WKA: IRL SoK: Norman round one preivew

After a lengthy six month break, the Snap-on Stars of Karting presented by the IndyCar Series will begin its 2007 schedule tomorrow at the Mazda Race of the Americas, held at the Oklahoma Motorsports Complex in Norman, Oklahoma. The third edition...

After a lengthy six month break, the Snap-on Stars of Karting presented by the IndyCar Series will begin its 2007 schedule tomorrow at the Mazda Race of the Americas, held at the Oklahoma Motorsports Complex in Norman, Oklahoma. The third edition of this East vs. West opening round will bring together over 200 of the best karters in North America will be looking to start their bid for a national championship.

The headline class for this weekend and every weekend on the Stars of Karting national schedule is the Intercontinental C (ICC) division. Defending national champion Gary Carlton will be looking to repeat his friend Alex Speed's accomplishment of repeating the national title ('04 and '05). Beginning the 2006 season with Trackmagic, the run for the title did not start out promising for Carlton after running a third in his Prefinal, he recorded a DNF in Norman. The following round in Tucson, the karting industry was stricken with the sad news of Trackmagic founder Fausto Vitello's sudden passing Saturday afternoon. The following day, Carlton won an emotional victory for him and the rest of the Trackmagic family. After running his final weekend with Trackmagic at Buffalo Bills, Carlton announced his switch to PCH Motorsports and CRG. After a victory in his debut at Shawano, he swept the Infineon round to clinch the ICC Western Division title. With a comfortable lead! heading into the National Finals at Woodbine, the Californians sixth place run clinched the national crown by 55 points.

The headline class for this weekend and every weekend on the Stars of Karting national schedule is the Intercontinental C (ICC) division. Defending national champion Gary Carlton will be looking to repeat his friend Alex Speed's accomplishment of repeating the national title ('04 and '05). Beginning the 2006 season with Trackmagic, the run for the title did not start out promising for Carlton after running a third in his Prefinal, he recorded a DNF in Norman. The following round in Tucson, the karting industry was stricken with the sad news of Trackmagic founder Fausto Vitello's sudden passing Saturday afternoon. The following day, Carlton won an emotional victory for him and the rest of the Trackmagic family. After running his final weekend with Trackmagic at Buffalo Bills, Carlton announced his switch to PCH Motorsports and CRG. After a victory in his debut at Shawano, he swept the Infineon round to clinch the ICC Western Division title. With a comf! ortable lead heading into the National Finals at Woodbine, the Californians sixth place run clinched the national crown by 55 points.

Teamed with PCH/CRG and Mike Speed again for 2007, the combination will be tough to knock of the pedestal. Along with defending his title in the states, Carlton will be competing in Europe, including a run at the World Championships. In a warm-up event in March at the WSK International Series at Sarno, Italy, Carlton recorded two-sixth place finishes against some of the top shifter pilots in Europe. Here in North America, three drivers will lead the rest of the field in trying to dethrone Carlton from the national title, Matt Jaskol, David Jurca, and Jordy Vorrath.

If it has four wheels, Matt Jaskol has probably raced it. The 2005 ASA Speed Trucks Challenge Champion returned to karting full-time in 2006 and was quick every weekend. Bad luck seemed to hunt him throughout the year, keeping him from recording top finishes each weekend. Returning again with Grand Products and Team Top Kart, the Las Vegas native ended the 2006 year with victory at the Snap-on All-Stars Karting Classic. During the off-season, Jaskol was able to include his input into the chassis design for this year and is poised for championship run.

David Jurca (Italkart) will be returning 'home' this season as he returns back to the Italian Motors team for 2007 after running last season with Tony Kart USA. Jurca began his karting career with the Valiante family and mechanic David Carpentier and rejoins them with a new excitement for the upcoming year. The Federal Way, WA resident was ranked in #1 in the SKI ICC Driver Rankings toward the end of the year, despite not winning a single race throughout 2006. Jurca came close to repeating his Stars National Finals victory though, running second in his final stint aboard the Tony Kart. In his return to the Vancouver, BC based operation, Jurca began the 2007 already in the right direction by earning the Florida Winter Tour Pro Shifter championship, hoping that momentum will lead to a victory in Norman and a national title.

