The fourth season of ROK Cup USA’s Florida Championship kicked off last weekend in Jupiter, Florida, just north of Palm Beach. Entries were up in a big way over last year, with 111 entries taking to the almost-mile long circuit, a 26% increase over the the average a season ago. The weather turned out as expected, albeit a bit breezy on Sunday which seemed to effect the draft down the long opening straightaway into turn one.
The sunshine-full weekend is now behind us and here’s what we learned.
As the only series in the country running the full Parc Fermé system (secure tires and fuel), we applaud ROK Cup Promotions for what we feel all major series’ should be utilizing. This system has been rarely seen after it was almost the norm throughout the late 90's and early 2000's. Having tires and fuel in a secure location alleviates any feelings from competitors that others may be cheating or gaining an advantage by having their fuel and tires with them at all times.
One really nice added bonus was the addition of helping hands to assist those who could not mount their own tires. ROK Cup Promotions had hired help to assist competitors and mechanics with this technical task. With ROK Cup Florida being a regional series for all intents and purposes, most competitors have never had to deal with the Parc Ferme system, so these additional helpers definitely made life easier on them.
When the event increased in activity Saturday morning for qualifying, there were some signs of stress in the system, however. Having only 5 minute qualifying sessions on track, multiple classes were coming into the secured area to prepare for their session, leaving little room to move. ROK Cup Promotions realized their mistake in scheduling and already had a schedule ready for round two by the next day.
Crazy, Fantastic Final Lap in Junior ROK
Watching the Junior ROK category on Saturday, you would not have guessed how competitive it would become on Sunday. Gabriel Baco Sifontes (COMPKART) was just blitzing the field, taking pole and all three heat race wins with the exception of a lane violation at the start of heat one that dropped him to sixth after the race. This dominance, we thought, was a sign of things to come on Sunday, however, that turned out to be untrue.
Perhaps a few driving mistakes early for Sifontes gave his competitions an opportunity to turn up the pressure on the Puerto Rican. Ryan MacDermid was the first to take his shot at the leader very early in the race, disrupting the opportunity for the COMPKART driver to break away. This opened the door for OGP’s Zachary Holllingshead and Anthony Zappone, and Benik’s Lachlan DeFrancesco to join the fight.
With one to go, Sifontes had slipped to fourth and watched as Hollingshead, Zappone, and MacDermid drove past the white flag three-wide. MacDermid had driven Zappone to the inside grass, which broke the 3-2 formation into a 2-2-1 as the top five entered turn one.
Sifontes, now into third had the inside line into turn three, but the outside line in turn four. MacDermid, now running in first, swung wide to make turn four without knowing Sifontes was there and the two collided, spinning off the track ending their day and what certainly would have been a top five for both. Hollingshead assumed the lead and somehow held on the rest of the lap ahead of a hungry trio behind him. DeFrancesco went from fifth to second on the final lap, followed by Jeremy Fairbairn (Ocala Gran Prix/Tony Kart) who had benefited greatly from the scuffle ahead of him. Zappone finished one position off the podium, a mere four-tenths of a second behind his winning teammate.
Benik Remains Atop Mini
After an incredible 2015 in not only the ROK Cup Florida Championship, but throughout North America, Benik Kart remained the powerhouse in Mini last weekend. Last season’s championship runner-up, Reece Gold, looked to have the Mini ROK package figured out, winning pole position, all three heats, and the Pre-Final. A flat tire disrupted all of that in the Final, but the Floridian and title favorite still managed to run the entire 15-lap race to finish 14th.
When one Benik fell, another picked up the slack. Gold’s teammates Tyler Maxson and James Egozi finished one-two, but a starting violation dropped Mason to third, giving the win to young Egozi. Given Gold’s one-point finish in the final, the points championship should be very tight heading into round two.
Norberg and Kirkwood Set the Mark in Seniors
Championship favorites in the two Senior categories did not disappoint. Both Ryan Norberg (Orlando Kart Center/Tony Kart) and Kyle Kirkwood (Ocala Gran Prix/Tony Kart) took care of business in uncomplicated fashion.
Norberg, more so than Kirkwood, had his category on lockdown. The reigning champion in Senior ROK came out of the gates three-tenths quicker than AJ Myers (iKart) in Saturday’s qualifying, and remained three to five-tenths quicker than everyone else all weekend. As the only driver to get into the 56-second bracket (on multiple occasions), the Florida kid made it look effortless all weekend.
Kirkwood had his hands a little more full than Norberg with his own teammate, Austin Garrison. Garrison picked up a heat race win, but just didn’t have a consistent enough pace to pressure his fellow member of OGP. Garrison could match every bit of Kirkwood’s lap times except for the opening laps where it appeared “Woody” would gain the majority of his advantage.
We now head to Ocala, Florida in mid-April for round two and look forward to seeing the points championships start to take shape.