Heartbreaks and celebrations. Rain and sunshine. Penalties alter championship results. It was a wild final day in West Palm Beach, as Cody Schindel reports.
After three months of intense competition, everything at the Sofina Foods Florida Winter Tour presented by FIKSE Wheels came down to championship Sunday in Jupiter, Florida where six final races determined the seven Rotax Max FWT Champions.
The day started out like it ended on Saturday, wet and soggy. Rain continued throughout the night and into the morning as drivers’ returned for their morning warm-ups.
Rotax Senior was first up on track in full wet conditions for the race. Championship leader Kyle Kirkwood received an added boost when his closest rival retired before the race even began, as Zachary Claman DeMelo withdrew on the pace lap with a fouled spark plug.
Kirkwood, starting from pole position, jumped out to the early lead but David Malukas tracked him down early, taking the lead on lap five. Kirkwood then settled behind for a few laps before challenging the leader, which allowed Austin Garrison to join in the mix.
The three jockeyed for the lead position with Kirkwood returning to the point for good on Lap 13, pulling away to earn his second Rotax victory of the year. That sealed the championship, his second of the season after claiming the ROK Senior title a week ago. Malukas held on for second and Garrison third as a field that started with 31 drivers, ended with only 14 making it to the finish line.
The sun began to break through the clouds when race number two, Masters Max, hit the track. After missing all of Friday’s action and some of Saturday’s with a rib injury, Christophe Adams was on the front row courtesy of his second place finish in the PreFinal.
The French driver settled into the second on the opening lap as Nick Tucker snuck into the lead, but Adams made his move on lap five and opened up a large gap when Tucker and Scott Roberts came together in corner five a couple laps later, running off track and creating a very large splash of water, ending both of their races.
Under extreme pain, Adams held onto the lead with Michel Aboissa closing in and the laps counting down. Defending down the straights, Adams kept Aboissa under control and secured the victory, but just came up short of the title, which went to Aboissa. Alessandro De Luca finished third.
Mini Max was next to hit the track and although the track condition was drying quickly, everyone opted for rain tires with plenty of puddles still found around the Palm Beach Karting track.
Tyler Gonzalez was challenged for the first time on Sunday as Matheus Morgatto hounded the leader from the moment the green flag flew. Morgatto worked by on lap two with Austin Torgerson also in the mix for the lead.
While Morgatto hit his marks, Gonzalez needed to defend to keep Torgerson behind as the front three broke free. Slowly, Morgatto pulled away in the 15-lap final, taking the victory by 1.5 seconds. Gonzalez held off Torgerson for second, confirming himself as class champion.
With a dry line around the track formed, all but one of the Rotax DD2/DD2 Masters competitors made the switch to rain slick for their final, with that driver retiring only a few laps into the race, well off the pace.
Oliver Askew jumped out to a big lead at the start, catching the attention of the officials. However Robert Wickens had a strong early pace and tracked down and passed Askew before the opening lap was complete.
Wickens began to pull away as Askew struggled for grip, fending off Luke Chudleigh in the early laps until the track really dried up and Askew began posting fast lap after fast lap, to catch back up to Wickens.
A failed attempt at a pass in Turn 1 saw Askew fall more than a second back of the leader, but after regaining his composure, Askew was right back on the rear bumper of Wickens a couple laps later.
Now on the defensive with the championship on the line, Wickens stuck to the inside of the main straight for a couple of laps until high speed contact between the two forced Wickens to run wide in corner one and Askew to slide through, also knocking off a portion of Wickens rear bumper in the process. This too came under the scrutiny of race officials.
Wickens posted his fastest lap of the race with two laps to go in hopes of one last attempt at Askew for the win, but it wasn’t enough as Askew celebrated across the finish line.
The race didn’t end there though as Askew was delivered a 10-second penalty for jumping the start and Wickens a written warning for swerving. Shortly after, Wickens was disqualified from the race for the broken bumper piece that was removed when the two made contact. His Marenello team protested the call, but lost the decision.
All of this meant that Marco Signoretti, who started at the rear of the grid and crossed in third place in a spirited battle that went unnoticed by those watching the leaders, was elevated to the race win with Askew scored second and Michael McCarthy third. It also confirmed Askew as the class champion and Wickens demoted to sixth overall.
On track at the same time as the DD2 class, Christian Cornejo finished second at the finish line, but first in the DD2 Masters championship, edging out race winner Luis Schiavo by 45 points. John Cariati was third in both the race and the championship.
Following a short break the racing continued with the Micro Max category and it was a thriller.
Branyon Tiner converted his pole position into the early lead as the Micros buzzed down the long straight and into Turn 1, scrambling for position two and three wide. The battles began early as behind Tiner, Justin Arseneau, Jeremy Fletcher and Josh Pierson duked it out for second, allowing Tiner to break free.
Calming down for a few laps, the trio worked together to catch back up to Tiner and the race for the lead was back on. Ashton Torgerson was also on the move, advancing from 10th on the opening lap to third by lap seven.
Pierson took the lead on Lap 9 with Tiner all over his rear bumper until he passed back in Turn 3 on the following lap. Torgerson took advantage of the slowed leaders to overtake both in the next corner and held the lead for two laps until Tiner was back for more.
All the trading of places up front turned the lead group into a race of eight karts as the white flag flew. Tiner was still out front as Fletcher and Torgerson swapped the second position. This created enough of a cushion for Tiner to secure his first major victory a few corners later. Fletcher maintained second through the final corner with Pierson sneaking by Torgerson for third as the top eight karts all crossed the line within 1.5 seconds of the leader.
Finally, Rotax Junior was the final race of day and the closest of the championship races. Nick Brueckner received a nice push from Matthew Latifi into the opening corner to erupt with the lead as championship hopeful Micheal d’Orlando was pushed wide as a result of some anxious mid-pack drivers mid-pack pushing their way forward.
Championship leader Ryan MacDermid recovered from a tough start to slot into second on Lap 2 and had his sights on Brueckner until heartbreak on lap four. Exiting the second corner, MacDermid’s kart did not accelerate, a broken throttle cable the culprit, ending his race and his bid for the title.
This opened everything up as Bruecker was now well out in front and Aidan Keel had moved past Steven Mallozzi for second. Matthew Latifi was also in the mix, as the three duked it out for second place all the way to finish line.
With MacDermid out, the focus was now on Keel and d’Orlando for the title. d’Orlando recovered from thirteenth on the opening lap to seventh by midway while Keel was still barely holding onto second.
Mallozzi and Latifi continued to race hard for the second position with Keel until the final lap when the two ended up racing for third after allowing Keel to slip away.
After 20 laps, Brueckner scored the win in convincing fashion with Keel crossing six seconds later in second. Mallozzi edged Latifi at the line for third while d’Orlando ended up sixth, enough for the title after a crazy shuffle of the final standings that saw Keel and Brueckner jump up from fourth and sixth entering the race to second and third overall.
As champions, D’Orlando, Kirkwood, Askew, Aboissa and Cornejo all earned tickets to represent their home country at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals later this year in Italy. Kirkwood and d’Orlando also took home watches from Ritmo Mundo.