Completing a picture perfect weekend on the hillside of the Sonoma Valley mountains, the Grand Prix of Sonoma wrapped up with an action packed day featuring Prefinals and Finals to close out the Snap-on Stars of Karting Western Division opener....
Completing a picture perfect weekend on the hillside of the Sonoma Valley mountains, the Grand Prix of Sonoma wrapped up with an action packed day featuring Prefinals and Finals to close out the Snap-on Stars of Karting Western Division opener. The Jim Russell International Karting Center is a premier circuit in North American karting and provides the opportunity for some great racing. Sunday was a perfect example of this trait as veteran Ron White (CRG) returned to the top step of the podium as he outran the competition in KZ2. Leading Edge Motorsports' Brett Felkins was the biggest winner, however, as he ran away to a dominant victory in TaG ICC, cashing in on the long list of incentives offered up by Italian Motors which include a winner's check for $5000. Keeping with the NorCal theme of winners, Brett Buckwalter cruised to the victory in his Cameron Motorsports Italkart in Senior National.
White got the holeshot to begin the Prefinal as outside row one starter Brendan Phinny was slow off the line with his Top Kart, bunching up the rest of the field behind him. That gave White clear sailing to go one to win the 16-lap race. Phinny would fall back to third but recover with the fastest laps of the race to finish second ahead of Gregory Liefooghe (Intrepid) and Cody Jolly (CRG). Phinny got off the line better to begin the feature race, attaching himself to White's rear bumper. The chase for the final podium spot was changed dramatically on the opening lap as Liefooghe, Jolly and Marc Elliott (Arrow) collided with one another. The result put Liefooghe and Jolly at the tail of the field and Elliott on the sidelines. Up front, the rookie KZ2 driver Phinny pressured White the entire 24 laps but would come up short, earning his first trip to the podium in the runner-up spot. Derek Tillett (CRG) ran third the entire race but was penalized for ignoring the black flag, mov ing Bermuda driver Brandon Frank to the podium.
After dropping from the lead only during the final heat race, Felkins stormed back with a 5.949-second victory in the TaG ICC prefinal over Brazilian Andre Nicastro (Italkart), who was chased by Remo Ruscitti (Italkart) for the entire 13-lap duration. Nic Le Duc, who was subbing in for Ethan Wilson aboard the veteran's Tony Kart, advanced to fourth ahead of Tyler Wheeler (Italkart). Ocala winner Don McGregor (Italkart) went out early after contact, but he would still figure in the final results. In the main, Felkins made short work of the field as he powered away from the line while Nicastro bogged and fell back to dead last. With Felkins checking out en route to the win, McGregor was the driver on the move as he is certainly shining in this spec motor category. McGregor knifed through the field to take second in the final tally, coming home 8.130 seconds behind Felkins. Michael Hogg (Top Kart) would cap the podium in t hird.
For his efforts, Felkins will take home a check for $5,000 along with a Skip Barber Racing School course and a set of Bridgestone tires. VIP all-access trip with Michael Shank Racing to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Grand-Am Rolex event in addition to Oakley racing gloves were awarded to the complete podium.
The most exciting racing of the day came virtue of the Senior National category. Felkins and Nicastro led the field to the green with a number of drivers making contact as they entered the opening corner. Joey Wimsett (Intrepid), the Stars TaG championship runner-up from last season, was one of the victims and fell to the tail end of the running order after starting fifth. Nicastro showed the way ahead of Felkins as the two began to put some distance on the fight for third. While running a defensive line into turn one, Nicastro got sideways through the corner and Felkins spun around as well. The field shuffled around the duo as they tried to turn themselves around to the right direction. Buckwalter benefitted from their mistakes to assume the lead and go unchallenged to a two-second win. The Top Karts of Nigel Saurino, Neil Alberico, and Jess Peterson crossed the line second through fourth with Nicastro recouping to fifth.
Buckwalter brought the field to the green flag at a more optimal pace for the feature as they managed to get through the opening corners clean. The start would be the nearest anyone would be to the NorCal veteran as he went on to lead all 20 laps for a 1.714 second margin of victory. The charging Nicastro made way to second but was unable to gain ground on the eventual winner. Saurino crossed the line third to score his second straight Stars podium. After starting 14th, Wimsett battled his way forward to come out on top of an exciting mid-pack battle to finish fourth, edging Mason Marotta at the checkered flag.
