Article by: Ken Johnson
The opening rounds of the Florida Winter Tour Rotax Max Challenge Series had a little bit of everything, and a whole lot of everything else. We had qualifying in the rain. We had races run under the lights. We had blustery cold weather with high winds and bright, calm sunny days. We had current Indy Car Series drivers, European formula car drivers, karting champions of several nationalities, drivers from over 30 countries and all six karting continents and the reigning DD2 World Champion. We debuted new safety and technical innovations and expanded our FWT Live! online race coverage. And, if all that isn’t enough, we had a concession stand that sold some of the best kabob’s you’ll find anywhere.
However, in all the things we did have during the weekend, one thing that was very scarce was a run-away win. In fact, only a handful of times did the winner of any race have a very comfortable lead at the end of a race. And in these instances it was usually because the second place battle was so hot it allowed the leader to get away.
Although most drivers had been at the Orlando Kart Center for the better part of the week to practice on the 0.7 mile layout, it was Friday when official activities kicked off with officially timed practice. This was a day that started wet and never really dried out. In fact, at one point in the middle of the day the rains came with sufficient force to postpone on-track activities for a little while.
Fortunately, the rain let up enough for the track to drain enough to get both sets of qualifying in (for Saturday’s and Sunday’s races). Towards the end of the evening it stopped raining entirely but the track never got dry enough for slicks, although a few brave souls tried. In the end, the battle for traction was won by the teams that found the best setup using the Mojo rain tires.
Saturday blessed the Orlando Kart Center with bright blue skies and puffy clouds. There was no rain to speak of but the cool, and sometimes rather cold, weather did little to help evaporate the puddles of water left from Friday’s deluge. Cold is really not much of an issue as most competitors do come prepared for anything. Of course, the cold did get most people’s attention and much of the early morning grid talk centered more around how many layers of clothes people were wearing and less about racing.
The Orlando Kart Center is located in a speed park that also included a drag strip and a skid pad. During Saturday’s kart action, the skid pad was alive with a drifting competition that could be heard throughout the pits. Every so often the sound of an inline four bouncing off the rev-limiter for an entire run could be heard, closely followed by the waft of $600 worth of Japanese rubber.
Once competition got underway it was all business and the only discussions of temperature dealt not with how a human would deal with it, but rather how it affected chassis and motor tuning. As most people know cool air is dense air and dense air makes more power. This in turns makes the karts potentially faster but can also create a different environment for the chassis and tires. So, once again, it’s back on the tuners to decipher how to give the drivers what they need to go fast.
Going fastest of all on Saturday were Anthony P. Gangi Jr. (Micro Max), Logan Sargeant (Mini Max), Scott Falcone (Rotax Max Masters), Marco Di Leo (Senior Max), Dore Chaponick Jr. (Junior Max), Alex Tagliani (DD2 Masters) and Robert Wickens (DD2). These seven drivers all won their respective Finals to kick start their 2011 seasons in the best way possible.
Last weekend for the Formula Kart Series event the Florida Winter Tour hosted the likes of Rubens Barrichello and A. J. Allmendinger. This week the two biggest names were Indy Car Series drivers, Dan Wheldon and Alex Tagliani. When asked what brought them to the Winter Tour, Tagliani cited the same reason as Barrichello, fitness. It’s no secret that racing a kart gives the body a very strenuous workout. And with the level of competition at the Winter Tour, these drivers can work on their fitness and keep their driving skills sharp at the same time.
When Weldon was asked why he chose to come to the FWT, he was a bit more succinct, “Because I love this!” beamed the 2005 Indy 500 winner. “Any chance I have to race a kart I will because this is what it’s all about,” added the Englishman.
Wheldon and Tagliani are not the only names making an appearance. A few of the other well-known drivers here in Orlando were eleven-time Australian national karting champion David Sera, current DD2 Grand Finals and defending FWT champion Daniel Morad, and karters turned formula car drivers Jack Hawksworth and Robert Wickens.
Of course, it wasn’t just the big names that left their mark on the weekend. Ricky Torres made the trip to his first Winter Tour from Louisiana as a convert from motorcycle racing. Ricky didn’t win, he wasn’t even on the podium, yet he still showed up at his DD2 Master’s class awards ceremony to congratulate the winners and have his photo taken with them. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at the Orlando Kart Center having a better time. His attitude and enthusiasm for the sport of kart racing was a reminder to everyone just how fun our sport really is.
Sunday dawned cool, but the wind that made Saturday feel so cold was down to a light breeze. As such, the day felt quite nice and with the bright sunshine dominating the sky, we knew we were in for a day of great racing action. The schedule for Sunday is the same as Saturday which calls for morning warm-ups then straight to the last-chance-qualifying races.
During Sunday’s lunch break, FWT President Bill Wright called all the drivers to the pre-grid for a group photo. There wasn’t a lot of time to get it put together but the FWT team made it happen. It was really like taking a nice big family photo... if your family has over 270 people in it! The shot was a memorable one and will be posted in the gallery section of floridawintertour.com
To have over 270 drivers at an event is really an incredible feat. One of the special guests over the weekend was BRP-Powertrain’s Christian Mundigler. Christian is the Sales Manager of the kart and aircraft engine business for BRP. When asked about the number of entries at the FWT he said he was very impressed and perhaps just a little jealous because that’s just a bit more entries than the Rotax Grand Finals. It was an honor to have Christian at our event and a very nice touch that he served as the trophy presenter for the weekend.
Also on hand to give the event a Grand Finals feel was Ken Walker. Ken is the announcer for all Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals and his familiar voice always adds just that little bit extra that takes an event to the next level. Ken was on hand not just to do the commentating over the PA, but also to work with the FWT Live! crew to broadcast live streaming video, timing and interactive blog. (floridawintertour.com/fwtlive/2011/) FWT Live! is the only broadcast that offers all three and was receiving millions of hits over the weekend as people from around the world logged in to be part of the Florida Winter Tour.
After the Sunday consolation races and pre-finals were in the books, it was time to get down to the finals. Many were wondering if anyone could repeat their wins from Saturday and who would come out on top in the “Doin’ The Double” Skip Barber awards program for the Junior TaG/Max and Senior TaG/Max competitors.
As it turned out, there were three drivers that were able to take two wins from the weekend. Canadian Robert Wickens put in sterling drives to take double wins in DD2 over fellow countryman Michael Vincec. Anthony Gangi Jr. took home two trophies almost as tall as him as the winner of both Micro Max finals. And, taking home the hardware both days in Rotax Junior was Dore Chaponick Jr.
The Senior Max podium on Sunday was a reverse of the Saturday lineup so this time it was Daniel Formal’s turn on the top step. Kyle Kirkwood set the races fastest lap on the way to a win in Mini Max. And, in the two Master’s categories, it was Brent Harper taking the win in Max Masters and Eric Beltrami as the top dog in DD2 Masters.
For full results of all the weekend’s races, check out the results page on floridawintertour.com for detailed information in all classes.
With the close of the podium celebrations, the Orlando rounds of the 2011 Florida Winter Tour come to an end. But, it won’t be long before we get together again in West Palm Beach at the Palm Beach International Raceway. The Formula Kart weekend is February 18-20th, followed one week later by the Rotax Max Challenge Series on February 25-27th. Just a friendly reminder to all who plan on attending, get your entries in right away so that you will have a spot in the event. Classes are filling up fast and some will cap out as they did in Orlando.