By Mike Stucker - Motorsport.com
CART Champ Car, Toyota Atlantic, and SCCA Trans-Am drivers took part in a meet-'n'-greet and go-kart challenge with members of the press Thursday at the Davey Jones KartZone in Houston. Owned by former Le Mans winner Davey Jones, KartZone is an in-door karting facility with a twisting 10-turn course. A perfect location for pre-race activities involving the drivers who will participate in this weekend's Texaco Havoline Grand Prix of Houston. Some of those present were Trans-Am drivers Justin Bell, Paul Gentilozzi, and Leighton Reese; Atlantics drivers Guy Cosmo, David Rutledge, and Joey Hand; and Champ Car drivers Max Papis, Tony Kanaan, and Gil de Ferran.
While the alcohol fueled karts are only capable of top speeds of around 40 mph, this didn't stop the drivers, nor the reporters on hand, from going as fast and as hard as possible. Several heats were run during the course of the afternoon, with a mixture of talent in each. Motorsport.com's own Chris Speigner was unceremoniously "walled" by Trans-Am champion Paul Gentilozzi while disputing the same corner. Afterwards, when it was jokingly pointed out to Paul that go-karts are more openwheeler than stockcar, and that body slams are not the norm, he replied, "That was survival".
The feature race of the day pitted several CART Champ Car drivers against several up-and-comers from the Toyota Atlantic series. While waiting to climb into their karts, Tony Kanaan handed Christiano de Matta a booster seat for his kart, which De Matta politely refused. After a short practice and qualifying session, the race was under way.
Max Papis, at one point early in the race, slowed down to allow the pack of karts trailing him to catch up and then decided to see if he could just block them and hold them up. After about one half lap of this, one kart slid by and pushed Max out to the curb. After that, they all got by as Max could not get back onto the racing line.
The race came down to a duel between Kanaan and de Matta. They traded fast laps back and forth with Kanaan finally taking the win. De Matta had to settle for second and fast lap of the race (and day) at 23.683 seconds. The track record is 23.438 seconds.
It looks like the drivers are ready and on form for this weekend's Texaco Havoline Grand Prix of Houston. Some possibly with revenge already on their minds.