WKA: CIK: Rock Island Grand Prix race report

ROCK ISLAND, IL -- Each year he would come to Rock Island claiming "this is the title we really want" only to see it slip away. This year, with temporary circuit championships from Mexico to Canada already his, First Kart North America's Bobby ...

ROCK ISLAND, IL -- Each year he would come to Rock Island claiming "this is the title we really want" only to see it slip away. This year, with temporary circuit championships from Mexico to Canada already his, First Kart North America's Bobby Wilson didn't let the big one slip away. He is the new Superkarts! USA "King of the Streets" at the Rock Island Grand Prix.

This year's Rock Island Grand Prix featured 355 race entries from 23 states, Canada and Bermuda. Presenting Sponsors are SBC Communications and Bi-State Home Improvement. Other major sponsors include Jumer's Casino Rock Island, Kart Expo International, Zimmerman Cars, Biland USA, Bob Bondurant SuperKart School, Rieken's Racing, and The Dispatch, The Rock Island Argus and The Leader newspapers.

Gary Lawson of Ohio won three classes in the rain, and the always competitive Todd Bolton of Illinois added two more wins to his Rock Island collection. Both were on Margay karts. Once again, the King of the Streets winner needed to out-race a star-studded field to win the right to wear the crown and robes and take home top prize at the Rock Island Grand Prix.

The challenge was set during Saturday qualifying when, under ideal weather conditions, five drivers topped the previous record for the course's fastest lap. When the dust settled, Wilson (FirstKart/Pavesi) found himself in row two, with Indiana's Kyle Wiegand (GP/CRS) on the pole and California's Ron White (CRG/Pavesi) next to him. As the race wore on, White would retire with mechanical problems, leaving Wiegand and Wilson to dice it out under wet conditions on the street course. Wiegand led the first 10 laps of the 30 lap feature and then began trading the lead with Wilson. The outcome was still in doubt when the two came up on lapped traffic and Wilson slipped through and Wiegand didn't. Still, it was an impressive finish for the up-and-coming young driver against the veteran. Wilson's First Kart North America teammate, and 3-time King of the Streets Alan Rudolph, joined the two on the podium. Rudolph would later taste victory by smoking the competition in the wet in the CIK Intercontinental C event. Matt Champagne (Paul Tracy), Joe White (CRG/Pavesi), Wade Van Hooser (Intrepid/TM), Graham Rahal (CRG/TM) and Preston Peebles (Arrow/TM) rounded out the top eight finishers.

"I could see the lapped traffic coming up, so I wanted to make something happen. I knew if I was the first to get by and get through the turn, I had a chance to get a gap on him. I'm most excited for my dad. We've been coming here for so many years, only to go home angry or upset. We've done everything but win here," Wilson said after the race.

In the Intercontinental C event, Rudolph, the crafty veteran street racer, was easily the best of the field. By the end of the race he had lapped and eliminated all but the top four karts and ended up winning the CIK event by more than 24 seconds as Ryan Conley (Birel/TM) and Noah Roe (KGB/TM) rounded out the top three.

"I want my crown back," said the 3-time former King of the Streets, "but it's always good to win here. I moved up to Formula Mazda this year, so I haven't spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a kart. It took a lot of work to get back here and it's nice that the hard work was rewarded with a win." Rudolph won his first race at The Rock in the rain back in 1994, but the event is much different now. It's been really fun to watch it grow every year, he said.

Canada's Matt Champagne (Paul Tracy Kart) also cruised to an easy win in his first-ever taste of victory at the Rock Island Grand Prix. He drove his Biland-powered PTK to a 14-second win over another Biland driver, Sam Walls (GP), in the all new TAG USA Street Festival, featuring the new class for all electric-start karts. "I looked back a couple of times and didn't see anybody there, but I didn't realize I had such a big lead. I was just focused on running smooth and not making mistakes," Champagne said. Boston's Greg Den Herder (Margay/Rotax) had put his kart on the pole in qualifying, just .018 of a second ahead of Champagne.

Two other wins will remain in the memory of race fans for quite some time - those of Mike Combs (Tony/Leopard) in the TAG Masters class and Ohio's A.J. Lane (Coyote) in 4-cycle Light.

