The Rotax Challenge of the Americas program hosted rounds three and four this past weekend (February 8-10) at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association facility in Glendale, Arizona. The 3/4-mile course has been a regular stop on the six-year old international Rotax Max Challenge series, testing both man and machine with a challenging layout. The weather was a non-factor this weekend, unlike the opening rounds in Tucson with severe cold temperatures. Racing continued to be fierce as the 116 drivers in attendance provided excitement each and every session, shaping up the championship chases heading into the series finale next month.
The Buddy Rice Karting Senior Max division saw 37 drivers contest the weekend’s events with two different winners over the two rounds of racing. Phillip Arscott backed up his win in Tucson with another in Round 3 while Phoenix driver and 2012 Challenge champion Phil DeLaO marked his series return with victory in Round 4. Arscott had a near perfect day on Saturday, leading the class from qualifying to the main event. The Oregon driver led all 17 laps of the Prefinal, but had to fight his way back to the front in the Final. Relegated back to fourth at the start of the 25-lap event, Arscott returned to the point by lap eight and was able to escape with the victory. The battle for second went to the wire with Louie Pagano scoring the runner-up position with Andrew Palmer credited with third. DeLaO had similar results as he swept the action on Sunday. DeLaO led every competition lap in the Prefinal and Final at his home track. All eyes, however, were on Pagano in the main event. Recording a DNF in the Prefinal with a flat tire, the Californian put in a phenomenal drive from 33rd to third in just 25 laps. Arscott completed the podium in second, securing the championship lead heading to the season finale.
The winning streak for 2012 Challenge champion Fritz Leesmann came to an end this weekend in the Dallas Karting Complex DD2 division. The NorCal driver was en route to the victory in Round 3 when the gear selector broke on his DD2 engine. Stuck in second gear, he was forced to retire from the event. This allowed Sean Owens to slide by and take over the lead. The Texan went on to score his first Challenge victory with Bill Kann and Andrew Evans trailing. Leesmann returned to his winning ways the following day, recording a perfect score on the day’s action for his third win of the season. Owens settled for second with Kann in third. Phoenix driver Alan Rudolph used the home track advantage in the Billet Performance DD2 Masters class to sweep the entire weekend. Rudolph was top qualifier both days, and won each Prefinal and Final, but it was not without a challenge. Texan Mike Jones, Canadian Daryle Redlin and 2012 Challenge Masters Max champion Paul Bonilla kept Rudolph honest all weekend. Jones was the lead challenger on Saturday with Redlin placing third. On Sunday, Redlin was the quickest driver on-track, but unable to secure a pass for the lead. Jones rounded out the podium for Round 4.
The same two drivers in the Rolison Performance Group Junior Max class that were victorious in Tucson stood atop the podium in Phoenix. Blaine Rocha and Luke Selliken each earned their second win of the season. Rocha backed up his Round 2 victory with a perfect round Saturday. Securing the pole position, the Californian dominated the Prefinal and Final events by leading all 43 circuits of competition. Utah pilot Austin Versteeg was able to hold off a late charge by Selliken for the runner-up position. Sunday began with 2012 Challenge Mini Max champion Christian Brooks securing the pole position and Prefinal win. The Final was an epic battle with a number of drivers in the hunt. Selliken, who started fifth, was quick on getting to the point and was able to distance himself from the rest of the field. In the end, Oregon driver earned his second victory of the season by just over a second. Noah Grey was able to escape the fight behind Selliken with the runner-up position while Brooks earned his first trip to the Junior podium in third. Brenden Baker added some excitement, driving from the tail of the field to be in the hunt at the end of the race, classified fifth after the 25 laps.
The championship chase in the CRG-USA Masters Max category will go down to the wire in Fontana following the results in Phoenix with Justin Peck and Ken Maxfield each recording their first Challenge victory. Saturday was a dual between Peck and Maxfield, with Justin scoring the victory as Durbin finished third. Sunday was a two driver battle, this time with Durbin and Maxfield fighting it out all day long. It went down to the wire, with Maxfield able to hold off Donald to the line first while Peck scored the third place finish. All three will enter the finale weekend within five points of each other.
Chase Farley and Sting Ray Robb were the victors in the HoleShot Drive Systems Mini Max division in Phoenix. Farley escaped contact between Roy Fulmer VI and Robb in the closing stages of the Final with the lead and scored his first Challenge victory. Horatio Fitz-Simon and Canadian Griffin Dowler benefitted from the contact to move onto the podium. Robb struck back the following day with sweep in the action. The Idaho pilot drove to a near three second victory with Fitz-Simon in the runner-up position once again while Fulmer won the battle for third. The Overdrive Motorsports Micro Max saw another exciting weekend of racing with the youngest group of drivers. Arizona driver Diego LaRoque held off Payton Durrant and Liam Letzsch for the victory in Round 3. Durrant came back the next day to record his second main event win of the season, outrunning Letzsch and Niemkiewicz.
The Challenge will complete the 2013 winter season on March 8-10 as rounds five and six will determine the championship chases, visiting the CalSpeed Karting facility – outside the Auto Club Speedway – in Fontana, California.