Successful Opening Act in the wet for the 2015 California ProKart Challenge Program
Published: Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
The 2015 season began for the California ProKart Challenge, the flagship regional program of Superkarts! USA, under changing conditions at the Buttonwillow Raceway Park over February 6-7. Now entering its 11th year, the six-round championship series welcomed sunny skies for practice day, then was hit by cooler temperatures and rain falling from the clouds that surrounded the 7/10-mile course on race day. A revised class structure welcomed 159 entries over the now 11 categories offered this season, including a record 42 TaG Cadet/Cadet Rookie drivers. For many drivers, Saturday’s victory was their first in the series – or at least a first in their new category – as the chase for a piece of the $75,000 prize package in 2015 begins.
Among the first time winners was in the Phil Giebler Racing TaG Senior division, with NorCal driver Sonny Cervelli scoring the victory. 2014 SKUSA Pro Tour champion Jake Craig was there to debut his SKUSA #1 plate in style, earning the fast lap in qualifying. Cervelli and Mason Marotta made up the top three. Craig led every lap of the shortened seven-lap Heat #1 race, with Marotta up to second as Cervelli fell to fourth. The second heat race was decided between Marotta and Cervelli, as Craig suffered a mechanical issue on the opening lap. Cervelli ended up securing the lead on the final lap for the win. The Final race was shortened to just 10 laps to beat a setting sun, with Cervelli pacing the entire way. Stepanova Nekeel, who started third, was into second and kept the pressure on the race as the Washington driver scored the runner-up position. The fight for the last step on the podium went down to the final lap, with Marotta able to steal the spot from veteran Matt Johnson while Craig came from the back of the 23-kart field to finish an astonishing fifth place.
It was a record day in the Leading Edge Motorsports TaG Cadet category, welcoming 42 drivers to Buttonwillow, all competing with the IAME Mini Swift engine that has been implemented for 2015. The driver that came away from the battle with the victory was Arizona’s Anthony Willis. Ryan Schartau came away with the fast time of the two qualifying sessions around the wet track, with many in the field competing on rain tires for the first time. Schartau led for three laps in Heat #1 until a charging Dominic Gorden took over and led the remaining seven laps for the win. Gorden lost his chance in the second heat, unable to complete the opening lap due to a mechanical issue that took him out of the race. That allowed Schartau and Willis to fight for the win. Willis secured the position late, scoring the win as Tomas Mejia slid into second on the final few circuits to push Schartau to third. A suddenly sunny sky misguided a few Cadets onto slick tires too early, as the main event saw quite a few karts spin out of contention. Schartau fought back from his finish in the second heat to begin the Final, leading the first few circuits of the eight-lap race. Willis took over and drove his way to his first series victory. Mejia dropped Schartau to third, with Jalen Mack and Colin Queen completing the top-five. Nineteen of the drivers were placed in the TaG Cadet Rookie division for the event, as Dustin Salaverria earned the race win over Cole Shade and Marcus Rodriguez. With the challenging race conditions at Buttonwillow, California PKC is considering the list of Rookies ‘tentative’ until dry conditions at Round Two will help to finalize them for the rest of the season.
Jarred Campbell made his debut in the headline Vemme Kart/Extreme Karting S1 Pro Stock Moto class a memorable one, finishing the day at the top of the podium. Campbell, in his first race after moving up from S2, started the day fourth in qualifying, lined up behind veteran driver Cody Hodgson who scored the fast lap in the wet session. He was a full 1.4 seconds quicker than defending champion Billy Musgrave, with S1 rookie Kolton Griffin in third. Hodgson drove away to an 11-second win in the opening heat race, as Campbell climbed up to second. The two fought for the top spot in the second heat race, with Campbell leading a few circuits before Hodgson locked up the win. Ryon Beachner closed the gap on the two in the second heat, and attacked early in the main event. Beachner led the opening two circuits before debris on the track locked up a brake rotor. That sent him off course and put Hodgson at the point, but only for two laps before he dropped a wheel into the mud, causing Campbell to take the spot away. Campbell kept it consistent, while Hodgson came under fire from Musgrave. At the checkered flag, Campbell scored the victory by just over five seconds. Hodgson fought off Musgrave for second, as the defending champ finished a lap down with a flat tire. That put Griffin on the podium in his first S1 main event, with Matias Podboj and Peter Abba completing the top-five.
