Today saw the official start to the event program at the highly anticipated ROTAX US Grand Nationals / US Open 2018 at the New Jersey Motorsports Park, where day 1 of the racing definitely delivered. Sporting an entry list of 120 drivers across the ROTAX Max categories, the overall expectations of the newly introduced lottery engine format provided some excellent close competition in each of the contested classes Friday.
Showers dampened the first of the official practice sessions, but the threat of more rain gradually disappeared as the day unfolded. ROTAX Senior Max got the proceedings underway running on the new MOJO D5 regulation tire for the first time ever in the USA, beginning with qualifying immediately after the lunch break. It was 17 year-old British driver Bradley Barrett (Koene/Tonykart) who posted the fastest lap of 1:07.465 in Timed Qualifying by a mere 0.005 seconds over Samuel Lupien and Hannah Greenmeier in P3, then backed-up to confirm his front row positon by winning the Super Pole showdown of the quickest six drivers, with a 1:07-527. Continuing his momentum through Heat 1 of seniors, the number 323 kart of the young Englishman won the intense battle for victory after the lead swapped momentarily during the 10-lapper. Barrett played it smart to maintain first place amidst the nail-biting fight between nearest rivals Mathais Ramirez-Barrero and race pace-setter Samuel Lupien (1:07.305).
Second group onto the grid Friday was the ROTAX Mini Max category, which was eventually topped by three different American drivers in the consecutive sessions. While #44 Jack Jeffers posted the best lap of 1:13.027 during the 10-minute Timed Qualifying just over two-tenths faster than James Egozi and Felipe Bernasconi, it would be the former World number 1 Diego Laroque who stole the show in his Energy chassis in the Super Pole with a 1:13.050. However, Heat 1 proved to be a more difficult feat for the accomplished 12-year old from Phoenix, who lost the leading advantage he had fought so hard for to be the quickest on track as well (1:12.770), when the team Koene/Tonykart of Egozi claimed the race honours ahead of Laroque in the deciding lap, to run away with the win. Karsten Defonce took P3.
Local driver John Bonanno put his J3 Competition kart at the top of the timesheet with a 1:08.310 to qualify by a convincing gap of 0.415 seconds over Billy Cleavelin and Pedro Cabrera in the ROTAX Max Masters. Not to be outdone by former F1 driver and current Brazilian stock car racer, Antonio Pizzonia, Bonanno pushed to hold onto his pole position for Heat 1 and nailed the Super Pole with a best lap of 1:08.248. The race turned on some wheel-to-wheel action in the first of three qualifying races for the 32-years-plus line-up, with Bonnano first to cross the line well ahead of Adam Pettit out of start grid 6 and fastest with 1:08.315. International class entry Pizzonia drove well to finish third.
The 32-kart field of ROTAX Junior Max provided bumper-to-bumper rivalry from the flag. Timed Quali Friday was claimed by #244 Patrick Woods-Toth (1:08.304) ahead of Justin Arsenau to make it a Canadian lock-out, with Matheus Morgatto of Brazil third fastest. Following the Super Pole hot laps, it was Birel ART factory-supported team driver Thomas Nepveu who managed to move up to P1 from ranking 6 for the heats, shuffling all four Junior Canadians at the event to be within the first 6 starters. Justin White spoiled the northern party though, flying the USA flag for the race victory after the lunch break in a dash to the line narrowly beating Morgatto, with Nepveu having to settle for P3.
The ROTAX DD2 brings a depth of more experience together in the 2-speed gearbox category, mixing it with the most seasoned competitors of the event – alongside the ROTAX DD2 Masters. USA international Michael Greenfield shot to the top of the screen (1:06.345) to edge out defending champ Davide Greco by a narrow margin of just 0.004 seconds in the qualifying, while four times ROTAX US Nationals / US Open winner Danny Formal was third quickest. Super Pole changed the order of the day, seeing Canada’s Greco set an even faster lap of 1:06.204 on his introduction to the MOJO D5 race tire, to relegate Greenfield back to P2 in front of class rookie Jac Preston from Australia; striking a distinct contrast. The initial DD2 heat gave Formal the chance to rebound, fighting his way up to P2 and taking a long look over Greco’s shoulder in the very last corner. The pass was unsuccessful, so it was the Canadian from Formal and paceman Preston third.
All bar one of the ROTAX DD2 Masters drivers at New Jersey this weekend has qualified through to the RMCGF in previous years, suggesting the smaller field is going to turn on some great racing. USA multiple karting champ Derek Wang posted best lap of 1:07.172 in his PSL Birel ART kart, slightly faster than another Aussie Scott Howard and Argentina’s Henry Martin. Sharing a place in the red and white team awning, Howard picked up the pace to grab Super Pole honors (1:07.156) as well as winning the opening race with a 1:07.029. It was a superb effort, competing at the New Jersey venue for the first time.
Saturday, July 7 begins with a morning warm-up prior to the remaining two heat races for each class, where the overall points establish grid positions for the pre-final last thing. Sunday is dedicated to the final and the challenge for the titles plus the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals 2018 invitational tickets to join the best in Brazil this year.
All results can be found via the Race Monitor app – available to download online.