This was Comb's second trip to Rock Island after missing several years of racing while recovering from a severe accident when his ultra-light aircraft nosedived 300 feet and crash-landed into a cornfield. Doctors told Combs he'd never walk again. Eventually surgeons had to fuse an ankle completely back together. Still walking with a slight limp, Combs who operates Trane Motor Speedway and Intense Karting called the win the biggest of his racing career. "Any win is awesome, but this is such a prestigious race. The top guys in the country are here, so to excel in this race means a lot." Walls had set the fast pace in Saturday's dry qualifying, followed by Combs, Ken Johnson (Arrow/Leopard), Dennis Chappell (CRG/Rotax) and Michael Fling (Interkart/Rotax). Coming through the last corner before the finish, Combs maintained his line toward the checkered while Walls was bounced into the barriers about 200 feet short. Unable to refire his kart, he pushed it across the finish line to the roar of the crowd and then had a handshake waiting for Combs when he finished his victory lap.

Then there was the story of Lane, who was disqualified during Saturday's timed qualifying after coming in light at the scales, forcing him to start at the back of the field Sunday. Three drivers did not start in the wet, reducing the field in 4-cycle Light to just 17 drivers and Lane picked his way through the field, at times avoiding spinning competitors, and took the lead midway through the last lap and held on to finish just .43 of a second ahead of Dustin Morris.

"I just blasted off at the start. I passed like 13 guys heading into the first turn and then kept picking them off, one by one, until I got the lead," he said. The 16-year-old almost sold his equipment and didn't compete because he's planning to move to auto racing next year. "I figured either I win or I wreck it. This was one of the greatest wins of my career. Obviously I'll remember it forever."

One driver who might have a harder time remembering his win is Rob Pretts of Wisconsin who won the 125cc SemiPro Shifter race for moto-powered karts. Pretts started 14th, but moved up to 10th by the first corner. He had worked his way through the field into third place when he spun out on Lap 5. He killed the motor, but once he got it restarted he said he knew there was a lot of race left. He apparently didn't know quite how much.

When he took the lead from Minnesota's Dan Roe (Rocket/Honda) on the third to last lap, he didn't know he was in the lead. "When they threw the white flag, I didn't think it was for me. Then when I came around and saw the checkered, too, I didn't know I'd won until I saw somebody give me the thumbs up sign. After I spun out, I didn't know where I was in the field, so this is a great surprise."

Billy Dickson used patience in the wet to win the 4-cycle Stock Heavy. Gary Lawson (Margay) notched wins in 2-cycle Senior Sportsman, 2-cycle Super Sportsman and 4-cycle Medium. "Rain is a great equalizer. It really takes the motor out of it and puts a lot on the driver. You really have to hit your spots and fortunately we've been doing that," Lawson said.

Todd Bolton (Margay) also notched two wins, moving him ahead of Scott Evans (Margay) into second place with 8 wins at the Rock Island Grand Prix. His first, in Yamaha Heavy, was an easy one, but in Yamaha Medium he spotted many drivers as much as 25-30 pounds. Still he managed to outrun John Johnson (Birel) and Michael Dittmer (Margay) for the win. Ohio's Richie Kuhn (Bandit) won the 4-cycle Junior II race over a talented field. "It means a lot to me to win here. I beat the best kids in the nation. Last year when I came here, I flipped my kart. So this is great."

John Kindhart of Texas (Arrow/Honda) won the 125cc Masters class again this year, despite spinning out three times.

Finally, a small but competitive CIK Intercontinental A field competed at Rock Island for the first time and Georgia's Sean Israel (Italcourse/Italsistem), pitting out of Mike Berg's Magnus Motorworks tent, won the first championship in the class. Israel, who also benefited from having Albert Martorell from the Italsistem factory in his pit, got off to a fast start after limited practice for the race. He took only two laps in timed qualifying before his motor seized and spent much of the weekend breaking in a new motor.

"When practice started in the rain, I just decided we'll skip right to the final. It was a gamble, but I figured our entire morning was better spent getting the kart ready to run in the rain. And I was right - we hit the right setup," said Israel. "I thought I had a comfortable lead until the middle of the race when (Chris Wehrheim, Margay/PCR) caught me. I led the whole way, but he tried to pass me a couple of times, so the last half of the race was intense. I had to really push it more than I wanted to. I rubbed against the plastic barriers a couple of times. I was running as hard as I could."

This was the first year that the Rock Island Grand Prix has been on the CIK international calendar. Next year's event is scheduled for Sept. 4-5. For more information, visit www.rockislandgrandprix.com.

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Series Kart
Drivers Paul Tracy , Michael Dittmer , Graham Rahal , Chris Wehrheim , Bob Bondurant , Dustin Morris , Todd Bolton , Billy Dickson , Preston Peebles , Kyle Wiegand , Noah Roe , Dan Roe , Bobby Wilson , Ron White , Sean Israel , Joe White , Scott Evans