The 2013 Rotax Pan American Challenge has hit the track in New Orleans, Louisiana. The final chance for drivers to qualify for next months Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, this weekend also acts as a test for many drivers who are already qualified as NOLA Motorsports Park will host the Grand Finals.
With the Pan Am being an International event, this weekend’s event will award the winners of Junior,
Senior, DD2 and DD2 Masters with tickets to the Grand Finals, with the winning drivers awarding their previously earned ticket from their respective National championships. Meaning, if a Canadian driver wins this weekend, and is already qualified for the Grand Finals, the ticket goes back to the ECKC, WCC and Canadian Championships. Micro-Max and Mini-Max classes will also award three tickets per class, meaning no team in North America is set just yet.
After two days of practice, Friday saw official qualifying and heat #1 for every class. While a bright sunny sky welcomed everyone to the beautiful facility, a heavy rain storm rolled through at lunch, making for some interesting heat races.
A talent stacked 31-driver strong Rotax Senior field saw the top seven drivers all qualify within two-tenths of each other. Nipping his OGP teammate on the final lap, Nick Neri (TonyKart) better Oliver Askew (TonyKart) by 0.011 seconds, with both drivers from the USA. Defending Grand Finals, Florida Winter Tour and Rotax Euro Challenge Champion, Charlie Eastwood (TonyKart) of Ireland was another 0.02 seconds back but had to settle for third, while Americans Jack Weprin (FA Kart) and Dan Roeper (TonyKart) completed the top-five.
Canadians didn’t fair out too well as Zachary Claman DeMelo (Praga) was 11th, Zacharie Scalzo (TonyKart) was 16th, and Johnny Flute (Kosmic), Nathan Kelly (CRG) and Adam Dowler (TonyKart) held positions 21, 22 and 23.
Heat one saw all driver elect for slick tires on a drying, yet still very wet track. The unique layout had some high ground running water across the track in some areas causing plenty of action as drivers entered the very fast esses. Eastwood would show great talent through these tough conditions to win the heat followed by Philip Morin (FA Kart) of Sweden and Louie Pagano (Sodi-Kart) or the USA. A total of 16 drivers would receive penalties in heat #1 as a result of hitting cones, or cutting the track in the wet chicane, an interesting move by officials given the circumstance.
DeMelo led the Canadians with a 19th place run, with Dowler right behind him at the line in 20th. Nathan Kelly received nine seconds of penalties ending up 22nd with Scalzo and Flute scoring DNFs.
Saturday will see drivers line up for their second and third heat races from the position they qualified.