Johnny Johnson

2019 Stars and Stripes Open: What to watch for

The race formerly known as Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals returns to the Northeast.

Rotax MAX returns to the Northeast this weekend in Pennsylvania. Photo: Johnny Johnson / Kart360

The Rotax MAX Stars and Stripes Open makes its debut this weekend at Pitt International Race Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania, a town just north of Pittsburgh. The race formerly known as the United States Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Nationals is now the lead event for Rotax in the U.S. under the guidance of J3 Competition, the northern distributor for the Rotax MAX product line in the United States.

Attendance this weekend looks like it will exceed 80 drivers entered in seven categories, which now includes the Local Option Briggs 206 platform, announced last week. That entry count would nearly double the entries from the Trophy event two months ago as Rotax racing returns to one of its hotbeds in the country, the Northeast.

Matchups to watch

It may likely be the first time I’ve said this, but the matchup I’m most looking forward to is in Mini MAX between two of the world’s best. Alex Powell and Brent Crews both come into the weekend with numerous national and international wins, including Crews’ Rotax MAX Grand Finals win in Brazil last year. The North Carolinian has raced primarily in Junior competitions this year but Rotax age requirements has him back down in the cadet chassis this weekend. Powell has raced extensively in Europe this year with Energy Corse, capturing top tier results in WSK competitions and other Italian championships.

With 20 drivers, the Senior MAX category is expected to be the largest and additionally the most wide open. Jace Denmark Gessell has entered his second year of senior racing and looks to claim that benchmark win in the premier category. Local favorite Trent Walko has extensive time at the Pitt facility and should be able to use that to his advantage. I expect Ethan Ho, Gunnar Bischoff, and Jacob Donald to be lurking at the top of the charts and each should have goals of no less than a podium here this weekend.

Junior MAX also looks like it will hit the 20 driver mark and it will be led by Pennsylvanian Luca Mars. The Sewickley native has made the most of his second year in juniors, winning throughout the winter in Florida before taking his talents to Europe in the CIK Academy Trophy where he’s competed well. Rookies Paul Bocuse, Jack Jeffers, and Jace Park have all graduated from stellar years in Mini and now look to make their mark in the faster division.

Talented shifter kart pilot Race Liberante heads up the DD2 field ahead of local youngster and rookie, Annie Ruhle. John Bonnano will look to overcome a serious wrist injury from a few weeks ago to earn his ticket to Italy in Masters. He’ll have steep competition from Rotax veterans Chris Rock and Marshall Martin.


Each winner in the six Rotax categories this weekend, including second in both Micro and Mini MAX, will earn free entry into the extravagant Rotax MAX Grand Finals in Sarno, Italy, this October. In the four elder categories, runner-up finishers will receive a Rotax MAX engine kit, while third earns $1,000 in vouchers for Rotax products.


The event officially starts on Thursday for the engine raffle and pick-up, where drivers choose at random their power plant for the weekend. This arrangement is exclusive to Rotax racing and one they think stands out from the competition.

Friday is a full day of practice where rubber final hits the road and the stopwatches come out.

Saturday and Sunday bring wheel to wheel action with heat races throughout the day on Saturday, followed by pre-finals and finals on Sunday.

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