Jan Heylen scored the 4th annual PRI-CKI Karting All-Star Classic victory
The 4th annual PRI/CKI Karting All-Star Classic was completed Thursday night under the lights outside the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. A handful of the best in the motorsports world joined karting’s top pilots as they did battle around a temporary circuit to complete the opening day at the PRI Trade Show. The challenge early on was the weather conditions as rain came and went periodically. The rain held off at the end of the event, allowing dry conditions for the wheel to wheel action. Leading the way was open-wheel and sportscar driver Jan Heylen as he swept the event to become the fourth different winner over NASCAR’s Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi of Formula One.
Rain showers came throughout the staging hours of the event and during the two practice sessions. When the Karters first group hit the track for their qualifying session, most began on rain tires while others gabled with slicks. 2006 winner Gary Carlton (CRG) paced the field on the wet tires, posting a lap of 16.876. Each time by, his pace was quicker until about the halfway mark when the track really began to form a dry line. That’s when the karts on the slicks began picking up the pace. Conor Daly (FA Kart) was on of the first to take over the provisional pole and that sent those on rains into the pit lane for a tire change. In the final two minutes of the session with everyone on slicks, the top spot rotated through nearly all 12 drivers on track, especially in the final seconds. In the end, Matt Jaskol (Zanardi) escaped with the best lap of 15.888. Daly was second with Gustavo Menezes (Tony Kart) was third with Carlton in fourth, pulling in early with a flat tire. Jackson Mears (Birel) completed the provisional fast-five.
With the track all but dry, the second group’s pace was much faster. First time All-Star Classic racer Arie Ouimet (CRG) set the early pace with a 15.777 but was overtaken by Kyle Wiegand (Top Kart). Wiegand continued to pick up the pace until he eventually ran a 15.239. Wes Phillips (Birel) put the pressure on but was never able to better Wiegand’s time. Another first time competitor, Chris Wehrheim (Top Kart) was third in the session with Firestone IndyLights drivers Mario Romancini (Birel) and Bobby Wilson (FA Kart) completed the fast-five. Due to the time differences in the two different sessions, the CKI official put the fast group on the inside line of the Prefinal with the slower group on the outside for a fair lineup.
Hundreds of spectators gathered outside the Orange County Convention Center for the event
The All-Star group then hit the track for their timed session with Tonio Liuzzi (CRG) pacing the field early on. Contact with a barrier put him off the track however, allowing the rest of the field on track to better his time. Scott Speed (Tony Kart) was up to the challenge as he clocked off the best lap just after the half-way mark. Near the end of the session, Jan Heylen made the right changes to his CRG machine to jump to the provisional pole after not even sitting in the top-five. In the final few laps, he was able to better his time to a 15.197 to score the pole. Speed ended up second with Townsend Bell (Tony Kart) posting a solid third best lap with Buddy Rice (Tony Kart) and defending winner Jay Howard (Maranello) rounding out the fast-five.
The Karter Prefinal began with a major pile-up that caused the official to throw the red flag. Once they were regrouped, the field was clean around turn one but some minor bumping and banging took place in the turn three. Jaskol showed the way early with Wiegand, Wehrheim, Menezes and Carlton the early top-five. Jaskol however began fighting a deflating left front tire and that sent him sliding backwards. Wiegand and a charging Carlton paced the field for the remainder of the race. Carlton was in the lead at one point however Wiegand was able to strike back to reassume the lead, going on to take the win. Wehrheim fell back to seventh at one point but got back to run alone in third with Jaskol able to hold off a hungry pack of karts for the fourth spot, including, Ouimet, Spencer Pigot (Maranello) and Zach Beard (Birel).
Gary Carlton (c) enjoys his second PRI-CKI Karting All-Star Classic Karter victory with Chris Wehrheim (r) and Kyle Wiegand (l) completing the podium
The All-Star field got through the opening corners clean to begin their Prefinal with Heylen holding off Speed. Liuzzi was able to come up from sixth into third on cold tires and close in on the top two. The front trio ran nose to tail for the rest of the 20-laps in the same order with no exchanges for position. Howard was able to break away in fourth after getting around Alan Rudolph (CRG). Fighting for the fifth spot, Rudolph struggled with a chassis and engine issues but was holding off Rice and Alex Tagliani (Birel). In the closing laps however contact sent Rudolph around with Tagliani able to capitalize to steal the fifth spot in the end over Rice and Bell.
Carlton was able to get the jump at the drop of the green for their 40-lap main event. Wiegand slotted back into second with Wehrheim pushing them from third. The front trio was able to break away from the rest of the pack early on. Wehrheim put the pressure on Wiegand, able to get around on lap 10 which allowed Carlton to pull away just a bit so there was no pressure on his rear bumper as they approached lap traffic. Behind them, Ouimet and Phillips swapped the fourth and fifth position with a gaggle of karts behind them bumping and banging around the tight confines of the course. Two that were in the top-nine that would transfer on were Jaskol and Tony Lavanant (Energy) as they tangled in the right-hand corner with just seven laps to go, ending their race early. That shuffled up the field as drivers scattered around the collision. Up front, Carlton knifed through the lap traffic with no major issues to take his second Karter division victory by just over one second. Wehrheim held on for second with Wiegand a close third. Ouimet was able to hold off Zach Beard (Birel) for fourth with Canadian Michael Vincec (Birel), Phillips, Menezes, and Brendan Langlois (Birel) making the top-nine to transfer on to the All-Star main event.
Liuzzi, Heylen and Speed celebrate their performances from the All-Star main event
Following the driver introductions and friendly trash talk between Speed and Liuzzi, the 40-lap main event got underway. Heylen would again hold off Speed to pace the field as Liuzzi lost some ground in the early laps. The front three however were simply the class of the field as no one else would challenge them early on. Liuzzi made up the lost ground and was able to real in the front two after getting some heat into his tires. Meanwhile, the Karters were on the charge, led by Carlton who was up to eighth from his 17th starting spot in just 10 laps. Defending race winner Howard went down a lap early after contact in the opening lap put him at the tail of the field however he ran at the same pace as the front three. A few of the Karters were also victims of contact as Wehrheim bent an axle and then was hit hard while trying to make his way to pit lane. A broken chain was Wiegand’s result after contact that put him off before the halfway mark. Out front, Heylen continued to show the way with Speed and Liuzzi putting on the pressure. There were no exchanges for position however Speed and Liuzzi made one last effort as they came to the stripe with lap cars in front. At the line with the High Octane Thrill fireworks launching, Heylen scored the victory by just 0.044-seconds. Liuzzi was a close third with Rice running alone in fourth. Carlton was up to fifth by lap 15 and would end there, scoring the $500 cash for the highest advancing Karter from StopandGo.tv. Rudolph had a great fight with Jamie McMurray (CRG) for sixth with Phillips, Vincec, and AJ Allmendinger (Birel) completing the top-10. During the podium ceremonies, Heylen and SSC East-CRG team principal Dave Davies were awarded custom B.R.M. Manufacture watches.
Another successful PRI/CKI Karting All-Star Classic went into the books. Despite weather challenges and small technical issues, the event was a successful one displaying the skills and speed of karting to a broad motorsports audience. For some, just to watch the likes of Formula One, IndyCar, and NASCAR stars going wheel to wheel was the high-point of their enjoyment. As the event continues to grow, a number of professional drivers continue to try and be part of this great event. There is no doubt the 5th annual show one year later will be just as big and bright as 2009 was.