Florida Winter Tour Action Heats Up in Palm Beach
Sunday marked the second day of competition for the Formula Kart Racing classis of the 2013 edition of the Florida Winter Tour. Participants were once again greeted with deep blue skies, temperatures in the high 70’s and a cooling breeze, confirming that FWT is “THE Winter Place To Be!”.
A change to the racing format of the Formula Kart Racing events added to the popularity of this portion of the Florida Winter Tour, and is credited for a solid increase in entries for 2013. The new format inverts the starting order from the first heat to the second and has received rave reviews from the competitors and spectators alike.
For 2013, The Florida Winter Tour maintains its role as a leader in the development and implementation of advanced racing event technology. Items like the live interactive race broadcasts, a 16-channel video marshaling system, a remotely operated SRS Light Marshaling system, and a portable starting gantry with digital speed readout are just some of the innovations Formula Kart Productions has brought to the America karting community.
The awards given out at the FWT are very special as well. This year marks the debut of the new FWT Palm trophy that is presented to all podium finishers. With the increase in entries for the Formula Kart Racing events the list of potential winners of the trip to the Granja 500 has begun to grow. Also growing are the points tallies for the Nations and Manufacturer’s Cups. Although the USA is the defending Nation’s Cup champion, one look at the results shows that Venezuela has come to make a serious challenge for this year’s title.
Faces in the Paddock
Chuck Gafrarar is attending his third Florida Winter Tour season and he returns to defend the TaG Masters crown he won in 2012. The 42-year-old from Concord, NC has been racing for 33 years and also owns a very successful fabrication business that served the marketing needs for many popular NASCAR teams.
Chuck was named Rookie-of-the-Year in the Goody’s Dash Series for 2002, but with no funding to continue that route, decided to come back to karts where there was more bang for the buck. When asked why he started racing in the FWT, his answer was simple, “I just wanted to get out of the cold weather and race!”
TaG Senior driver Ian Cummings has been racing karts for four years and is making his second appearance at the Florida Winter Tour. The 16-year-old hails from Ponce, Puerto Rico and says he initially came to the FWT because many of the other drivers he knew back home recommended it. Of his experiences so far, Ian says the FWT is an amazing program with the best competition he’s ever seen.
When Ian is back home in Ponce, he likes to play soccer with his friends but must also keep up with his schoolwork. He says for now racing is mostly for fun but one never knows what the future holds. Perhaps someday he will make the transition to formula cars like his favorite drivers, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.
The second day of on-track action rivaled the first. Here’s a breakdown of the action that took place at the Palm Beach International Raceway.
Euro Motorsports sponsored Formula TaG Masters
In qualifying for Formula TaG Masters, Venezuelan Juan J. Font’s time of 54.765 bested all other qualifiers to give him the pole position going into the first heat race. In Heat One, it was the defending class champion Chuck Gafrarar (USA) who took the win followed by Juan J. Font and fellow Venezuelan Luis Terife. In Heat Two, it was fast qualifier Font who prevailed to take the win after starting at the tail of the inverted field.
In the TaG Masters Final Font took the early lead followed by Gafrarar. For a number of laps Gafrarar closed in on the Venezuelan, but Font started building his lead to an eventual 1.464 seconds at the finish to take a well-deserved win. Behind Gafrarar, Nelson Canache (USA) had his best performance of the young season to claim the last spot on the podium.
RYSA Racing sponsored Formula TaG Senior
Qualifying for TaG Senior belonged to Venezuelan Jose Zanella who took top honors over Danny Formal (USA) with a time of 52.903 seconds. In Heat #1, Zanella used his pole position to take the early lead, but he could never shake the kart of Danny Formal off his rear bumper. Lap-after-lap the two battled with Zanella eventually taking the win by 1/10th of a second. With the field being inverted for Heat Two, it was a chance for Kevin Barbesino (USA) to shine as he took the lead and held it for quite some time. However, Danny Formal was coming through the pack and took over the top spot around halfway, and then went on to record the win.
In the Tag Senior final it was once again Danny Formal and Jose Zanella set to start on the front row. But problems for Zanella caused him to miss the Final and Danny took full advantage to record his second victory of the weekend. Behind Formal, Roger Ralston jr. made a fantastic start from the sixth position to get up to second by lap two. He would hold that position for the rest of the race to make the podium once again. Behind Ralston in third was Columbian Wilson Hurtado to round out the podium.
Motorsports Driver Development sponsored Formula TaG Junior
Brasilian Gustavo Lopes put his kart on pole for TaG Junior with a fast lap of 53.030 seconds. This was one of the closest qualifying grids ever as less than one tenth of a second covered the first four competitors. In Heat One, Lopes proved his qualifying pace was no fluke as he took a tight win over Devlin DeFrancesco (USA). In Heat Two, New York’s Jack Weprin served notice that he was a force to be dealt with as he took the victory.
The TaG Junior Final was truly one to be remembered. It’s one of the reasons we archive the races on FWT LIVE! We won’t say “we told you so”, but if you missed it, be sure to catch it when it goes in the FWT LIVE archive. The race started with Jack Weprin on pole and taking the initial lead in the race. Behind Weprin was a multitude of determined young drivers in a pack that was bunched together reminiscent of a NASCAR restrictor plate race. Around three-quarters distance, Juan Manuel Correa (USA) took the lead going into the final corner. Although Juan’s lead was challenged many times, battles from second place on back kept Correa freed up enough to bring home the win for class sponsor Jay Howard. Joining Juan on the podium was Poland’s Antoni Ptak and Jack Weprin.
GT7 Motorsports Formula Stock Moto / Formula Kart Formula Masters Shifter
After missing out on the win in Saturday’s race, Floridian Don Whittington was back with a vengeance to take pole position for Formula Stock Moto. In Heat One, Don resumed the battle for the lead with Kurt Mathewson, beating him out at the line by just under three-tenths of a second. In Heat Two, Greg Garretson (USA) represented the Masters Shifter drivers well by taking the overall win. The shifter final was another closely fought race. This time it was Kurt Mathewson taking the win over David Levy (USA) and Greg Garretson.
AM Engines sponsored Formula Vortex TaG Cadet
Anthony Gangi jr. (USA) took up in TaG Cadet qualifying where he left off the day before, up front. In Heat One, Neil Verhagen (USA) gave Gangi one heck of a battle for the win but fell just three-tenths of a second short. In Heat Two, the roles were reversed as it was Verhagen taking the win over Gangi by a scant 0.012 seconds.
The TaG Cadet Final featured a thrilling dice between Anthony Gangi jr. and Michael d’Orlando (USA). For many laps the two were just inches apart. With a handful of laps to go the two got separated on the far side of the track. When they emerged out of the esses, Gangi had a larger lead on the new second place kart while d’Orlando fell back several spots. Although d’Orlando did eventually climb back to fourth, at the checker it was Neil Verhagen (USA) in second followed by Venezuelan Santiago Terife who would stand on the podium.
It was an amazing weekend here in Palm Beach, Florida, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or on-track action. As the initial FWT 2013 weekend comes to a close, we celebrate the triumphs of the competitors and look forward to many more in the Florida Winter Tour’s 15th season.
If you’re anywhere near South Florida you owe it to yourself to come check out the Florida Winter Tour in person. 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
Report and Photos by: Ken Johnson / Bill Wright