Once again the SKUSA Pro Tour kicks off at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association circuit and this season the series has switched it up by running the circuit in the opposite direction. For many drivers this will not change a thing, but for new comers to the series this will level the playing field slightly as drivers from previous years will have less data to work from.
High temps are expected throughout the week and with karts on track starting at noon on Thursday we can expect very high grip conditions come race time. This means the driver’s fitness will play a big roll and could hurt some of the drivers that have not been racing since the SuperNationals last November.
This season eight classes are scheduled to hit the track with the addition of the new Micro Swift category for ages 7-10. There were mixed feelings on adding this category to the Pro Tour, but in the end the parents and the series agreed to add the category. Also changing is that all TaG categories are now exclusively X30, which has helped the series grow in 2016.
For the first time Kart360 will be On Location for the entire Pro Tour Championship and we are excited to bring our expanded coverage to what is considered the largest national series in North America. Not only will Kart360 be covering every category, but we will be going further in-depth with the three main categories, X30 Senior, S1, and X30 Junior. Be sure to follow us on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all with the handle Kart360. We will be using Snapchat each day with a different individual/team to tell their story of their race day, but our On Location page will be the hub for the latest news, results, photos, videos, and more throughout the weekend.
The Champ is Back
Last season Louie Pagano had a career season not only winning the SKUSA SuperNationals, but also the Pro Tour title in TaG Senior. During the offseason the 2Wild Karting driver has focused on growing his coaching business and talked about hanging up his helmet. After talks with 2Wild team manager Ryon Beachner, the two have agreed to try to defend their title. Pagano has been testing the last few months, but has yet to race so we will see if this affects him this weekend.
Behind him there is a long list of drivers that want to dethrone both 2Wild and Pagano. Kyle Kirkwood (PSL Karting/Birel ART), Brandon Jarsocrak (Kartsport NA/Praga), Ryan Norberg (Orlando Kart Center/Tony Kart), Andre Nicastro (NF Sport/ItalKart), and Jake Craig (Praga North America) will be the main threats. These five drivers have been some of the most impressive over the past several years with multiple race wins and championships. The most interesting story though is that of Kyle Kirkwood. The Floridian is making his debut with PSL Karting and Birel ART and it will be very interesting to see how quickly he will adapt to the new material.
The list of drivers doesn’t stop there. Nash Motorsportz has almost entirely switched over to CRG and Christian Brooks has looked very strong in the California regional series this Winter. Joining him in this switch is Brenden Baker who had a breakout season last year consistently running at the front in the Pro Tour. Add in Stepanova Nekeel (RPM/Tony Kart), Luke Selliken (RPG/Kosmic), Matteo Vigano (Top Kart USA), and Elliot Finlayson (Koene USA/Tony Kart) and you are now up to twelve drivers that are legitimate podium contenders.
We must not forget the rookies making their Pro Tour Senior debuts. The biggest name is definitely that of Brandon Lemke (Franklin Motorsports/Merlin). The Merlin driver has moved up after winning the 2015 Junior title and has been impressive in his first few races thus far. He swept round one last year in Phoenix so expect him to be fast out of the gate. In addidtion, we have an eye on are Zach Holden (Koene USA/Tony Kart) who had a hell of a run in Vegast last year in Junior and 2015 California Pro Kart Junior Champion Nicky Hays. The Phil Giebler/Ricciardo Kart driver has been very fast so far this season, but has yet to be able to seal a win. A win would surely come as a surprise this weekend, but we do expect him to challenge for a podium result.
S1 back at full strength
It’s safe to say that S1 -- SKUSA’s premier shifter division -- had a down year last year. The competition level remained fairly high with guys like Rick Dreezen, Patrik Hajek, Billy Musgrave, and Fritz Leesmann, but with a dearth of rows on the starting grid, it looked lifeless.
Although the European factory pilots will not be in attendance this year, the competition level remains just as high, but this time the field size is up 50% and still growing. With reigning champion Dreezen away from the States this year, Billy Musgrave (MRC / Praga) will be the highest returning driver in the championship after his runner-up campaign. With track time aplenty so far in 2016, the MRC ace seems hungrier than ever to earn his place among the best after three years of falling short in S1.
Coming in to defend the championship that PSL Karting earned with Dreezen will be American factory driver, Oliver Askew. Although not in shifter karts as often as his single speed categories, the established Floridian front-runner is among the favorites, if not the leading favorite.
Another immensely talented driver making the case for season favorite is SuperNationals XIX winner, Danny Formal. The Costa Rica resident came in to Vegas last year and laid it on the Pro Tour regulars and this year has confirmed he will run the entire championship.
You’ll want to keep an eye on former factory DR Karting ace, Riccardo Negro. He makes the trip over from Italy with Vemme Kart and brings with him a healthy KZ and KZ2 resume in European competition over the last five years. That experience, combined with the up and coming Vemme Kart, could equate to a spoiler role.
Joining these talents are capable drivers like Nick Neri (Champion Racing/Intrepid) who earned a big win last weekend in NOLA at the US Open in his first weekend with Champion Racing; Jake French (Dallas Karting Complex/Sodi Kart) who is nearly always at the front of a stock honda category; and Kolton Griffin (Pure Karting/Tony Kart) will use home-course advantage to start his second year of S1. Missing from the pre-entry list is Jarred Campbell who recently switched from Praga to Intrepid. Though he is not on the pre-entry list, we do expect to see him on grid.
Who is the new star in Junior?
In 2016, a majority of the top Junior drivers have moved up to the senior category, which has opened the door for new drivers to shine. Just like in X30 Senior, this will be the first time the best from the East and the West will meet and we have a lot of questions on how everyone stacks up. In the West, Oliver Calvo (PKS/Top Kart) and Dante Yu (COMPKART) have looked to be two of the strongest both with a win each in the California Pro Kart Challenge. Trey Brown and Ryan Schartau have also been fast, but both drivers do not seem to be fully up to their potential yet on their new CRG rides. Then you have Jagger Jones, who is fresh off an outstanding performance at the CIK European Championship in Essay. The Ryan Perry Motorsports driver will hopefully use this momentum to get his first win of the season. A surprise this weekend may be Zoey Edenholm. The Arizona driver knows this track well and already has one win under her belt. She will be racing with Koene USA and will be quick out of the box.
For the past few years the East seemed to be the stronger group of drivers, but 2016 may be a bit different with the east having more first-time junior drivers than the west. Leading this group is Verde Speed Resource/Patrick Karting driver Lance Fenderson. He has racked up a few wins on his side of the country so far this year and looks very comfortable in his Tony Kart. One driver that is missing will be Michael d’Orlando. He will be focusing on his European OKJ campaign, but his younger brother Nicholas d’Orlando will be racing with his familiar Koene USA team. Nicholas continues to improve race after race and will be a podium contender.
A few other drivers that have looked strong thus far are Alex Bertagnoli (Merlin), Pauly Massimino (Top Kart USA), and Sam Mayer (Merlin).