competition/Compkart) are all on our short list to take a win this weekend. Gonzalez (Koene USA/Tony Kart), joins Koene USA for what we believe is a one-off event. The young, highly talented Floridian typically runs for OGP in Rotax and ROK events and it will be very interesting to see how he settles into a large 40+ driver field with a new team.

Who will break the draft in Mini Swift?

The aforementioned drafting strategies at New Castle are exponentially more important in lower category classes like Mini Swift. However, these drivers aren’t new to draft strategy, it’s a fundamental you learn by being in cadet categories. At NCMP though, 950 feet of straightaway leading to the checkered flag is a major factor in the outcome of these races. Benik Kart, having over a third of the field may have a big advantage when drivers choose who to draft with. Diego LaRoque (Team Benik Kart), Tyler Maxson (Team Benik Kart), and Jace Jones (RPM/Benik) lead the way for the superteam. Teammate Reece Gold jumps into the fray for the first time in SKUSA competition and will be quick right out of the gate as one of the veterans in this young category.

Of course, there’s drivers on other chassis’. At the top of that list is Kyle Thome (Franklin Karting/Merlin). Sitting second in the championship, Thome is no stranger to the NCMP facility, but has not shown as well as he would like to since Phoenix. We’ll see if he’s righted the ship for this major event. Secondly, we have Kaden Wharff (Top Kart USA). The Indiana native has progressed this season and has made it to the top step at a few of his regional races this summer. Can the local kid win a mega one for Top Kart USA?