The pageantry of the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals completed on the sixth day of competition at the Ghibli Raceway in Egypt. The day that champions are crowned, egos are bruised and trophies are raised in victory. The day would start with the Prefinals followed up by the amazing driver’s parade. All 216 competitors line the up along the front straight in alphabetical order of their country. Series announcer Ken Walker worked the PA system challenging the crowd to wave flags, blow horns and ring bells. The event really went up a notch and the feels like an Olympic down hill race. A very cool experience not lost on any of the drivers here in attendance. Once the presentation of the drivers was complete, the Finals got underway to decide three world champions of Rotax. For the North American contingent, there were 13 drivers to watch; three in Junior, four in Senior and six in DD2. To cap of the event, Team USA shined as DD2 Grand National champion Cody Hodgson became the second straight American to stand on the podium with a third place finish, helping the squad earn the second spot in the Nations Cup standings - the highest placement ever for the red, white, and blue.
Steven Szigeti (Canada) would start the race from the outside row 9 spot as the highest North American starter. A couple of spots back were Nick Neri (USA) in 23rd and Alec Udell (USA) would go from the 32nd starting slot. The start of the race was good and the contact minimal. Unfortunately the contact that did ensue caught Neri out and forced him back several spots. Szigeti was clean through but was slowed on exit as karts battled for position in front of him. Udell was good through one and began to move forward. On lap two, the leaders began to swap spots and the field would begin to spread out as battles were happening everywhere on course. Szigeti was able to move up to 9th spot in the early stages and was shuffled back on lap 6. Neri lacked straight-line speed and was not able to move forward. With the field spreading out, Udell had a tough time picking up more spots despite a great drive. Szigeti battled hard and was able to grab a couple of positions back as Neri faded in the late stages. At the line it was Matthew Parry of the UK taking the win over Ed Brand of the UK and Ukyo Sasahara of Japan. Szigeti would cross in 18th, exactly were he started. Neri would cross in 23rd, exactly were he started. Udell was able to make up six spots total to end up 26th.
The Junior drivers were brought to the front straight away to grid up and get ready for the 20 lap final event. Szigeti would go again from outside row nine and was looking for a better start. Some last minute adjustments were in place to help get through the early traffic jam. Neri would also start from a familiar spot and with a new top end they hope the straight-line speed issue was solved. Rotax put a new cylinder, ring and piston on the engine and the team was hopeful that would help. With no time to run the engine you never know. Udell would go from the 13 row and hoped to better his prefinal effort. The first attempt was a no start and the field would re-grid. Into turn one once the green flag wave, there was some punting and banging but most made it through. Udell would get pushed wide and regain the track at the back. Neri had a good start and moved into the 10th spot while Szigeti had a good start as well and slotted into the 13th spot. On lap two Szigeti would be freight trained back 10 spots on lap two and he was pushed wide and would regain in last place. On lap nine however his race was ended short, putting him 30th in the final classifications. Udell was moving forward until contact with a spinning kart ended his day just one lap later to end up 29th. Neri battled hard and held his position as the mid pack battled away. He would get shuffled back in the closing laps to end up in the 16th spot. Up front, it was Ukyo Sasahara taking the win and the RMCGF Junior Title with a beautifully run race. Matthew Parry would charge forward from a distant third to take second while Ed Brand, who lead most of the race, would cross in the third spot for a UK 2-3 finish.
Joey Wimsett (USA) was through clean to grab P2 out of turn one from his second row spot to begin the Prefinal. Victor Pedrosa (USA) was on fire early, quickly grabbing 7th off the exit of one. Phillip Arscott (USA) also had a great start, driving up from 30th to sit in 15th after one circuit as was stuck deep in a tough battle. Marco DiLeo (Canada) had a good start from the last row to move up 14 spots off the start to fit into the 20th position by midway. On lap 12, disaster would strike for Arscott. A slow kart in the left-right kink pulled on-line, forcing Arscott to launch off the curb and into the barriers. He was ok, but his race was done. Wimsett was deep in a battle up front as he swapped the second and third spots several times in the race. Pedrosa would be the man on the move and pushed hard to get himself in the 5th spot by lap nine. With the leader checked out and second pulling away, Wimsett faded into the grasp of the fourth place kart. Pedrosa was now in the mix and the three began to battle. Back in the field, DiLeo was in five kart battle early on, but the field began to spread out and he was not able to make up any more ground. Back to the big battle for fourth, Pedrosa was pushing Wimsett, hoping to gain some spots as the two ran in fourth and fifth. Wimsett would look to go inside the third place kart into turn four and Pedrosa had to over brake not to hit him and lost a spot. The win went to Luke Varley of the UK who would cross the line over five seconds ahead of Mario Vendla of Estonia and Matthew Hamilton of New Zealand. Wimsett was fourth with Pedrosa back in sixth while DiLeo settled for 21st.
