By: Ken Johnson / Bill Wright
The Rotax MAX Challenge portion of Formula Kart Production’s Florida Winter Tour was back in action today at Homestead Karting for Round Four of the 2013 FWT season. The day was sunny and warm, with bright blue skies and white puffy clouds. Just one of those days that makes the FWT “THE Winter Place To Be”.
The Homestead Karting facility is located within the confines of the Homestead-Miami Speedway complex where many professional series, such as NASCAR and Grand Am compete. The complex is also close to a naval air base that was running many training exercises this week. As such, fans of military aircraft were treated to an awesome display of flying machinery from fighter jets to tankers, and even an AWACS and other airplanes flying a few hundred feet above the packed grandstands.
It seems there’s always something new going on at The Tour. This weekend it was the introduction of Formula Kart Productions new line of “Lo Rider” casual karting apparel depicting the low-riding FWT kart logo. Although we had a hunch that the items could be popular, the demand was even greater than we expected and soon these items will be for sale over the internet.
It seems everywhere you look at the Florida Winter Tour, people are having Serious Fun! One of those people is Junior MAX driver Agusto Soto- Schirripa. The 12-year-old from Miami, FL has been racing since the age of five and says he got interested in racing at a very young age while sitting on the couch watching Formula One races with his dad. His eventual goal is to be a professional racing driver either in F1, Daytona Prototypes or the LeMans Series.
Agusto says his best day in karting so far was his first FWT race in Mini MAX at Ocala Gran Prix. He says that day is special because he had never even seen the kart he was to drive that weekend until he arrived at the track, yet was able to finish seventh against some extremely stiff competition. When not racing karts, Agusto says he likes to play a lot of different sports, go mountain biking with his dad and road cycling with his mom.
Canadian Scott Campbell is making his Florida Winter Tour debut this season as a DD2 Masters competitor. In fact, as the 2010 Rotax MAX DD2 Masters World Champion, he’s part of the elite group that have brought so many titles to that class. Scott has been racing for 24 years and has more Rotax Grand Finals experience than any other driver, having competed in the championship event nine times. He says his decision to come to the FWT was based on conversations he had with Cristiano Morgado as well as the other highly skilled drivers he saw that were planning to race here.
The 34-year-old is a resident of Saskatoon, Canada and works as a machinist. Scott says he doesn’t have many hobbies outside of karting but enjoys playing soccer when he can. He’s been married for six years and said he and his wife are expecting their second child in 2013, so this may be his last “kick at the can” for another world championship. Whether it is or not, we wish him the best of luck.
Eleven-year-old Nicholas Brueckner of Houston, TX is entering his third year of racing karts and already has a US National Championship in Micro MAX to his resume. He got started in racing when his papa came home from work one day and showed him a video of karting and asked him if he wanted to try it. His grandmother said the family could tell he’d be great at driving because by the time he was only 18-months-old he was already driving a Barbie Jeep forward, backwards and sideways through the whole house!
Nicholas says his goals in karting are to become a factory driver and that coming to the Florida Winter Tour is helping him gain the skills necessary to accomplish that goal because of how tough the competition is. When not racing Nicholas likes playing soccer and basketball and both water and snow skiing. These are just some of the drivers that we’ve gotten to know from the paddock. Let’s take a look at how some of them performed on the race track today.
PSL Karting sponsored Rotax DD2 (12 Entries)
The first class in today’s racing queue was the two-speed DD2 karts. Belgian Xen De Ruwe set the pole time for the pre-final in Friday’s qualifying trials and, after dominating the field on Saturday, was looking to continue that form today. However, three-time world champion Ben Cooper was keen to get back to his winning ways and in the pre-final, the “United Kingdanadian” did just that to prevail over De Ruwe by 0.746 of a second.
