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January 16, 2012 News
Race Report: Florida Winter Tour - PBIR Rotax Weekend - Sunday

After an intense day of Saturday racing here at Palm Beach International Raceway, Formula Kart Production’s Florida Winter Tour, presented by SPORTALITY, proved once again why it is “THE Winter Place To Be” as the world’s largest Rotax MAX Challenge program continues into its second race day of the 2012 FWT season. It was a history making weekend as a record number of 293 drivers accounting for 586 entries made this weekend’s events officially the largest Rotax MAX Challenge events ever held. With multiple classes hitting their entry cap, one can only wonder just how big these FWT events would be if we weren’t forced to turn people away.

Up for grabs in four of the seven classes is the coveted invitation to the 2012 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals. This year’s Grand Finals is set to take place in Algarve, Portugal this November. However the Grand Finals invitation is just one of many reasons given for the attraction of the Florida Winter Tour. When we asked drivers why they come to the FWT, we hear answers ranging from the intense competition and the ability to raise their competitive skills to a higher level, to it’s a fun place to be with friends and family in the beautiful Florida sunshine.

For those that come purely for the chance to go to the Grand Finals, we’re happy they’re here and we’re proud of all our FWT Grand Finals qualifiers. But, lest anyone think this would be an easy place to earn their invitation, be forewarned, the competition here is extremely fierce and the fields are stacked with quality drivers. There’s no better example of this than the plight of 2010 Junior MAX Grand Finals champion Jordi Van Moorsel. After a difficult run Saturday to narrowly take the victory in Junior MAX, the young Dutchman succumbed to the pressure on Sunday and did not even make the Finals. In the end he had to settle for 14th in the Consolation race. Such is the level of competition here in Palm Beach this weekend.

The Palm Beach International Raceway features a kart sprint track, a Ľ mile drag strip and an FIA accredited two mile long road racing track. As such there’s almost always another event going on and this weekend the FWT crowd was treated to the sounds of one of the new IndyCar engines. The Lotus IndyCar Team was here to test their new engine for the upcoming season and the sounds of the turbo V8 could be heard throughout the facility. Many of the drivers ventured over towards the IndyCar test. It’s no secret that most of the drivers here aspire to race something like that in the future and we have no doubt a few of them will get their shot.

Additions to this year’s program include new camera’s for the 16-channel video marshaling and FWT LIVE! broadcast. These new cameras, courtesy of Direct View Video Systems (directviewsecurity.com), offer an advanced level of quality for even better marshaling and event broadcasting. Although the old cameras have been replaced, one aspect that needs no replacement is “The Voice of Rotax”, Englands own Ken Walker. Ken returns again this year and is as popular as ever as he calls the races from FWT LIVE! Command Central. (Note from FWT owner Bill Wright: “Internet connection issues at the Palm Beach facility caused the FWT LIVE! broadcasts many issues for the duration of the event. Although much of the event was not streamed across the internet, all the January finals were recorded and will be available for viewing at the FWT web sites MULTIMEDIA video archive section within the next two weeks”)

During today’s lunch break, it was once again time for the drivers to get together for our annual FWT group photo. This weekend’s event had an all-time Rotax MAX Challenge event record of 293 drivers. Add in 30+ race officials and the participant photo assembly created quite a spectacle. It’s not often that many people get together for a group photo so some pre-arranging needed to be done. But, once in place everything went very smoothly and the drivers returned quickly to their assigned pits preparing to race.

Daniel Morad holds off Michael Vincec to win DD2 (Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.com)
Daniel Morad holds off Michael Vincec to win DD2
(Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.com)

After the driver’s photo, it was time for the SH Karting sponsored DD2 class to take to the track for their Final. Qualifying fastest on Friday for this group was 2010 Rotax Grand Finals World Champion Daniel Morad (Canada). Nicknamed “Hollywood” for his effervescent personality and history of sensational on track actions, Daniel would start the Final from the second row after finishing fourth in the Pre-Final, won by 2011 FWT DD2 Champion Michael Vincec (Canada).

As the DD2 Final got underway, former US DD2 National Champion Cody Hodgson (USA) and Nicholas Latifi (Canada) made a break away from the pack. Cody led for the bulk of the race but Nicholas assumed the top spot with two laps to go. On the last corner of the penultimate lap Hodgson set up Latifi on the final corner and executed a nice outside-under move on to the front straight that allowed him to retake the lead. It was not to be Cody’s race however because in the twisty section of PBIR’s far end there was contact between the two and Hodgson was off the track, but quickly rejoined, now fourth, where he would finish.