Leading all drivers last year with six victories, Jordy Vorrath could be the first person in Stars history to win both an ICA and ICC national championship. The 2004 ICA titlist was away from karting in '05, running the Skip Barber National Series. Returning to karting last year with Greg Bell and Leading Edge Motorsports, the duo was nearly unbeatable. After missing the Race of the Americas due to a non-karting injury, Vorrath debuted with a victory in Tucson and followed that with four straight wins in New Castle and Buffalo Bills. His final victory at Shawano gave him six on the year, but a bad weekend in Infineon cost him a chance at the title. Returning with Champion Racing/Intrepid and Bell, including Brett Berryhill providing the horsepower, Vorrath may repeat his feat of six wins and giving him the edge for the ICC crown.

Tad Funakoshi, runner-up in the standings last year, moved from Italian Motors to become Trackmagic's new guy. Though the team is not schedule to follow the Stars schedule this year, they will be on hand in Norman and Funakoshi's name is expected to be toward the top of the time charts.

Stars National Finals winner Lorenzo Mandarino will also be one to watch in Norman. The Canadian had a solid season despite missing round two of both the East and West, finishing fifth in the standings. Returning with KLS Racing/GP, Mandarino's karting schedule is up in the air depending on his Star Mazda schedule with Northwest Autosport, after finishing fifth in his debut with the team at Sebring in March. Regardless, expect him to be fast anywhere he goes this year, including in Norman.

Returning front runners this season include Cameron Motorsports David Carmendy (CRG) and EKN Awards Rising Star Michael Vincec (CRG), Wunderbar Racing's Fritz Leesmann (CRG), ArrowUSA's Stuart Marsell, Team Top Kart's Kyle Wiegand, and Jan Velez-Walter (CRG) from PSL Karting.

A hand full of drivers has found new teams for the new year, including Philippe Gelinas (MRP-Birel America), veteran Alan Rudolph (FirstKart.com), and Ryan Yop (Sodi Racing USA/G-Phactory).

New drivers joining the series this season include Jonathan Branam and former Champ Car Atlantic driver Danilo Dirani running under the Tony Kart USA, ICA Western Division champion Jess Peterson moving to ICC with Champion Racing/Intrepid, and Canadian Rotax Grand Finals team member Pier-Luc Ouellette running with ArrowUSA.

EKN will be bringing their full Trackside Live coverage throughout the weekend, beginning Friday afternoon. Visit the Event Page for full results and reports along with the Official Discussion Thread for continuous quick updates and paddock notes from each day.

ICA

The Intercontinental A (ICA) division of the Snap-on Stars of Karting provided drama and unpredictability throughout the 2006 season as was expected. Both the Eastern and Western Division championships came down to the Sunday Finals as did the National Championship until Joel Miller's dominating performance at the Woodbine facility to clinch the title. Though Miller will be on hand in Norman, his schedule for the 2007 is tentative as he will be competing the full Skip Barber National Series, thus leaving it wide open for many to step up and earn the title fight.

Returning as the national champion, Tony Kart USA's Joel Miller is considered one of the favorites heading into the Mazda Race of the Americas weekend. The Californian has not had the best of luck though in Norman, with a 30th place finish in 2005 and missing the final last year. Beginning the year successful in both karting (Florida Winter Tour Rotax Senior championship) and his Skip Barber season (currently sitting third in standings after two rounds), he'll hope to continue that this weekend and steal a win from the rest of the drivers in the paddock.

Six others from the top ten will be returning this season, looking to take over Miller's reign as ICA national champion, with any of them equally capable of earning that feat. Beginning at the top of last year, Chris Larson put a string of solid finishes at the end of the season to finish third in the standings. Along with a last lap victory at Lowe's, Larson was equally quick at Woodbine, running second to Miller. This season, the Florida driver moves over to MRP-Birel America but was limited in winter testing with an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for some of the Florida Winter Tour events. Larson will be running alongside EKN Awards Rising Star nominee Nick Tonkin. The Canadian had a breakout year on the Western Division, earning two victories en route to fourth in the standings overall. Along with the returning Michael Giessen - a former WKA Manufacturer's Cup Series champion and race winner in Stars competition, the MRP-Birel trio will be a strong force all year! long.