In the DD2 final, Ben got the jump at the start with Marco Di Leo falling in right behind. Xen De Ruwe was following closely in third, but had his sights on the lead. Just behind the leaders were two more Canadians as Jesse Lazare battled Indycar star James Hinchcliffe for fourth. As the laps wore on, Cooper began to steadily pull away and at the checkers had a 4.223 second lead over second place. Behind Cooper, Marco Di Leo survived a serious last lap challenge from De Ruwe to take second by just 0.068 of a second.
GT7 Motorsports sponsored Micro MAX (33 Entries)
So far this weekend, the Micro MAX class has been owned by the GT7 Motorsports teammates Dylan Tavella (USA) and Giovanni Bromante (USA). During Friday’s qualifying session, the two qualified within 0.033 of a second from each other and were never more than a few feet apart in the Saturday races. In today’s pre-final, they again outran the field with Bromante taking the win by a scant 0.057 seconds.
In the final, Bromante and Tavella paced the field to the green, but going into turn one it was Derek Carmenate (USA) who would split the two to take second. By lap two, Bromante and Carmenate were breaking away from the field while Tavella and Harry Coulton (USA) were working together to catch them. Carmenate did all he could to try to get around Bromante, but in the end, he would have to settle for second. It was a great win for Giovanni Bromante who has really been running fast this year. Behind the top two, Harry Coulton was able to take third to claim the last Micro MAX FWT Palm.
Rolison Performance Group sponsored Rotax Masters (14 Entries)
So far this season we’ve watched as Derek Wang dominate the MAX Masters class. With the Washingtonian on pole position for the pre-final, would we be seeing the same again? As it turned out, Wang was fast, but Leonardo Nienkotter (Brazil) was faster and took the pre-final win by 1.756 seconds over Wang.
In the MAX Masters final, Nienkotter got the jump into turn one and it was Scott Falcone (USA) who followed him into second while Derek Wang fell back a few positions to fourth behind Michael Auriemma (USA). Within a couple laps, Wang was able to work his way back to third, but by that time, Nienkotter and Falcone were gone. In the end, it was Nienkotter taking a dominant win over Falcone and Wang, prompting Formula Kart Production’s Bill Wright to ask him during the podium celebrations what made the difference from Saturday. Leonardo said he and his team found something in their setup that worked. But, like a true racer, he was not about to share what it was.
Ocala Gran Prix sponsored Rotax Junior (48 drivers)
Ignacio Salvucci (Argentina) would lead the Junior MAX competitors to the green at the start of the Junior MAX pre-final, but by the end of the 16- lap-race, it was Saturday Junior MAX winner Thomas Issa (Jamaica) who would be taking the checkers first. Salvucci held on for second just ahead of Brazilian Pedro Cardoso and Poland’s Antoni Ptak.
At the start of the final, Issa led into one with Cardoso and Salvucci right behind as a couple spinning karts sent half the field into avoidance mode. When the dust settled, all were back up to speed, but some had a lot of ground to make up. Up front, Issa and Cardoso had a great battle going until Cardoso got taken out by an incident that had taken placed before the leaders arrived on the scene. This gave Thomas Issa all the breathing room he needed to take the win over Ignacio Salvucci and Antoni Ptak.
AM Engines sponsored Rotax Mini MAX (37 drivers)
The Florida Winter Tour has a reputation around the world as having the strongest Micro and Mini MAX fields you’ll find anywhere. And this weekend, with 37 entries in Mini MAX, was no exception. Leading things off in qualifying was Nicholas Brueckner (USA) who set the fastest time. Brueckner was able to parlay the pole position into a fantastic race win over Anthony Gangi Jr. (USA) and Michael Benyahia (USA).
Starting the final, it was again Brueckner leading the way. However, starting lap five, Benyahia made his bid for the lead down the inside going into turn one. The pass was clean but as Brueckner swung wide to get a better corner exit, he touched the curb just enough to upset his kart, allowing Gangi by as well. One lap later and Gangi took the lead, but it wasn’t over yet. Benyahia challenged the New Yorker all the way to the finish with Brueckner ready to strike should either of them bobble.