Although this allowed Nicholas to take the checkered flag first, he was to receive a time penalty for the maneuver which shuffled him back to sixth. All this promoted Morad and Vincec up into first and second from third and fourth, with Hodgson awarded third. Although Daniel Morad expressed at the podium that this was not the type of win he was aiming for, a win is a win and this time it was his.

Stuart Clark (Canada) was the fastest qualifier for Keane Racing’s DD2 Masters class and has been running well all weekend. Starting fourth was American shifter kart specialist Alan Rudolph (USA) and it wasn’t long before the two were nose-to-tail in a fight for the lead in the Pre-Final. In the end it was Rudolph taking the win by less than half a second. In the Final, it was Rudolph and Clark on the front row. Clark jumped the start a little bit but it was enough to warrant a 10-second penalty. The penalty was moot however as he dropped out after 12 laps with mechanical problems.

With Stuart out, It all seemed like it was going to be easy for Alan Rudolph but Jean Valerio (Costa Rica) and Mike Jones (USA) came on strong towards the end to keep Alan honest. At the finish the top three were Rudolph, Valerio and Jones followed by defending DD2 Masters FWT Champion Rene Martinelli in fourth.

During our spotlight interviews we had a chance to talk with Alan Rudolph about his decision to race at the Florida Winter Tour. He said a while back MRP’s Garry Lobaugh planted the seed in his mind about representing the USA at the Rotax MAX Grand Finals. Over time that seed started to grow to where it became a goal he had to achieve. After a first and a second on the weekend he seems well-placed to make a run at it, but it’s early in the FWT season. Still, if anyone has the qualifications, it’s Rudolph.

Could this finally be the U.S. Grand Finals Champion? Alan has been in karting for 32 years and is a legend in the U.S. shifter kart community where he won the coveted RIGP King of the Streets race five times between 2001 and 2007. For the past 13 years he’s been the lead instructor at the Bob Bondurant Karting School and he’s also designed his own shifter chassis, the RBI. With all that experience, it’s hard to believe this weekend was the first time he’d ever driven a DD2. With a little more testing under his belt he should definitely be one to watch for the rest of the FWT season.

Justin Sirgany (Jamaica) has been all kinds of fast this weekend in PSLKartingUSA.com sponsored Micro MAX. As such, it was no surprise to see him starting on pole position in the Pre-Final after being the fastest qualifier. However, in the Pre-Final the win went to Dylan Tavella (USA) while a 10-second penalty from the start dropped Sirgany back to sixth. For those that notice a common theme here, the message is clear; the 16-channel video marshaling system and the speed gun monitoring/speed display board system used exclusively at Formula Kart Productions events makes it virtually impossible for someone to jump or otherwise misalign their start without getting busted.

Antonio Serravalle wins his second Micro Max final of the weekend (Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.com)
Antonio Serravalle wins his second Micro Max final of the weekend
(Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.com)

In the Micro MAX final, Sirgany and Tavella were pacing the field once again. But this time, Saturday’s Micro MAX winner, Antonio Serravalle, had joined the mix. Lap after lap the three fought over the top position but managed to do it smartly which allowed them to actually put some distance on the battle for fourth place. With a couple laps to go, Serravalle took the lead and never looked back. At the checkered flag it was Serravalle with the win followed by Sirgany in second and Tavella third.

ZCD Autosport sponsored Rotax MAX Masters took to the track after the Micro MAX race. Thomas Radivoy (USA) had proven his early speed by qualifying fastest during the Friday qualifying sessions. Never the less, it was Pedro Troncoso (Dominican Republic) who came through in the Pre-Final to take the victory. In the Master’s Final, the lead seemed to change ownership just about every lap as drivers were using the draft down PBIR’s long straightaways, sometimes five wide into turn three at the end of the straight.

At the white flag it was Scott Falcone (USA) leading but the pack drafted by going towards turn three. After a few more shuffles, it was Thomas Radivoy once again on top with the victory followed by Christiano Piquet (Brasil) and Falcone.

Next up on track after the Masters was the Ocala Gran Prix sponsored Junior MAX class. Although all the Florida Winter Tour classes feature tough competitors, there are a few that stand out even more. Junior MAX is one of those. Everywhere you look you see champions from other divisions, Rotax MAX Grand Finals winners and veterans, and more. To win Junior MAX at the FWT you will have proven you can run with the best. During Sunday qualifying and through the Pre-Final, the best was Parker Thompson (Canada) who used his pole position to take the early win.

In the Junior MAX Final, Kyle Kirkwood (USA) got the jump at the start and for a while looked like he would check out on the field. Unfortunately for Kyle, PBIRs long straights make drafting a priority and before long the field caught him like they were running a NASCAR restrictor plate race.

