EKN Race Preview: Mazda Race of the Americas The first big event on the year for the Snap-on Stars of Karting will take place this weekend with the fourth running of the Mazda Race of the Americas at the New Castle Motorsports...
EKN Race Preview: Mazda Race of the Americas
The first big event on the year for the Snap-on Stars of Karting will take place this weekend with the fourth running of the Mazda Race of the Americas at the New Castle Motorsports Park in New Castle, IN. After three straight years at the Oklahoma Motorsports Complex in Norman, OK, the Stars officials have moved the event to the New Castle facility, located just 45 minutes from downtown Indianapolis. While moving the location, the series also moved it to the second round of both divisional schedules rather than the opening event of the year.
Built in 2003, NCMP began hosting races in 2004. The 1-mile circuit has hosted many events throughout the four seasons, including a Stars of Karting race each year. The series will make its fifth straight visit to the facility that was built and is owned by former IndyCar Series driver and Comet Kart Sales owner Mark Dismore.
The event format will be slightly different from the two opening rounds. Friday will be a full day of practice as is the norm with qualifying and heat races will all take place Saturday for all classes. Following qualifying, the Stars TaG and JICA divisions will be broken up into three groups due to the high entry counts. Each group will run two 12-lap heat races and the top 32 in JICA and top 36 in Stars TaG in heat race points will directly transfer to the Features with the remaining drivers to run the Last Chance Qualifiers Sunday morning for six transfer spots. ICC, TaG ICC and Cadet will run three heats (different lengths for each division) Saturday to determine their lineups for the two finals Sunday afternoon.
Two-time defending national champion Gary Carlton (PCH Motorsports/SSC East) heads into the Mazda Race of the Americas as the overall ICC championship leader following his two victories at the Western Division opener in Utah. He overtook the championship lead from current Eastern Division point leader Jordy Vorrath (Champion Racing/Intrepid USA) - who also sits second in the West following four straight runner-up finishes to start out the 2008 season. Carlton has been juggling his Euro schedule very well as well, earning championship points in his first KZ1 outing. Both have been fast at the facility in the past, Vorrath took both victories in 2006 while Carlton stood on top of the podium two times last year. The current track record is held by Matt Jaskol, who in 2006 put down a 1:00.387 lap time. The question is, will either Carlton or Vorrath, break that record and dip below the one-minute mark?
Chasing them will be a pair of Canadian CRGs with Fritz Leesmann and Michael Vincec at the controls. Leesmann, a Californian driving for the Canadian team PSL Racing, is the only driver aside from Carlton to earn a win thus far with his opening final victory in Ocala. Brake issues took him out in final two but out West he sits third behind Carlton and Vorrath. Though he will be visiting the New Castle facility for the first time, he adapts well to new surroundings, proved by winning the Florida Winter Tour Pro Shifter championship in his first year. Vincec - driving for Cameron Motorsports - is coming off a solid debut at the European Championships in the competitive KZ2 division. The Canadian currently sits third in the East standings, behind Vorrath and Danilo Dirani (Tony Kart USA).
Sitting fourth in both the East and West is Texan Cody Jolly. After starting the year out with Cameron Motorsports aboard a CRG and earning a podium, Jolly switched to an Intrepid under the Champion Racing/Intrepid USA tent, running seventh and fourth in his first weekend in the seat. With one weekend under his belt, Jolly will be more familiar with the Intrepid and should be up front again.
A few wild cards on the weekend include the return of David Jurca, Alex Speed making his first New Castle start, and the performance of the ICC rookies. Jurca will be back under the Italian Motors tent after competing in the VW Jetta TDI Cup during the first two Stars weekends. The Washington resident earned a victory at the Mosport round and sits atop the series standings. Jurca was fast last year, giving Carlton trouble early on and should be confident heading into the weekend. Former two-time national champion Speed will make his first trip to the New Castle facility, and will be the first driver to compete in ICC aboard a Trackmagic at the course. With him behind the wheel of a Mike Speed-tuned machine, you can't count out the duo. Along with Jolly, rookies Jacob Neal, Scott Rossi, and Arie Ouimet will be making their first New Castle starts in ICC. All have competed in ICA and/or JICA but never with six-gears of power. Keep an eye on those young pilots.
