For the third and final time in 2017, we descend upon the Sunshine State for the VCI powered by AM Engines Florida Winter Tour presented by Fikse Wheels ROK Cup Championship. This weekend we are On Location in Ocala, just about 90 minutes north of Orlando for what looks like somewhere in the ballpark of 140 entries in seven categories. The weather forecast right now calls for a good chance of rain on Sunday, which could create surprise performances and championship breakthroughs as simply finishing the final becomes more difficult in those conditions.
The weekend's on track sessions will be live streamed on many different platforms, including our On Location page, beginning Friday at 1:30pm Eastern Standard Time when qualifying rolls out.
Like the previous two rounds, Mini ROK and Junior ROK lead the way in field depth, but we the championship is up for grabs in just about every division, which is where we’ll begin. Keep in mind, the points for the final round are even higher than previous rounds, making it possible for some significant jumps in the standings.
The Championship Focus
We’ll start in the six speed Shifter ROK Senior, where Formula K driver Gary Carlton has a 71 point cushion over former Formula 1 star, Rubens Barrichello (OGP/Tony Kart). Those two have placed themselves well above any other competitors and outside of them both failing to finish races, we’ll see one of these two hoist the championship trophy. DRT USA drivers, Danny Formal and Collin Daley have not made the trip to florida, opening up the real possibility of an AJ Myers (TB Kart USA) or Mathias Ramirez (Andersen Racing/Birel ART) to take the bronze.
Senior ROK too is a two-horse race and is even closer. Ryan Norberg (PSL Karting/Birel ART) and Austin Garrison (Compkart) have arrived in Ocala with a 60-point difference. Both of these Florida-born drivers have previously driven for the local standout team, Ocala Gran Prix, and have more laps than they care to admit here. As driver ability will not be the issue this weekend, it’s going to come down to who can find the setup in the shorter heat races Saturday and then the longer final on Sunday. Arthur Leist has impressed in his rookie attempt at Senior ROK and sits third in the standings, but at 179 points back and the unlikely chance Norberg and Garrison both misstep, it would be a slight miracle if the Brazilian can jump to the top after Sunday. The RPG driver should be right there this weekend and that alone does give him a chance, albeit slim.
With a commanding weekend in Palm Beach, Tyler Gonzalez (Speed Concepts Racing) has a firm hold on the Junior ROK championship. With the third largest championship lead of all categories, Gonzalez sits ahead of Eduardo Barrichello (OGP/Tony Kart) by 182 points. Barrichello leads a group of six drivers for second and none would come as a surprise at the end of the weekend if they land in second; that’s how close they are.
Luca Mars (Energy Corse North America) has been nothing short of spectacular so far this year in National-level competition, including Florida. With that effort has come a 203 point cushion over Reece Gold (Benik Kart). James Egozi (Koene USA/Benik) comes in sitting third and leads a group of eight that could all slide onto the final step of the championship podium if things go their way.
In the remaining championships we’ll see Igor Mukhin (PSL Karting/Birel ART) try to fend off Farshad Bagheri (TB Kart USA), and Vicki Brian (Orlando Kart Center/Tony Kat) in a three-way championship fight for Shifter ROK Master. Miguel Costa (Benik) has the current lead in Micro ROK, but Brandon Carr (Benik) and Ian Aguilera (AM Racing/Parolin) both are inside 36 points and will likely come down to the final laps on Sunday. And lastly in Masters ROK, we’re still not certain if Gaia Magno, the current point leader, has entered. The latest pre-entry sheet does not have the commanding leader present, which leaves the door wide open for Pedro Cabrera and others.
Deep Shifter Senior talent will likely create unpredictable championship fight
With the depth of the talent in Shifter ROK Senior, we’ll no doubt see drivers like AJ Myers and Mathias Ramirez mix it up with Carlton and Barrichello, which is certainly going to make everything a little more interesting. Also joining us this weekend will be former IndyCar driver and current IMSA competitor, Jack Hawksworth. The Briton will pilot the 461 Koene USA/Tony Kart entry and look to hone his skills for the car season ahead. One driver we would like for you to remember before the weekend starts is Jimmy Cabrera. The 2016 ROK Cup USA National Champion in Senior Shifter is back again after a good run in Palm Beach and is very close to making a name for himself if he can breakout this weekend against the country’s best.
Can OGP defend its home turf in Junior
The team at Ocala Gran Prix is based around its Junior program, which is led by Dylan Gennaro, Eduardo Barrichello, and Zachary Hollingshead. Those three create one of the best trio’s in the country and now it’s their time to defend their turf. Gennaro, to us, took a step up at the last round in Palm Beach, producing one of, if not his best weekend performance to date considering the stage. It will be important in the development of Gennaro and his teammates for that momentum to continue this weekend. Coming to town, however, is former OGP member, Tyler Gonzalez, Compkart’s Nicholas d’Orlando, and privateer Arias Deukmedjian (Deuk Spine/Kosmic) to spoil the fun.
Check-in with Austin Garrison at Thursday practice