In the end, it was Gangi with the win, followed by Benyahia in second and Brueckner third. For Anthony Gangi Jr, it was the seventh win this season out of eight Florida Winter Tour races he’s run. We’ve been watching this young driver do some pretty impressive things over the last few years. But for 2013, he and the GT7 team have taken everything up a notch and the results are proof their extra effort is working.
SH Karting sponsored DD2 Masters (12 drivers)
With 12 entries on the entry list, DD2 Masters is far from the largest class at the Florida Winter Tour. But, what it lacks in numbers, the entrants make up in accomplishments and accolades. In fact, in just this one class, the drivers collectively make up seven world championships and numerous FWT and national titles. Leading the way in qualifying was South Africa’s Cristiano Morgado who would also take the win in the pre-final. Rounding out the pre-final top three were Scott Campbell (Canada) and Alessandro Manetti (Italy) for a total of 6 world titles represented in just the top three.
In the final, Campbell got the drop on the field but slipped up a bit on the opening lap allowing Morgado, former FWT champion Rene Martinelli (USA) and double CIK world champion Manetti through. Beginning lap two, Alessandro Manetti drafted past Rene Martinelli down the front straight. The battle for second between Manetti, Martinelli and Campbell allowed Cristiano Morgado to pull a bit of a cushion that he would build to just over three seconds at the checkers. Behind Morgado, a furious battle raged among the other various champions of the sport. In the end Manetti captured second while Martinelli came home third to take home his first FWT Palm trophy.
During the podium celebrations, Bill Wright commented to Cristiano that he manages to make wining look easy even amongst one of the toughest fields at the FWT. Ever so humble, Cris was quick to point out that his success is due in a large way to the support he’s received from his team. To that end we must point out that his tuners for this year’s Tour have been fellow South Africans Ralph and Henry Odendaal. Considering Ralph was just a small twist of fate from one, or possibly two, world championships of his own a few years back, and you understand just what a formidable team this is.
MRP Motorsports sponsored Rotax MAX Senior (46 drivers)
Oliver Askew (USA) would start the Senior MAX pre-final from pole position after being the fastest qualifier during Friday’s time trials. The young Floridian is the reigning FWT Junior MAX champion and he’s been hungry to prove he can win in Senior MAX too. The lead battle in the pre-final was a tight one between Askew, reigning Senior MAX World Champion Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland) and Nick Neri (USA). Once Askew had established the lead, he was able to extend it by about a half a tenth a lap to take the pre-final win.
The Senior MAX final got underway early due to the ever diligent Formula Kart Productions crew keeping everything running so smoothly. At the start it was Askew who assumed the lead with Neri on his tail. Behind them, Eastwood and reigning US Senior MAX national champion Daniel Formal were hooked up and running down the leaders. By the time Eastwood and Formal got around Neri, Askew was six tenths clear of second place. Of course, to many people, six tenths of a second sounds like the blink of an eye. But, to race fans, that can be very significant. For Charlie Eastwood, it meant that Oliver Askew was just outside the range he needed to pick up the draft. As such, Oliver was able to extend his lead by just enough each lap to pick up his first international win in the Senior MAX class.
As Oliver crossed the line, the roar from his Ocala Gran Prix crew all but drowned out Charlie Eastwood and Daniel Formal coming home second and third respectively. During the podium celebrations, Oliver said he made the conscious decision before the race never to look behind him and just keep driving.
And with that, we’re now two-thirds through the 15th annual Florida Winter Tour season. We hope that those of you that could not make this event in person were able to watch the races live on FWT LIVE! Next up on the schedule is the karting sanctified grounds of the Ocala Gran Prix facility on February 16-17 for the FWT Formula Kart Racing program and February 22-24 for the FWT Rotax MAX Challenge.
If you saw how good the action was from the first four rounds, just wait until Ocala! With all championships on the line for manufacturer’s cup, the nation’s cup, the Skip Barber Racing awards, the FWT driver’s championships and the coveted Dan Wheldon – FWT Karting Ambassador Award, Championship Sunday in Ocala is going to be one for the history books!
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