WKA: IRL SoK: Las Vegas National Finals preview

WKA: IRL SoK: Las Vegas National Finals preview
Oct 20, 2007, 8:36 AM

The Snap-on Stars of Karting presented by IndyCar Series will wrap up its 2007 championship season with the Desert MINI of Las Vegas National Finals event October 19-21 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event will crown all five national ...

The Snap-on Stars of Karting presented by IndyCar Series will wrap up its 2007 championship season with the Desert MINI of Las Vegas National Finals event October 19-21 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event will crown all five national champions along with handing out over $110,000 in cash, scholarships, and prizes throughout the weekend including recognizing the East and West Champions.

It has been a near perfect year for defending ICC national champion Gary Carlton. The 2006 season was filled with emotion, the loss of a boss/friend, a team change, fierce competition, and the thrill of victory. 2007 has been like a train on rails, cruising to double victories in the first three events of the year before the train was derailed in Shawano for a brief stop before jumping back on line at Moran.

The PCH Motorsports/CRG driver started the year with six straight wins, including two at the Mazda Race of the Americas opening event. He followed that with two wins at the New Castle Motorsports Park, his first visit to the facility. Heading back West for the Miller Motorsports Park round, he stretched his win streak to five then six with another double victory weekend.

Attempting to clinch the Eastern Division championship, the series went traveled to Shawano where Carlton's streak would come to an end. Unable to find the speed and contact with another in Saturday's Final gave him a sixth place finish, enough to clinch the East title. Contact while running up front Sunday put him on the sidelines for the first time since '06 Race of the Americas.

Returning back to Cali for the Western finale at Moran, Carlton jumped back on his winning ways, taking home two victories, the Western Division championship, and a perfect score heading to the National Finals. The last time he was in Vegas, Carlton earned $10k for winning the SuperPro division at the SuperNationals on a temp circuit. This time however he will be without team manager Mike Speed, who announced his departure from the PCH squad following the Moran event. Without Speed in his corner, it will be up to Carlton to step up to the new challenge.

On Carlton's bumper all year long on the West has been Wunder-Bar Racing's Fritz Leesmann. After debuting aboard a CRG with two runner-up performances at the Mazda Race of the Americas, Leesmann continued his fast pace the rest of the year, always stalking the defending champion. A total of five podium finishes add up Leesmann's point total heading into Vegas, trailing Carlton by 60 points. The NorCal driver will have to win both finals with Carlton finishing worse than sixth twice, something that will be tough to do, but it's Vegas baby, anything is possible.

Speaking of Vegas, Team Top Kart USA driver Matt Jaskol is one of very few karters who calls sin city home. The home track advantage, other than knowing where to gamble and win, he'll be able to rest comfortably in his own pad. Jaskol nearly has a track record at every Stars course over the past two years, unfortunately, still looking for his first win with Top Kart. Recording six top five finishes in the East, he'll enter the finale third overall, 20 points behind Leesmann.

The only two drivers to score wins on the year in ICC other than Carlton were Michael Vincec and Jordy Vorrath. Vincec - the 2006 EKN Rising Star award winner - and Vorrath - who lead all drivers in the Stars win column in '06 - were held winless until an outstanding weekend in Shawano. Vorrath earned the win on Saturday with Vincec taking the spot on Sunday. Both also had outstanding drives from the tail of the field to the front on the days they did not win, producing some of the best racing seen in the class all year long.

Three other drivers still remain mathematically in the chase for the title - Nick Halen, David Jurca, and Jan Velez-Walter. Jurca returned back with the Italian Motors squad near the end of last year and has been consistent all year long. Velez made the switch to Champion Racing/Intrepid mid-way through the year and quickly got up to speed earning two podium finishes in Shawano in only his second weekend aboard the chassis. Halen recently announced his departure from PCH Motorsports as well, joining Mike Speed at MRP-Birel America, and will be adjusting to a new machine throughout the weekend.

Joining Halen at MRP-Birel America will be two-time ICC national champion Alex Speed. Running a few events in 2006 after announcing his retirement following his championship season in '05, Speed announced his return to Birel for the Stars National Finals just weeks ago. Joining his father, Mike, its expected to see the Team Speed machine up front immediately. With the championship provisional in the Stars rules, Speed will not be assessed the 15 position penalty for not competing in a minimum three Stars Finals on the year.

Friday will be a full day of practice as the drivers will get accustom to the temporary circuit. Saturday will be qualifying and heat races to line up the field for Sunday's main events.

PCH Motorsports ICA
The always unpredictable ICA category was almost the opposite this year with an invasion from Europe. British driver Scott Jenkins has been the class of the field as he controls his own destiny to earning the ICA National Championship.

The recently crowned KF2 European vice champion earned the Eastern Division championship with the help of four dominate wins early on in the season. The Mazda Race of the Americas weekend saw Jenkins up front all weekend long, taking home both victories and extending the non-American win streak at the event to three. A month later at New Castle, he swept the weekend to earn wins three and four on the year. Missing the Shawano event due to participating in the European Championships, the Champion Racing/Intrepid driver used the Western Division Moran event as a substitute. The weekend would be difficult after a DNF on Saturday after contact and ignition trouble on Sunday.

Heading into the National Finals, PSL Karting's Jake Rosenzweig is the closets challenger for the title. The British transplant who now calls Boston area home, sits 85 points back of Jenkins. Despite not recording a win, Rosenzweig has been consistently upfront in '07 with three-top five finishes.

One driver who has improved from last year is Cameron Motorsports' Cody Jolly. After a difficult '06 season, Jolly has recorded five-top ten finishes and sits fifth in the EKN ICA Driver Rankings. The Texan was challenging for the Western title at the divisional finale at Moran until last lap contact took him out of contention. That allowed Canadian Nicholas Tonkin to claim the Western Division ICA championship.

