With the first round ROK Cup weekend of the Florida Winter Tour finished, we now look to the opening round of MAXSpeed’s flagship product, Rotax and the Rotax MAX Challenge. We’ll be bringing you live coverage all weekend from Homestead, Florida as soon as the opening qualifying run hits the circuit on Friday afternoon. Until then, let's take a look at the storylines we're paying attention to.
On the same weekend as the new President of the United States is inaugurated, series promoter MAXSpeed too has an inauguration of their own. The stateside debut of the improved Rotax cylinder in Junior, Mini, and Micro along with the debut of the new MAX One by Vega tire has the industry waiting to see how they perform in real competition settings.
From everything we've seen and read from testing, these new additions to the MAXSpeed product line should be well received. Both changes were a long time coming, but time will tell if they can save the dwindling numbers in the Rotax categories around the country.
Is this Keel’s year?
The largest class of the weekend will be Junior MAX win 34 drivers. The highest returning driver from last years FWT Junior MAX championship will be Vice Champion and Andersen Racing’s Aiden Keel. Always a consistent finisher, he’ll have as good of chance at the championship as any. His closest rival will likely be Speed Concepts Racing’s Tyler Gonzalez.Gonzalez is the rising star in Junior categories around the country and will be in for a long battle with Keel until the final race in Ocala in March.
Ryan MacDermid returns this weekend after a disappointing weekend last week in ROK competition. The Canadian threw it down in Homestead last year at the opening Rotax round taking the pole and the win in Junior. With redemption on his mind from last weekend and his past experience on this circuit, the PSL Karting/BirelART driver has our attention. Beyond that is the super talented young girl in Hannah Greenmeier. The Colorado star for Rolison Performance Group has had great moments in Rotax and looks to make the next step in her progression, and a championship would help her get there.
Others to watch will be Yuven Sundaramoorthy, the US Open of Las Vegas pole sitter in Junior, along with Eduardo Barrichello -- who dominated Junior ROK last week -- and Arias Duekmedjian.
Who is the favorite in DD2?
In a category that typically does not draw big numbers around the country, the Florida Winter Tour has attracted some incredible talent in DD2 over the years. This years edition will have a handful of professional drivers, both in cars and karts. DTM Mercedes driver and Rotax regular, Robert Wickens, returns to drive for his brother Trevor‘s Prime Powerteam, donning the new BirelART colors. Fellow Mercedes DTM driver, Lucas Auer, will also be behind the wheel this weekend. Rubens Barrichello will be seated in his OGP Tony Kart as we’re all accustomed to and will be right in the mix for the win.
Karting regulars typically outshine the car drivers based on seat time and this weekend we'll see some great ones in DD2. Gary Carlton comes off a win last weekend here in ROK Shifter and now hops in next to a power plant he's not terribly experienced with. His hustle behind the wheel should help make up any difference as he straps into his familiar Formula K. Two Canadians here this weekend who have made big names for themselves in karts are Zachary Claman Demelo and Jeff Kingsley. We expect nothing short of top five karts from them and we should see them fighting for the win on Sunday.
Short, stacked Senior
Senior MAX will hover around the 20 entries mark this weekend, a number lower than we’re accustomed to. However, there's a great mix of east coast and west coast talent. Ryan Norberg (PSL Karting/BirelART) and Austin Garrison (Compkart) will lead the charge for the east coast and are the two heavy favorites for the win on Sunday.
Brendan Baker (CRG) and rookie Dante Yu (Compkart) will bring the west coast flavor with the latter making his first start in the Senior category after a very successful in Juniors last year. Baker will once again compete under the re-energized CRG Nordam stable. CRG had one I'd the greatest years in manufacturer history last year winning the world's largest races from Vegas to Bahrain with factory drivers. However, their results stateside would not match that of their factory teams, but it's a new year and CRG Nordam has put their opening season in the rear-view mirror and are looking forward.
Under everyone's radar will be Compkart driver Max Hewitt. The Texan has grown exponentially under the tutelage of the fluo yellow brand and has ran rather well in recent Rotax events. A win would certainly surprise even us, but to have his place on the podium would not. Another of the sleepers is Junior formula car stud, Trenton Estep (Tony Kart). We witnessed in Las Vegas in November the past US Open Junior champ hadn't lost his touch in the kart.
Editors note: We mistakenly wrote Hannah Greenmeier was from the northwest, when in fact she's from the great state of Colorado.