This year marks the 20th year of the Florida Winter Tour, having started all the way back in 1999. It will be the first year, though, that ROK Cup Promotions has ran the event with a ROK Cup only format of 7 categories. The expected attendance exceeds 180 entries with most of the top names we've become accustomed to seeing in Florida this time of year, along with some great additions. For reference, that number is almost exactly where the first round was last year.
The weather is forecasted to be nice, with mild temperatures ranging in the upper 60s to mid 70s. Rain does not look to be an issue, although you never know in Florida as it can come in quick. Friday is the first official day with free practice in the morning, followed by a qualifying session and heat 1 for all categories.
Shifter Senior in the Spotlight
The FWT ROK Shifter category over the years has seen an abundance of talent and this weekend is no different. Perhaps the top name is newly appointed Intrepid driver, Bas Lammers from the Netherlands. Lammers will run for Goodwood Kartways out of Canada as he makes his 2018 debut back on the chassis he did so well on years ago.
The reigning champion, Gary Carlton, is absent from this year's event, but the vice champion returns. Brazilian superstar, Rubens Barrichello, has made the winter tour part of his schedule now for years and he's again back in the seat of the familiar Tony Kart. Many forget, he was just 1 point shy of winning this championship a year ago, so that most certainly weighs on his mind.
The obvious names to include when considering this weekends winner is AJ Myers, Daniel Formal, and Austin Garrison. Myers returns for Tibi Kart, where he's found a very nice home for nearly the past 3 years. Formal and Garrison have jumped to new brands this year, with Formal joining AM Engines new effort in Florida for Parolin, and Garrison back on a Tony Kart after 2 years with CompKart. Myers and Formal were two of the top three qualifiers here a year ago.
Lastly, Mathias Ramirez (Parolin), Marijn Kremers (PSL/Birel ART), Robert Wickens (Birel ART), and Jimmy Cabrera (Kosmic) all come in with the talent to make a run at the top of the charts this weekend. Ramirez is the lightning fast teenager with another year under his belt that might be the added experience he needs to finally get the top-level win in the premier shifter category. Kremers impressed everyone across the world last year with his pace in CIK events, but it was the all important finals where he could not get the result he desired. Wickens and Cabrera are no strangers to the area or their packages, which gives them an early advantage on the weekend.
Mini ROK Loaded Once Again
We said at the end of last year that we're seeing a golden age of cadet racing here in the states. The results over the past few years speak for themselves with ROK, Rotax, and IAME Finals podiums littered with American talent. This year will not be any different and this weekend will showcase the best we have to offer in a full 44-kart field.
ROK Finals Champion in 2017 belonged to American Conor Zilisch. Palm Beach will be his first ROK Event since that epic trip to Italy and he will have the target firmly planted on the back of his Energy Kart machine. We'll also have 2016 Rotax Finals Champion Diego Laroque (Energy) and 2017 SKUSA Champion Carson Morgan (Benik) who are likely to be main contenders this weekend and for the championship.
Nikita Johnson (Parolin) will build upon his first year in Mini after a tremendous run in Italy last fall that impressed many. Other contenders include Brandon Carr (Benik), Jeremy Fletcher (Tony Kart), Miguel Costa (Benik), Kai Sorensen (Benik), and James Egozi (Tony Kart).
Experience Levels Collide in Junior ROK
Each year when we kick off the season, many new names enter the Junior categories and leave their cadet karts behind. This year has a large amount of talent moving up that could shake things up for the experienced drivers. With a field of almost 40, we're in for a treat this weekend.
We'll start with the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¦Ã¢â‚¬Å“veteransÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â in Tyler Gonzalez (Speed Concepts/Tony Kart), Sebastian Montoya (Tony Kart), Matheus Morgatto (Parolin), and Jeremy Fairbairn (Parolin). We've seen Gonzalez's name up front for so long in Junior it feels like forever, but this will only be his second full season in the younger full-sized category. Gonzalez would normally be our favorite to win in this spot, but the quickly rising Sebastian Montoya enters Palm Beach with the better momentum. We'll look to those two as the drivers to beat, but with AM Engines addition of Fairbairn to the Parolin brand in the off season, they've created a good little Junior team with Morgatto. They've already ran well together this year and will try to build off that this weekend.
The incoming class will mix it up right away this year, led by names Luca Mars (Energy), Santiago Trisini (Tony Kart), and Reece Gold (FA Kart). All three already have an event or two under their belts and are now well on their way to starting their Junior resumÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©s.
Norberg will get pressure, but how much?
Returning to defend his championship from a year ago in Senior ROK, Ryan Norberg (PSL/Birel ART) is the clear favorite in the category this year, but the story here is where will the pressure come from? Arthur Leist (Tony Kart) is probably the likeliest to mix it up with the PSL driver, showing at times last year his ability to match speed with the Floridian. Victor Schoma (Tony Kart) impressed us quite a bit last fall in Italy with is pace against the world's best. Ryan MacDermid, Diego Ramos, and Eduardo Barrichello will also be in the mix.