The 2013 Florida Winter Tour Season kicked off today under bright blue skies and temperatures in the low 80’s, emphasizing two big reasons FWT is truly “THE Winter Place To Be”. The huge gathering of talented racers assembled at the Palm Beach International Raceway took advantage of every minute of it. This is the 15th year of Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour, and early indications are it could be the best ever.
The large fields of karts, topped by 40 entrants in AM Engines Formula Vortex TaG Cadet, would feature fantastic racing all day long. This was, in no small part, due to the FWT’s revised heat format rules whereby the second heat would be run in the reverse order of qualifying. Speculation was we’d be seeing the faster karts moving up through the packs. Speculation proved right and it was a treat for the packed grandstand to watch some put on a clinic of how to get from the back to the front in a hurry.
One of the other changes this year, specific to the PBIR facility, is the newly revised chicane in the front straight. Last years relaxed chicane led to karts running flat out for too long and it was requested by the competitors to split the section into two straights and add an additional passing zone. To get some feedback on the new section, we talked to many different drivers as they were awaiting their heat races. While some discussed the section in terms of surface, grip levels and curbs, one of our TaG Cadet drivers nailed it perfectly when he said, “You used to go, like, ‘eeeeeEEEEEeeeeee’ through there. Now you go, ‘EEEEEEEE… ererererererer… baaaWAAAAAA…’, it’s more fun this way.” We have to assume that for those who speak gearhead, no translation is necessary.
After a morning warm up, the karts took to the track to qualify then race their heats. Here’s a brief rundown of how the events played out.
Euro Motorsport Sponsored Formula TaG Masters
Qualifying was all Christian Calvo as the Venezuelan blasted around the revised PBIR track in 54.419 seconds. In the first heat race it was South Carolinian Chuck Gafrarar who took an impressive lead over Mexican Javier Gonzalez to win by almost 4 seconds. In the second heat, it was Gafrarar again first to the line after starting in the back of the pack. In the TaG Masters Final, the popular “Chuck G” started up front and led all the way to capture a three second victory over Venezuelan Juan J. Font, who was in turn 4.5 seconds ahead of U.S. driver Nelson Canache.
RYSA Racing sponsored TaG Senior
The Tag Senior class featured some tight racing throughout the pack. In the first heat race, Venezuelan Jose Zanella put his pole position and AM chassis to good use to take the win over the reigning FWT TaG Senior Champion Danny Formal.
In the second heat race, Zanella put on a passing clinic, moving from his last place starting position of 19th to the lead………wait for it………..in 2 laps! Formal took longer to get to second from his back-of-pack starting position and couldn’t quite catch Zanella by the finish. In the Final, Formal stalked Zanella in the early stages before taking the lead. With Zanella’s previous form, many thought he could retake the top spot. But on this day Danny Formal would not be denied and showed why he’s the defending champion in the class. In the end it was Formal over Zanella by a little under two seconds with Floridian Roger Ralston also moving up from the back of the pack and rounding out the podium in third.
Motorsports Driver Development sponsored Formula TaG Junior
Every season, Formula TaG Junior provides some of the best racing in the entire program. One look at this year’s entry list and it was obvious this year we would see more of the same. In qualifying, American Jack Weprin of New York set the fast time of 53.145 seconds to grab pole position. In Heat Race #1, Weprin put in a sterling drive to take the win over Floridian Juan Manuel Correa. Heat Race #2 saw a new name up front as it was another fast Venezuelan, Sebastian Fernandez, who took the top spot. In the TaG Junior Final, Weprin and Correa started up front and battled for the lead. Eventually, Weprin ran into trouble and slid back to 11th. Correa was still running strong but it would be Christian Munoz of Florida who came home with the win over Correa and New York’s Gavin Reichelt.
GT7 Motorsports sponsored Formula Stock Moto / Formula Kart sponsored Formula Masters Shifter
Although the shifter karts don’t have the entry numbers they did in the heyday, they still pack a mean punch and are a venerable fan favorite. The shifter field would be comprised of two classes, Formula Stock Moto, and Formula Masters Shifter. In qualifying it was the American Kurt Mathewson of Florida who put in the fast time of 52.920 seconds. Kurt was actually going to run as a Master, but got talked into running Stock Moto and he handled it very well as he and Florida racer Don Whittington duked it out in the first heat race. Although Whittington won the first heat, he couldn’t answer the bell for round 2 and this time Mathewson won going away.
In the shifter Final, Whittington was back and he and Mathewson ran in lockstep for the first 15 laps of the race. Whittington actually led for 15/16th of the race, but going into the twisty section on the last lap, Mathewson pounced to take the lead. The final order was Mathewson the overall winner and winner in Stock Moto, followed by Whittington and Floridian David Levy. In the Masters Shifter category it was Floridian Greg Garretson taking the win over defending class champion George Moss of New York.
AM Engines sponsored Formula Vortex TaG Cadet
The biggest class in the Formula Kart Racing program took to the track last and it was definitely something worth waiting for. These kids race each other hard every step of the way. In the corners, off the corners, on the straightaways, it doesn’t matter. Every time Formula Vortex TaG Cadet takes the track at the Florida Winter Tour, you might as well pull up a chair and watch, whether you’re here in person, or at home watching the show on FWT LIVE! (exclusively at http://www.floridawintertour.com/).
TaG Cadet is not inverting its second heat race. Formula Kart Productions Bill Wright stated that the FWT Officials are evaluating the drivers and parents response, and are considering inverting the Cadet second heat at Homestead and/or Ocala.
In qualifying, David Malukis of Illinois qualified on pole with a fast lap of 59.044 seconds. Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh qualified right behind him with a time of 59.077. In Heat Race #1, it was New Yorker Anthony Gangi jr. who came from the third row to take the win over Malukis by 2 tenths of a second. In Heat Race #2, Gangi won again, this time by over two seconds from Venezuelan Santiago Terife. In the TaG Cadet Final, Gangi once again was the class of the field as he checked out to win by over seven seconds from second place Neil Verhagen mod Connecticut, and Texan Nick Brueckner in third.
At the end of the day, as the sun slowly set over the trees that line the PBIR facility, the podium ceremonies took place. This would be the first time FKP’s Bill Wright would present the drivers with the FWT’s new signature award, “The Palm”. Just as many other racing organizations have their special awards, Like the IKF “Duffy”, The KART “Triad”, or the NHRA “Wally”, “The Palm” stands as a proud symbol of achievement in one of the world’s largest and most competitive karting programs.
It was a fantastic day of action here in Palm Beach, Florida, and we’re not even done yet. Tomorrow the competitors of the Formula Kart Racing program get to do it all over again. The weather is forecast to be just as good, the action is sure to be intense, so if you’re anywhere near South Florida you owe it to yourself to come check out the Florida Winter Tour. And if you can’t make it in person, log onto www.FloridaWinterTour.com to watch the action live with FWT LIVE!. And be sure to send shout outs to your friends by participating in the live interaction feature by emailing live@FloridaWinterTour.com.
The Florida Winter Tour is one of the world’s largest, longest running and most geographically diverse kart racing programs. In 2012 the FWT featured over 400 drivers from 28 countries and all six karting continents, and for the 5th consecutive year was the world’s largest official Rotax Max Challenge series and event.
For more detailed information log on to the official FWT web site at www.floridawintertour.com LIKE FWT at www.facebook.com/FloridaWinterTour
By: Ken Johnson / Bill Wright