Heading to the 16th annual SuperKarts! USA (SKUSA) SuperNationals, I didn’t know what to expect. The largest race in the history of the event, a TaG Senior field nearly 90 drivers strong, and a five-day jam-packed schedule and some of the top karting drivers from around the world battling it out for SuperNats glory. Throw all this on to a temporary racecourse, an awesome half-day schedule leading up until SuperSunday and the obvious Las Vegas nightlife, the weeklong event turned out to be one for the ages.
Having an event in Florida leading up to the SuperNats, I boarded a plane early Monday morning after Rotax action was completed Sunday afternoon. Jet-setting my way across the United States, I would arrive at the already buzzing paddock. Several teams were already set up, the track was under construction and drivers were continuing to stream through the hotel. The paddock was a mess…at least it was an organized mess. The SKUSA crew is one of the best in the business and they were working hard to get the big and small trailers in place in an orderly fashion. As always, the Las Vegas Fire Department made their usual inspection ensuring fuel was not stored under the tent, exit and no smoking signs were in place and fire extinguishers were easily accessible.
Working throughout the day, the paddock was abuzz. Vendors row looked to be jam packed yet again, the announcers stand was in place and curbs were poured. This was the talk of the two days leading up to the first official track session. With cement trucks around the circuit and a crew of workers installing wood frames, the SKUSA crew was doing something that nobody had even expected. Dubbed ‘The A Team,’ the crew was working hard to install real concrete curbs on the apex of every corner and remove barriers for better sight lines for drivers and spectators.
With the track closed for teams and drivers to check out the progress, the SKUSA crew continued to impress with the painting of the now hardened curbs providing for colorful action shots when the wheel-to-wheel action took place. With the track opening Tuesday evening at 6pm for drivers and crews to have their first up close look of the layout, hundreds of competitors would take to the track under the lights to determine the best racing line, gear and passing zones.
Other noticeable changes from previous years were the increase in grandstands, the ever-growing vendors row area and the number of spectators that would stream through the paddock throughout the week, and a larger more spaced out paddock would provide lots of room for working. Personally, I would notice a lot more karters who were not participating in the event show up over the weekend. Not having the funds to race or time constraints not allowing them to do so, several competitors would make the trek to Las Vegas on Friday to take in the weekend’s racing action.
Drivers from around the world, and some that you would only read about, would also make the trip to Las Vegas for the 2012 program. CRG would send a pair of factory pilots who would call PSL Karting home while Tony Kart would have a full tent of competitors in the KZ ranks. European Champions Charles Leclerc and Dennis Olsen would battle in the TaG Senior field with some of North America’s best while Alessandro Manetti would see action in the S1 division. America’s top karting pilot Gary Carlton would return back to the driver’s seat aboard an Energy chassis with Buddy Rice Karting while Nick Neri would get a shot with the Tony Kart factory team.
New teams would also make the presence known in Las Vegas, as Team MDD, IPK North America and ART GP would be seen in the paddock and on track. The largest increase in team size would have to be from the Praga family. With new dealers and small race teams in place across North America, the family of dealers would all collect in one common area in the paddock. With a professional atmosphere, large team tent and solid results, the Praga line of chassis is looking to make a huge push in the North American marketplace.
With everyone in place and the paddock set, Wednesday morning would be an early one, as the drivers meeting would commence at 7am. With a large number of drivers and the cool half-day schedule, S4, TaG Senior, S2 and KZ2 would see on track action between 7:30am and 11:30am while TaG Junior, TaG Cadet, S1, TaG Masters and S5 would be on track from 12:30pm to 5:30pm. The split schedule would allow for more “Vegas time” for families while tuners would take advantage of the program as numerous would work for drivers in both the morning and the afternoon.
With no serious incidents throughout the two days of practice, the barriers would start to take a beating on Friday, as heat races would begin. Some close qualifying and increased speeds by others would leave several of the front-running competitors on the outside looking in as SKUSA Pro Tour titles and SuperNationals crowns were on the line.