After an up and down year, Champion Racing/Intrepid driver Tyler Dueck will compete in his second year with the team in hopes of earning the team its second title in three years. Dueck showed his speed all year long with three podium finishes, but missing the final at the Race of the Americas and a penalty at Infineon cost him a shot at the title. If bad luck stays away from the Canadian, Dueck is primed for a championship run.

PSL Karting's Jake Rosenzweig (CRG), as many do in the ICA category, caught a bug during the course of the season, unfortunate for him was the fact it came at the end of the year rather then the beginning. Starting off with a third place at the Race of the Americas, the English transplant was poised for the Eastern title until two DNF's at Shawano end his hopes. Earning the Florida Winter Tour ICA championship in March, Rosenzweig has started out the year motivated and set to continue a good run throughout season.

One driver to watch is EKN Awards Rising Star nominee James Kennedy. After starting the year out on a Birel, he switched to Sodi Kart and continued to develop through the year, earning his first Stars ICA victory in Shawano and had a dominate victory at SuperNationals X in the S1 division (his first weekend in a 125cc shifter kart). With Sodi Racing USA teamed with Everett and Phil Giebler of G-Phactory, Kennedy will be able to tap into the knowledge of the 2005 ICA National Championship pairing in hopes of his first Stars championship.

Tenth place in the standings last year was Anthony Llopiz. The New Jersey resident had a stellar rookie year with J3 Competition, earning four-top ten finishes. This season, Llopiz has signed to run under the PSL Karting tent aboard a CRG/Maxter package alongside Rosenzweig.

The past two ICA editions of the Race of the Americas have been won by a non-North American, with Italian Davide Fore (Tony Kart) coming over in 2005 and British driver Alexander Sims (CRG) dominating last year. This year, it's the British invading again in the form of 2006 Italian Open JICA Champion Scott Jenkins. As an official Intrepid factory team driver, Jenkins was a strong Junior driver and has made the transition to the Senior ranks quickly by earning both the Formula A and ICA British O Plates in February. Jenkins is schedule to follow the Eastern Division with Champion Racing/Intrepid, pending his European car schedule does not conflict.

With the deep field, there are many returning drivers to watch this weekend and throughout the season but here are just a few: 2004 Stars ICA Champion Kevin Glover (CRG), Colby Jenn (Intrepid), Johnny Johnson (Top Kart), Garrett Napier (CRG), Aaron Neliton (Sodi Kart), Joe Paterson (Gillard), and Dominic Scheer (Birel).

Two strong drivers will make the move from Spec Racer to ICA, including champion Brandon Adkins (Margay) and Brandon Jones (Arrow). Adkins was schedule to sit the year out but got the itch at the WKA Manufacturer's Cup event in Jacksonville to jump back in the seat. The son of new WKA Hall of Fame inductee Kyle Adkins will follow the Eastern schedule after the weekend in Norman. Jones had an impressive debut at the final round of the Florida Winter Tour, finishing second and fourth, while also doing double duty in TaG Senior the same weekend en route to the class championship.

Along with the new comers will be the rookies making the transition from JICA. Kosmic pilots Victor Cabrera and Derek Wagner, Italian Motors' Michael Hogg & Andrew Zimmer, and Jacob Neal (CRG).

Spec Racer

After averaging roughly 20 entries per event last year, the Spec Racer division is set to grow even more this season as the TaG racing package becomes more and more popular. 43 drivers are scheduled to run this weekend in Norman with a possibility of more signing up when the gates open on Thursday. This season, the division has been narrowed down to two engine choices, the Parilla Leopard and the Rotax FR-125. Last year, the class was dominated by the Parilla engine with this year's entry list looking like a copy of last year, with the exception of a few Rotax engines.

With inaugural Spec Racer champion Brandon Adkins moving up to ICA this year, the chase for the title is up for grabs. Leading the way is last year's runner-up Devon Sandeen. Competing aboard a First Kart last year with Checkered Flag Racing, the Vancouver, BC resident dominated the Western Division with three victories. At the Stars National Finals at Woodbine, Sandeen did all he could do for a chance at the championship, taking the big victory, but Adkins finished high enough on the day to secure the title. This year, the team is switching to the Intrepid chassis under the new dealer network that North American importer Champion Racing has put together.

