The big event for Rok Cup racers is finally here. The annual Rok Cup International Final at the world-famous South Garda Karting circuit in Northern Italy welcomes over 450 drivers this week for their prestigious invitational event.
Eleven Canadian drivers qualified through the ASN Canadian Championships or the Pfaff Kartsport Cup and will take part in the race, with many taking the opportunity to travel early to Italy and race in this weekend’s Autumn Trophy. Drivers will be on track all week, pushing to advance to Saturday’s main events.
Our Canadian contingent has a great opportunity to show the world our level of karting talent and leading off our preview we look at the two drivers who will race in the Rok Junior category.
Dale Curran and Mackenzie Clark couldn’t be much more different. One is short, one is tall. One raced a Kosmic while the other was on a BirelART. One has been to the Rok Final before while the other is making his first truly international start. But one trait that is common between the two is their speed.
Curran basically controlled every race in Ontario this year and dominated at the Canadian Championships to secure his ticket. Clark was the only driver to stand above Curran on the podium in the Pfaff Cup, winning at Goodwood and brought home the runner-up honours to secure his ticket.
Looking at this weeks race, we have high hopes for both. The biggest hurdle will be getting up to speed quickly in Italy and thankfully both took part in the Autumn Trophy race. They will have 98 other competitors to deal with, meaning they need speed and consistency in the heat races to advance to the Final, but both for sure have the ability to do so.
No doubt, we’re excited to watch these two battle hard with the worlds best Junior Rokkers. Curran will suit up with powerhouse Ward Racing on a Kosmic Kart, with support from Racing Edge Motorsports Kevin Monteith, while Clark will join the BirelART Junior Team for the second year in a row.
We must also note Connor Zilisch, the champion last year in Mini Rok. The half-Canadian who resides in Florida will be one to watch up front this week.
In the Mini category, which boasts a whopping entry of 150 entrants, we have one Canadian looking to make a name for himself. You could combine every racer Frankie Esposito competed against this season and it may not even add up to 150, so no doubt he will have his work cut out for him. Our past experiences to the event in Italy remind us how cutthroat the racing is in Mini and even the smallest of mistakes could end any drivers chances to make the Finals.
If Esposito can adapt to the massive amounts of rubber that will go down in Qualifying and put in a solid time, he should be able to race himself forward in the heats and have a shot at the A or B Final.
Esposito will join Clark under the BirelART Junior Team tent, with guidance from tuner Anthony Tolfa and Trevor Wickens of Prime Powerteam.
A pair of Canadians will power Intrepid Karts in Italy as Marco DiLeo and Xavier Harris do battle in Senior Rok. With his experience from the race last year, DiLeo will help guide Harris through the challenges he’s going to face, but the together the tandem has the speed to race with the best.
Harris, this year’s Canadian Champion, may get caught off guard with the level on the intense competition he will face, as the racing in Italy does not compare to what we see in Canada, but he has the ability to find speed and that should really help him in the heat races. As for DiLeo, he just missed the A-Main a year ago and this could be his last chance to go out with a major result, so we’re expecting him to bring his best and roll to the front.
If you missed our chat with Marco DiLeo, talking about Rok Cup Canada, the International Final and Rok the Rio, click here.
In the Rok Shifter category, two more Canadians will suit up with the BirelART Junior Team. Isaac Marritt and Justin Luik enjoyed solid seasons in Ontario and were rewarded with invitations to Italy.
The Rok Final has been known to attract a number of very fast KZ2 drivers each year, meaning the two Canadians will be racing in a field chalked full of international talent. Marritt used the Autumn Cup to get up to speed while Luik arrived to watch on Sunday afternoon.
Luik is very excited but remains optimistic about his expectations this week, given it is still his first year racing shifter karts.
“I’m thrilled to be here, representing the red and white! I’m going to push myself to my limits and see where the cards fall.”
Rounding out Team Canada will be three drivers in Rok Expert. Canadian Champ Joe Crupi is gearing up for his second attempt in Italy and hoping the switch to a standalone Expert class will work in his favour after running into trouble with the Seniors last year.
Joining Crupi in Expert will be Adrian Donkers as well as John Cariati, who will compete as an Expert Plus for drivers over the age of 40.
It will be interesting to see the level of competition in the Expert divisions as it’s something we’ve never seen before in Italy. With that being said, Donkers was very fast at the Florida Winter Tour and that is most likely where the competition level will be. As for Cariati, the happiest guy in the paddock no matter where he’s racing, he should be in contention for an Expert Plus podium just like Crupi and Donkers in Expert.
We asked Crupi what his expectations are this week in Italy and he had a very humble, yet optimistic response.
“I’m going into the International Final excited that there is now a true Masters category. A class for my age group and where I can make weight. Of course I want to win but my main objective on track this year is to just finish each heat race cleanly. Anything else is a bonus.
I will also have my trusty tuner Brian [Bettencourt] coming this year so we will be hitting the ground running. I am making a point to take in more of the experience of being at this international event this year as It goes by so fast when you’re there. I feel so privileged to be able to participate in this type of event and will do my best to represent Canada and make Canadian kart racers proud.”