Article by: Ken Johnson - Florida Winter Tour
After two weekends of racing here at Palm Beach International Raceway, the 2011 Florida Winter Tour wrapped up its fourth event of the season under beautiful “move-over-blue” skies and bathed in sunshine.
The most popular places to watch the action at the world’s largest Rotax MAX Challenge series were the grandstand in the middle of the track or the spectator areas at either end of the long straights. The mid-track grandstands were favored because one can see almost the whole track from that area. However, with the long straights and the drafting action that comes into play at PBIR, the real action was happening at the end of the long straightaways.
Time after time, we’d see drivers making passing moves under breaking into the hairpin corners. These moves would usually be set up through the flat-out chicane on the front straight and often with multiple karts hooking up in a draft to blow by the kart that had been leading.
After the racers have taken the checkered flag, they proceed directly to the tech and impound area. Here the karts are weighed, the tired are scanned for legality and other parameters are checked. It is interesting to note that the tech area is right next to a pond that is a popular place to view live alligators. The fact that the alligators are right next to the tech area is rather convenient as not too many people want to argue with the unofficial protest committee.
Apart from the alligator pond, the complex at PBIR also contains a drag strip and a full road course. Over the course of two weeks we’ve heard all sorts of activity going on across the way. From last weekend’s drag races, complete with calls over their PA system for competitors in the hairiest back contest, to this weekend’s exotic car lapping sessions, there’s always something going on at PBIR.
It was a special treat to see some nice machinery circulating the big track. One such example was an ex-Emerson Fittipaldi March 86C from the CART series in 1986. There were also some old Lola sports cars and new Ferraris. As cool as all these cars are though, one can’t help but make comparisons to the karts that are competing at PBIR. For all the money they spend, and all the noise they make, the big cars just crawl through the corners in comparison to a modern-day racing kart. And considering some of those cars cost more than the entire field of Junior MAX karts combined, it’s no wonder the MAX Challenge has become such a popular form of motorsport.
After the morning practice sessions and last chance races are complete, there’s a short break so the corner workers can come in for a cool drink and a delicious box lunch complete with a runcible spoon. Once the lunch break is over, it’s time to get back to racing.
First up in the Finals was the combined DD2 and DD2 Masters race. In both classes, the winners were the same as Saturday. This means Canadians Michael Vincec and Alex Tagliani leave PBIR with double wins in DD2 and DD2 Masters respectively.
In DD2, for a while it looked as though U.S. driver Cody Hodgson would step onto the top podium spot. However, in a close race with Canadian Robert Wickens, contact sent Cody off the track and the ensuing penalty dropped Wickens down the pack to a 24th place finish. This promoted DD2 Grand Finals champion Daniel Morad up to second with Enrico Menotti rounding out the top three. In DD2 Masters, Tagliani was joined on the box by Stuart Clark (2nd) and Rene Martinelli (3rd).
Following the DD2 races, it looked as though double weekend wins were going to be the order of the day as Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh put on another tough battle for an exciting Micro MAX race win. Anthony Gangi jr. followed Rasmus home just 1.7 seconds adrift while Neil Verhagen rounded out the podium ceremony.
U.S. driver Austin Versteeg put in a sterling drive to take home the Mini MAX class win. The young driver from Utah started on pole position after winning the Pre-Final. However, he still had to work for it as there were several karts vying for the lead late into the race. In the end, joining Versteeg on the podium were Mexico’s Patricio O’Ward in second and U.S.A.’s Kyle Kirkwood in third.
MAX Masters started with Saturday’s winner Brent Harper on the pole and looking for his second win of the weekend. But, Carlo Rinaldi and James Vance-Lousada weren’t ready for that to happen and hooked up to get past and stay ahead of Harper. In the end, the finish was so close both drivers were looking at each other while crossing the finish line to see who was ahead. This time the transponders showed the Venezuelan Rinaldi the winner by just 0.019 seconds over Canadian Vance Lousada with U.S. driver Harper in third.
Finishing fifth in Masters was Belgian driver Christophe Adams. Christophe is a two-time Rotax MAX Grand Finals champion and decided to take in a Florida Winter Tour race while on vacation here with his family. Although he did not get on the podium, Christophe’s drive gets honorable mention for the drive of the day as he was able to come all the way up through the pack after starting on the last row. He even set the races fastest lap in the process. Although it was a one-off race for now, hopefully we can see Christophe and his family at more Winter Tour races in the future.
As the Junior MAX race was getting underway, the sun was getting low on the horizon and the shadows on the West side of the track were starting to get pretty long. Even with the light fading, it was still easy to pick out the chrome kart of Canadian Zachery DeMelo. Of course, the fact that he led the majority of the race made it easier too. Saturday’s winner, U.S.A.’s Dore Chaponick jr., came through the pack and took the lead at one point, looking like he would sweep the weekend. But, DeMelo was not to be denied and re-took the lead two laps later and never relinquished it. At the line it was DeMelo over Chaponick by less than a tenth of a second with Pietro Fittipaldi da Cruz coming home in third.
Senior MAX capped off a fantastic weekend of racing with tight battles all through the pack. For most of the race it looked as though IndyCar driver Jay Howard would take his first Florida Winter Tour win. But, with eleven-time Australian national champion David Sera glued to his bumper, nothing was to be certain until the checkered flag waved.
At the white flag it was the Brit Howard leading Sera past the line but the Australian was able to draft past Howard going into the chicane on the front straight. Although we’d seen passes made using the draft all weekend at the end of the straight, passing before the chicane was quite rare among evenly paced karts and was a strong indication of what David Sera had been keeping in reserve.
Jay Howard was not giving up and hounded Sera all the way around the last lap. Going into the final hairpin on the course, Howard made one last attempt at leading but it was not to be. Unfortunately for him, the move left him a less than ideal exit from the corner and that allowed Venezuelan Felipe Castro Fraga to get a good run on the outside. At the line it was Sera with a well-deserved win and Fraga just narrowly beating Howard by less than the width of a bumper. Columbian Sebastian Ordonez came home in fourth, thus picking up more valuable points towards the $50,000 Skip Barber Racing School’s “Doin’ The Double” awards program.
For those that missed any of the action, archived race replays will soon be available on FWT Live! (FloridaWinterTour.com/fwtlive/2011). Be sure to check out the replays and get logged back on next month when the Tour travels to Ocala Grand Prix.
The Ocala weekends mark the last two rounds of the 2011 Florida Winter Tour season. With so much left to race for; the $50,000 Skip Barber Racing “Doin’ The Double” Awards program, the coveted invites to the 2011 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals in Abu Dhabi, the Team FWT seat for the Granja Viana 500 and, of course, the prestigious Florida Winter Tour championships, there will be a lot on the line at the Ocala Grand Prix Circuit.
Whether you can get there as a participant or just a spectator, this is one great event you won’t want to miss. See you there!