The storyline of Friday and Saturday was all about consistent finishes. No matter whom I spoke with, their number one goal was to finish the heats and finish them well. Tuners would explain to their drivers not to make stupid moves while teams would work together to ensure all of their drivers were at the front. This was clearly evident in the Italian Motors program. With Michael Valiante leading the way for the TaG Senior drivers, he would occasionally drop back behind his teammates through the ten-minute practice session as he looked to help them increase their times. Putting his own event on hold to help his customers and drivers, Valiante would run near the top of the field throughout the weekend before a late race incident on Super Sunday would take him out of contention for the win.
Saturday’s last chance events were something for the ages, as several championship caliber drivers from around the world would battle hard for a top six result and the chance to compete on Sunday. Florida Winter Tour TaG Junior champion Kyle Kirkwood and Rotax Pan American Championship runner-up Juan Manuel Correa would be on the outside looking in when the checkered flag flew in TaG Junior. Eliminated from the event and forced to watch from the sidelines on Sunday, both drivers were seen roaming the paddock and supporting their teammates on Super Sunday.
The TaG Senior LCQ was something special as multi-time Australian Rotax champion David Sera would look to make his way into the race and did so with a third place result. A spirited drive from TJ Koyen, who just made the switch to the Expirit chassis and showed his never give up attitude, came from a 31st starting position to cross the line in sixth and claim the last starting position in Super Sunday’s main event.
The story of the week in the KZ2 class was Max Verstappen, son of ex-Formula One driver Jos Verstappen. Claiming the pole position and heat race win on Friday, Max swept Saturday’s wheel-to-wheel action with another pair of heat race wins. Claiming the pole position for Sunday and having a wicked race pace, it looked as if the rest of the KZ competitors would be left to battle for second, but as they say in racing, its never over until the checkered flag flies. Bogging off the line during the main event standing start, Verstappen was able to maintain the lead for the first few circuits before his engine started heading south. Losing the lead off the exit of turn five, Verstappen handed the lead to Tony Kart’s Marco Ardigo who never looked back. Driving away from the field and to a $10,000 payday, Ardigo claimed his third SuperNationals victory. Verstappen would eventually retire from the race with what appeared to be an electrical issue.
If you were ever interested in picking up a good, used and meticulously prepped chassis, Sunday is your day at the SuperNats. With multiple teams and drivers heading to the United States from around the world, a fire sale on equipment post event would take place. With spectators, dealers and teams loading karts into trailers and pickups throughout the paddock, it was evident that almost all of the overseas entries would look to sell of their equipment at steep discounts and save on the shipping back home.
While drivers look forward to their chance to stand on top of the podium on Sunday, crews and teams are dreading the end of the week tear down and pack up. With almost all the teams working into the evening to complete the necessary teardowns, several chose to forgo the operation until Monday morning and attend the SKUSA victory banquet inside the Rio.
With the crowning of race winners, Pro Tour Champions and the handing out of checks and hardware, the party would then shift to the VooDoo lounge for the annual Superkarts! USA after party. Located on the 51st floor of the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino, the nightclub/bar would be full of racers, teams, families and spouses as they wound down from the biggest event of the season. With the party going on into the wee hours of the morning, Monday morning would see a lot of tired faces and slow moving people as they began to make their way out of Las Vegas. With only 364 days to the next SuperNationals, there are a lot of drivers who are looking at their shot for redemption as the planning begins now for the 2013 edition of the program.
Content: Mike Maurini, Race Tech Development / Photos: Cody Schindel, CanadianKartingNews.com
Related from SKUSA SuperNationals XVI:
SKUSA SN16: Ardigo wins his third SKUSA SuperNationals SuperPro title!
SKUSA SN16: Brilliant drive by Lance Stroll to score the victory in TaG Junior!
SKUSA SN16: SuperNationals Glory for Anthony Gangi Jr in TaG Cadet
SKUSA SN16: Gabby Chaves wins an exciting TaG Senior SuperNationals Final!
Photo Gallery: SKUSA SuperNationals XVI – Gallery 4
Photo Gallery: SKUSA SuperNationals XVI – Gallery 3
Photo Gallery: SKUSA SuperNationals XVI – Gallery 2
Photo Gallery: SKUSA SuperNationals XVI – Gallery 1