The inception of the BENIK Kart chassis happened only two years ago at the hands of Ben Cruttenden and Nick Mitchell making their accomplishments in 2015 that much more impressive. Capping off their sixth title of the season at the event that BENIK Kart made their debut at only 24 months ago, it’s no wonder everyone is giving them a second look when they walk by.
Focusing their efforts on the youngest levels of the sport, BENIK Kart has developed a chassis for the Mini and Micro categories and that may be what has helped them succeed so quickly. Initially starting with only one driver at the 2013 SKUSA SuperNationals, this past month the brand had 26% of the entries in the TaG Cadet class with a whopping 22 drivers and they closed out their season with a bang, victory along with three drivers in the top-five plus the overall SKUSA Pro Tour championship where BENIK drivers finished 1-2.
CKN: What do you feel has been the biggest contributing factors to BENIK’s early success?
Nick Mitchell (NM): There are a lot of factors that go into winning races. We’ve been racing at the biggest races in North American to gain the most experience and we’ve had a great group of drivers that all push each other to be better and that along with our overall team program and atmosphere has really helped bring us early success.
Everyone who has driven the kart immediately says how user friendly and easy it has been to drive. For the kids being at a very young age, a simple approach has allowed the focus to be on the driver and not always fine tuning the kart.
But the SKUSA SuperNationals was only the icing on the cake in 2015. It all started in January with the Florida Winter Tour and Rotax Challenge of the Americas. In Florida, BENIK required a new team tent to support the numbers of drivers wishing to drive with them, eventually claiming their first title of the season at the hands of Englishman Jonny Edgar in Vortex TaG Cadet, taking three race victories with him along the way. In the West, privateer Diego LaRoque went on a tear at the Challenge of the Americas, winning the Rotax Micro-Max title in fine fashion along with adding two FWT victories in his only two starts.
CKN: How did it feel to win two championships before the month of March was even complete?
NM: It felt fabulous. I think in a way it set us up for the year and definitely took a little pressure off. It built a lot of momentum for the summer season, especially with Jonny coming over from the UK and winning the FWT. It was good for the brand to have a European driver come to America and score some big wins for us.
For the summer season the BENIK Kart team focused their efforts on the ROK Cup USA program along with the SKUSA Pro Tour and US Pro Kart Series. Lachlan Defrancesco, the initial BENIK Kart driver had a stellar summer for the team, taking the USPKS Vortex Mini-ROK title along with runner-up in Yamaha Cadet. He also backed it up with the ROK Cup USA Mini-ROK Championship and a massive victory at the SKUSA Pro Tour SummerNationals in IAME Cadet in New Castle, Indiana vaulted him into the championship lead with only one race remaining. But he wasn’t alone, Tyler Maxson was impressive at the USPKS and Jonny Edgar was also on the SKUSA SummerNationals podium.
And on top of it all, Diego LaRoque continued to win in Rotax Max competition, topping the podium at the US Open and CAN-AM Karting Challenge in both Micro-Max and Mini-Max. BENIK Kart also welcomed Ugo Ugochukwu of KoeneUSA to the family mid-summer as the front running Micro-Max racer sought out more success in US Open competition aboard a BENIK Kart.
CKN: You were winning in basically every race a BENIK Kart entered, what was that like?
NM: From a brand standpoint it was awesome because not only were we winning inside our team tent, we were now winning outside of our home base of Florida and outside of our team tent across North America, both on the East and West coasts, with team drivers and privateers.
As the season wound down only three events were left on the schedule; the ROK Cup International Final, the US Open Finale and the highlight of the year, the SKUSA SuperNationals. Three drivers represented the BENIK brand in Italy for their only major European event of the season. Battling wet and cold conditions, Edgar and Defrancesco posted top-ten times in Qualifying against 112 of Europe’s best mini-kart drivers but the weekend unfortunately didn’t end as Mitchell had hoped.
CKN: What was it like in Italy, racing on your own chassis against teams with factory efforts?
NM: For us, it was one of the biggest races of the year in Europe and to have three drivers on the kart, representing our brand was really good. Qualifying went very well with great speed and having two drivers inside the top-10 was a great starting point. However to not come away with a win we were a little disappointed in that sense, but already plan to come back next year with a bigger and stronger team effort. We are also evaluating the plans of having an Italian based BENIK Kart team for 2016.
At the first of two stops in Las Vegas, LaRoque closed out his US Open Micro-Max Championship, the fifth of the season for BENIK, with a dominating victory on the temporary track in the parking lot of the RIO All Suites Hotel & Casino.
CKN: Describe how it felt for the team to see a privateer driver win a major title on a BENIK chassis.
NM: We feel that Diego has huge potential in motorsport and as the young driver that he is to win that many races this year, shows that he is very special. It was great for us to see him win as a privateer too and once again it shows that our kart is very good for every driver, not just our team drivers under the tent.
But regardless of all the success throughout the year, both Cruttenden and Mitchell had one race circled on the calendar that would make or break the year; The SKUSA SuperNationals. Held annually in Las Vegas, the SuperNationals is North America’s largest race of the year and attracts an incredible amount of talented drivers. Months of planning went into BENIK’s presence at the event, including another addition to the team awning with 22 drivers from Canada, USA and the UK all prepared for an assault on the TaG Cadet category.
Qualifying saw three BENIK Karts in to the top-ten with Defrancesco fourth, Edgar sixth and Ugochukwu eighth. Through the heat races and into the Super Final Edgar led the way for the team, delivering a massive victory with a last lap, last corner pass for the riches. Joining him in the top-five and on the podium were Anthony Willis and Tyler Maxson while a comeback drive for Defrancesco from 21st to 8th in the Final was enough for him to secure the SKUSA Pro Tour title with Edgar claiming second, even after missing the opening round.
CKN: Describe the SuperNationals and the feeling at the podium ceremonies.
NM: It was more relief than anything. Keeping in mind that in 2014 we had two drivers with a chance at the TaG Cadet title and we left without that number one plate was heart-breaking, so for us to leave Las Vegas this year with with not only the title but also a 1-2 in the championship was a great way to top the year off.
With the season complete and the numbers tallied it was a remarkable year for the BENIK Kart brand. Six major titles accomplished by three different drivers on three different engine power plants.
NM: For 2016, we are already building a very strong field of drivers for the cadet categories. We are looking forward to seeing how our current drivers like Egozi, Maxson, Gomez and Carmenate progress and develop on our chassis. The Florida Winter Tour is only a month away and we intend on defending our championship in Vortex Mini ROK.
We are also very excited to be fielding a 3-car Formula 4 team for the inaugural North American F4 Championship.
There is no argument that 2015 was the year of the BENIK Kart for the mini-kart categories in North America.
For more information about BENIK Kart, please visit their website at http://www.benik-kart.com.