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What to watch for: FWT 2017 Homestead ROK Cup

Senior Shifter will be must watch karting this weekend in Florida.

The start of the 2017 edition of the Florida Winter Tour will be the epicenter of karting in North America this weekend in Homestead, Florida. The event has passed the 190 drivers-mark and is closing on 200 in seven categories, competing in a CIK format consisting of qualifying, three heat races, pre-final, and final.

What began in the late 90’s as a regional event for Florida drivers to gather during the winter months soon turned into an International affair during most of the opening decade of this century. Formula Kart Productions, ran by Bill Wright, led the way in the early years of the series, choosing to expand the format to two weekends soon after to accommodate both TaG and Rotax drivers separately. The format peaked in the latter part of the last decade as numbers ballooned over 400 entries total for both weekends. With dwindling numbers during a poor economy and karting trying to find its identity, MAXSpeed Entertainment purchased the series in 2014 to bring back the energy and professionalism it had lost.

Fast forward to this weekend for the third year the Florida Winter Tour has been under the MAXSpeed umbrella. One of the first changes MAXSpeed implemented after the acquisition was the change to the Vortex ROK powerplants in the place of TaG for the first weekend, as the multi-engine format was beginning to struggle around the country.

The Vortex ROK engine formats have expanded annually on the eastern-side of the country, and so has the first weekend of the Florida Winter Tour. We will have many of the country's best drivers on hand, including the strongest ROK Shifter Senior field we’ve seen at any time in this country. Mini ROK and Junior ROK have both exceeded entries needed for a full field and will have Last Chance Qualifiers Saturday night to trim the field down.

Kart360 will have a live presence in Homestead with our On Location reporter, Nick Leone. Our On Location page will be the main hub for all results, photos, videos, and news. MAXSpeed will also provide a live stream of the event that you can watch on their Live page or on our event page here on Kart360.com.

Studs in Shifter ROK Senior

We’re staring sharply at the most talented shifter kart field in North America this decade, outside of KZ2 at the SuperNationals which draws a dozen factory drivers. The main factory driver this weekend will be IPKarting Formula K driver, and American, Gary Carlton (Formula K). It was two weeks ago when we announced his participation in the series, the first full-American series schedule in nine years for the current Italian resident. “GFC” has been stateside for a few weeks now keeping in shape by practicing at some local tracks in California that he used to frequent in his very early days in the sport.

We can’t consider Carlton a runaway favorite this weekend because of the amount of competition around him. Right there with him will be the DR Kart ace Danny Formal (DRT USA/DR Kart), as he comes off of a career year in the premier shifter kart category in SKUSA and a huge win at the SuperNationals two months ago. After bursting back onto the national scene mid-summer last year, AJ Myers now looks ahead to his first full season with TB Kart USA. At almost every stop since joining the Florida-based operation, Myers has ran very strong and can grab one of his biggest wins of his career this weekend.

Jonathan Thonon

Former European Champion and KZ1 World Cup winner, Jonathan Thonon, returns to the states under the GP/VCI banner with teammate and New Zealander, Daniel Bray. Bray, of course, was a regular on the SKUSA Pro Tour last year and came up just short of the S1 championship behind Formal. Both will be contention and we’re anxious to see where they slot in as qualifying rolls out today.

Included in the big names of this category are Floridian and S2 SuperNationals champion, Mathias Ramirez. The young 14-year old (14!) is lightning-fast in everything he drives and there will be no surprise here if he pulls it all off. Canadian Zachary Claman-Demelo, Brazilian and former F1 star Rubens Barrichello, Professional driver Nelson Piquet, Jr., Northeast star Rory Van der Steur, and Rotax World Champion Juan Manuel Correa are just a portion of this star-studded field we haven’t mentioned yet. All eyes should be on the category this weekend.

Can anyone dethrone Norberg in Senior ROK

Much was discussed about Ryan Norberg’s 2016 season here on Kart360, his best season to date, and now he enters the new year with a new team in PSL Karting. We see no signs of any learning curve for the Floridian and will be the favorite out of the box. Compkart’s Austin Garrison slots in second in our list of favorites after a splendid season last year with the flou yellow brand. Garrison’s one weakness last year was winning when it counted and he’ll have another chance this weekend to get over that hurdle.

Brazilian Arthur Leist (Kosmic) makes the jump to Senior after a great few years in Junior. Leist is most well known for his SuperNationals win a year ago, but now enters the deep waters in Senior. Ryan Raffa pulled off an amazing run at the SuperNationals for PCR/Checkered Motorsports and could be an x-factor this weekend. Of note, Pippa Mann and Abby McLaughlin make their debuts under their new female branded Team Empower with Top Kart USA.

Over 40 entries in Junior ROK

Leading the way in entry count is the always-competitive Junior ROK. Three drivers stand out as true favorites and those are Tyler Gonzalez (Speed Racing Concepts/OTK), Nicholas d’Orlando (Compkart), and Ryan MacDermid (BirelART/PSL). All three are returning standout Junior drivers with top tier operations. Gonzalez and d’Orlando return for their sophomore seasons in Junior and we have no doubt they will put what they learned in their freshman year to good use this season, starting this weekend. MacDermid enters his third year of Junior competition and has the ability to steal the spotlight this weekend as he’s always performed well in the Sunshine State.

A flood of cadet drivers have moved up to Junior this year and look to make their mark immediately. Tyler Maxson, Benik’s stand out pilot, leads the charge for these rookies. Matheus Morgatto, Sebastian Montoya, Caleb Bacon, and Derek Carmenate also join together as the rookie class and will all have top 10 aspirations this weekend.

Final Go-Around in Mini ROK for Reece Gold

In what surely will be Reece Gold’s farewell tour in cadet competition at the Florida Winter Tour, we look to the Benik driver as the favorite. Luca Mars on the Energy chassis for Positive Motorsports is right behind and has the experience to contend and perhaps make that leap to cadet stardom, who his former teammates Gold and Maxson have accomplished.

We’ll stay with the theme of experience in this category and look to Justin Arsenaeu (PSL/Birel ART), Nicholas Terlecki (Merlin), Santiago Trisini (Benik), Carson Morgan (Benik), and James Egozi (Koene USA/Benik) for outside opportunities for the win this weekend.