Palm Beach, FL (February 15, 2010) – The 12th Annual Florida Winter Tour reached the two thirds point of its season with the completion of Round 4 of the 2010 Formula Kart Championship Series. The FWT made a stellar return to the revamped Palm Beach International Raceway karting facility, as talent-rich fields put on impressive displays of racing at one of the nation's best layouts.
Italian Motors Pro IAME Senior was dominated on this day by a pair of Italian Motors pilots. Grand Am/Daytona Prototype driver Michael Valiante, having cruised to an easy pre-final win, led away from the green flag and remained up front for the opening laps. Yet by Lap 4 of 20, his IM teammate Andre Nicastro was firmly on the bumper, and on the drag race down to Turn 3, Nicastro cleanly moved into the lead.
Behind them, the flying Dan Wheldon was making in-roads into the gap separating him from the leaders. Sadly, on Lap 9, a broken pipe ended the 2005 Indy 500/IRL Champion's bid for victory. Just a few laps later, a determined Sam Beasley, having started in the eighth spot, was now challenging then third-placed Sean Meier. Beasley relieved Meier of the position, yet he could make no dent in the lead held down by the IM duo. Up front, Nicastro held off Valiante for a .323 margin of victory, with Beasley's Arrow finishing a distant third.
For the second time in as many days, Floridian Jim Machul took his Arrow chassis to a thoroughly dominant win in the Stock Moto category. It marked the third straight victory for Machul, and it gives him a vice-like grip on the championship standings. Butch Lander and Richard Cormier staged a spirited battle for second, and while Lander crossed the stripe in that runner-up spot, a two-position penalty dropped him down the order, promoting Cormier to second. In the Masters Shifter class, John DeLoca ran a lonely race at the front and took the victory, though Robert Francis will head to Ocala next month with a 90 point lead over Ed Oberholtzer.
PSL Karting.com-sponsored IAME Junior was once again the premier event of the day. It shouldn't be any other way though, as this category boasts some of the most talented young drivers in the sport. Sunday's final was the stuff of FWT lore.
After a furious few opening laps, Alessandra Madrigal found herself with an early lead, followed closely by the Birels of Andrew Palmer and Austin Self. On Lap 3, Palmer snatched the top position into Turn 11, held it for two turns, then Alessandra snatched it back before relinquishing it back to Andrew just two laps later. Behind them, Shawn Sharkey was moving forward and was now in third. Through the infield he made a bold inside move on Madrigal; neither driver gave an inch, there was contact, and while the duo slipped off line, Self scooted past into second. Sharkey recovered into third, but Madrigal's grassy excursion left her back in fifth.
Two laps later and the Palmer-Self-Sharkey order remained status quo, until Shawn pulled a nice slide move into Turn 11 and took over second. By Lap 8 and Sharkey was into the lead, Palmer and Self in tow. Behind them, Robby Seward was running two seconds back in fourth, then Madrigal and Santino Ferrucci.
Things heated up further at the halfway point when Palmer retook the lead from Sharkey on the run down to Turn 1, but Sharkey dove inside just a corner later. Sharkey and Palmer touched, Sharkey was through into the lead, and a sliding Palmer was inadvertently thumped from behind by Self. Palmer slid across the infield grass, dropped to fourth, and now the order was Sharkey, Self, Seward, Palmer, Madrigal and Ferrucci, the six bunched together as one.
A lap later and Palmer was back into third, and then Seward lost fourth to Alessandra. Palmer and Madrigal swapped third for a pair of corners, with Palmer holding on for another lap until Alessandra took it for good. A corner later, Self took over the lead from Sharkey. Everyone breathed.
Self then blew the entry into Turn 11, allowing Sharkey back into the top position. A lap later, and with just two to go, Madrigal was now into second, having demoted Self to third. Just a corner away from the white flag, and Alessandra took the lead from Sharkey, who got pushed wide by Self out of Turn 11 and found himself four-wheeling on the grass.
White flag now and Madrigal, with clear track in front of her once again, would make no mistakes en route to a sterling comeback win, likely one of the best of her young career. Behind her, some infield chaos ensued as Palmer got taken out, a sad ending to his day. Self persevered to finish second while Sharkey came home in third.
Sunday's final in the Alonso Karts USA Vortex TAG Cadet was, by and large, a rematch of what took place on Saturday. It was Kirkwood-Stroll 2 in the octagon, as these young drivers put on a colossal battle for the win while leaving the rest of the field in their dust. Though, a call out to Justin Wood is warranted, as the Florida driver held his own with the other two up until the sixth lap when a mechanical malaise sidelined him.
But it was really all about Stroll and Kirkwood. They swapped the lead almost innumerable times, back and forth, sometimes with Kyle's FA Kart in the lead, only to relinquish it to Lance's Tony Kart a few corners later, and then back again. White flag and with Lance out front, Stroll botched the Turn 1-2 section, allowing Kirkwood to close up drastically on the run down to Turn 3. Stroll threw the block inside, then moved back outside. His entry into 3 suffered; Kirkwood took the inside and was into the lead. Refusing to yield, Stroll's front tire connected with Kyle's rear as the two lunged towards Turn 4. Both karts maintained control, but whereas Stroll took the win the previous day, this one was all about Kirkwood and his stellar performance. Kyle took the checkered, Stroll settled for second, while Matthew Thomas took third ahead of a five kart train.
The Ocala Gran Prix-sponsored Pro Rotax final was the private domain of OGP/Tony Kart driver Nick Neri. It wasn't even close. The young Florida driver led from flag to flag and put the squeeze on the entire field, cruising to an easy seven second victory. Behind him, the outcome was less certain, as Daniel Formal and Nicolas Costa raced tight and close for the second spot. Costa would eventually get the upper hand, though a third place finish for Danny keeps him in the thick of the championship hunt and his piece of the $20,000 minimum cash payout for the FWT pro classes.
TAG Masters provided another solid race of excitement, as Orlando double-winner Brian McHattie refound his form and squeaked out a victory over the surging Jayson Nazario. Eddie Kish rounded out the podium. Heading to Ocala for next month's season finale, McHattie and Nazario will battle for 2010 supremacy as they vie for the championship crown.
Russell Karting Specialties “Fast Time” award provides a $100 RKS purchase certificate to the driver in each class that turns the fastest lap of the event weekend. February’s winners are: Masters Shifter Robert Francis 49.819, Stock Moto Jim Machul 50.370, Pro Rotax Nick Neri 50.751, Pro Leopard Senior Michael Valiante 51.117, IAME Junior Ruben Abadi 51.702, TaG Masters Brad Sanders 53.232, Vortex TaG Cadet Kyle Kirkwood 56.832.
Florida Winter Tour action continues next weekend at the Palm Beach International Raceway karting facility, with Rounds 3 and 4 of the FWT Rotax Max Challenge. With over 170 drivers already registered for the event, the FWT RMC continues its reign as the largest Rotax Max Challenge in the world. For more information on the Florida Winter Tour, visit www.floridawintertour.com.