The 2007 season of Snap-on Stars of Karting competition came to an exciting close on Sunday with the running of two main event finals that would wrap up the national championship battle in all five of the series' classes. After a wild morning of...
The 2007 season of Snap-on Stars of Karting competition came to an exciting close on Sunday with the running of two main event finals that would wrap up the national championship battle in all five of the series' classes. After a wild morning of weather during which the Stars officials were forced to rebuild the temporary track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on three occasions, the drivers hit the track for the final set of heat races before leading into the two all-important main events. The results from these races could not be dropped, making simply finishing just as important as finishing well. When it was all said and done, the weekend featured championship battles that went to the bitter end with some extremely tight finishes and a few very impressive performances.
The previously-mentioned weather issues all centered on the arrival of high winds to the Las Vegas area on Saturday night. The wind continued into Sunday morning and when the staff arrived in the morning to open the gates, the track's barriers had been blown into a corner of the property. After re-setting the track, the gusts returned and cleared the infield once again, putting the crew back to work. It was certainly a trying day for the Stars staff, but they pushed forward to get things back on schedule, eventually beating the falling sun to the final checkered flag.
Before the action kicked off in Sunday's Finals, the top two qualifiers from the ICC, PCH Motorsports ICA, and Spec Racer divisions all squared off against one another in equally prepared Easykarts in the iRacing.com Dash for Cash. The 5-lap race saw Gary Carlton, Hayden Duerson, Joel Miller, Tyler Dueck, Conor Daly, and Joey Licata Jr. all squaring off in a battle for $1,000 courtesy of iRacing.com. After several lead changes and shuffles of the field in the first few laps Licata took control for the victory and was handed $1,000 cash from Scott McKee of iRacing.com
As the titles would not be decided until the main events, the teams needed to cap off the Prefinal heat races to set the grids for these all-important races. The ICC battle was not the tightest in this year's championship as '06 title winner Gary Carlton (CRG) had been on his game all season long. With two heat race wins already on his record, Carlton needed only a second place run in the third Prefinal to keep the pole for the finals. This was not to be, however, as Hayden Duerson (Italkart) got a great launch off the line and held the inside position through to the right-hand turn three, where he and Carlton would play chicken for the apex. Carlton would lose out as Duerson refused to back down, taking the top spot while Carlton fell to the tail of the field. Carlton would work back into the back of the order although contact with another driver left him out of the race with a DNF that would drop him to eighth on the starting grid. Back up front, Jordy Vorrath (Int! repid) would take advantage of the situation to assume the lead, taking the win and the pole for the mains. Alex Speed (Birel) and Alan Rudolph (First Kart) completed the top-three.
The opening final was wild from the start, but Speed would eventually take control of the race as Carlton was stalled in second spot. The driver to watch was actually Clayton Snow on his Energy, powering through the field from 10th to set the fast lap during his stellar drive to second, which he took after passing Carlton under braking into turn one. Snow was relentless in his pursuit of Speed, quickly eliminating the cushion, taking the lead for only a few feet after passing the former champion under braking into the right-hand turn one hairpin, just as he did to Carlton. Snow went a little too deep this time, allowing Speed to get the run back under him. Although Snow could not mount another serious charge, his second place finish was big for the Energy brand here in the US. Carlton would complete the podium in third, all but locking his run at the title. Jon Allen (GP) and Ryan Yop (Sodikart) filled the top five, as both drivers advanced steadily throughout the ra! ce. Chris Carmody (CRG) was strong in his return to national karting competition, taking sixth, while Michael Vincec (CRG), Jan Velez (Intrepid), David Jurca (Italkart) and Fritz Leesmann (CRG) would complete the top-10.
As the last race of the weekend, with the Versus Network cameras rolling, the ICC field launched off the line to begin the final hurdle in Carlton's search for his second national title. The attack was continual, as Carlton worked from his fourth row starting position to the front in short order, eventually slipping past Speed to take over the top spot. Once out front, Carlton put it on cruise and maintained his gap over Speed all the way to the checkered flag, completing an amazing season with the ICC crown. Speed held on for second, capping what was truly an impressive return to competition. Should he decide to contest the full championship in 2008, the level of excitement will rise accordingly. Leesmann completed the podium in third, and was then awarded with the Jim Truman Memorial Scholarship, a $25,000 prize that he will be able to use in a car racing program next year. Yop posted yet another top-five with a fourth place result, proving the continuing developme! nt of the Sodikart / G-Phactory program. Capping the lead quintet was Duerson, who stood out as the leading freshman this season, enough to win the prestigious Rookie of the Year award. Kyle Wiegand (Top Kart) finished sixth ahead of Jurca and Rudolph, while Matt Jaskol (Top Kart) and Michael Vincec completed the top-10. It was definitely a solid main event effort for Rudolph, who posted a pair of top-10 from 15th on the grid after a difficult set of heat races that included two DNFs and a third.
