It seemed our week in Lonato, Italy came and went in a blink of an eye. Days were packed with action on track and the evenings were just as full with Spaghetti Carbonara and Prosciutto Pizza. In it's 16th year, the ROK Cup International Final exceeded all previous expectations with 441 pre-entries, 53 heat races, and 7 champions. The weather was more than cooperative, delivering pristine Northern Italy weather just when we needed it.
Team ROK Cup USA and Team Canada come home with all kinds of accolades, including a pole position in Junior ROK by Matheus Morgato; a 2nd place finish by Gaia Magno in Expert ROK; and the eldest driver of the event with Kurtis Breeding at age 61, to name a few.
USA hopes dashed in a split second in Junior ROK
Junior ROK was bitter sweet for North America on the final day. The entire week saw one North American after another inside the top five during heat racing. Americans Ugo Ugochukwu and Connor Zilisch, and Canadian Dale Curran each had heat race wins, while Joey Brienza and Matheus Morgatto added more top fives.
Ugochukwu continued his impressive week into the final, finishing on the traditional podium in third. The New York native who races extensively in Italy had grabbed the early lead in the Final before a big wreck took out three North Americans in one swoop. Zilisch, Nicola Zecchinato, and Brienza all got caught up in an accident just before halfway in the 16-lap final. The carnage spread across the track and required medical attention to a fourth driver from another nation. Everyone was ok, but the damage was done to North America's hopes of multiple podiums in a category they had dominated to that point.
Brienza kept his Ward Racing Tony Kart running after the big wreck, finding the tail of the field and eventually getting to 28th position. Ugochukwu led the full course yellow with only a handful of laps to go. Almost immediately after the restart Ugochukwu was overtaken and dropped to third. As the laps ticked down, Ugochukwu had found a faster pace than the leader but ran out of laps to get his spots back.
Morgatto had grabbed the pole position on Thursday, but never could hold serve in the heats. Dirt in the carburetor and a spin on cold tires on the out lap on separate occasions really hurt his chances having to start 19th for the final. The Brazilian living in Orlando turned the quick lap of the final, but with the full course yellow, he simply didn't have enough laps to get very far, finishing 11th on track. A post race bumper penalty would relegate him to 17th.
Curran was another casualty early in the race, losing a front nose cone on the opening lap. The young Canadian really impressed us and many others in the paddock with his pace straight away.
Alessandro De Tullio would finish 24th for ROK Cup USA.
Formal fails to avoid sluggish kart on start, demoted to 16th in Final
In the closing opportunity for Danny Formal to redeem himself after heat races didn't go his way, it ended as soon as it began. A sluggish kart off the line two rows ahead caused karts to scatter, leaving the Costa Rican no where to go but into the back of the kart in the lane ahead. It was an immediate bumper penalty, bent tie rod and kingpin, and dropped the ROK Festival winner to 18th before turn one.
With a damaged kart, Formal still put in the laps to finish the race in 10th and post times comparable to the leaders. The bumper penalty dropped him to 16th and the weekend would end as many do with thoughts of what could have been.
Canadian Isaac Merritt finished 24th for the Birel ART Junior team.
Americans littered throughout the Mini ROK Final
Six Americans and one Jamaican made the final in Mini ROK. Alex Powell (Jamaica), who previously raced extensively in the United States but has since made the move to Europe, had made the most impact in the class leading to the final, starting from pole position for Energy Corse.
Powell, Kimi Antonelli Andrea, and American Aksay Bohra had made it into a three-horse race from the early going. After multiple lead changes, it came down to the final lap where Italian Andrea Kimi was able to take the lead over teammate Powell. The finish was only .048 of a difference, as the Italian edged the Jamaican. Bohra was ready to pounce had any hiccup been found in the leading duo. No mistakes were made infront, however, finishing third, just .163 from the win.
The official highest finisher for ROK Cup USA was that of Carson Morgan, also with Energy Corse, who finished 13th, up nine spots from his starting spot. It's an incredible improvement over last year, up 53 spots from his 32nd place finish in the B-Final in 2017.
