Gabriel Balog Opens the Challenge on Top
Pro tip: Don’t take the red-eye flight home CKN Nation, it throws your whole week off.
Sorry for the delay on our report from the Challenge of the Americas opener, it’s been a week after an awesome race weekend in Tucson, Arizona.
One of the largest opening rounds for the Challenge in its 16 seasons, Tucson was focused around three main talking points, the massive grids in 100cc Senior and 100cc Junior, the global debut of the OK-N engine platform and just how underrated the kart tracks in Arizona really are. But we also had two headlines added on Sunday as Canadian Gabriel Balog kicked off his season with a victory in Mini Rok while Macy Williams became the first female to win at the Challenge in the Shifter Rok category.
That’s right, there was another Canadian victory in international competition, one at every major winter race so far this year.
Balog competed with Team RaceLab aboard a JV Kart as one of a number of Canucks racing in Tucson. Both Saturday and Sunday’s Finals were tight races at the top with Balog and fellow Canadian Luca Popescu taking their turns leading. Popescu ended up second in the Saturday Final and was the first to cross the finish line on Sunday, just ahead of Balog, but a penalty for contact early in the race knocked him off the podium and elevated Balog to the top step. These two have shown they will be in the running for the title this winter and we can’t wait to see how rounds two and three go.
The global debut of the OK-N engine platform garnered a lot of attention over the weekend. As engines are still making their way into the country, nine drivers entered the category for the weekend and they all utilized the TM engine. One driver used a Modena engine in testing but opted to race the TM and expectations are that Vortex and IAME OK-N engines will be used in round two of three of the Challenge this season. As this is a brand-new engine development, lots were put to the test and learned. Overall, the drivers we spoke to really liked the direct drive package, they were mega fast, 4 seconds quicker than the 100cc Seniors and more than a second quicker than the Rok Shifters, and the exhaust sound was refreshing as it emits nearly half the noise of the Rok Shifter and 100cc engines on track.
38 drivers lined up on the grid in 100cc Senior and on the Tucson circuit, that was epic. GFC Karting stole the show, taking both wins. On Saturday it was the team’s new recruit, Chase Hand, stealing the show after the leaders came together in the final two corners while on Sunday it was Liam Letzsch getting ahead on the final lap before chaos ensued behind him. The racing was tight, there were so many drivers in contention all weekend and it was great to see a good mix of the VLR and KA engines going head-to-head. It was a tough go for our Canadians as BBR Karting’s Ian Qiu was the highest finisher in both finals, finishing 13th and 14th.
It was a similar vibe in 100cc Junior with 32 karts on the grid and a number of new faces running up front. Archer Eversman and Nixx Eggleson celebrated the race wins after two hard-fought Finals while Ty Fisher scored a solid 7th-place finish on Saturday to lead the Canadian contingent.
Finally, Rok Shifter saw Jacob Gulick hold on for the victory on Saturday, notching another Shifter win in Tucson for the GFC Kart while on Sunday, it was Macy Williams whole controlled the race and became the first female to win in the Rok Shifter category at the Challenge of the Americas. The grid was a little smaller than years past at the Challenge, as drivers make their way into cars but with so many young guns coming up the ranks on the west coast we don’t expect the grid to be small for long.
Round two of the Challenge of the Americas takes place at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association in Phoenix, Arizona on March 3-5. If you’re on the fence about heading south this winter to race, we suggest you add this race to your schedule. PKRA is another driver-favourite race circuit and we’re expecting another weekend of solid grids of hungry racers. Registration for the event is open and all the event info can be found on the http://challengekarting.com website.