After drawing a field of 10 drivers at the Eastern opener in Florida, Stars pulled just four competitors in the KF3 class this weekend. Some not-so-subtle posturing by a few teams has left the category with a lesser field that we would have expected, although Phil DeLaO (CRG), Taylor Miinch (Top Kart), Alessandra Madrigal (Kosmic) and junior rookie Broc Yocom (K osmic) all made the call. DeLaO was the driver to beat all weekend as he continued his domination from Saturday, running away to win both the Prefinal and the Final. Miinch and Madrigal were very equally matched, just a couple tenths off DeLaO, and they fought it out all day with some entertaining dicing. Madrigal was able to outpace Miinch in the Prefinal, but she would run unchallenged for second in the main as Miinch had a chain issue on the grid and was forced to quickly reset the drivetrain, missing the initial start.
In the final, Yocom was the surprise driver coming out in the lead after the opening corner mayhem, holding off DeLaO for half of the opening lap before the more experienced junior pilot slipped through. Madrigal would work past as well to assume second, while Miinch would eventually track down Yocom to move the rookie back to fourth in the final tally. For the young Kosmic driver, it was certainly a learning experience, advancing up an extremely steep curve. Comparing Yocom lap for lap with the likes of DeLaO, Madrigal and Miinch is a tough approach at this point, as they have much more Junior level experience under their belts. Running with Utah's Reaction Karting this season, Yocom got quicker and quicker as the weekend progressed and he laid down some great sector times, struggling primarily in the tough tic-tac-toe complex. Many expect him to be right in the thick of things at New Castle during the East vs. West Race of the Americas.
A much larger and deeper field hit the track for the Junior National category, with the top guns rising to the top as expected. An opening corner melee gathered up Miinch, DeLaO, Luis Tyrrell (Top Kart) and Tyler Thomas (Top Kart), sending them to the tail of the field with 13 laps in which to recover to salvage starting spots for the main. In their absence, Mason Chelootz (Top Kart) took the helm and held off all challengers for the win, only to be put behind Madrigal after contact with the Kosmic driver on the front stretch sent her into a 360? spin. Madrigal recovered nicely to rejoin in the fifth spot and stormed back to second, minimalizing Chelootz' penalty. James Michael Sullivan (Top Kart) also took advantage of the opening turn wreck to power up to third ahead of Adrian Starrantino (CRG) and Raquel Martinez (Top Kart). Miinch made up the most positions are the incident, scratching his way back to sixth, directly in front of DeLaO and Thomas. Tyrrell ended up in tenth .
In the main, no one was going to stop the attack of Miinch. The sophomore junior is really coming into his own and he looked stellar in picking his way from sixth to the lead, pulling away from Thomas to score a big win. Thomas was equally impressive in following Miinch through the field, joining the Californian on the podium. Madrigal capped her weekend with another top-three finish, although she needed to scrap for the position, as there was some great racing behind the lead duo. DeLaO looked to be on the advance for a time, but he would need to settle for fourth in the final tally ahead of local driver Dylan Lupton, the new Andersen Racing recruit who will run this year under the guidance of Team Manager Wesley Phillips (Birel).
Though numbers were low in the Cadet category, any one of the drivers on hand could have scored the win Sunday however it was Hunter Corbitt (Birel) who scored his first win at his Stars of Karting debut. The Prefinal was a full-field lead pack with the drivers swapping positions each circuit. After 10 laps, Riley Reyes (CRG) was in front to earn the checkered flag and start the final from P1. Reyes bid for the feature win went into the dust after he went wide on the exit of the final corner on the opening lap, eventually retiring on lap three. In the end the race for the win came down to double heat winner JR Raczko (Energy) and Corbitt. Raczko took the lead with two laps remaining and looked to have it locked until Corbitt ran him down on the final corner of the final lap to steal the spot and the win while Raczko held off Carter Williams (Top Kart) for second at the line.
The Western Division opener was a successful event considering the multiple circumstances surro unding the karting industry and nation itself. Only one red flag on the weekend that resulted in no serious injuries showed the drivers were kept safe all weekend in each of the six categories despite the close wheel to wheel action. The early championship contenders have been established now for both the East and West, which will meet in the next outing for the Race of the Americas.
Snap-on Stars of Karting Presented by the IndyCar Series is based out of Seattle, Washington, sanctioned by the World Karting Association (WKA) and owned and operated by 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion and IRL IndyCar Series team owner Bobby Rahal, IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta and veteran karting promoter Paul Zalud. www.starsofkarting.com, www.worldkarting.com.