Tough day for Team USA as they get shut out of the podium but did clock two top fives and build a new bank of experiences and memories
Grand Finals Sunday is here. A week of preparation and anticipation come down to the final day of racing action. The streak of amazing weather continues today with bright sun to start the day and no forecast for rain. The stands were packed form 9:30 AM local time in anticipation of the morning’s pre-final races. The overflow parking is being used to get all the cars in the lot. Country flags are flying in salute to their countrymen that have survived the grueling seven-day event. As one of the largest and longest events on the annual calendar Lady Luck needs to make a trip from Las Vegas to help get you through to the Grand Finals Sunday. By mid day the temperatures had cooled and some cloud cover hid the sun that did it’s best to keep shining on assembled crowd. The western breeze was stronger then it had been over the previous days moving trees and palms in a silent salute to the drivers. It’s time to go racing Euro-style.
After the morning warm-up it was the Juniors taking to track for the first race of the day. In the field were three of the six Team USA drivers who made the trip including Nick Neri going from 11th spot, with Ethan Ringel launching from 14th place and Andrew Palmer from 33rd getting the second to last spot from the Second Chance Qualifier. The first two attempts to get the racing going were waved off as the pole sitter got spun off entering the front straight on the second attempt. The field went hot and turn one saw little action with all three USA drivers getting through in good shape. Neri ran with the chase pack of sixth to tenth as the front five began to break away. Ringel pushed hard with his group as Palmer cruised past the carnage in the mid pack. On the last lap the leader was punted off exiting corner four changing up the order at the front. Neri would cross in sixth for a gain of five while Ringel hit the line in 17th and Palmer moved nicely to 25th to start the Final on row 13.
DD2 Masters took their first shot on Grand Finals Sunday with Jim Busby Jr. outside row three in sixth spot. Mike Daniel would go from 19th while Todd Ulmen will run from 27th place. It was Busby with a good start, crossing in third on the opening lap running with the lead group of five karts. Ulmen was through clean in one and worked his forward in the mid pack. Daniel got through one only to be punted out heading into corner three ending his race before the first lap. Busby completed a fantastic race running with the lead group of five the entire race to cross in fourth at the stripe. Ulmen moved up nicely to cross in 19th,a net gain of eight spots for the Final. Daniel will have some work as he goes from 34th in the Final.
Senior would be good and it included three drivers with Danny Formal on the front row for the Red White and Blue. Jesus Rios Jr. would go from the 13th place position with Stepnova Nekeel in 31st courtesy of a nice drive in the SCQ. Formal muscled back to sixth place off the start as the inside row bullied the outside line of karts. Rios was caught in the corner one crash and was able to get going again at the back of the field. Nekeel was nicely through the opening corners to complete lap one in18th place. Formal went strong to P3 on lap two looking for the leader in a hurry. Not one to wait he would go to the lead on lap three. As the laps clocked down is was Formal leading almost all the laps as they closed in on the final circuit. Formal would get passed on the last lap and finished 2nd for what looked like a front row starting spot for the final. It was Nekeel in at 17th at the line and Rios recovered to cross in 24th. Post race, Formal was handed a 3-second penalty for a start violation that moved him back to fifth on the official sheets.
The final race of the morning was DD2 with two of America’s finest in the field. Troy Castaneda was set to go from outside row three in the sixth spot with Andy Dunne in the 25th place on the grid. The race was off to a tough start with Castaneda last after first lap as his fuel line fell off on the formation lap and he worked to reattach it before the field went hot. He was able to get it back on and got going in last place. Dunne was caught up in a turn two crash and got going in the back of the field. Disaster for the US drivers in DD2 continued with Dunne crossing in 32nd and Castaneda crossing in 34th place.
The mid day break included the amazing Parade of Nations that took place along the front row. The only person from Mozambique, Megan Prinsloo, was hurt with a broken hand and dislocated knee in practice. But she made it out the track to represent her nation. As the flags for the 62 nations flew, drivers were presented a souvenir medallion of the event. The track was cleared and it was ready for the Grand Finals.