One other top five finisher from last year looking to move up in the standings is Zach Beard. The Indiana native scored a top ten finish in all seven races he ran last season with one podium. After running in '06 as a privateer aboard a Margay, Beard moves under the FirstKart.com tent to continue their strong presence in the Spec Racer division. Beard will be contesting both the East and West schedule to double his chances at the title.

Other drivers who finished in the top ten and will be in Norman include TrueNorth Motorsports-PSL Karting pilot Nicholas Fairney - who will be running Zanardi in the West and CRG in the East, Margay driver Matt Codalata, and Wunderbar Racing's Will Martindale who will be switching to the CRG brand.

Many others will be in the hunt throughout the weekend and Friday practice will help narrow down who will be in the battle.

JICA

Five of the top ten drivers from last year's JICA class will return in 2007 to battle for the title this year, along with many new rookies who have moved up from the Cadet division. Experience has shown to be an important factor in earning a JICA championship and it could be the deciding factor when things wrap up in October.

A top driver from last year, Brendan Langlois has finished in the top five in points the past two years and has the most experience of all the JICA drivers this season. After running with Nevoso Kart/Maranello all year, the British Columbia resident made the switch to the FirstKart.com squad before the Stars National Finals in Woodbine. Langlois also ran the TaG Senior division at the SuperNationals X and finished second to fellow FK driver Daniel Morad in a massive 60-kart field. Brendan finished fourth in JICA at the Florida Winter Tour, earning a victory on Sunday at the final round.

Joining Langlois in the fight will be Garrison Masters (CRG), who is entering his third year in the JICA category. The Californian swept the Tucson round last year, although he struggled toward the end of the season, finishing seventh in the final standings.

Intrepid pilot Scott Rossi finished tenth overall last season and will be entering his third year of JICA. The Canadian switched to the Champion Racing squad toward the end of last season and found success with a runner-up finish in Woodbine. Rossi also competed overseas at the Monaco Grand Prix karting event during the off-season and is ready to take on all comers.

David Ostella (CRG) will be running his second full season in JICA, although will be one of the oldest drivers in the field at the age of 15. The Cameron Motorsports pilot earned a victory on Saturday at Lowe's last season, along with three other top ten runs to sit eighth at the end of the year. Ostella was very quick in the Florida Winter Tour and appears to be on his game.

The top rookie of last season will return as one of the favorites this summer: Tony Kart USA's Gustavo Menezes. After getting accustomed to the larger-style karts and more horsepower that the JICA machines have in comparison to the Cadet karts, Menezes settled in to score one victory and two podium finishes, placing ninth in the standings. Along with Stars competition, Menezes will be running in the British championship to help gain more experience as the 12-year old continues to develop.

A large contingent of additional drivers will be in the hunt this year as well, including the new crop of JICA rookies with many making their first start on Friday.

Cadet

Although a good handful of top Cadet drivers from 2006 have moved up to JICA, the Cadet division will be just as strong in '07 with the returning top runners and several quick newcomers to the Stars of Karting season. Sage Karam (Birel) was unable to repeat after earning the 2004 championship, but he would like to make it two-for-three before moving up the ranks. Rotax Grand Nationals winner Nick Neri will be back in full force, this time aboard a Tony Kart. Cody Humphreys (Shockwave), Andrew Murray (Top Kart), Tristan DeGrand (Kosmic), as well and many others, will be out in full force in Norman for step one on the championship route.

DeGrand was particularly quick in the Winter Tour, winning regularly to take the Cadet championship, and he enters Norman with a full head of steam and a great deal of confidence. The young pilot has matured over the past year and could be the biggest challenge for Karam.

-credit: sok

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Series Kart
Drivers Michael Giessen , Brandon Adkins , James Kennedy , Davide Fore , Skip Barber , Alan Rudolph , Phil Giebler , Danilo Dirani , Kyle Wiegand , Daniel Morad , Matt Jaskol , Lorenzo Mandarino , Jake Rosenzweig , David Ostella , Joel Miller , Alexander Sims , Tyler Dueck , Michael Hogg , Sage Karam , Nick Neri , Gustavo Menezes