DETROIT (November 7, 2000) - Kevin Christensen has always dreamed of driving in CART's FedEx Championship Series.
That dream is about to become reality for the 20-year-old from Castaic, Calif., after he won the Pro Superbox class in this weekend's inaugural CART "Stars of Tomorrow" challenge go-kart event at Las Vegas Karting Center, and the right to test one of Team Rahal's Champ Cars for two days beginning December 11, 2000.
"This is one of the biggest events I have been involved with," Christensen said. "It was very professional. I can't wait to drive a Champ Car! This is a life-long goal for me. My boss also races karts, and he's already promised the time off!"
Christensen was identified as a "Star of Tomorrow" after three grueling days of practice, qualifying, and racing on the 7/8-mile, 13-turn course at Las Vegas Karting Center. The track is co-owned by Champ Car driver Bryan Herta, and Herta's mentor, Hollis Brown.
The event was held November 3-5, and was organized by Herta, who was recently named as a driver for the new, two-car Zakspeed Forsythe Racing team for 2001. The karting event was divided into five classes: Junior Superbox, Junior 80cc Gearbox, Pro Superbox, Pro 80cc Gearbox, and Pro 125 Gearbox.
The winners of the Pro Superbox, Pro 80cc Gearbox, and Pro 125 Gearbox feature events each won a three-day Skip Barber Racing School, beginning November 28, in addition to the test with Team Rahal on the California Speedway road course in Fontana, Calif. Christensen won the Pro Superbox feature, with Jason Bowles, 18, of Ontario, Calif. winning the Pro 80cc Gearbox race, and Jonathan Bomarito, 18, of Salinas, Calif. won the Pro 125 Gearbox feature.
The three race winners will be joined at the Skip Barber School and the Team Rahal Champ Car test by two, "at-large" drivers. The "at-large" drivers were chosen by a panel that consisted of open-wheel drivers Casey Mears, Richie Hearn, Claude Bourbonnais, Memo Gidley, Alex Barron, Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani, and Herta; instructors from Skip Barber Racing School; and Jeremy Shaw, editor of Champ Car magazine.
The "at-large" picks were AJ Allmendinger, 17, of Hollister, Calif., who competed in the Pro 125 Gearbox event; and Brett Buckwalter, 18, of Novato, Calif., who drove in the Pro 80cc Gearbox event.
"We had a great panel of people watching with the Champ Car guys and the Skip Barber School," said Herta. "Lucikly, we had a lot of keen eyes on what was going on. There were 6-8 guys that we really looked pretty hard at, and I would have loved to get them all to do the test. Unfortunately we had to pick just two. Brett looked well on his way to winning (the Pro 80cc Gearbox feature) before his chain broke, and AJ showed a lot of heart. That's why we wanted to have the 'at-large' picks. They showed a tremendous amount of talent."
The top three finishers in the junior divisions were each awarded a 125cc Gearbox Driving School, and a test with Champ Car driver Tracy's Gearbox team - Paul Tracy Kart Racing. In the Junior Superbox feature, Caleb Sanden, 15, of Holtville, Calif. finished first, followed by Charlie Kimball, 15, of Camarillo, Calif. in second place, and Darren Hagan, 14, of Riverside, Calif. in third. Alex Speed, 14, of Manteca, Calif. won the Junior 80cc Gearbox feature with Kimball also finishing second in this event, and Joel Miller, 12, of Hesperia, Calif. finishing in third place.
A "Stars of Today" race, featuring celebrity drivers Mears, Hearn, Tracy, Barron, Herta, Bourbonnais, Gidley, and actor Alfonso Ribiero kicked off the afternoon racing session on Sunday. Gidley emerged victorious, followed by Hearn, Herta, Mears and Bourbonnais. Tagliani was also on-hand, but was unable to participate in the event due to injuries he sustained in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series finale at California Speedway on October 30.
All told, the inaugural CART "Stars of Tomorrow" challenge drew more than 200 participants.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the turnout and professionalism shown at this event," said Herta. "I think we've got five really good guys here, and I hope we're giving them a push in the right direction and helping their careers. I'm really pleased that CART and Team Rahal in particular, and all our sponsors - Firestone, Honda, Bosch, and Skip Barber Racing School - not only lent their names to the event, but lent some credibility as well. I think we need to get these young kids into the CART system as soon as possible, and I hope that CART and everybody else continues their support."