Kai Sorensen was maybe the most disappointed in his finish of 17th after finishing inside the top three in three of his heats. Sorenson ran lap times matching the leaders and may have had a shot had he not finished 10th in his third heat, forcing him to start 13th. James Egozi, Nikita Johnson, and Miguel Costa had a lot of great things happen this weekend, including a heat race win for Costa. The three finished 19th, 23rd, and 31st respectively.
French-American, Paul Bocuse, finished 28th in the Singha Trophy.
Barrichello flies the ROK Cup USA banner in Senior ROK Final; Delattre puts on a show in OMP Trophy
In back to back years, the eldest son of Rubens Barrichello, Eduardo, raced his way into the final. Last year it was in Junior before making the leap up to Senior in 2018.
With a high point of sixth in this opening heat race, Eduardo managed a 13th starting spot in the 20-lap final. Right away, the Brazilian was clawing and scratching to survive as he found himself in the thick of a 34-kart field. After a seemingly continuous fight throughout, the Lennox Racing Team member managed an 18th place finish — besting lat years finish by two spots.
Preceding the Senior ROK Final was the B-Final, called the OMP Trophy. American Emma Delattre missed the cut by a mere 1 point, which set her up for pole position in the Trophy event. Also with Lennox Racing Team, Delattre surged to the lead in the 16-lap final and held a firm gap over second place. As the laps winded down, so did the lead gap. Delattre had been tracked down by Italian Pierluigi Domenicone with only 3 laps to go.
With a more impressive pace, the Italian made his move past Delattre with two and a half laps to go. The Connecticut native knew she had to get the position back immediately or risk the very real possibility of never having the same chance again. Delattre steered her Exprit kart to the inside of Domenicone as the two started to brake for turn three. The pass stuck, however, Domenicone tried to hold his spot on the outside before dropping two wheels off track and bouncing back to second place by a good margin.
The margin was enough for Delattre to drive to the win over the final 1.5 laps. With the victory, she matches a fellow female driver, Morgan Healey, from 2015 who also captured the OMP Trophy for Team USA.
Canadians Marco DiLeo and Xavier Harris ran 8th and 15th in the OMP Trophy, respectively, with the former moving 13 spots forward. Challenge of the Americas Senior ROK Champion, Jimmy McKinney, finished in the 20th position of the OMP Trophy. The Arizona State student left with his head held high, telling me he thoroughly enjoyed the experience and intends to make the trip again in 2019 as the COTA champion.
Magno leads a trio of North Americans to the podium in Expert
The race in masters seemed to be solved early in the weekend when Polander Daniel Zajac looked unbeatable in Expert. Behind, however, it was a full cast of North Americans jockeying for the podium. Ariel Castro put on the helmet this weekend and ran runner up in each of the three heats. In the Final, however, Castro retired as they neared the halfway mark in what looked to be under his own decision. The culprit was a broken reed and his shot at the podium was out the window.
Gaia Magno had already gotten around Castro on the start and was keeping with Zajac in the early laps. The separation began shortly after and eventually turned into a 3-second win for Zajac. Magno controlled the position in second while the fight carried on for fourth and fifth between an American and Canadian, Erik Jackson and Giuseppe Crupi. Jackson eventually got the best of Crupi as the two rounded out the final two podium spots.
Timothy Meyer and Francisco Costa finished 16th and 17th, and the winner of the oldest competitor, Kurtis Breeding, finished 23rd at the age of 61.
Denmark-Gessel first American in Super ROK
Arizona resident, Jace Denmark-Gessel, was the very first American to ever compete in the Super ROK category. The Ryan Perry Motorsport tuned entry of Denmark-Gessel, pitted with Ward Racing, made the jump to the pinnacle of single speed ROK categories after having competed in Junior events all summer. It was a very respectable showing, having qualified 13th out of 31 in a direct-drive category we don't see in the States.
It all came back to where it started for Denmark-Gessel, finishing 13th in the final and most certainly getting the young talent a head start on his senior-level competition for the upcoming season.
Updated: An earlier version stated that Ariel Castro retired in the Expert ROK Final due to an undisclosed injury rather than broken reeds.