We’ve returned home from the Grand Canyon State and the dust has finally settled. We saw the largest SpringNationals to date in its seven year history and the paddock was busting at the seems with competitors and excitement throughout the weekend. We saw more than our fair share of accidents on Saturday, but it calmed down on Sunday once everyone found their breath. The Championship battles are not set in stone, but they have been molded as we head to New Castle, Indiana in just over 11 weeks.
Here’s what we found to be the most important storylines from the weekend.
A little less conversation, a little more action, maybe?
Much was made of the on-track accidents by officials as time and time again they rounded up the drivers and talked to them, either at the front of the pre-grid or at the scales after a race. This isn't a new development as it has become standard practice the past few years, but as much as they talked, the penalties were nearly non-existent for rough driving or avoidable contact.
The question is: do they keep talking to the drivers or do they put another plan into action? We do know that they have some drop-down noses that they plan to test. If you pay any attention to Kart360 you already know we are in favor of this and there really shouldn’t need to be any testing. Just make the announcement now and make them mandatory in New Castle. After nearly every Junior and Senior X30 race, 75% of the nose cones were pushed in.
If they take action, either way, we're confident SKUSA can get in front of this.
Was track direction that important of a decision?
We talked a bit on Friday of how we anticipated the counter-clockwise direction to be a big factor in how racing would play out on the weekend. Every driver and team personnel member we spoke to on Friday said they were very, very skeptical of the layout and how it would play out. They emphasized very few safe passing zones and how the outside row would be in for trouble on the starts. It turned out to be quite true, as Saturday saw yellow flag, after red flag, after yellow flag come out.
SKUSA had elected to start classes on the back straight-away, which theoretically would give drivers a chance to thin out down the long straight before entering a moderately tight hairpin and then the dreaded one-lane chicane. As it turned out, the back half of the field was almost full speed into the 75-degree kink at two-wide and the hairpin stacked the field up entirely, sending them into the chicane two and three wide, causing a dust storm like you wouldn’t believe and complete chaos when the dust cleared.
After hearing some uproar from parents and teams -- and most likely coming to the conclusion themselves -- they moved the starts of single-speed categories to the short-straight in front of the pits; but not every single-speed category, just the Juniors and Cadets. This move probably did help, as the driving did calm down a bit and we saw just one red flag on Sunday which came in the final of the Mini Swift class.
Norberg and Eves make the leap to stardom
We’ll start with Florida resident, Ryan Norberg (Orlando Kart Center/Tony Kart), who dominated the weekend in the most highly anticipated class. The Orlando Karting Center pilot was able to best everyone in every session with exception of the final on Sunday where he wrecked out. We had seen his growth over the last couple of years, but this year it has ballooned to new heights. Not only did he take Kyle Kirkwood to the brink in the FWT while nobody else was remotely close, he’s been walloping the field in ROK Cup USA and now will look to do the same at USPKS New Castle in a couple of weeks.
This year, Braden Eves (Team MDD/Kosmic) entered his second year in Seniors under a new program at Team MDD. Although we’ve seen his outright speed before -- qualifying pole in a lot of large races -- he’s struggled to put together a complete weekend in larger competitions. This weekend he put it all together, placing inside the top five in all sessions. Although in Saturday’s final, he was disqualified for a missing chain guard which was his only blemish on an otherwise spectacular weekend.
With both of these drivers residing in the east, they both have significant time on the round two circuit in New Castle. They won’t miss a beat when we head there in two months.
Holden and Lemke quickly up to speed in Senior
There certainly were some hiccups, but overall Brandon Lemke (Franklin/Merlin) and Zach Holden (Koene USA/Tony Kart) had a really impressive weekend in their first Pro Tour race as Seniors. Granted, these two have run other Senior races prior to this, but certainly not to this caliber. Both were consistently in the top five and now they get to head to New Castle where they have elapsed thousands of laps which puts them in great position for their first wins in Senior.
X30 Junior contenders look clear-cut
The major players in X30 Junior made themselves known over the weekend. Dante Yu (Compkart) and Lance Fenderson (Verde Speed Resources/Tony Kart) were the main event winners on the weekend, but both had an average showing on the opposite day of their win, leaving room for the likes of Jagger Jones (RPM/Tony Kart), Oliver Calvo (PKS/Top Kart), and Jonny Edgar (Team Benik/Kosmic) to join the discussion.
Of note, Calvo made a huge run on Sunday, passing 34 karts in 32 laps from Heat 1 to the checkered of the Final, which could be a season defining moment if he’s able to win the championship in Vegas.
On the cusp of that quintet is Alex Bertagnoli (Franklin/Merlin), Nicholas d’Orlando (Koene USA/Tony Kart), Zoey Edenholm (Koene USA/Tony Kart), and Tomas Mejia (PKS/Tony Kart). All four had moments in the top five, but need to find a bit more consistency to find themselves in the thick of it.
Odd day for Juniors on Saturday
We mentioned briefly in Saturday’s recap of some of the tribulations of the X30 Junior class that day. A lot of it was on them for acting foolish on track, but some of it was not their fault. Their Heat 2 involved so many accidents that it was cut to just four laps. Because SKUSA was so far behind schedule, all categories had four laps taken off their Finals that day, but for some reason Junior had it reduced by eight laps in a last minute decision we believe.
We heard many rumors, two of them being lightning moving into the area (except SKUSA brought the next category out right away) or that the flag man made a mistake thinking it was still a heat race because of the ready-racing schedule they were facing.
Also, if you’re counting, that’s a total of 20 race laps on Saturday for the Juniors. Throw in five or six laps in qualifying and that’s a short 26 laps for an entire day.
S1 is wide open
Whether it was the drying track conditions on Saturday from earlier rain, a mechanical problem, accident, or just plain lack of pace, each driver in S1 had at least one poor result.
Danny Formal (DRT/DR Kart) had a carburetor fall off in Heat 2 on Saturday, and was only able to get to 10th in the Final. Oliver Askew (PSL Karting/BirelART) faded on Saturday by choosing rain tires, followed by a pair of DNF’s in the heats on Sunday. Daniel Bray (GP VCI Mexivo/GP Kart) too chose rain tires on Saturday that had him slip to 8th, only to resurface on Sunday with wins in a heat race and Final.
Jake French (DKC/Sodi Kart) had a pretty solid day on Saturday, finishing fourth despite choosing rain tires. He tallied a DNF in Heat 1 on Sunday, but backed up Saturday's feature with a third place on Sunday and will look to New Castle to make the move to the top. Billy Musgrave (MRC/Praga) was probably the most consistent of an inconsistent group. He showed poorly in the heats on Saturday, but after that ran a pretty steady program, winning Saturday’s Final and placing fourth on Sunday.
Benik on pace to better last year with a phenomenal start to 2016
The Florida based team came out swinging this year in both the Mini and Micro categories with 37% of the mini and micro drivers competing on a Benik chassis. That is some kind of market share. The team won all four finals and of the potential 12 podium spots, occupied nine of them. Moving into Phoenix, the question is who can disrupt this momentum that they have? Kyle Thome on his Merlin looked very strong with two podium results in Mini and Top Kart and COMPKART both have two drivers that are podium-capable.