Great racing and controversy highlight MaxSpeed Entertainment's memorable 2016 trip to Homestead, as Cody Schindel reports.
Weather once again played a factor in the opening weekend of the Sofina Foods Florida Winter Tour presented by FIKSE Wheels as heavy rain and winds in excess of 50mph ripped through the Homestead-Miami Speedway early on Sunday morning, delaying the start of the action and creating a mess in the paddock.
But the weather system cleared out and the sun returned, building up a great day to crown the winners of the opening round of the FWT ROK Cup Championship.
Garrison upsets Formal in ROK Shifter
Austin Garrison mounted a late race charge to overtake Danny Formal in the ROK Shifter Final and score the victory. Formal was undefeated leading up to the final, but faded as Garrison closed in on him and was unable to battle for the lead once he surrendered it, with lapped traffic also playing a part. Rubens Barrichello completed the podium only two seconds back with Danilo Dirani and AJ Myers rounding out the top-five.
Victor Jimenez was the highest-finishing Masters driver in the race, claiming 13th overall, to earn the ROK Shifter Masters win over Patrick Otto Madsen and Jayson Nazario.
Controversy in ROK Senior
There was plenty of drama in ROK Senior as front-runner and defending class champion Kyle Kirkwood withdrew from the PreFinal with a broken chain, forcing him to start the Final from 23rd on the grid. As the dust settled from a melee in the opening laps, Kirkwood began to push forward, picking off position after position in the 25-lap main event. Out front, teammates Olin Galli and Alain Sisdeli had built up a large lead, but Kirkwood had advanced to third by lap seven and set his sights on the leaders
Lapping upwards of a half-second a lap quicker, he caught Sisdeli with five laps to go, the two ran side-by-side into the Carousel with and Kirkwood was forced wide. Unhappy with the move, Kirkwood sent Sisdeli wide a lap later in Corner 1 and moved on to the leader Galli.
Battling wheel-to-wheel on the exit of Corner 5 Kirkwood avoided the inside barrier by taking the shortcut off Corner 6 to gain the lead and eventually the checkers. However, officials deemed his actions worthy of two separate penalties, awarding the victory to Galli with Sisdeli and Ryan Norberg completing the podium.
First ROK Junior win for d'Orlando
An exciting ROK Junior race featured many different race leaders but ultimately it was Michael d'Orlando who emerged as the race winner after tracking down leader Antonio Serravalle in the closing laps to earn his first victory in ROK Junior. Serravalle snuck away from the pack in the middle stage, but may have overused his tires before the checkers, allowing d'Orlando to close in. Defending class champion Mathias Ramirez finished third.
BENIK Karts sweep Micro and Mini ROK
The youngest categories on track provided stellar action as three drivers in Micro-ROK drove like veterans in front of a great crowd. Oliver Denny of the UK eventually claimed the win over Jeremy Fletcher and Lucas Rodriguez.
In Mini-ROK it was Derek Carmenate who drove to victory, holding off Arias Deukmedjian and Jak Crawford. The race was red-flagged just past the halfway point for an incident, but all of the drivers involved walked away and the race resumed, setting up a seven-lap sprint to the checkers with Carmenate gaining P1 on the final lap.
Matos Perfect in ROK Masters
Raphael Matos delivered a 17-second victory in ROK Masters to complete the weekend sweep. The former IndyCar driver was vastly superior to his competition at Homestead, but in a great race for second, Anthony Honeywell prevailed over Adam Pettit.
Motorsport.com presents Fast Lap winners with $100 award
In each class Motorsport.com presented the driver with the fastest lap of the Final with a $100 award. Claiming those awards were: Rafa Matos (ROK Masters), Kyle Kirkwood (ROK Senior), Reece Gold (Mini ROK), Austin Garrison (ROK Shifter), Lucas Rodriguez (Micro ROK) and Michael d'Orlando (ROK Junior).
With the opening round complete, the Sofina Foods Florida Winter Tour presented by FIKSE Wheels ROK Cup Championship will resume in a month’s time at the Ocala Gran Prix facility in north Florida. However kart action resumes this coming weekend at Homestead with the FWT Rotax Max Championship.