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Florida Winter Tour - Saturday Race Report

2/14/2010

Florida Winter Tour - Palm Beach Formula Kart Saturday Race Report

Article by: Floridawintertour.com


Dan Wheldon wins Pro Leopard Senior
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

The 12th annual Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour continued its twelfth season with Round 3 of the 2010 Formula Kart Championship Series. After a one year hiatus, the FWT has returned to the revamped Palm Beach International Raceway karting facility, widely hailed as one of the more popular circuits in the southeast. Clear skies, a cool breeze and temperatures in the low-mid 60's were the order of the day as some of karting's brightest and most talented drivers competed at the challenging PBIR track.

Italian Motors Pro IAME Senior was the first final to take to the track on Saturday, and there was no lack of suspense in this class. Standout Andre Nicastro took the early lead for his Italkart/IM outfit, and when he relinquished the front spot due to a mechanical gremlin, it was to his teammate Michael Valiante. Now up front, the Grand Am/Daytona Prototype driver showed that he'd lost precious little of his karting skills. Valiante steadily pulled away and looked set for an easy win, but just two laps from home and one side of his rear bumper came loose and began to drag. He immediately pulled off the racing line and allowed the field to pass by, a class move that ensured the safety of those behind him.

That allowed BTK Motorsports/Arrow driver Dan Wheldon to inherit the lead. Meanwhile, points leader David Jurca had driven much of the race with his hand over the real estate previously occupied by his airbox; he crossed the line in second and was disqualified in the tech shed. That promoted Sean Meier up to second, while Sam Beasley rounded out the podium.


Fittipaldi Da Cruz wins Leopard Jr
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

In the Stock Moto shifter category, it was another Arrow chassis that reached the stripe first. Floridian Jim Machul had his way with the rest of the field, blitzing to a 17 second win in a thoroughly dominant display. Daniel Abdala took a distant second aboard his Tony Kart, while the Arrow (again) of Butch Lander locked down third spot. In Masters Shifter, Robert Francis put a similar hurt on the competition with a 14 second victory over crowd darling Ed Oberholtzer and his PSL Karting.com/CRG. Scott Tepper brought his Italkart home to a third place finish.

PSL Karting.com-sponsored IAME Junior was, as ever, one of the best races of the day. Austin Self took his Birel into the lead on Lap 3 and immediately pulled out an advantage on the competition; that is, until Pietro Fittipaldi da Cruz worked his way up from sixth to second and began reeling in the leader. He overhauled Self on Lap 13 of 20, but any thoughts of an easy win were erased when a hard-charging Alessandra Madrigal came flying up the leaderboard in the closing laps.

PBIR is one of the best pure racing layouts in the country, and that was on full display in the waning minutes of this final. With three laps to go, Madrigal was on Pietro's tail, and on the following lap she'd moved into the lead. The two young drivers staged a grand contest, with Fittipaldi taking back the top spot just a few corners later. Side by side through the final corner they came, and the drag race to the stripe was on. By just .038 second, Pietro took the win, much to the approval of his famous grandfather, Emerson Fittipaldi, who was in attendance at Palm Beach. Madrigal settled for second and will eagerly await Sunday's final.

The debut of the Alonso Karts USA Vortex TAG Cadet class has met with sensational reviews thus far this year. Since the first event at last month's FWT January rounds, close competition and amazingly close racing have been the hallmarks of this class.


An incredible finish in Vortex TaG Cadet with Stroll taking the win
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

Saturday's final at PBIR would be no different. The opening laps featured a huge battle of wills between young drivers Kyle Kirkwood (FA Alonso Karts) and Tony Kart's Lance Stroll. Their sparring settled down by the one third distance, but resumed once more as the laps began to count down.

With half a lap to go, the Kirkwood-Stroll duel boiled over, and the two came together on the far side of the course. Only the emotional would call it anything more than a racing incident, but both slid wide and allowed Ashley Rogero to slip through into the lead. Victory was just a few corners away, but Ashley hung a tire and went grass mowing, allowing Kirkwood back into the front. On the final corner, Kyle took a tight inside line... too tight, and ruined his exit from the last corner. Stroll took his normal line, came out flying on the other side and won the drag race to the checkered by a paltry .014. Another .068 behind was DFR's Devlin DeFrancesco, simply underscoring the competition within this category.

The Ocala Gran Prix-sponsored Pro Rotax final was an affair dominated by two of the sport's rising talents. Danny Formal and Nick Neri, longtime standouts in the junior ranks, are using the Pro Rotax class to develop their senior skills and test them against some of the best karters on the continent. But with little respect for their elders, Formal and Neri have established themselves as the favorites in this pro class and its minimum $20,000 cash payout.


Nick Neri strikes the pose for his Pro Rotax win
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

When the green flag came out, Formal immediately set the early pace and jumped out to a healthy advantage. Neri, having completed Lap 1 in fourth spot, slowly began turning up the heat. He demoted Nicolas Costa on Lap 2, Ethan Ringel on Lap 4, and now with some clear track, Nick began lapping three tenths faster than Formal.

At halfway, the inevitable came to pass when Neri moved into the front. Yet Formal refused to go quietly and tenaciously clung to the back of the leading Tony Kart, staying within a kart length or two. Behind them, Costa's chassis was coming in, and the Brazilian driver notched the fastest lap of the race on the 15th tour as he chased the leading pair. Three laps to go and it was a three kart fight for the lead, but there would be no last gasp heroics. Neri took the checkered just three tenths ahead of Formal, followed by Costa another half second behind.

TAG Masters was a two kart battle for much of this 20 lap final, as Brad Sanders and Jayson Nazario broke away from all their pursuers. Orlando winner Brian McHattie was forced to start from the back after being disqualified (non-compliant spark plug) from today's pre-final. He made it up to third on the first lap but developed a problem with his brakes and he was never a threat beyond that. At the front, Sanders seemed to be in control until a mechanical failure sidelined him just six laps from the finish, leaving Nazario to cruise home to the win. John Pew snatched second spot away from McHattie on the final lap, leaving Brian to round out the podium and maintain his championship lead.

Action continues Sunday at the Palm Beach International Raceway karting facility; FWT Live! coverage begins with live timing and scoring at 9:00 AM, and live streaming video at 12:00 PM. For more information on the Florida Winter Tour, visit www.floridawintertour.com

Article Credit: floridawintertour.com
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