Article by: Ken Johnson
The first race for the 2011 Florida Winter Tour is now in the books and we couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off the new season. Double digit growth in entries, tight competition, big names, and absolutely perfect weather are just some of the highlights of the first FWT Formula Kart Championship weekend of the 2011 season.
The drivers that ventured to the Orlando Kart Center were greeted with a slightly revised layout from last year. But it’s still a very racy track, and a great place to start the new season for the drivers that had acquired new equipment over the off-season or for those drivers that were moving into new classes.
Making the move from TaG Junior to TaG Senior for 2011 were J3 Competition teammates Alessandra Madrigal and Andrew Palmer. The two were joined in the TaG Senior class by Ethan Ringel, who was also making his debut as a senior competitor. As Team USA veterans from the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, Ringel and Palmer bring a lot to the TaG Senior class. However, on Saturday, it was Alessandra stealing the show with a fantastic win over the strong TaG Senior field, which included the likes of NASCAR star A. J. Allmendinger.
A.J. wasn’t the only big name to show up at the Orlando Kart Center. On Sunday, current Williams Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello was in attendance to compete in the KZ2 class. Watching the Brazilian driver, with over 300 Grand Prix races and 11 wins on his resume, is truly a thing of beauty. Rubens, like many of the great ones, has a very fluid driving style. However, as great a competitor as he is on the course, what many will take away from the day is the man he was off the track.
Rubens was a true gentleman to all who approached him. It’s hard to imagine a man who is a marquee name in the pinnacle of motorsports being more gracious and outgoing. Then again, guys like Barrichello and Allmendinger aren’t just racing stars, they both have a long history in karting and understand the mindset of the champions, the weekend warriors and everyone in between. As such, it was no surprise that both men took adversity very well.
For Barrichello, qualifying started with his kart being moved from the front of the grid to a position that had him going out behind his KZ2 competitors because he had not participated in an earlier practice. For Allmendinger, the adversity was a little more serious as he suffered a DQ after the TaG Senior Final for a kart that was just a fraction too wide. When asked about the incident, FWT tech director John Motley said he hates bumping anyone, let alone a NASCAR star, from a race, but the rules apply to everyone. Both drivers took the incidents without a problem. They both came to work on their fitness and have fun and that’s exactly what they both achieved. With all this in mind, the lesson here is that the next time someone encounters a situation like this, instead of grousing about their misfortune, perhaps they should grin and remind them self they just got treated like a superstar!
The biggest class of the weekend was the DeFrancesco Racing Formula Vortex TaG Cadet class with 23 entries. Spurring the growth in this class is the development program sponsored by DeFrancesco Racing that provides scholarships to young drivers. The scholarship program has been a great success and the class provides some of the best wheel-to-wheel racing on the tour.
Not only are these kids fun to watch on the track, their podium celebrations provide plenty of entertainment as well as the drivers hoist trophies nearly as tall as they are. Taking home the #1 trophies this weekend were Devlin DeFrancesco (Saturday) and Logan Sargeant (Sunday).
A quick glance at the results of the Formula Leopard Junior races and one might assume Austin Self had everything his own way in winning both races. Truth be told, it wasn’t that easy as the defending FWT Junior Champion had to miss Friday’s practice to attend school, which put him behind in getting up to speed on the revised Orlando Kart Center layout Saturday morning.
Saturday’s Formula Leopard Junior race saw Self take the win over Zachery DeMelo. But, it was Sunday’s race that really created a lot of buzz on FWT Live! (floridawintertour.com/fwtlive/2011/) as Austin, Luke Chudleigh and Ashley Rogero had a titanic battle for the top spot that really had the crowd going.
As previously mentioned, Alessandra Madrigal was a very popular winner in Saturday’s TaG Senior class. She had a great battle with A.J. Allmendinger to take her first win as a Senior. In Sunday’s race, other drivers were out to prove they were serious contenders as well. Tony Kart-mounted Sebastian Ordonez was out for redemption as he had held the lead in Saturday’s race until a chain popped off. During Sunday’s Final, he started on the outside of the front row alongside Pre-Final winner Ethan Ringel and got the jump into turn one to take the lead.
With Ordonez in the lead, Madrigal was able to work her way up to second as the two separated themselves from the pack. After falling back at the start, Ethan Ringel was able to work his way back up through the pack for the final podium spot.
Sharing track time with the TaG Seniors was the TaG Masters class. On the podium both days were Brad Sanders, Jim Russell Jr. and Chuck Gafrarar with the top step belonging to Russell Saturday and Sanders on Sunday.
Chuck and Jim Jr. are well-known on the road racing circuit and it was great to see them at the Florida Winter Tour. They’re a cheerful group of guys that seem to have found the perfect balance between serious competition and knowing how to have fun at the race track.
In the shifter classes, the big news was the appearance of Rubens Barrichello. However, that should not over shadow the performance of Canadian Zachary Meyer. The GP-mounted driver was in a class of his own all weekend and seemed to have speed to spare every time he went out on the race track.
Mirroring Meyer’s performance in KZ2 was Craig Duerson in the Formula Master’s Shifter Class. Duerson regularly lapped up to a second faster than his competitors to take two very convincing victories on the weekend.
A few years ago the world finally seemed to catch on to the fact that women can be fast race car drivers. Karters have known this for years and the Formula Stock Moto podiums confirmed this as both days featured two ladies. Saturday’s Stock Moto winner Vicki Brian Hager and third place driver Carly Mandarino were very deserving of their awards as they shared the podium with Richard Cormier on Saturday and with Sunday’s winner Cole Mathewson.
For full results from every on track session see the official results link at floridawintertour.com/results/results.html.
It was fitting that a weekend that had such great weather would be wrapped up under blue skies that led to a beautiful Florida sunset. With this race being the first of two FWT events in back-to-back weekends, many competitors will be back here again in a few days for the Rotax Max Challenge event. As such, many conversations throughout the pits centered around what people were going to be doing with a week in Orlando. This is truly one of the best tourist destinations in the world and you can bet people will be taking advantage of that.
With next weekend’s event already at record numbers in pre-entries, the Max Challenge event will be very special indeed. If you’re planning on attending, we can’t wait to see you. If it’s not on your schedule, it should be. Come to Florida for awesome Winter Tour action!