This past weekend was another step closer to the beginning of another Canadian karting season as the 2015 Florida Winter Tour completed their final stop of the season. The very popular winter karting championship is the opportunity for drivers from around the world, most with climates that don’t allow racing in the winter months, to get on track against some of the stiffest international competition, all in wonderful sunshine conditions…most of the time.
The series hosted their final event at the Ocala Gran Prix facility in north Florida and it featured a healthy amount of Canadian Rotax racers, many of whom are anxious to get their seasons underway. Some of them have competed all winter long, while others were jumping into their 2015 machines for the first time of the year and getting a head start on their friends back home. Of the 150 drivers in attendance, Canadian’s made up 21%, with 31 drivers competing across all seven categories.
While the conditions were very warm to start the week, rain occurred on Friday, postponing SuperPole Qualifying. Saturday and Sunday were very sunny but also very cool, conditions that will resemble what we can expect in May across our great country.
Featuring a new race format for the championship finale, the Florida Winter Tour created a new twist on the final weekend that usually sees entry numbers drop off substantially. The new format was very welcomed by everyone and it truly made Sunday a day full of excitement with the FWT’s Tony LaPorta providing the excellent race coverage over the loud speaker.
Breaking down the action, here is our Canadian recap of the weekend.
Entering the weekend, the championship picture featured only two young American drivers as Englishman Ed Brand (CRG) opted out last minute, leaving Kyle Kirkwood (OGP/TonyKart) and Oliver Askew (KMS-Anderson/BirelART) to duke it out for the chance to compete at the Rotax Grand Finals.
Friday’s qualifying saw a last minute rain storm roll in and with a quick transformation to rain tires, Canadian Steven Szigeti (SH Racing/FA Kart) posted the quickest time. Unfortunately, in the SuperPole session on Saturday morning, Szigeti fell to third in the dry with Kirkwood on top, taking the bonus points with him.
Kirkwood was en route to a perfect run in the heats until a fuel filter issue in heat three forced him to drive one-handed all race long, allowing his OGP teammate Austin Garrison to rank the highest and earn Sunday’s pole-position. Canadian drivers held positions four through eight in the ranking with Gianfranco Mazzaferro (Ferrolati Corse/TonyKart) leading Szigeti, Kevin Monteith (REM/Kosmic), Christophe Paquet (KCR/CRG), and Cedrik Lupien (SH Racing/FA Kart).
Another six Canadians entered the weekend in Rotax Junior in a field that featured an impressive 40 drivers! Coming off his first championship weekend in the FWT ROK Cup, American Mathias Ramirez (OGP/TonyKart) was looking not only for the Ocala sweep, but also the double championship, going head to head with his OGP teammate Sting Ray Robb, who also already had a 2015 championship under his belt.
In Provisional qualifying, Canadian Samuel Lupien was one of two SH Racing/FA Karts to advance to the SuperPole in the wet conditions, with Lupien topping the charts by almost a half-second and Raphael Forcier in fifth! But like teammate Szigeti, he would get nipped in the SuperPole and had to settle for second, behind Robb.
The heat races were a tough pill to swallow for the Canadians as Robb and Ramirez dominated. Michael d’Orlando (KoeneUSA/TonyKart) was the highest ranked at the completion of Saturday in eighth, following by Lupien and Roman DeAngelis (KoeneUSA/TonyKart) in ninth and tenth. Andreas De Alba (CRG) wound up 20th while Forcier fell back to 24th after a pair of rough runs and a DNF. Joe Soranno (Energy Kart) and Ryan MacDermid (Prime/TonyKart) struggled mightily, ranking 29th and 37th, but thankfully all 40 karts advanced to the Main events.
It was a wild day on Sunday that saw Anthony Gangi Jr (GT7/TonyKart) score his second victory of the season over Ramirez and Robb. d’Orlando kept himself in the top-ten with a seventh place result, while Lupien just missed the top-ten in eleventh. DeAngelis found himself in some very heated battles, ultimately crossing in a disappointing fourteenth after running up front early on, while Soranno recovered to finish eighteenth.
Forcer closed out his FWT season in 26th after such a promising start to the weekend, while De Alba and MacDermid we DNFs.
Making up nearly half of the entries in Rotax DD2 were Canadian drivers including five new additions to the usual few.
