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FWT Ocala ROK Cup: What We Learned

Carlton, Norberg, Gonzalez, Magno, Muhkin, Mars, Carr all finish the 2017 Winter Tour as champions.

2017 FWT ROK Cup champions with their tickets to the International Final in Italy in October.

As members of the karting community, we understand the atmosphere around championship Sunday. With most championship decisions coming down to the final round, and a 33% point increase, the stakes were dramatically high. Ocala Gran Prix would be the final playing ground of the VCI powered AM Engines Florida Winter Tour presented by Fiske Wheels. 153 drivers would take on a mixed conditions Ocala Gran Prix, infamous for its tricky surface conditions.

Comebacks and upsets

In Micro ROK,  young Alex Powell seemed to be running away with the championship. Powell took victory in all three heats as well as the prefinal, with his mind set on retaking the championship lead. The championship leader entering the weekend, Brandon Carr, certainly questioned if his championship was spiraling down hill.  The Benik driver got under way with a below par qualifying run, setting the eigth fastest lap time, and completing each heat outside the top five with one DNF. At this point in the weekend, Carr would need a miracle from the heavens to take the championship from Powell. Well, just as the final got underway a certain miracle from the heavens fell. Rain fell which suited Carr and disturbed Powell's dominant run. Carr would storm the field from seventh, claiming victory by over two seconds. Carr would be crowned our 2017 Florida Winter Tour Micro ROK Champion. Alex Powell did everything he was required to have a shot at the championship, but fell just short.

So far we have not witnessed a class more dramatic than the senior category this Winter Tour in the ROK division. The championship would come down to Ryan Norberg, Austin Garrison, and Arthur Leist. While Leist was still very much a part of the fight, the rivalry between Norberg and Garrison was the center of attention. The rivalry between the two has gradually increased as we came closer to the last round here in Ocala. Garrison entering the weekend is no stranger to the .5 mile circuit, and set down a qualifying time .2 clear of the field. He continued this pace sweeping the heats, until disaster struck on Sunday.

Leading the field to green in the prefinal, Garrison attempted a defensive move that led to contact with Leist and Norberg. The Compkart driver was sent around, dropping to the very back of the field, desperate to gain back positions lost. Garrison would work his way back up to 5th until contact with Jett Noland would send them both to the very back of the field. Ryan Norberg, opting to use one side of fresh rubber for the prefinal could finally breathe, as his championship hopes were very much alive. Since Garrison had such a poor finish in the prefinal, Norberg would claim the championship if he could attain a top 14 finish in the final. As the Final got underway, Garrison was clearly on a mission despite the longshot at the championship. The Floridian driver would set fast lap by nearly two tenths and take the lead from Logan Cusson on lap nine. Cusson, the little-known Canadian REM driver, showed impeccable form in Sundays final, fending off Leist, Norberg, and Nicastro.  Garrison would go on to take victory, and just miss out on the championship. Norberg played it safe and had secured the championship by bringing his PSL Birel ART home to 4th.

It's a weekend of firsts

Senior Shifter provides breathtaking action from start to finish. Much like the other classes, the championship would once again fall in the hands of Sundays results. Factory Formula K driver Gary Carlton who has won the last two races would go head to head with ex Formula One ace and Brazilian stock car driver Rubens Barrichello. Carlton took pole position for the first time in 2017, followed by Gianfranco Mazzaferro on outside pole. Surprisingly, Barrichello was only fast enough for 6th adding challenge to his weekend early on. Jack Hawksworth was a new face for the weekend, but no stranger to the world of karting. The Lexus GT3 driver is a Rotax Euro Max and KZ1 winner, sporting his OTK chassis to third in qualifying. Carlton continued to show his dominance in the class, taking victory in heats 1 and 2, until a flat tire in heat 3 allowed AJ  Myers to steal victory from the factory pilot.

Gary Carlton
Gary Carlton
Photo Credit: Nick Leone/Kart360

The challenge would only intensify for Carlton and Myers come Sunday. Carlton got off to a poor start in the prefinal, as Rubens Barrichello jumped straight to the lead with Hawksworth trailing the two of them. Carlton would eventually suffer with tire pressure issues, falling behind Hawksworth. Carlton for the first time all weekend was under threat of losing the championship, as he would be required to finish 3rd or higher in the final. To his delight, Barrichello would take his first ever victory in the a final event here in the Winter Tour, but missed out on the championship by one point as Carlton would follow in second. Jimmy Cabrera would have an incredible run finishing in third, claiming his first FWT podium of 2017. This would also be Carlton's first ever FWT championship, making it a class of firsts to round out the podium.

Mini ROK was controlled in qualifying by the Benik karts of Carson Morgan, Santiago Trisini, and Reece Gold. Championship leader, Luca Mars, had qualified fifth and finished thirteenth in his first heat, giving a slight opening to his nearest rivals in the championship. Mars would rebound later in the day to earn back some points in his heat 3 win. Carson Morgan struggled to match his top ranking from qualifying in the heats, as Trisini, Gold, and Mars were the victors on Saturday. Meanwhile, lurking inside the top three consistently, was Connor Zilisch. The Team Felon driver had remained in the shadows of Morgan, Gold, Trisini, and Mars awaiting the perfect time to make his footprint. It wasn't until Sunday that Zilisch would leap from the shadows to claim victory in both the prefinal and final. This would be Zilisch`s first win in the Florida Winter Tour, finally breaking through when it mattered the most and now enters the summer season with the upper hand. The championship, however, was claimed by the Energy Corse North America driver Luca Mars, who safely brought his Energy chassis to a 7th place finish in the 22-lap final.

Gonzalez only getting better

Gonzalez made it happen, but not without challenge from the hometown boys and a certain Canadian. Arias Deukmedjian, Matheus Morgatto, Dylan Gennaro, and Zachary Hollingshead posed a threat on Tyler Gonzalez's championship hopes, but would need strong results and a little help to displace the Speed Concepts Racing driver. Of the three drivers, Deukmedjian seemed most up to the task, taking pole position and two heat victories. The Speed Concepts driver had given up a few points after the heat races were complete, but still had a comfortable advantage. On Sunday, Gonzalez put all alternate championship scenarios to rest with a commanding day. During the final, Gonzalez had two objectives: take home the win and bring Speed Concepts and himself their first ever FWT championship. The young man did so by setting the fastest lap of the final and taking the win, just ahead of Arias Deukmedjian and Dylan Gennaro.