PCH Motorsports ICA
Heading into Sunday, any betting man would have put money on Joel Miller as the expected winner in ICA. The Tony Kart pilot had dominated both heat races and looked set to simply continue his push toward victory, one that would surely been extra sweet considering the early weekend penalty that eliminated the transferred points he would use to deal with his Moran/Skip Barber race conflict, effectively ending his title chances. Miller was quick all weekend and has the maturity to respond to pressure. However, that same betting man would have also placed a little side wager on Scott Jenkins (Intrepid) should he or she have did any research on Jenkins' performances this past year. When the green flag flew for the start of the final Prefinal heat race, the British star put the hammer down and slipped past Miller to assume the lead, eventually running to a 1.5-second advantage at the stripe. Tyler Dueck (Intrepid) took third in the order, ahead of Nick Tonkin (Birel) and M! ike Giessen (Birel). This result for Jenkins would put him firmly on the outside of row one alongside Miller.
The two National Championship main events would, however, see a continuation of the attrition that we've seen so much in ICA this past year. Less than 10 drivers finished each of the finals as engine problems continued to plague the category. In the opening main event of the day, Jenkins' hopes seemed dashed when he retired just three laps into the race. Miller would follow soon after, getting stranded out on the circuit on lap nine. The lead was then handed to Tonkin, whose outside shot at the championship had just gotten brighter. However, the end cap to his exhaust worked itself loose on lap 13, taking him off the point and handing the win to Dueck, who outrun James Kennedy (Sodikart) by 4.034 seconds. Giessen joined the duo on the podium, ahead of Jake Rosenzweig (CRG) and Chris Larson (Birel). The point battle had certainly tightened, but Jenkins remained in the lead thanks to his domination of the class during the regular season.
At the start of the second final, it was Dueck's turn to suffer as he did not make the green when an engine issue stopped him before he could even get started. Miller took the lead at the green, while behind him, it got ugly. In an attempt to come back across the track to hold third, Jenkins got into right rear of Tonkin, sending him into a clockwise loop away from the apex. Tonkin hammered through the outside barriers but was still able to continue, eventually finishing just 17 laps to take eighth in the final tally. Jenkins would quickly chase down Miller to assume the lead, watching his primary challenger retire on lap seven with another malady. Jenkins would then run unchallenged to the win and the championship, outrunning Kennedy for the victory. Italian Motors' pilot Michael Hogg (Italkart) completed the podium ahead of Rosenzweig and Larson.
At the podium celebrations, both Jenkins and Dueck were awarded test outings courtesy of Star Mazda's Scott Bradley, while Tonkin's dedicated efforts were rewarded with the announcement that he would follow in Miller's footsteps as the Skip Barber Scholarship winner, giving him a full year in the Skip Barber National series.
The fight for the championship in Spec Racer was expected to be the closest affair, as both the Eastern and Western Division champs were up for the challenge. Conor Daly (Top Kart) and Devon Sandeen (Intrepid) had each suffered a single DNF in the heats and would start outside the top six with Daly in seventh and Sandeen in 11th, but they both had the speed to win.
In the opening race, Daly raced up to second on the final lap behind eventual winner Joey Wimsett (Intrepid) before being bounced back to fourth when he was contacted by Jason Toft (Birel), which allowed Sandeen to slip through to steal the runner-up position. For Wimsett, it was a spectacular showing, wrapping up a year of development that has seen him become a regular front-runner in Spec Racer. Sandeen's run was all-important in the title hunt as he gained a few more valuable points on Daly. Joey Licata Jr. (Biesse) rounded out the top-five, fresh off his win in the iRacing.com Dash for Cash, where he beat Joel Miller in the series' Easykarts during the lunch break to pocket $1000.
In the second final, it was all Sandeen. Daly had suffered an electrical problem on the grid and advanced to 12th after starting dead last, but all eyes were on Sandeen as he delivered a masterful performance in winning the race outright to claim in the national championship. Sandeen worked through the top-five with a combination of aggression and finesse, truly laying down an impressive run. Heat #3 winner Nic Johnsrud (Merlin) made up for a DNF in the opening final (black-flagged for broken chain guard) by racing to the lead before succumbing to Sandeen. It was Johnsrud's finest Stars performance and could signal a lead contender for the title in 2008. Chris Scribner (Tony Kart) followed suit, finishing third to temper the memory of a broken throttle cable mount in Race #1, which took him from a likely victory. Toft and Licata were again quick and completed the top-five.
For Sandeen, the title comes on the heels of a runner-up performance in last year's series, when he finished second to Brandon Adkins. Sandeen won the National Finals in Toronto last fall, although this time, he had compiled the necessary points from the regular season to make this second consecutive race win truly count.
Heading into the weekend, Gustavo Menezes (Tony Kart) held the point lead in JICA over Canadian Brendan Langlois (First Kart). Menezes had been solid, although not spectacular, through the heat races, while Langlois was still dialing in the set-up on his First Kart and was consistently just outside the top-10. It was very apparent that there was room for another driver to step in and vie for the crown. Brendan Phinny (Top Kart) appeared to be that pilot, winning all three heat races to secure the pole position for the mains. Florida rookie Jarvis Gennari (Tony Kart) was also in the hunt and he would start fifth after three straight top-six finishes.