The Juniors were the first Grand Final of the day and the three Team USA drivers were in good shape on the grid thanks to solid drives in the prefinal. A great start saw most through clean exiting turn four Ringel got tagged sending him into the barriers and ending his day before one lap was in the books. The leaders began to stretch out with Neri in the chase pack looking for a chance to pounce. The front two drivers collected each other entering turn two taking the leader Jack Aitken of the UK out on lap 12. On the last lap the leaders Barlow and Wagner began to block letting the chase pack catch up. The front group, now seven karts, came together in the back with the leaders pushing each other wide the chase pack jumping into the fray between turns 8 and nine. At the line it was Martin Rump of Estonia followed by Jordi Van Moorsel of Netherlands and Joel Affolter of Netherlands the top three podium spots. Neri crossed in sixth with Palmer moving up to 15th to score a nice finish. Post race saw the winner Rump DQ’d in tech for a non-original seat strut moving the grid up one, giving Neri a top five finish in the final results. The new World Champion, Van Moorsel, started the prefinal in the second to last row courtesy of a fourth place finish in yesterdays SCQ.
The DD2 Masters would roll for the first Grand Finals ever for this new class. The new class has been a big hit and with only 34 in the class all made it to the Final. For Team USA it was Busby starting from outside row two in the fourth spot, Ulmen going from 18th and Daniel from last row in 33rd. Disaster struck early as Busby lost his right side pod on the warm up lap and officials had the meatball ready before the lights even went out. The start was tough for Daniel who got caught up in the turn one drama again and Ulmen who went wide searching for space. As Busby ducked into the pits on lap from sixth place, it was left to Ulmen and Daniels. With the checkered flag in the air it was Scott Campbell of Canada with the win followed by Denis Kroes of Netherlands and Martin Victorsson of Sweden on the podium. At the end it was Daniel in at 29th one lap down, Ulmen out after 10 circuits to be classified in 31st and Busby in 32nd after leaving the course on lap two.
Senior Max finals would be a good one. Formal would roll from inside row three thanks to the penalty in the final. Nekeel was set to launch from 16th place with Rios slotting inside row 12 in the 23rd position. The race went downhill from the lights going out as Formal got spun into lap one sending backwards off the track. Nekeel would slip through nicely, but Rios, like Formal, got caught in the mix. After one lap it was Nekeel in 8th with Formal rolling in 16th and Rios back in 29th. As the race too shape and the field spread out it was Formal put on a charge to get to the front. By half way it was Nekeel still holding down 8th with Formal up to 11th and Rios to 27th. In the closing stages the front began to mix things up and swap spots at the top. On the last lap Formal and Nekeel came together with Nekeel heading off track between corners four and five. After 24 tough laps it was Caleb Williams getting to hear the South African anthem for a second time as the winner joined by Joshua Hart of New Zealand and Ferenc Kancsar of Austria on the podium. At the line it was Formal crossing in sixth and earning a spot to fifth as the fourth place driver Pier Luc Ouellette of Canada got a 10-second penalty for a jumpstart. These two seem to be forever connected and will continue to battle more in 2011. Nekeel crossed in the 17th spot with Rios getting as far up to 26th before running out of laps.
The final race of the 2010 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals was the DD2 Max program. By the time race began it was getting cold and the sun was departing quickly to the west. The US squad would be in tough with Andy Dunne starting from back in 31st place and Castaneda occupying the final spot on the grid in 34th. A good start by both drivers saw them battle through the mess and melee in the back of the pack as they looked to move forward. Dunne clicked through lap one in 28th and Castaneda came through in 30th. Both made some progress in the race as the field strung out and some battles left karts on the sidelines. After 25 blistering laps it was Canadian Daniel Morad with the win over Maik Barten of Belgium and Matthew Hamilton of New Zealand. For Team USA it was Castaneda in the 22nd spot and Dunne in 25th spot after a hard fought and tough day of racing.
That wraps the week of highs and lows for Team USA. It was a tough week for the Red, White and Blue that saw some surprises and some disappointments. As the largest contingent it was clear the US Rotax program is growing and continues to produce top runners as we saw in Nick Neri and Danny Formal, the future of Team USA glory. Bright young stars like Ashley Rogero and Dore Chaponick will bring new experiences to their racing states side. Veterans like Busby will look to fight another day. With several young lions like Ringel and Palmer moving to Senior, the future looks good for Team USA.
Official Coverage of Team USA is brought to you by G7 Motorsports of Brookville, New York. G7 Motorsports, along with team driver Anthony Gangi Jr., captured four major US titles in 2010 including the 2010 Rotax Grand Nationals Micro Max Championship, Florida Winter Tour Rotax Micro Max Championship, the Northeast US RMax Challenge Micro Max Championship and New York State Micro Max Championship. G7 Motorsports is proud to support Team USA and the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals Program. Best of luck to all Team USA drivers.