New for 2015 is the creation of the 2Wild Karting S4 Super Master Stock Moto division, running in conjunction with the SwedeTech Racing Engines S4 Master Stock Moto category. The new class separates the drivers 45 years of age and older into a class within a class scenario, and 12 drivers took part in the inaugural edition. The 15-driver S4 class was swept by defending series champion Darren Elliott. The veteran was at the top of the results sheet for every session. The 15-lap main event put Elliott up against 2014 Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix winner Rob Logan. Logan led the majority of the race until he dropped a tire in turn one with four laps remaining – where Elliott took over the spot and scored the victory. Logan settled for second, with former Pro Tour champion Jimmy McNeil in the third spot. Justin Bennett was fourth with Mike Mantel fifth. Ken Schilling nearly made it a sweep in the new Super Master class, coming out on top after qualifying and the two heat races. A spin took him out of contention for the win in the main event, allowing returning driver Phil Dunford to take over the point and score the inaugural victory. Kalvin Chen and Darrell Tunnell completed the podium, with Schilling hanging on for fourth.
The Professional Kart Support S3 Novice Stock Moto division continues its growth at the regional level, bringing in new drivers to the six-speed world of shifterkart racing. This weekend under challenging conditions, a number of drivers were at the front, with Aaron Schmitt coming out on top. Qualifying was paced by S3 rookie Ethan McDade, before Junior graduate Enzo Prevost scored the win in Heat #1. Prevost was out after two laps in Heat #2, as returning S3 driver Matthew O’Donnell led the way at the checkered flag. O’Donnell would see his hopes of victory wash away at the start of the race when he could not get his powerplant started in time. After 15 laps, it was Schmitt in the first position scoring the victory. Robert Heck Jr. finished second, with Cory Ormonde in third.
Anthony Freese locked up the fast time in the Sanner Racing S5 Junior Stock Moto qualifying, but his run at the front did not make it past the opening lap of Heat #1. That allowed Noah Grey, making his first S5 start at the California PKC program, to take the race win over Callum Smith. Grey suffered an off-track excursion during the opening lap of Heat #2, leaving Smith alone out front for the win. Leading all 15 laps of the main event, Smith secured his first series victory. Hunter Kelly crossed the line second with Josh Early third, both in their S5 debut. Unfortunately, Kelly would fall to fourth in the finishing order due to an on-track penalty. This would move Dylan Roberts onto the podium in third next to Smith and Early.
2014 Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix scholarship winner Carter Williams battled tough throughout his rookie season as a Senior driver. His second season could not have started out any better, as Williams won the opening round in the Ryan Perry Motorsport S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto class. In the combined S1/S2 group, Williams was second overall in qualifying, beating out a number of top drivers in the timed session. Williams held his own against the S1 drivers, placing third overall in the opening heat and winning in class. Trouble struck in the second heat, as Williams retired after two laps with a mechanical issue. Returning driver Don Whittington was able to fight off Matt Koerner for the race win. Williams fought back in the main event, coming from the back of the S1/S2 group. By lap eight, Williams regained the lead in the S2 field, pacing the class for the remainder of the 15-lap race to score the victory while placing third overall. Whittington finished runner-up in his return to California from Florida, with Jack Freese landing his first S2 podium over Koerner.
Oregon driver Sting Ray Robb made a return to the California PKC program after a two year absence, with the 2013 SKUSA Pro Tour TaG Cadet championship podium finisher now into his second season as a Junior driver. Robb was able to beat out the competitive 17-driver field in the Nash Motorsportz TaG Junior category this weekend. The class was the only category to record official laps on a dry track before the rain moved in, with last year’s S5 Junior California PKC champion Nicky Hays edging out Dante Yu and Ethan Barrett for the pole position in qualifying. Hays slipped back at the start of the wet opening heat race, and Jake Drew went on to win the 10-lap race. The battle for the lead in the second heat was hotly contested, with rookie Trey Brown coming out as the winner just ahead of Robb. Leading all but the opening lap of the main event, Robb drove away to a near eight-second victory. Brown drove to second to land on the podium in his Junior debut weekend, with Colby DuBato third, also earning a first podium result. Eric Nascimento Jr. and Hays capped off the top-five.
The Mike Manning Karting TaG Master field welcomed a new driver to the club, Carlos Calderon, as the NorCal pilot made his class debut a victorious one, surviving the harsh conditions. Vatche Tatikian set the pace throughout the day, posting fast lap in qualifying while going wire-to-wire in both heat races. Tatikian led the first half of the main event until he slipped up, dropping him out of the top-five. That gave Brian Phillipsen the lead with Calderon in second. Carlos took over the lead on lap nine of the 11-lap race. Phillipsen tried one last time on the final circuit, making slight contact with Calderon and going off track. With a deflating left front tire, Calderon held on to score the victory. Phillipsen was unable to make it around on the final circuit, promoting 2014 Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix winner Kevin Manning to second. Tatikian climbed back to finish third over Tom Gerstner and Rob Brackett.
The second stop of the California ProKart Challenge program is set for March 6-7 at the Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond – where the winners from Round 1 will also be presented with their trophies. For more info on anything related to Superkarts! USA, please visit the website – www.superkartsusa.com – or call the SKUSA head office at 951-491-0808.