The excitement was incredible for the Senior Rotax Final. With strong prefinal runs from Wimsett and Pedrosa, there was a great sense of anticipation for a podium and maybe a win. The drivers were pretty nervous and very quiet prior to the start from the front straight. No changes were made and the karts were ready to go with minor adjustments. Off the start, the field streamed down into corner one with little more composure then previous races. The result was only one spinner into the sandy exit area. Wimsett held the fourth spot right away with Pedrosa into turn seven in a tight battle right from the get go. Wimsett set his sites for more and made a nice move under braking to grab P3 followed by another to steal P2 one lap later. Both Arscott and DiLeo had great starts, the Canadian National Champion up to 11th in two laps and Arscott up to 15th spot. By lap eight, Wimsett was back to P4 as the leaders began to pull out. DiLeo would go up to 10th, Arscott up into 11th and Pedrosa back to 12th. The pace settled in at the front with Wimsett pacing the leaders holding off Matthew Hamilton from New Zealand. On lap 13, DiLeo and Arscott would make contact in the exit of corner 10 moving DiLeo back to 13th. One lap later Arscott took ninth while DiLeo had more contact and was pushed off exiting corner seven to fall back several spots. DiLeo would go off course again a few laps later while exiting corner three, ending up in 26th. In the closing laps, it was Wimsett in fifth spot with Arscott making a stellar run up 22 spots to cross the line in 8th. Pedrosa would end up in the 15th position as the changes made for the final did not work out however three USA drivers inside the front half of the finishing order is certainly an achievement. The win and the RMCGF title went to Luke Varley of the UK followed by Mario Vendla of Estonia and Matthew Hamilton of New Zealand. Sandro Lukovic of Austria was removed from the classifications after finishing fourth, moving Wimsett up to that position in the final tally, Arscott to seventh, and Pedrosa to 14th.
Cody Hodgson (USA) started from the inside the fifth row with Darren White (Canada) along side. Daniel Morad (Canada) would go from the seven row and Troy Castaneda (USA) would look to move forward quickly from outside the 8th row. Scott Campbell (Canada) went from inside row 13 with fellow Western Canadian Kyle Stevens right behind in row 14. For the first time this week there was no crash in turn one in the DD2 race. Morad and White slipped through nicely with Hodgson moving really well into the 4th spot off the start. Heading down the back straight, Castaneda was driven over and destroyed his radiator ending his run. Stevens moved forward but would get caught in a crash in turn four. After the first lap it was Morad to 9th and White into 14th in a big battle. Up front, Hodgson charged into the third spot and looked for more. Campbell was good off the start but was held up as the group he was with battled. Morad was in a massive scrap as the drivers all look for one more spot. At the line it was Ralph Odendaal (South Africa) with the win, 3.3 seconds up on second place. Hodgson would grab the third spot giving him a great starting spot for the final. Morad was able to hold onto 8th in the final lap and White held onto 14th despite major rough driving during the race. White was looking for some penalties from officials but none came so he was determined to press harder in the final.
The race of the day and the premier class of the week was the DD2. All week the two speed karts did an amazing job on track and the racing was always exciting. With strong American and Canadian drivers in the field the hopes for a podium fell on the DD2 drivers. Hodgson started from the second row and jump to P2 right form the start. Morad went to P6 from his eighth starting spot while White slotted into tenth from 14th on the grid. Campbell and Stevens both made it through corner one and set out to gain spots. On lap three, Hodgson began to pressure the leader Odendaal and looked to gap the third place kart. While White dealt with heavy traffic, Campbell and Stevens hooked up and moved forward in the top-20. Morad was locked in an intense three-kart battle all looking for fourth spot. At the front Caleb Williams closed in on Hodgson and took the second spot with the three battling hard and gapping the next group. The battle for fourth was amazing as Morad passed several times back and forth in one lap as the three karts all scrambled for bragging rights with a podium spot all but gone. Past halfway the action all around the track would heat up. Up front, Williams went to P1 over countryman Odendaal and Hodgson closed in to strike. The front three ran nose to tail making perfect laps and looking for even the slightest advantage. Campbell got piggybacked in corner four breaking his rear bumper and ending his day on lap 19. White kept battling in the tenth spot and eventually contact took him out on lap 20 also in the tight and hard braking corner four. The group battling for fourth turned up the volume even more in the closing laps. On the final circuit, Morad went low in corner one to grab P4 back and then crossed back and tried to go inside into corner two. The other driver cut in and Morad went over his front wheel launching him about 4 feet in the air and doing a slow barrel roll into the barriers. He jumped out and began to walk away with only a few bruises and cuts. At the front, Hodgson was not able to pass Odendaal for second but put him on the podium to become the second American to do so. The win and the RMCGF title went to Caleb Williams of South Africa.
On the podium, the top three from each division celebrated their achievements. Completing the ceremonies, the Nations Cup trophies were awarded. Scored from each country designating one driver from each of the three divisions, the country with the best finishing results end up on the podium. For the first time in the event’s history, the United States of America ended up second with Hodgson, Arscott and Neri standing on the podium in the second spot. The event ended with an official press conference to introduce the drivers and officials to the worldwide media on hand for the event. The event was hosted by Ken Walker and Robert Gumpenberger from Rotax-BRP. Tomorrow we will do as Grand Finals event wrap up.
For complete coverage, including the United States and Canadian team previews and daily report, click over to the EKN.ca Event Page. To follow updates throughout the week, continue to watch the Official Discussion Thread on EKN.ca or the Discussion Thread on EKN.com. Also, watch the Driver Blog from DD2 driver Troy Castenada.
For more information on Championship Karting International and the 2010 WSK North American Series Florida Cup go to www.championshipkartracing.com for all the schedules and details.