Johnny Johnson

Florida Winter Tour Orlando: What to watch for

No Championship is yet safe, making for an exciting finale to the 20th Winter Tour.

Mathias Ramirez stretches out before going on track
Earning the Shifter ROK Championship this weekend will go a long way in solidifying Mathias Ramirez as a top shifter kart pilot in North America. Photo: Kart360

For the final act of the winter season, ROK Cup Promotions brings the Florida Winter Tour into Orlando. An expected number of drivers approaching 120 will put rubber to pavement officially starting Friday, beginning with free practice, then onto qualifying and heat one. The remaining two heat races will be ran on Saturday, followed by pre-final and final on Sunday. All signs point to a picture perfect weekend of weather at the challenging Orlando Kart Center.

This weekend also sees a 33% points increase from round two. Points are accumulated for your overall heat race results, and your pre-final and final finishes, allowing allowing a much larger group of drivers the chance at the season championship this round. After doing some basic math and making some reasonable assumptions, I believe any driver within 250 points has a realistic shot at still winning the championship. You could stretch that to 300-350 if the championship leading driver really mismanages their weekend.

Rubens returns to the seat

It was early February when we started to see photos emerge of the great racing legend Rubens Barrichello laying in a hospital bed. Although I still can't confirm what exactly happened, it was a condition that needed immediate attention. After participating in round one in Palm Beach, the former Ferrari F1 ace had to sit out round two while he watched his two sons compete in Ocala.

This weekend, he's back. Joining forces with NF Piquet Sports in the six-speed Shifter ROK category at a track he's had much success at. It's difficult to say what kind of result to expect, but I think a top five would be an accomplishment considering the circumstances.

Ramirez leads Shifter ROK into Orlando

Although a driving infraction took the win away from the AM Engines/Parolin driver in Round 2 in Ocala, Mathias Ramirez does hold the championship lead in Shifter ROK by 117 points. AJ Myers, Rory Van Der Steur, and Jimmy Cabrera are all within 150 points, making this one of the closest championship battles on the weekend. Orlando is a good circuit for Ramirez, as he had unofficially won here at last year's ROK Florida Championship before a penalty dropped him to sixth.

Unlike other categories, there will be x-factors in Shifter — drivers who aren't necessarily in the championship but can certainly still mix it up out front. Austin Garrison is one bad day in Ocala away from possibly leading this championship and will be one of the favorites to win this weekend. At 319 points behind, he'll need some help if he wants to leap five drivers in the championship. The aforementioned Barrichello also comes in with many laps at this track and if back in form, could be dicing it up with the championship drivers.

Can Gonzalez use home track advantage to leap Morgatto and Ugochukwu in the championship?

Tyler Gonzalez is roughly 250 points back of Matheus Morgatto, which means it will take a near perfect weekend and a hiccup or two on the Brazilians part for the Speed Concepts Driver to make the leap to the top.

It's not far fetched to envision Gonzalez conquering at the track his team calls home, but that would assume Morgatto — one of the hottest drivers on the continent right now — allows that to happen. Throw in the ultra talented youngster Ugo Ugochukwu, who sits even closer to the Parolin driver, and we're very much looking forward to how it all plays out between these three in Junior ROK.

Egozi's championship to lose in Mini

In one of the more exciting final laps you'll see this year, James Egozi took the win in Ocala and came out looking really good for the championship in Mini ROK. Up 113 points, the young Miami-area resident has almost the same scenario as Ramirez in Shifter: stay up front and on track and he should be ok. That's easier said than done in Mini ROK when we'll see 6-8 drivers all with chances to win this weekend.

Diego LaRoque, Alex Powell, Carson Morgan, Nikita Johnson, and Kai Sorensen all are within 175 points, which for me is well within striking distance. It's going to be really exciting as the weekend progresses and points begin to accumulate.

Other Championships

Ryan Norberg gets to come home to his home track where he's dominated for years at these events. If the PSL Racing driver were to slip up, Arthur Leist, Eduardo Barrichello, Ryan MacDermid, and Diego Ramos are all still within my 250 point margin, giving them a chance.

Outside of a no-show, Giao Magno looks to be the next Master ROK champion. The Brazilian Orsolon Racing driver has a strong grip on the class with a 294 point advantage over Adrian Donkers.

Shifter ROK Master is one of the most competitive championships, with the top three within 100 points of each other. Farshad Bagheri leads Andres Hoffman and Michel Legrand by the slightest of margins. Throw in Andre Martins -- winner of round one in Palm Beach -- who is back at the very facility that he owns, and this championship won't be decided until Sunday afternoon.

Caleb Gafrar has won both finals this year, but has not been able to shake Danny Dyszelski at all in the championship of Micro ROK. With just a 70 point difference, these two will have their eye on one another each session, trying to get those extra points. Both drivers have grabbed the bonus points for pole position this year, and this weekend those extra 5 points later today could be the difference come Sunday.

Going forward

After acquiring the series from MAXSpeed Entertainment, ROK Cup Promotions will put a ribbon on their first year when it all concludes on Sunday. Their Director of Race Promotion, Garett Potter, will sit down with us over the weekend to discuss their winter season and how that momentum will lead them into the summer and their ROK Festival events. That interview should be online soon after.

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