In the new TaG ICC division, Italian Motors' Michael Hogg and Bryan Eady (Champion Racing/Leading Edge Motorsports) are locked at 200 points, each earning double wins at the two division openers. Hogg was quick in the rain at Ocala while Eady was fast in the dry in Utah. Young guns Matthew Mair and Jose Zanella - both running for Tony Kart USA - have challenged both and should be on the charge again in New Castle. Joining the fight will be two-time Rock Island Grand Prix King of the Streets winner Kyle Wiegand. The Team Top Kart USA pilot will mix it up with the top runners to try his hand at the TM K9ES engine.
Also locked up at the top of the standings is the Stars TaG division. Chris Wehrheim and Joey Wimsett each dominated their respective division openers. Wehrheim - driving for Team Top Kart USA - leads on the East where as Wimsett - running under the Champion Racing/Intrepid USA tent - is on top in the West. Wehrheim is focused on a championship season after the crumble of the ICA division where as Wimsett is an up and coming star in the making. Each are looking to place themselves a top the eKartingNews.com TaG Driver Rankings where Joey Licata Jr. currently resides but will be absent at the Race of the Americas due to a crash at the Miller event and is still recovering from a back injury.
On the chase currently are G-Phactory/Sodi Racing USA drivers Michael Self and Pat Iannucci. Both stood on the podium in Utah, placing second and third respectively. Chris Scribner (Team Top Kart USA) and Chris Larson (FirstKart.com) round out the overall top six. Scribner was fast on day one in Utah but fell back in the finals after starting from the pole. Larson drove to a runner-up finish in final one in Ocala but had tire issues that dropped him back in final two.
As in the past, the JICA category continues to be very competitive and 2008 is no different. Currently, Phil DeLaO and Gustavo Menezes are locked in the Western Division and overall championship fight, each running 1-2 in Utah. DeLaO (Advanced Karting) picked up his first ever Stars victory in Utah and was close to a second straight until a slight error allowed Menezes to earn his first win of the year.
Fifteen points back are defending JICA national champion Jarvis Gennari and Remo Ruscitti - who lead the Eastern Division standings. Gennari spent the better part of the Ocala event adjusting to his new team (SSC East) and his new chassis (CRG) after spending last year with Tony Kart USA. Ruscitti (Italian Motors) earned his first Stars victory in the opening final and will look for his second at New Castle.
Behind them, Brendan Phinny (Team Top Kart USA) will challenge with Stars rookie Alessandra Madrigal (J3 Competition) and Ocala winner Daniel Formal (Advanced Karting) among the front runners as well. JICA rookies Sage Karam (MRP-Birel America) - the defending Cadet national champion - and his rival from last year Tyler Thomas (Team Top Kart USA) were impressive in Ocala and both will look to rebound after a tough Utah event. With over 40 drivers schedule to compete, the action should be exciting.
Cadet is controlled by Stars rookie Trent Hindman (H&S Motorsports). With Franklin Motorsports' Jamie Sieracki, Mike Doty Racing, and driver coach Tyler Dueck all providing assistance to the youngster, three straight wins to start out the year is not a bad beginning. Santino Ferrucci (San Yves Motorsports) has the other victory on the year in the wet battle in Ocala. He sits just 10 points back from Hindman with Andrew Murray's (MRP-Birel America) two runner-ups in Utah just 10 points back from him. Broc Yocom (Champion Racing/Intrepid USA), Garett Grist (Team Top Kart USA), Breyton Santee (J3 Competition), Mason Chelootz (Team Top Kart USA) and others will look to move up in the standings at the `East vs. West' battle that will see big lead drafts with the long straights at the New Castle circuit.