The first two to catch Kirkwood were Oliver Askew (USA) and Zachary Claman DeMelo (Canada). The three battled for the balance of the race with Parker Thompson in fourth with a shot as well. On the last lap Oliver Askew took control and seized the victory for himself and his team. It was an especially sweet victory since his mother’s family was visiting from Sweden and they got a chance to see Oliver win. It was also sweet because Oliver drives for Junior MAX class sponsor OGP. OGP’s owner Jorge Arellano has been a bit under the weather lately and couldn’t make the trip to Palm Beach. We’re hoping Oliver’s win, as well as other wins for the team, will send good mojo his way so he can join us again soon.

In the RYSA Racing sponsored Mini MAX class, Devlin DeFrancesco (USA) set the pace in qualifying and kept it through the Pre-Final to bring home a win. By the time of the Mini MAX Final, the sun was low on the horizon and the shadows were starting to grow long. Devlin grabbed the lead at the start and showed the way for the first handful of laps ahead of Pedro Tavarez de Moraes Carsoso (Brasil) and Logan Sargeant (USA).

After a few laps had been run, Pedro and Logan got by Devlin and started their own battle for the lead. The top spot changed hands a few times but on the last lap it was Cardoso out front and holding off Sargeant. Unfortunately for the young Brazilian, a small driving infraction penalty pushed him back to third, giving Sargeant the win and allowing Gianfranco Mazzaferro (Canada) to slip into second.

Fritz Leesmann takes the win in Senior MAX after Nick Neri (151) runs wide in the last corner (Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.com)
Fritz Leesmann takes the win in Senior MAX after Nick Neri (151) runs wide in the last corner
(Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.com)

Goodwood Kartways / Intrepid North America sponsored Rotax MAX Senior; remember what we said about the entry list for Junior MAX? Well, take that and double it for Senior MAX. This weekend Senior MAX featured three double MAX Grand Finals World Champions, National Champions from multiple countries, previous Florida Winter Tour champions, up and coming open wheel car racing drivers and a host of other accomplished car and kart drivers. One thing’s for sure, whoever wins Senior MAX at the Florida Winter Tour will need to go big.

Fritz Leesmann (USA), another U.S. shifter kart specialist, started the weekend off right by qualifying fastest for Sunday’s Senior MAX Pre-Final on Friday afternoon. In the Pre-Final he used the number one starting spot to do something unusual. For the first time all weekend Fritz did the unthinkable and actually broke away all by himself to establish a four-second lead over the pack fighting for second. It was an amazing drive and all that was left was to see if he could repeat the feat in the Final.

When the Final was underway, it was Steven Szigeti (Canada) and Daniel Formal (USA) that paced the field from the front. Leesmann and Nick Neri (USA) were third and fourth but before long they were at the front with Nick holding a one second margin over the others while they battled for second. While this was going on, 2011 Senior MAX Grand finals World Champion Ben Cooper (UK) was making a charge from the tail end of the field, helped by a very aggressive start, up to an eventual sixth place finish.

As the checkered flag approached, Neri held a small lead over second and looked like he would take the victory. But going into the final corner Nick overcooked it a bit in an attempt to block any down-the-inside passing attempt. In doing so he missed his mark ever so slightly but that was enough to put him on the marbles and run wide at the exit to the corner. Waiting to take advantage was Fritz Leesmann who capped off the perfect race by taking the pole, the Pre-Final and Final wins. Behind Leesmann, Steven Szigeti came home second and Nick Neri held on for third.

After the last race, the podium celebrations were held while another beautiful Florida sunset faded into darkness. In addition to race trophies, FWT Presenting Sponsor SPORTALITY awarded a Replay XD video camera to Mini Max final winner Logan Sargeant. ULV Racing suits (www.ulvracinggear.com) also provided extra awards by providing a custom fitted and designed driving suit to two “Hard Charging” FWT drivers. The ULV Hard Charger awards went to Mini Max driver Pedro Fonseca and DD2 Masters driver Renato Hidalgo, who had the biggest improvement in their finishing position during their respective finals. ULV also provided a drawing that awarded one lucky recipient with a fully customized suit, and Juan David Buitrago was the lucky driver.

Formula Kart Production’s Florida Winter Tour presented by SPORTALITY continues to grow every year. As such there’s so much going on we can’t fit it in just one race report. However, before we sign off from Palm Beach International Raceway, we’d like to remind our followers of the Nation’s Cup and Manufacturer’s Cup competitions. These prestigious championships will be calculated throughout the year so log onto http://www.FloridaWinterTour.com to check the latest standings.

It was an extremely successful two weekends here in Palm Beach. With world record numbers of competitors during the FWT RMC events and an FWT record 746 entries during the combined January events, on-track action that was off the hook, and beautiful weather, it’s no wonder the Florida Winter Tour is “THE Winter Place To Be!”
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