FWT Ocala: what to watch for
An increase in points opportunities means it's still anyone's game.
The second round of the Florida Winter Tour heads to the familiar Ocala Gran Prix facility in North Central Florida this weekend. The circuit won't confuse you, as it yields just 9 corners, but it brings about its own unique challenges for these highly skilled competitors.
We expect driver turnout to be similar to last weeks event, run by SKUSA at this same location. Drivers will see an increase in available points towards the championship this round as each subsequent round allows competitors the ability to make up ground significantly.
Friday kicks things off officially, with a trip of practice sessions in the morning followed by qualifying and heat 1 in the afternoon. That leads us into the weekend, where two more heat races will conclude on Saturday, followed by pre-finals and finals on Sunday.
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Marijn Kremers is back under the PSL tent, flying in from the Netherlands. The Birel ART factory driver was the round one winner on track, before penalties moved him back off the podium altogether. He's your favorite this weekend, but just by slim margins.
The main rivals this weekend for Kremers will be the Floridians: AJ Myers (TB Kart), Austin Garrison (OGP / Tony Kart), and Mathias Ramirez (AM Racing / Parolin). All three will be quick and should provide some intense racing on the shorter circuit. It's notable that Garrison is making a return to his former team and that home court advantage. We'll expect big things from him this weekend.
Another red kart leads the favorites this weekend, and that of course is Ryan Norberg. He too fell victim to on track penalties that removed him from the win at round 1, but he's at another familiar circuit and will be a heavy favorite this weekend.
Young Eduardo Barrichello has entered his rookie season in Senior and he's coming out of the gates swinging. A fantastic round 1 for NF Piquet Sports has him out front of the early Championship. Fellow Brazilian Arthur Leist had bad fortunes in qualifying in Palm Beach, which had him behind the eight ball all weekend. With a better opening performance this weekend, he'll be right there with his peers at the front.
A pair of sleepers to have your eye on will be Floridians Dustin Stross and Jesse Krill. Stross hasn't been as active in his racing as years past but he's on familiar equipment in his home state and will be a threat. Meanwhile, Krill continues to impress as he competes against the country's best.
The Junior category is a little more wide open with multiple possibilities to take victory. Tyler Gonzalez swept up here last year in both ROK and Rotax, and likely has the upper hand ever so slightly. However, his new teammate, Arias Deukmedjian has made a statement early in 2018 in Florida racing, and will be a key factor in how this class plays out.
Matheus Morgatto picked up a win here not even a week ago in SKUSA competition, as he rides a wave of momentum for the new AM Racing/Parolin outfit.
One of the bigger story lines out of Palm Beach was that of Ugo Ugochukwu. The 10 year old has been granted the special opportunity to compete in Junior against drivers 3-4 years older and more than held his own in round one. Coming off the win at ROK affiliate series Challenge of the Americas just a few weekends ago in Phoenix, Ugochukwu will seek revenge for his runner-up spot in Palm Beach behind Gonzalez.
A couple notes we should point out: Connor Zilisch, one of the more decorated cadet drivers in the country, looks to have opted to move up to Junior for this round after winning in round 1 in Mini. We'll pay close attention to how he's adapting to the larger and faster equipment. Also, Jeremy Fairbairn is marked down as Tony Kart, despite recently joining AM/Parolin. We'll see as soon as we hit the circuit if this is a clerical error or if equipment has changed hands in their camp.
With front runner Connor Zilisch now in Junior, this opens the door for a new winner in round 2. Carson Morgan is the hot hand right now in the cadet categories and will lead in a full stack of top North American names. Divers like Alex Powell, Brent Crews, Kai Sorensen, Jeremy Fletcher, James Egozi, and Nikita Johnson all have the ability to win this weekend and not one of them would be surprising to see on the top step.