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What We Learned: SKUSA SuperNationals XIX

Build Us Up Buttercup Baby, Just To Let Us Down, Carlton's triumph, interviews, and our weekend recap video

The 19th edition of the biggest kart race in the world, the SKUSA SuperNationals is in the books. 491 drivers took part in the event, but only nine were crowned SuperNats champions. With the past few years being riddled with cold and rainy weather this year's action was blessed with nearly perfect weather all weekend long. A week in Vegas is a long time for anyone and this is what we learned the week of November 16-22.

For full race reports, photos, results, and our daily studio videos visit our On Location page presented by Praga North America.

Build Us Up Buttercup Baby, Just To Let Us Down

Although risks are always going to be the driving force of advancing a sport, this particular course of direction was definitely not the winning line.  Between a dramatic shift in venues, set up, and the track, some of that relentless winning formula that has been so successful for SKUSA was admittedly lost to most participants that were involved. For a sport that has been worldly known for stripping down to the basics of the passion and art of driving, has the SuperNats been blinded by the shimmering lights of Las Vegas?

This year’s circuit was most definitely “technical,” as in narrow, tight, and bumpy. Turn one was tighter and narrower than the past decade and start finish was right when most people were going to the brakes. There was a lot of talk about controlling the speed into turn one with that and being stricter with punch off cones, which lasted until the first start of the first TaG Junior heat race. Repeatedly starts were given the green light even though the front row started accelerating 100 yards before the punch off cones.  This all came to a head in the TaG Senior Heat 3 A vs. B when after a few failed starts the race director red flagged the start and pointed out at least four drivers in the middle of the field that would be moved to the rear of the field. It can honestly be said, this has never been seen before, especially not at an internationally held event. In the drivers meeting officials spoke in spades about penalties for drivers making contact into turn one; however contact was frequent and comments about it sparse, penalties being non-existent.

For the 20th edition there are some great opportunities to improve this already great event with so much history. A wider, less bumpy track is something all drivers would praise along with better starting procedures. Now that the series knows where all the bumps are they can create a new track design that works its way around the bumps and allows for a few more passing opportunities.

The Dark Horse Wins

The best race of the weekend was undeniably the TaG Senior final, which was an epic battle that at one point involved nine drivers all vying for the win. Going into the final, the main favorites were David Sera, Logan Sargeant, Marco Maestranzi, and Stepanova Nekeel. On the outside the main dark horse was championship contender Louie Pagano who was always at the front with fastest laps; however this weekend, he had only one top result with a second in heat one. Starting from the 7th position Pagano was in great position to challenge for the win; this kid was on a mission and made power move after power move to make it up to lead. He was not the fastest kart on track, but he out classed some of the best drivers we have seen at the SuperNats the past few years including Sera and Maestranzi. The battle between these two and Sargeant at the end allowed Pagano a small gap that he was able to keep to take home the biggest victory of his career.

Not only did Louie Pagano win the Pro Tour title, but 2Wild Karting and Tru Tech Racing Engines won the championship for the second straight year with two different drivers. When we asked Pagano if he would be returning in 2016 to defend his title he replied that he wasn’t positive. The question facing next season: Will 2Wild Karting challenge for a three peat with a third driver, or will Pagano come back to achieve the yet unattainable back-to-back win?

Carlton’s Triumph

PSL Karting and BirelART’s Jordon Lennox-Lamb qualified pole and won all three-heat races in the premier KZ category. With that being said, all eyes were on American driver Gary Carlton. Since his win in 2006, Carlton has not had luck on his side in Vegas, and the past few seasons in Europe have not been the top of his career. In just his second race with Formula K, Carlton was fast out of the box leading multiple sessions.

After qualifying in third position the Californian finished second in the first two heat races, and in heat three he was involved in an incident at the start that took him out of the race and possibly out of the event. After being viewed by medical Carlton was cleared to race with a minor physical injury to his hand, but the pain was not so minor. Just like Pagano, Carlton started in the 7th position. After getting off to a good start the Formula K driver worked his quickly made work of drivers in his way of accomplishing his goal. As soon as Carlton found himself in second, it seemed inevitable that he would run down Orcic. Seven laps later that's exactly what happened, making a huge move into the corner in front of the VIP tower. Orcic was moved wide and that allowed Hajek through as well. Carlton and Hajek weren't able to shake Orcic, however, but in the end there was nothing the Mach1 driver could do to spoil the Formula K 1-2 finish. 

After crossing the line, Carlton displayed an array of emotion as he stood in front of the on-looking crowd. You could hear his exuberating excitement through his helmet and through the cheers of the crowd.

Perfection is Achievable

Unlike most of this season the S1 category was stacked with talent with old faces returning and multiple European drivers entered in the category. From Thursday on it was the Danny Formal Show. The Costa Rican driver was literally untouched in eight on track sessions. The DRT Racing DR Kart driver took pole by over 3 tenths of a second a won every session on track controlling each heat. In the final he took his SRS powered kart to victory by 3.718 seconds over Gary Carlton and David Fore. 

Small Teams, Big Results

One theme at this year's SuperNats and Pro Tour were some big results for small teams and manufacturers. Take the premier category TaG Senior with Louie Pagano winning the race and the Pro Tour title with 2Wild Karting. The California based team keeps puting up big results with its 3-4 drivers they run during the season. Keep with the California based squads you have Nash Motorsportz and PKS. Nash Motorsportz had Christian Brooks, Brenden Baker, Dante Yu, Jak Crawford, Rob Logan, and Darren Elliott all fighting for podium results and accomplishing a few. PKS has always had a nack for the cadet categories and this continues to stay true with Oliver Calvo and Tomas Mejia fighting for the win. Calvo led most of the event until contact in the final corner and failed to finish while Mejia finished in second position.

Switching to the manufacturers, Benik Kart continues to impress. With more than 20 drivers in the cadet field, they were the largest manufacturer represented in the category. They also took home the win with Jonny Edgar and the championship with Lachlan Defrancesco. Cap that off with two more drivers on the podium with Anthony Willis in fourth and Tyler Maxson in fifth. Mach1, the German kart make made its return to the US with a great effort. John Norris and Phillip Orcic were always at the front and Orcic finished third in the final. In Junior, Cameron Boedler showed some speed and finished 15th in the final. Lastly, you have Merlin, which is run by Franklin Motorsports. They nearly won everything this year in TaG Junior, including the Pro Tour championship with Brandon Lemke. First year junior driver Alex Bertagnoli had a break out event winning a heat race in Junior and finishing fifth in the final. In Cadet, Sam Mayer looked to have the pace to challenge for the win, but locked up the brakes at the start spinning himself out. After falling to last he worked his way back to 16th, setting some of the fastest laps of the race.