Number of new Winners Highlight Rotax Challenge of the Americas Event in Phoenix
Published: Monday, February 23rd, 2015
A picture perfect weekend in Arizona greeted close to 100 karters during the second stop of the 2015 Rotax Challenge of the Americas program. The Phoenix Kart Racing Association in Glendale, Arizona played host to the third and fourth rounds of the six-race championship series, as racers continued the path toward winning one of the four Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals tickets up for grabs, along with the many other prizes and prestigious honors that will be decided in March. In a continuation of the Tucson weekend in January, the PKRA event welcomed a number of first time winners, and helped to chase the title contenders in all six categories.
Diversity continued at the front of the Nash Motorsportz Senior Max class, as the category welcomed two different winners in Phoenix, bringing the total to four on the season. Championship leader Christian Brooks secured his first Senior victory on Saturday, while veteran Mason Marotta notched his first since 2010. Second year driver Luke Selliken secured the pole position to begin Round Three, edging out Round Two winner Brenden Baker and Marotta. The Prefinal was a hard fought battle with Marotta coming away with the win and 10 critical points toward the championship. Baker and Brooks however partnered up and ran away from the field in the Final. Baker set the pace until his engine experienced a hiccup, allowing Brooks to close in, make a pass for the lead and secure the victory. Baker’s engine regained its power, and he held on for second. Selliken won the battle for third over Marotta and Jim McKinney. Selliken laid down a monster lap in qualifying on Sunday, earning another five points toward his championship hunt. Marotta got the early jump on the younger Selliken, and led all 17 laps of the Prefinal as they fought for second place. While Marotta held the lead for the majority of the Final, the lead pack saw eight drivers together until contact in consecutive laps dropped potential winners down the order or off the track. This gave Marotta a clear path to the top of the podium, with Selliken second and Brooks in third. Returning driver Gustavo Menezes - a 2015 FIA Formula 3 European driver - drove to fourth, stealing the five bonus points for fast lap of the race while Josh Kurtz recorded his first top-five result.
The title chase in the Cambrian Go-Karts Masters Max division tightened up as the top two contenders - Paul Bonilla and John Crow - split the victories on the weekend. Bonilla, a double winner at the Tucson event, was able to get the better of Crow on Saturday. Crow set the pace in qualifying and came away with the win in the Prefinal. Bonilla took away the lead on lap six of the 25-lap race, going on to earn his third straight victory. Crow settled for second over former series champion Scott Falcone, 2014 US Rotax Grand Nationals champion Ken Maxfield, and John Breidinger rounded out the top five. Crow bounced back the following day to sweep the action, earning maximum points to close the gap on Bonilla’s point lead. After securing fast time late in the qualifying session once again, Crow went on to win the Prefinal, taking away the top spot from Bonilla with just two laps remaining. It was a wire-to-wire victory for Crow in the Final, as Bonilla ran a close second. Falcone ran third with Maxfield fourth and Canadian Christopher Patterson in fifth.
Two drivers remain the ones to beat in the Rolison Performance Group Junior Max category - with Nick Brueckner and Sting Ray Robb splitting the victories once again. Brueckner swept the action on Saturday to help add to his championship lead. Brueckner was fast driver in qualifying, led all 17 laps of the Prefinal, and went green-to-checkered in the Final for his second victory of the season. Robb came from the rear of the field in the Prefinal after a chassis change just before qualifying to end up third. In the Final, he worked his way past Trey Brown for second spot, as Matthew Taskinen and Toni Breidinger completed the top-five. Sunday was all Sting Ray, as the second year Junior driver swept the action from qualifying to the Final. Brueckner gave chase, after placing third in the Prefinal to Brown, and stole the fast lap of the Final to gain five bonus points. Brown - a Junior Max rookie - finished on the podium for the third straight weekend. Michael Michoff and David Ilavia crossed the line fourth and fifth. Robb was also announced during the weekend as one of two American drivers to compete at the CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy in Europe this season.
It remains a three driver chase for the CRG-USA DD2 title with last year’s vice-champion Sabré Cook gaining her second victory of the season, while veteran Matt Jaskol won his first series feature. Cook scored near maximum points, missing out on the Prefinal win after securing the fast time in qualifying. Round Two winner Michael Ilavia stole the race with a last lap pass, earning the pole position for the main event. The top three ran nose to tail, until Cook ended up pulling away at the end for the victory over Ilavia and Jaskol. Sunday was Jaskol’s from the beginning. Setting fast time in qualifying, he led the field to the green flag in the Prefinal. Contact between he and Cook sent them off into the dirt, with Jaskol retiring. That fueled the fire in the veteran, as he stormed back to reclaim the top spot in the Final, earning the victory. Cook ran second while Ilavia, who was credited for the win in the Prefinal, finished third. Ben Schermerhorn finished fourth both days.
Just like the Senior Max division, the PSL West Mini Max class welcomed two more winners on the year to make it four different drivers on top of the podium in four races. Canadian Marco Kacic and Utah driver Payton Durrant each won their first class victory of the series. Durrant - the 2013 Micro Max series champion - was the top driver in qualifying for Saturday, and fought for the Prefinal win with Round Two winner Sebastian Alvarez. At the line, Alvarez took the win and set the pace in the Final. Kacic was able to track him down toward the end. On the final lap, Kacic made a strong move in turn 11, coming out with the lead and his first victory. Mini Max rookie Jak Crawford followed him through to steal second from Alvarez. Durrant and Austin Torgerson completed the top-five. Alvarez began Sunday strong, stealing the fast time in qualifying as the checkered flag waved and went on to win the Prefinal. In the Final, Sebastian was under attack by Round One winner Griffin Dowler. While the two fought for the lead, contact was made and they fell down the order having went off into the gravel. This allowed Durrant to slip through to assume the lead, and consistent laps kept him at the point when the checkered flag waved. Crawford earned his third podium of the year with another runner-up result, while Torgerson placed third ahead of Kacic and Hannah Greenemeier.
Only two drivers have stood on top of the podium in the Motorsports Development Group Micro Max division the last two seasons. Last year’s champion Jak Crawford won all six feature races, and through two events in 2015, Diego LaRoque as matched that performance. Racing at his home track, it was a sweep of the on-track action over the two days for racing. LaRoque drove to a 2.7-second triumph on Saturday, joined by Leland Honeyman - recording fast lap of race - and Cole Keith Cotham on the podium while Anthony Willis and Josh Pierson completed the top-five. Sunday was a fight for the win with Honeyman as LaRoque reached the finish line two tenths in front. Pierson won the battle for third over Cotham and Tyler Ruth, who was also credited for the fast lap.
The complete recap of the Phoenix weekend will be available in a digital magazine, set to be released on February 24 and available on the Rotax Challenge of the Americas website. The 2015 series finale will take competitors to the Napa Valley in northern California to compete on the Simraceway Performance Karting Center in Sonoma on March 13-15. For more, visit rotaxchallenge.com to register and review more information on Round Five and Six.