Nick Leone

U.S. Rotax MAX Grand Nationals: What To Watch For

Who will reign supreme around the 22 corner, 1.3 mile super circuit?

Photo of Junior MAX at NJMP in 2017. Photo: Cody Schindel / Canadian Karting News

Rotax has returned in the USA with over 100 confirmed entries and more to come this weekend, for the 2018 United States Rotax Grand Nationals and U.S. Open in the southern part of New Jersey at New Jersey Motorsports Park July 6th-8th. With a chance of rain Friday, but dry for the rest of the weekend, it may turn out to be quite the interesting weekend.  

Let's kick it off with arguably the most competitive class in the world, the senior category, where over 29 Senior MAX drivers will be competing for a ticket to Grand Finals in Brazil in November. As this race is on home soil for a majority of the field, bigger outside names will certainly have their work cut out for them. Leading the charge for the local area drivers' could be Jeremy Doll, who quite possibly has the most laps around NJMP of the whole entry list and is a strong contender and a favorite to take the win come Sunday.

To our surprise, we are missing some very frequent and familiar names such as Ryan Norberg, Austin Garrison, Ryan Macdermid, Luke Selliken and a few others. However where it lacks in familiar names, it makes up for in field size and talent. Samuel Lupien, Dylan Tavella, Brenden Baker, Zach Holden, and a few others are back on the Rotax train, on the hunt for a Grand Finals ticket.

After a dominant weekend at the F-series despite having additional weight than his counterparts, Doll took victory against a near 40 kart field of X30 motors, whilst setting pole position. Using a 125 MAX Evo engine, this required him to run a heavier weight than every other X-30 user (which made up 94% of the field). Another Rotax user was Stephen Mallozzi who finished in the top 10, who also finished on the podium last year here to earn his ticket to Grand Finals. Tavella is trading his Ligier USF4 car in for a Birel ART this weekend to see if he still has the legs he used to in karting.

Junior Rotax is the largest of all the classes, with 32 confirmed entries ready to do battle. Amongst the 32 lays Thomas Nepveu who is a newly confirmed Birel ART factory driver; reigning national champion Tyler Gonzalez who is on different colors, sporting a CRG much to our surprise; and the one who surprised us all in NOLA, Rafe Abdulali.

Many other talents such as Luca Mars, Justin Arseneau, Mattheus Morgatto, and Aidan Fox will be challenging for the win. The last time we had a Rotax national event, on our records both Arseneau and Fox were competing in the Mini Max category, making this their Rotax Junior MAX debut.

Nepveu is always amongst the top runners, however following his ventures in Europe, he is coming into this race with the experience and abilities taught overseas. We see time and time again drivers competing in Europe come back to dominate, much like Michael D`Orlando last year in Senior MAX prior to his engine failure in the final. It will be interesting to see what skills Nepveu has attained from across the pond. Further, with Tyler Gonzalez parting ways from the team he dominated the junior category in, it will be interesting to watch him develop and grow under CRG Nordam. 

Yet another nearly maxed-out field is the Mini MAX category with 29 young talents, with what also looks to be the most diversified class in terms of chassis. Nikita Johnson, Miguel Costa, James Egozi, Jeremy Fletcher, Jack Jeffers, and Diego Laroque will certainly be fighting head to head all weekend. Frankie Iadevaia is a name that we have gotten used to, and knowing this circuit like the back of his hand, this may be the year he can claim his spot on Team USA.

This being a circuit that favors top end, we expect drafting to play a very large factor in who reigns supreme. Following the last round of FWT in Orlando, which happened to be the last time all these names last met, it was Kai Sorensen who took victory, with Egozi trailing. This weekend both Sorensen and Powell will be absent, to our surprise, however it gives us a solid indication as to who will be running up front straight away. 

DD2 has 12 drivers on the confirmed entry list, and hopefully will increase with some late arrivals. Of the confirmed, Danny Formal, Davide Greco, Kyle Appuzzo have some solid experience around the circuit, as well does Max Hewitt. Formal seems to be the likely contender for victory, however the tricky Tempest layout of 22 corners is amongst the most challenging circuits in America.

In DD2 Masters, Derek Wang and Luis Schiavo will be accompanied by five other drivers, in a small yet competitive field. Wang competed in the Masters MAX field last year, however in typical fashion he is showing us he is more than capable of adapting.

In the Masters MAX category we are seeing ex-Formula 1 driver and current Brazilian Stock Car pilot Antonio Pizzonia will be competing in another 12-competitor confirmed field. John Bonanno, Pedro Cabrera, and Adam Petit all have the pace to win as both Bonanno and Petit are avid competitors at the circuit. Bonanno is coming off an F-series victory from last weekend, and will be looking to repeat his performance come Sunday.

Everything officially starts on Friday with Qualifying and one heat race. If rain does in fact hit on Friday, that could make things very interesting. The remaining two heat races and pre-final will be ran on  Saturday, leaving just a warm-up and main events on Sunday.