The MRP-Birel America driver had a breakout year in 2006, recording pole positions and a couple wins to finish fourth in the final standings. This year, was up and down, but a victory at Miller and a strong weekend in Moran helped secure the Western title. He and Jolly are locked at third, 110 points back from Jenkins and will need some help during the weekend.

They along with seven others are still mathematically in the chase with only 45 points separating fifth through 11th. Tyler Dueck (Champion Racing/Intrepid) has one victory on the year and is consistently up front. ICA rookie Jacob Neal (PCH Motorsports) has yet to score a win and in the past has proven to be fast in the final event of the year, earning the JICA National Finals win in Austin '05. Defending ICA national champion Joel Miller (Tony Kart USA) concentrated on his Skip Barber National schedule this year, earning the series championship, has been fast when getting back into the kart seat.

Moran double winner James Kennedy (G-Phactory/Sodi Kart USA) has found the speed at the end of the season and will look to continue his win streak in Vegas. Guillermo Freile (Tony Kart USA) has been right there all season long with Pat Iannucci (G-Phactory/Sodi Kart USA) and Michael Hogg (Italian Motors) still in the chase.

Spec Racer
The Spec Racer category has been the most competitive class of the year in the Stars of Karting and around the country, each driver and team trying to find that extra edge to break away from the field. This weekend, the Stars championship comes down essentially to the division champions - Devon Sandeen and Conor Daly.

Sandeen is the now two-time defending Stars Western Division champion, despite switching from First Kart to Intrepid at the beginning of the year and changing engines to the Rok TT from Parilla at the last West event in California. The current #1 EKN TaG Driver Rankings pilot ended the '06 season with a dominate victory at Woodbine but began the year with two-top five finishes at the Mazda Race of the Americas. With one podium run at Miller, the Checkered Flag Racing driver needed a solid weekend in Moran to clinch the title, and he did just that with a second and a first.

The Canadian has an 18 point advantage over Eastern Division champion Conor Daly. The young second generation driver has had a solid year, beginning under the ArrowUSA tent he stood on the podium at the Mazda Race of the Americas event. After struggling at his home track in New Castle, he made the switch to Team Top Kart USA just before the Shawano event. There he took a first place in his Stars debut on the Italian manufactured chassis, following it up with runner-up finish to teammate Adam Johnson to clinch the East title in his first year running in the Senior category.

Despite missing the opening East vs. West race in Norman, Johnson sits third in the overall point championship, 60 points out of the top spot with two wins, a second, and a fourth. Johnson was a contender last year for the Spec Racer championship until troubles at the end of the season took him out of contention. Johnson, along with the rest of the top 12 others still mathematically in the fight will need some help to claim the national championship.

Throwing a curve ball into the mix for the Stars National Finals win is a late entry by defending Spec Racer champion Brandon Adkins. The Ohio native signed with MRP-Birel America over the weekend to compete in the finale. Adkins, who ran a partial ICA schedule in 2007, tested this past weekend at MRP of South Bend facility. Having not run the minimum amount of races in the Spec Racer category, he will be assessed starting penalties throughout the weekend.

As the year has shown, the field in Spec Racer has been tough every weekend and the finale is no different with nearly any driver entered with a chance to take home a win.

Like Spec Racer, the Junior Intercontinental A (JICA) championship fight is tight. The best Junior drivers across North America will battle out the final round of the Stars title chase, led by Western Division champion Gustavo Menezes and Eastern Division champion Brendan Langlois.

Menezes began the year with a solid weekend at the Mazda Race of the Americas event, posting two victories and became the driver everyone was chasing. After recording two runner-up finishes at the Miller event, the Tony Kart USA pilot had a difficult August and September. Shawano saw the second year JICA driver flip during the Saturday final, ending his chances of the Eastern title while the Western finale saw him battle up to a seventh place finish to clinch the division title, despite struggling all weekend long. The Californian will look to put those two weekends behind him as he leads Eastern champ Brendan Langlois by 20 points heading into the National Finals.

Over the last three years, Langlois has steadily improved his spot in the JICA championship, running to a fourth overall last year after finishing fifth in the 2005 standings. This year the FirstKart.com pilot was consistently up front, recording five-top five finishes to earn the Eastern Division title while also challenging Menezes for the Western championship. The Canadian will look to close out his Junior career on top before moving to the Senior ranks.

Chasing both of them and sitting third overall in the standings is Rotax Grand Finals America's Team member Jarvis Gennari. The Florida pilot began the 2007 season with two championships in his home state Florida Winter Tour program in Rotax Junior and JICA. He had an impressive Stars debut at the Mazda Race of the Americas and followed it with his first ever Stars victory at New Castle. Just 30 points back from his Tony Kart USA teammate Menezes, Gennari will need a little help but still has a solid chance at the JICA championship.

Seven other drivers are still mathematically in the chase for the title with four of them already winners on the year, including Brendan Phinny (Team Top Kart USA), Miles Maroney (Pitts Performance), Spencer Pigot (FirstKart.com), and Chemill Mercado (JC Karting).

King Taco Cadet
The Stars of Karting Cadet championship will come down to the two drivers who have battled all year long, Sage Karam (MRP-Birel America) and Tyler Thomas (Team Top Kart USA). Karam clinched both the East and the West Division championships, including all six wins on the East to enter the National Finals with a perfect 500 point score. Thomas has been on his bumper all year long and will enter the weekend 50 points behind. With the two finals format for the finale and being an unpredictable division, anything can happen. Four other drivers are still in the hunt mathematically - Camden Geise (Team Top Kart USA), Nick Neri (Tony Kart USA), Jacob Will (Team Top Kart USA), and Grant Vogel (Champion Racing/Intrepid).

-credit: sok

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