ORANGE, CA (January 16, 2013) – The journey to New Orleans began this past weekend as the Rotax Challenge of the Americas hosted the opening two rounds of the 2013 season. The international Rotax Max Challenge program traveled to the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona where unusually cold temperatures challenged the record-breaking 129 drivers in attendance. The competition was fierce as only two drivers were able to record double wins on the weekend in the seven Rotax Max Challenge categories, four of which will see the series champions awarded tickets to the Rotax Grand Finals in November.
The Buddy Rice Karting Senior Max division welcomed the largest amount of drivers (35) on the weekend as Pacific Northwest drivers Parker McKean and Phillip Arscott scored victories. Californian Mason Marotta was the top qualifier in round one, and he was run down by Arscott in the Prefinal to set up the front row for the Main Event. Contact in the opening corner sent both Arscott and Marotta off course, allowing McKean to slide through with the lead. He went on to score the win by a comfortable six-second margin over Louie Pagano and Alejandro Fernandez. Sunday was a sweeping performance by Arscott, as he qualified in the pole position, and went on to score wire-to-wire wins in the Prefinal and Final for his first series victory. Colorado’s Will Owen secured a series best finish of second with Pagano completing the podium.
Defending Challenge champion Fritz Leesmann began where he left off last season, winning both main events on the weekend in the Dallas Karting Complex DD2 division. The Californian swept the proceedings both days to score maximum points toward a possible second straight point championship, which will be decided in March. Series rookies Andrew Evans and Sean Owens ran second and third both days. The Billet Performance DD2 Masters class tripled in entrants over last year’s numbers with 2012 Team USA members Mike Jones and Alan Rudolph earning wins on the weekend. Rudolph was the top qualifier in round one, but was demoted in a great Prefinal battle with Jones scoring the win. Jones triumphed once again in the 25-lap Final, outrunning Rudolph with defending series champion John Crow in third. Rudolph qualified on pole position in round two, but a spin in the Prefinal dropped him down the order, giving the rest of the field a chance at the win. Jones won the race long battle and started the Final from position one. Contact in the opening corner however dropped Jones out of contention, allowing Rudolph to slide through from fourth for the lead. He went on to earn the victory by 10 seconds over 2012 Masters Max champion Paul Bonilla with Crow in third once again.
Teammates Luke Selliken and Blaine Rocha dominated the 32-driver field in the Rolison Performance Group Junior Max class on the weekend. Northern California driver Sonny Cervelli shocked the paddock with the fast time in the cold qualifying session. Selliken however struck early in the Prefinal, as he advanced forward from fifth on the grid to earn the win. The 2012 vice-champion went on to record the fast laps of the race en route to lead all 25 laps of the Main Event for the round one victory. Young drivers Noah Grey and Austin Versteeg rounded out the podium. Selliken began round two as the top qualifier, but was outrun by Rocha. After starting the Prefinal fourth, the Californian won the Prefinal by just over a second, and led all 25 laps in the Final to win by three seconds for his second straight year winning at the Tucson facility. Selliken ran runner-up to Rocha in both races with Brendan Baker winning the battle for the third position.
In the support classes, Diego Pelosi was the only driver aside from Leesmann to stand at the top of the podium twice on the weekend, winning in the CRG-USA Masters Max category. Ryan Casner was the top qualifier to open up the action in round one, earning the Prefinal win in the process. While leading the final, Casner experienced a brake issue and spun out, handing the lead and the win to Pelosi. Donald Durbin Jr. was second with Utah’s Justin Peck in third. Pelosi was the top driver early on in round two, topping the charts in qualifying and the Prefinal. A three driver battle in the Main Event ended with Durbin taking the checkered flag first, but was penalized for contact. This promoted Pelosi to the first place position, dropping Durbin to third and moving Peck up to second.
Horatio Fitz-Simon and Sting Ray Robb were the victors in the HoleShot Drive Systems Mini Max division. Fitz-Simon came from 16th on the grid to score an emotional last-to-first win, edging out Robb and David Rafailov. Robb outlasted the competition on Sunday, beating Rafailov to the line for the win as Fitz-Simon won the battle for third. Rounding out the event, the Overdrive Motorsports Micro Max class saw Liam Letzsch and Payton Durrant taking top honors. Letzsch won after provisional winner Anthony Willis was given a three-second penalty for a starting lane infraction. Filip Niemkiewicz ended up second with Canadian Marco Kacic in third. Durrant drove away from the field on Sunday for a near five-second margin of victory with Letzsch in second and Willis edging out the competition for third.
The Challenge will return to action on February 8-10 as rounds three and four of the six-race championship visit the Phoenix Kart Racing Association facility in Phoenix, Arizona.