We’re now back home in the wintery north, trying to avoid cold and flu symptons and want to reflect on this past weekend in Florida. The start of the 2017 season has officially begun with the opening rounds of the VCI powered by AM Engines Florida Winter Tour 2017 presented by Fikse Wheels concluding.
Overall, both weekends were well attended with a total number over 300, but the Rotax weekend did lower that average despite the consensus of great officiating and management by MAXSpeed Entertainment.
We saw the debut of the new MAX One by Vega that drew mostly praise for bringing an appropriate karting tire to the Rotax market. A few surprise performances popped up as well, encouraging interest on Sunday.
Reactions to new MAX One by Vega tires
As you know, Rotax MAX categories have been on -- what many would consider -- a more recreational tire over the years. The majority of drivers in these categories have formed their driving styles based on said tire -- MOJOs to be exact. As MAXSpeed ushers in a new era of tires for Rotax MAX competitors, there is going to be an adaptation that takes place over the season, and possibly into next, as the drivers and mechanics get used to a softer, stickier tire.
Most of the paddock we talked to last weekend said complimentary things about the new tires. The time dropoffs from new to used were minimal and the categories on the new tire (cadets not included) were around one second faster in qualifying than a year before.
The added grip also brought a tougher circuit on the driver's bodies. We knew of at least three drivers who complained of heavy rib pains, including Darren Keane and Dan Roeper who dropped out before the final event took place. Juan Manuel Correa too had issues in his mid section, but was able to finish second in DD2 on Sunday.
The new grip level is going to take some getting used to for the drivers and their stamina now needs to be at peak levels if they want to survive a weekend. This is the pinnacle of our sport and now drivers have to get used to what some of used to consider a normal karting tire.
Surprise story in Junior MAX
We’re sure some considered Jeremy Fairbairn a leading favorite in Junior MAX, but we’ll admit we were not those people. The Canadian now living in Florida had shown well in cadet categories and was in a bit of a transition year last year as he made his way into Junior races.
Now fully submerged in the Junior category, Fairbairn came out swinging. Combine that with his first competition outing with Koene USA, and this could be the surprise of the year if he can keep it up.
Tyler Gonzalez and Arias Deukmedjian were consistently at the front as well, with the former being tuned under the new Speed Concepts Racing banner and Mike Speed, while the latter has Mike’s son, Alex, turning the wrenches for the Deuk Spine team. It’s a cool storyline that we look forward to watching unfold as the Winter Tour heats up.
Norberg 1, Garrison 1
As racing seasons unfold, every now and then we are fortunate enough to witness some great rivalries. Right away in 2017 we think we’re in for a good one with two Floridians, Ryan Norberg (PSL Karting/BirelART) and Austin Garrison (Compkart). Garrison was last to strike two weekends ago with his performance on Sunday in ROK competition, and this last week it was a clean sweep from Norberg. Both drivers also have third place finishes to go along with, making it a dead heat after two races in our unofficial FWT scoring system.
In the middle of that fledgling matchup is rookie Arthur Leist from Brazil. Leist might be most well known for his win in 2015 at SuperNationals XIX or his pole position at the same event just a few months ago. He’s also been a regular on the Florida Winter Tour, so he was well prepared for the move up to Senior this winter for Rolison Performance Group. Leist owns two second place finishes so far in the separate weekends, and has shown signs that he’s close to breaking out for his first win in Senior.
Kingsley always a safe bet
Jeff Kingsley, one of the most talented drivers in DD2 for Canada in its history, has once again won in the premier category. Despite professional car drivers, factory kart drivers, and former Rotax world champions, Kingsley made it look easy on Sunday. The BirelART pilot opened up a massive lead on the opening lap and basically put it on cruise control to comfortably ride out front of Correa and Gary Carlton. Kingsley isn’t known to be in the kart all that much, which makes wins like these show just how impressive his abilities are and how dangerous he could be if he were more active in the seat.
Koene USA steals the show
Without a driver in Senior MAX or Masters MAX, Koene USA had four categories they were set to compete in in Rotax. They won 75% of their entered divisions. We mentioned Fairbairn earlier, who impressed just about everyone watching (which was most of the paddock) while he kept his composure despite pressure from Gonzalez in the closing laps.
James Egozi ran steadily out front of Micro MAX all weekend. Despite being less than dominate, he had just enough to sweep the weekend over Miguel Costa and Emmo Fittipaldi. Lastly, Dale Curran, who was not on our radar coming into the weekend with veterans like Reece Gold and Luca Mars competing, but just blitzed the field on Sunday, when it counted. In addition, Correa finished second in DD2, marking a nearly a perfect score on Sunday for the Indianapolis-based operation.
With opening shots now taken, we will see in two weeks time in Jupiter, Florida if new cream will rise to the top, or if we’ll see a past winner start to cement his or her place at the top of the season championship standings. We’ll be live and On Location starting February 10th for the second ROK Cup USA round from Palm Beach Karting.