Johnny Johnson

SKUSA Modesto Grand Prix SummerNationals: What We Learned

A race with serious potential needed a year or two outside the Pro Tour to reduce flaws.

Damanged Tony Kart
Photo: Kart360.com

Strenuous Saturday

We might as well get it out of the way, as it was the main topic of the weekend. At initial glance, Saturday's event schedule was ambitious, but little did we know how bad it could be. The schedule did not leave any room for error, and with an abundance of red flags and prolonged pickups for karts due to only two recovery vehicles that could only pick up one kart at a time, the event continued to fall behind schedule.

As the racing progressed into Sunday morning, the S1 final was cut six laps short due to a 3:00 AM curfew, at which time the day was five hours behind schedule. During the S1 Final red flag, multiple drivers expressed that they did not want to continue the race as it was too dangerous to be racing that late. Most eventually decided to race, but Joey Wimsett, Mike Beeney, and Troy Diede each pulled off expressing that it was not worth it. After the race you could just see how tired the drivers were. It was almost like being on set for the Walking Dead. Yes, this was always intended to be a night race, but drivers were up that previous morning at 9:00 am, making that an 18 hour day and a lot of the drivers were from out east.

This brings up the next topic, the much-publicized carnage. We have never been to an event where more karts were destroyed. Not just bent, but chassis broken. Multiple teams were flat out of parts. There were a few causes for this, but the main cause was the use of the large water barriers on the exit of corners that did not budge. They needed Tec-Pro barriers in front of them to act as a “soft wall.” Other causes included unprotected trees inside the pedestrian fencing and water barriers up against street curbing, allowing zero give on contact. It needs to be stated though that SKUSA did listen and make changes throughout the weekend. They removed one of the dangerous curbs in the chicane and took out a few of the large barriers on the exit of turn five, which was a bit on the narrow side. Are there street courses that are faster and narrower? Yes, but this is a Pro Tour event and the track needs to be built to the highest standards.

All of the blame cannot go on the series though. Absolutely not. The drivers have responsibilities too. You have to know where you can push and where you cannot. You can't go two wide through certain sections, or make that late breaking pass. To be honest, we should have seen this coming. The wrecking in Dallas on a purpose-built kart track should have been the warning. To put it harshly, some drivers probably should not have even been out there. TaG Cadet could have used two extra days of practice to prepare for a circuit like this. Add in the time at night these young drivers were on course, and it's not a good equation.

Overall, it wasn't the amount of wrecks that stood out, it was the magnitude of these wrecks. Because of the track speed, night conditions, and lack of previous street racing experience with some drivers, there was more damage done to the karts and drivers.

Should Modesto GP be on the Pro Tour Schedule?

In our opinion, this event has potential to be really attractive to sponsors, fans, racers, and teams. However, in hindsight, this event should not have been included in the Pro Tour in it's inaugural year. It needed a year or two to get the complications ironed out before being put on the schedule, in which it becomes mandatory for drivers and teams to compete in if they want to win a championship.

Now that the learning process was part of the Pro Tour, and not a one-off event, should this event be a one-off race next year or put back on the schedule? Vote in our latest poll.

The X30 is Fast

This weekend was the debut of the X30 in the SKUSA Pro Tour, though it has been used in other series for over two years now. At the start of the weekend, two or three top drivers started with the X30 and were quickly at the top of the charts. By the final practice session, at least five more drivers switched and in morning warmup on Saturday two or three more switched. Both Louie Pagano and Travis Lowe switched for warmup, but decided to switch back before qualifying. Both drivers said they turned the same time and it was not worth having to commit to running it at the SuperNats.

Remo Ruscitti, Yurk Caravalho, and Andrew Zimmer were three of the fastest Leopard drivers. Jordan Redlin was also able to put a good time in, but was not able to mix it up in the race. When we spoke to the drivers that did switch to the X30 and stick with it they commented that it was just easier to drive. They did not feel a huge difference, but felt the did not have to be as much at the limit to get the same time.

Zeen Eight Laps from Dominating the Weekend

Andrick Zeen showed well in Dallas in TaG Senior, but it wasn't until this weekend that the young driver from California truly stood out. Now under the Praga North America banner, Zeen was able to shine starting from Heat 1 on Saturday until the red flag on lap eight of Sunday's final. A clean sweep of the races on Saturday, followed by the heat race win on Saturday left little doubt that Zeen would capture the Final win on Sunday. That was until a red flag at the halfway mark brought a radiator leak to everyone's attention.

Zeen had been driving much of the race with a leak in his radiator, but was still the fastest kart on track. After a wreck on lap 8 while Zeen was two seconds in front, the red flag came out and the race was temporarily stopped. SKUSA officials then noticed the leak and Zeen was unable to race on, given a technical DQ. Speaking with Race Team Director Blake Wankowski, he believes the radiator would not have been a problem if the race had continued on without a red flag. The team is very optimistic about their chances in Vegas, as are we.

Watch out for Askew in Vegas

Just a few weeks ago, Oliver Askew had to sit out the US Rotax Grand Nationals due to a back injury. Thanks to rest, massage, and a little acupuncture, Askew was ready to hit the streets of Modesto. The Floridian was impressively quick all weekend and if not for confusion at the start Saturday's final it looked like he was going to be unmatched. On Sunday, Askew was once again one of the quickest. On lap two Jordon Lennox-Lamb made a pass for the lead and Askew slowed up at the entry looking to cross him on the exit. Jordon recognized that and over slowed the apex to stop this. Askew's front bumper locked with Jordon's rear and went into the barriers.


Austin Garrison
Austin Garrison led a quartet of OGP team drivers in S2. Photo: Kart360.com

Ocala Gran Prix

Ocala Gran Prix's program continues to be one of the most impressive in the country. What was most impressive this weekend was their S2 program that included Austin Garrison, Kyle Kirkwood, Morgan Healey, and Jonathan Kotyk. Austin Garrison, who is your 2014 Junior Max National Champion, swept both finals taking the overall win. Morgan Healey went 7-3 this weekend finishing second overall. On Saturday the team swept the podium with Kotyk finishing second and Kyle Kirkwood finishing in third.

No Clear Favorite in Cadet

Heading into Vegas there is no clear favorite for the title. Michael d'Orlando, Jagger Jones, Lachlan Defrancesco, and Lance Fenderson are the four drivers that look to have a real shot. They have also been the four most consistent drivers through four races. Michael d'Orlando currently has two wins and the only driver of the four that have a race win.

Age is Just a Number

Billy Cleavelin went 2-1 this past weekend in the Masters category. At 57 years old, Billy bested drivers 10-20 years younger than him and looked as if he could do another final after getting out of the kart. His CRG/Motori7 package was on point all weekend and with these results has extended his points lead heading into Vegas.

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