Saturday's racing was nothing short of exciting, as the program jam-packed with the remaining two heats and pre-finals unfolded at the ROTAX US Grand Nationals / US Open 2018. The popular New Jersey Motorsports Park provided the ideal venue to turn on some fantastic battles for positions and show just how close the competition is this year.
First on track, ROTAX Senior Max kicked off the action before lunch where two race winners shared the honours. Mathais Ramirez-Barr was fastest to win the opening heat and Samuel Lupien the second one, with the intense challenge for places and nose-to-tail racing further back through the pack left no room for error. The pre-final was another close one, but it was Mathais Ramirez-Barrero who kept his cool under pressure for victory ahead of Hannah Greenemeier in the #308 kart and Samuel Lupien in P3. Fastest qualifier Bradley Barrett found no way past in P4 and Mason Buck was fifth. Up to 10 different drivers shared the first five positions by the end of the day's race sessions, therefore proving without doubt that the brand new Rotax MAX Evo engines on board are living up to their expectations to bring the competition closer at all levels.
Out next, the ROTAX Mini Max class was a constant shuffle for positions in every race as the laps would down. The youngest of the 120-kart entry list has clearly brought together a new generation of both budding talent and string of fast-developing drivers all pushing for the top step of the podium and the dream to be champion. Three winners shared the race victories Saturday, yet the amazing place-swapping fights happening amongst the 29-kart field were great! Recapping the wins, it was James Egozi first in heat 2, pole-sitter Diego Laroque in P1 in heat 3 and Brent Crews through to take the flag in the pre-final in front of Laroque and Felipe Bernasconi, while Egozi took fourth from Ryan Stanton.
The ROTAX Max Masters was not as clear-cut as local driver John Bonanno may have hoped, and certainly not as it appeared after he secured P1 then Super Pole Friday. However, he managed to beat the competition to the line in all three races Saturday, giving Bonanno pole position for Sunday's final. Lining up alongside him and looking for victory will be Rotax newcomer Antonio Pizzonia from Brazil, who also ranked P2 in the points following the heat races. Top 3 place-getter Adam Pettit took third in the pre-final, so he'll start on row 2 next to Pedro Cabrera and Salvatore Sparacio on grid position 5.
Just short of a full grid, ROTAX Junior Max has displayed some impressive racing at the event and the international mix has thrown the challenge out to the US drivers on home soil. Qualifying was dominated by the Canadians, only to have one of Brazil's young guns Matheus Morgatto hit the top of the leaderboard in the overall ranking by winning both heats on day 2. In the pre-final though, it was the Super Pole champ Thomas Nepveu who fought back to gain one place for the win ahead of Justin White off grid 3 and Morgatto taking third. Australian Jaiden Pope finished on P4 to edge out Patrick Woods-Toth.
ROTAX DD2 produced another exciting and also unpredictable series of races, where some of the most experienced competitors on track at NJMP had to match it with the younger generation of drivers coming through. Canada's Davide Greco claimed heat 1 first up, while class rookie Jac Preston from Down Under set the race pace Saturday and outdrove the likes of multiple USA champion Danny Formal and previous event winner Greco to take the chequered flag in heat 3, and blitzed the field in the pre-final. Securing a front row start as well for the final the next day, Juan Diego Villacis racing for Ecuador also showed his potential to win the title Sunday, ahead of Formal on P3 in the afternoon pre-final. Max Hewitt was close behind in P4 while Isaac Marritt rounded out the top 5.
It was a clean sweep to pole position in Sunday's final for 2017 Rotax Grand Finals Australian team boss Scott Howard, remaining unbeaten in every race plus the pre-final of the ROTAX DD2 Masters. Leading the US campaign in the 32 years plus class, Luis Schiavo was twice P2 and ranked second after the heats by one point to fellow American Derek Wang, who moved up a place in the pre-final. Taking third in the last race for the finals grid was the driver from Peru, Andres F. Grajales, followed over the line by Columbian Santiago Guerrero and in P5, one of Argentina's champions Henry Martin.
With the stage now set for Sunday's finals, the race for the 2018 titles in New Jersey is bound to be another excellent day's racing, as the competitors also contest the tickets to the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals 2018 being hosted by Brazil this November.
All results can be found online at â€” https://speedhive.mylaps.com/Events/1554911