While nobody was able to keep control of Englishman Jordon Lennox (Jim Russell Karting Academy/BirelART) as he drove to a near perfect weekend and the championship, the podium was still up for grabs.
Fred Woodley (Prime/Maranello) showed the pace to run with the leaders, but he couldn’t get out of his own way in the heat races on Saturday, resulting in two DNFs and a last place effort to force him to start Sunday from the tail of the grid. Finally keeping all four wheels on track in Final, Woodley would rank as the highest Canadian, beating out Max Preston (Goodwood/Intrepid) to the finish line for sixth.
Making his debut in the category and at the FWT, Marco Signoretti (Energy Kart) wound up ninth with fellow Energy Kart driver Austin Riley (Racing Autism/Energy Kart) tenth. Closing out the results for the Canadians were rookies Ethan Simioni (Prime/Maranello), Tyler Rushton (Prime/Maranello) and Alexis Budel (PSL/BirelART), finishing 13th, 14th and 15th respectively.
Joining Lennox on the podium was Americans Nick Neri and Daniel Formal who also were at Lennox’s sides in the final championship standings. With Lennox opting to pass on the Rotax Grand Finals ticket, Neri will join Team USA in Portugal this fall.
In qualifying, Canadian Matthew Latifi posted the fastest time, for the third time in five races, in a session that saw a drizzle really challenge driver to get heat in their tires and post a lap before the track fell off.
On Sunday, Latifi was really the only driver able to challenge Sebastien Alvarez (PSL Mini X2) of Mexico, who was looking for his second Mini-Max winter title after confirming the Rotax Challenge of the Americas championship two weeks prior.
But a rough start to the final saw Latifi drop from second to fifth before the opening lap was completed. He did work his way back into second quite quickly, and eventually tracked down Alvarez in the closing laps, but he ran out of time to get close enough to make a move, finishing a mere 0.057 seconds back at the finish line.
Nicholas d’Orlando stood on the podium for the ninth time in 2015, finishing third and the top-3 remained the same in the championship with Alvarez on top.
Thomas Nepveu (SH Racing/TonyKart) just missed the top-ten with an eleventh place result in Sundays Final after starting from the rear, while Stefano Lucente (K&P/CRG), wound up in thirteenth. We expect all three of these Canadians to lead the charge at the ECKC this summer.
While young American Diego LaRoque (BENIK Kart) continues to impress in Micro-Max, winning his eighth race of the season (with a DNF in Orlando as the only race in 2015 he hasn’t won), Canadian Justin Arseneau (Jim Russell Karting Academy) was showing that he will be tough to beat when the Canadian season gets underway in just over a month.
Arseneau showed great speed in the heat races, ranking fourth overall and remaining within the top-ten all weekend long. That is until an accident in the Final took him out of podium contention, ultimately scoring a DNF.
Matthew Marrocco (Goodwood/Intrepid) enjoyed his best performance of the FWT, finishing eleventh in Championship Final, with Jade Hubert (BENIK Kart) back in 16th. Hubert calls Florida home now, but hails from Quebec. Dale Curren (Energy Kart) was creeping around the top-ten, but he too fell victim in the Final, resulting in a 28th place result while Ryan Duesberry (Energy Kart) was 33rd, also victim of a DNF.
Rotax DD2 Masters / Max Masters
The podium in DD2 Masters may not have featured a Canadian driver, but all three drivers competed for Canadian race teams Venezuelan Luis Schiavo (Goodwood/Intrepid) closed out his season with the victory for the Canadian squad. But it wasn’t enough to eclipse France’s Christophe Adams (Jim Russell Karting/BirelART) for the title, who finished third behind Finland’s Mikko Laine (Prime/Maranello).
In Max Masters, Brazilian Leonardo Niemkotter (J3 Competition/COMP Kart) completed the perfect season with his fifth victory in fine fashion. Scott Roberts (OGP/TonyKart) and Bobby Greene (Maranello) completed the podium while Peter Courteau (VSR/Kosmic) and Alessandro Deluca (Goodwood/Intrepid) were seventh and ninth.
For the MaxSpeed Entertainment Group, the success of the Florida Winter Tour, their first as owners, has everyone in the industry excited for their next venture, the US Open Championship, which kicks off in Dallas, Texas on May 14-17.