When things got underway, it was also apparent that newcomer Sam Jenkins (the brother of ICA champ Scott Jenkins) would be a key player as he worked his way to the front by setting the fastest lap of the race as the only pilot to dip below the 49-second mark. Langlois was also on the move and advanced to fourth, only to see his title hopes weaken when a clutch clip failed, putting him on the sidelines on lap 13, officially classified in 23rd. Up front, Jenkins would run to a 0.565-second win over Scott Rossi (Intrepid) and Phinny. However, issues in tech bounced both the second and third place drivers, advancing Gennari to second and Garrison Masters (CRG) to third. Gennari would tightened the gap between himself and Menezes (who finished sixth) by 20 points, making things very interesting for the finale. Matthew Mair (Tony Kart) and Spencer Pigot (First Kart) completed the top-five.
In the second main, which would decide the championship, Langlois would get his redemption, ending his Junior career with an impressive win over class freshman Taylor Miinch (Top Kart). While it would not be enough to advance him to the title, Langlois' performance was excellent as he certainly took command of the field. Rossi bounced back to take third ahead of Tatiana Calderon (Tony Kart) and Phinny.
The fight for the championship came down to Gennari and Menezes, as Gennari ran to a solid seventh while Menezes struggled with a tenth-place kart. The margin of victory after the calculations were made was just five points with Gennari earning the title in his rookie season. It got closer at the end when Jenkins was re-positioned in the final order behind Dusty Davis (Maranello) with whom contact put Davis on the sidelines for good on lap 18. The penalty advanced Menezes a position, but it was still not enough for him to hold back Gennari.
One last note regarding the Junior class was the naming of the first recipient of the Most Improved Junior Awards. This honor was given to Brendan Phinny, who stepped to win races in his sophomore season, signaling that he will be part of the championship battle in 2008.
King Taco Cadet
After working through Saturday's events fine-tuning his chassis, Tyler Thomas was the driver to beat in Cadet all day on Sunday. Winning the final heat race gave him the point total needed to secure the pole for both mains and Thomas cashed in on the starting spot to win both feature races outright; putting the onus on reigning champion Sage Karam to perform should he want to defend the title.
In the opening race, a three-kart grouping consisting of Thomas, Karam and Andrew Murray pulled away to fight it out amongst themselves and while Thomas raced to the win, Karam's patience gave him an important second place finish that all but locked his second straight Cadet title. Instead of being aggressive in battling for the Race #1 victory, Karam followed Thomas home to pad his point advantage. Murray was right there, completing the podium in third. Camden Geise and Nick Neri filled the top-five.
In the second final, Thomas was again the outright winner to sweep the weekend, while Murray improved a position to take a well-deserved second place finish. By virtue of his run to a podium-third, Karam secured the points he needed to win the Cadet championship once again. Santino Ferrucci led the next wave of drivers to take fourth ahead of Dylan Kwasniewski, who bounced back from a nasty wreck on the third heat to finish an impressive fifth.
As the sun quickly fell to the Las Vegas skyline thanks to the late start that the morning's high winds delivered, the teams worked to pack up their equipment as drivers and their family's rushed off to make their flights home. It has been a long season of tight competition in this year's Snap-on Stars of Karting national championship, one that began back in April at the Mazda Race of the Americas in Oklahoma. Along the way, stars emerged, as did future champions. The team's also stepped to make the series even more professional, prompting Stars of debut their Team Spirit Awards that acknowledges professional, team spirit, sportsmanship and camaraderie. The first award was given to the J3 Competition crew, which certainly raised the bar in terms of 'team'.
It was a year filled with weather challenges and great racing, once again providing the sport's elite with the opportunity to compete against the best of the best from all over North America in karting's only true national championship.
In ICC, Gary Carlton once again showed that he is the absolute best shifterkart driver in the country, winning his second straight title, adding the crown to a growing resume that should one day earn him a spot on the CRG factory roster. ICA was a different story as a visitor came to the United States this year to whip up on the American and Canadian contingent, letting them know that they needed to step up their game. Brit Scott Jenkins was masterful in his performances as a rookie ICA pilot and his title was well-earned. Equally deserving was Devon Sandeen in Spec Racer, stepping up to snatch the title that slipped from his grasp in 2006. Sandeen was on when he needed to be, and it will be interesting to see what this can do for his career in the future.
In the Junior ranks, Jarvis Gennari continued the success he began at this year's Florida Winter Tour, where he won both the JICA and Rotax Junior championships. This title is a big one for the young rookie as he will only get better, once again set to travel to the Rotax Grand Finals where he will represent the US for the second straight year. And if you were to begin thinking about the future JICA champions, you'd have to put Sage Karam's name in the list. Like Carlton, Karam dominated his competition in 2007, showing maturity and racecraft normally reserved for only the finest pros. Karam's anticipated jump to JICA will hopefully occur next year, as it would be a shame if his development was stunted by not being allowed to continue up the ladder.
All in all, this year's Stars of Karting series was a great one, filled with awesome racing and a lot of fun. Expect some major improvements in the overall atmosphere next year as the team will be able to focus on addressing other issues now that their on-track program is well-positioned as the industry standard.