Johnny Johnson

Florida Winter Tour Round 1 Miami: What to watch for

The 21st season of the Florida Winter Tour kicks off at a brand new temporary circuit under the shadows of the Hard Rock Stadium.

The 21st year of the annual Florida Winter Tour kicks off today in sunny South Beach Florida. For the second year, ROK Cup USA holds the reins, but this year they have brought us to a location unseen before — the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. The new venue brings over a million square feet to work with that ROK Cup has used to set down nearly 8,000 barriers to claim their space. The announced track will emulate the famous South Garda Karting circuit, the Vortex ROK home track in Lonato, Italy. 

This year's championship also brings new categories aimed at the entry level racer. Just like their ROK The RIO event last November, the 100cc category will include both the Vortex VLR and IAME KA100 for both Junior and Senior classes. In addition, Briggs & Stratton recently signed a deal with the Florida series to include their ever-growing LO206 classes. In total, we'll see 11 separate categories scored this weekend.

Competitor totals look like they'll settle around the 200 mark. Weather is forecasted in the upper 70s with a slight chance of rain on Sunday. Live timing and results will be found on our On Location page in addition to photos and video on the Kart360 Instagram feed.

Ramirez, Formal rematch

Those in attendance in Las Vegas over Halloween weekend in 2018 will remember the fantastic duel in Shifter ROK between two of North America's best, Mathias Ramirez (PSL / Birel ART) and Danny Formal (Leading Edge / Formula K). Although this isn't the electric feel of Vegas, I think these two are looking forward to another all-out battle in their 6-speed ROK powered karts.

Not to be forgotten is Jimmy Cabrera (AKT / Kosmic Kart), the pole sitter at that very event three months ago. I expect the Floridian to show speed early in the contest, but his ability to keep with Formal and Ramirez will have to be proven.

Also in the mix will be Zachary Hollingshead (TB Kart USA) and Henry Cubides (Envia Racing / Tony Kart). Pedro Piquet, son of Brazilian F1 star Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports), makes his FWT debut on his CRG.

Brooks, Claman-Damelo lead new group of Seniors

In a category ripe with talented freshmen drivers, we look to experience to win out on the temp circuit. Christian Brooks (Orsolon Racing / OTK) and Zachary Claman-Demelo (Goodwood / Exprit) are as experienced as it gets in North America and they lead the way for me in my early favorites. Brooks is fresh off a devastating defeat at the SuperNationals after an incredible run in our sports biggest event. The Californian no doubt wants to erase that memory with a win this weekend. Demelo, too, took defeat on the final lap of his run at ROK The Rio in this very class and he'll look to use that chip on his shoulder here in Miami.

Christian Brooks
Christian Brooks ran impressively in Las Vegas on IAME power two months ago and will get up to speed on a new ROK platform this weekend on the other side of the country. Photo: Cody Schindel / Canadian Karting News

The Freshmen class is as talented as ever, with names like Sebastian Montoya (Montoya / Tony Kart), Jeremy Fairbairn (Supertune USA / Tony Kart), and Arias Deukmedjian (Leading Edge / Praha) jumping to the pinnacle of single speed racing in North America. All three come in with recent championships making this a uniquely exciting weekend for the Senior category. Deukmedjian, off his podium in his Senior debut a week ago was the Junior Champion in SKUSA competition in 2018. Montoya earned the inaugural ROK The RIO Junior ROK prize which was followed by Fairbairn's triumphant victory a few weeks later at the SKUSA SuperNationals.

Junior ROK approaching 40 entries

Like Senior, Junior ROK has a solid group of rookies that will play a factor, but it's the experience that will pave the way to the top. Luca Mars (Speed Concepts / Tony Kart), Conor Zilisch (Team Felon / Tony Kart), Dale Curran (REM / Kosmic), and Justin Arseneau (Speed Concepts / Tony Kart) are the “veterans” the newcomers are looking up to this weekend. 

Making the leap up to Junior this weekend is Brent Crews (Nitro), Carson Morgan (Team Felon / OTK), Jace Park (Jim Russel Jr / Parolin), and Jeremy Fletcher (Zanella Racing / Tony Kart) amongst others. Between them, an incredible amount of race wins in cadet racing and we'll see if they find their place at the front right off the bat in 2019. Zilisch and Mars are great examples of drivers who didn't miss a step getting up to speed in Junior a year ago.

I look to Diego Contecha (Orsolon Racing / Tony Kart), Mackenzie Clark ( Prime Powerteam / Birel ART), and Alessandro De Tullio (AM Racing / Exprit) as three dark horse drivers this weekend who can take advantage of the conditions to sneak into the lead mix.

Johnson, Sorensen return for Mini ROK gold

Kia Sorensen (Supertune USA / Tony Kart) returns to the Florida Winter Tour as the Vice Champion in Mini ROK, aiming to better that by one position after falling short 78 points in 2018. Multi-time FWT race winner Nikita Johnson (AKT / Energy) is back as well and who I consider Sorensen's closest rival. Jack Jeffers (Orsolon / Benik) turned in a top-10 championship performance a year ago in this category and should no doubt improve upon that this year.

Miguel Costa (MC Racing  / Parolin) is another proven driver in Mini and has his sights set on a breakout year. A win this weekend could foreshadow a big season for the south Florida native.

Caleb Gafrarrar (PSL / Birel ART) brings his Micro Championship from 2018 with him as he straps in with the older kids for the first time. The North Carolina resident moved teams in the off season to the powerhouse PSL brand and he'll look to put the Birel ART cadet chassis to the front. A top five from Gafrarar should be within reach.

Schedule of events

Although free practice was conducted on Thursday, everything officially kicks off Friday morning with two practice sessions that lead into qualifying at 12:20pm Eastern. The day will conclude with one round of heat races for all categories.

Saturday will wrap up heat racing with each category receiving two rounds. On Sunday, the day will lead off with pre-finals that prepares the starting grid for the finals in the afternoon.

Make sure to catch live timing and our stream of news directly from Miami Gardens on our On Location page and Instagram account.