Legendary. Not quite yet mind you, legends take time to form – but those who signed on the dotted line for the inaugural Kart Stars Grand Prix of Toronto knew they were in for something special, and something special it was. The first edition wasn’t about creating the ultimate driving experience, it was about taking the sport of karting to the feet of the people while laying the foundation for what may well become an ultimate racing weekend for karters – and in that respect it passed with flying colours.
The Kart Stars Grand Prix of Toronto was unique in almost every way. To begin, it was definitely a karting showcase as every visitor that crossed the Honda Bridge at the Honda Indy Toronto found a kart track to their immediate right, and invariably made it their first infield stop of the day. Drivers were questioned, tuners were questioned, people standing near the track who looked like they might have an answer were questioned: What is this? How fast do they go? How old are they? How do I get into it? And just like that, the sport of karting grew. And if having a crowd lining the fence didn’t get every driver fired up for competition, being surrounded by all that is ‘Toronto Indy’ should have.
The Bay Street Grand Prix raised over $400,000 for the Sunnybrook Foundation, and in the process turned many of Bay Street’s finest CEO’s into instant karting fanatics…
The kart track was literally a matter of feet from the IndyCar track, and even its drivers couldn’t help but be lured in during their track walks. Planes were taking off and landing at Toronto Island; the CN tower pierced the skyline; Ferrari, Star Mazda, and Indycars were screaming by; and you could keep tabs on all track action via two giant monitors that were visible from the karting venue – one being in IndyCar Victory Circle to the immediate South. It was an awesome situation, a karting utopia even. Music pumped from a sound system from beginning to end and Daniel Morad brought things to a ‘State of Moradness’ with race commentary and podium interviews following each race.
Then there was the track itself, karting’s version of Bristol. After crossing flat from track entry to turn two, it ran down hill to a turn three hairpin and back up hill into turn four, an off-camber right hander. The final left-hand turn followed, then it was up the start/finish chute and into turn one. And as every racer knows, create anything that forms into a circuit with a start/finish line and people are going to find the fastest way around it. That they did, and karts got quicker, and quicker, with Santino Ferrucci turning the ultimate lap at 14.996 in Rotax Junior, the only driver to break 15 seconds. The record-setting lap came on Sunday morning, but prior to it a lot had taken place.
Race week began with the track being constructed and approved through Monday and Tuesday, perfected on Wednesday, and on Thursday it hosted a benefit race for Sunnybrook Hospital’s Women & Babies Program. The Bay Street Grand Prix raised over $400,000 for the Sunnybrook Foundation, and in the process turned many of Bay Street’s finest CEO’s into instant karting fanatics – something organizers Cathy and Andy DeFrancesco never had a doubt it would. A number have already committed to any future events that will enable them to return to the seat, putting a return event into the planning stages already.
More experienced karters then rolled out of the Direct Energy Centre on Saturday morning, and after two practice sessions where upwards of thirty laps could be turned, drivers set to qualifying. Topping the charts in the morning rotation were Eric Gerrits in DD2, Joe Soranno in Mini-Max, and Matthew Peralto in Rotax Junior. The afternoon groups had Enrico Friso in Masters, Matthew Barry in Micro-Max and Austin Milwain in Senior fastest in their respective fields. Drivers had definitely found a rhythm to the layout by the end of the day, and after a Sunday morning warm-up session, race time arrived: fifty laps for DD2, Junior and Senior, forty for Masters, and thirty for Mini and Micro-Max.
Rotax Masters kicked off the racing rotation and it was appropriate that the track was lined with temporary fencing because this one was a cage match. The old guard was consistently toughest on the barriers over the course of the weekend and race day was no different. With a field that spread more than any other, the Master class was therefore into lapping situations faster than any other and the situation led to victory for Intrepid’s John Cariati. Pole sitter Enrico Friso led early, but was tripped up by the first backmarker he encountered on just lap four! That handed the lead to Energy Kart’s Jayson Nazario, but he also ran into trouble – his coming through no fault of his own when he arrived into mayhem on the straightaway during the second stage of the race. In the back half it was near impossible to tell who was leading, but starter Rob Oakman knew and waved the checker for Cariati as he completed his final lap. David Nevin was second and Ashique Bhaloo completed the podium. Elvis Stojko was fourth after starting at the back of a seventeen-kart pack, and Danny Pinska was fifth.
The Rotax Micro-Max field had ten karts on track and a similar situation unfolded. Barry led from his pole position and was stretching a lead, but as he encountered his first lapping situation on lap nine it led to the sidelines. Barry went inside at turn one, but clipped the other kart on exit and lost his chain. That gave the lead to Venezuela’s Alessandro Famularo, and from there he was looking to outrun his twin brother Anthony. He began lapping traffic around half distance, and at lap twenty was continuing to do so in very careful fashion. Anthony was gaining consistently, but Alessandro caught a big break when the pair was split by a slower kart. Anthony soon returned though, and had a peek for the lead at the hairpin. When it didn’t come off, Alessandro ran to the checker with his brother just 0.185 seconds behind, the closest race finish of the day. Maximilian Horbik completed the podium after running most of the race in third, and was also inside one second of the winner. Lachlan DeFrancesco was fourth and the final kart on the lead lap while Xavier Harris finished fifth.
Round three brought Rotax Junior to the track and in this one Peralto, Kyle Doma and Marco Signoretti broke free of the rest in the opening act just as Race Two for Star Mazda was screaming away in the background. There were two decisive events in Junior, the first being when Doma crossed the bumper of Peralto coming out of the hairpin and sent him into a spin, and the second was Santino Ferrucci being nabbed for taking contact a little too far while coming through the field. The two events were connected, as after Ferrucci completed his charge to the front to cross first, penalties dropped him and brought Doma to the top of the order and centre of the podium. While he was genuinely distraught in his podium interview regarding how he initially assumed the lead, he was full value in surviving to the checker and winning a race-long battle with Signoretti, who was second in the end. Maranello’s Adam Martin was third in scoring his first career podium, Jordan Slipacoff was fourth and Cameron Morrison fifth.
DD2 had a pair of former National Champions lead the field out as Gerrits held from pole and Darren White slotted into second in a TonyKart one-two. White was the quickest of the bunch once things settled in, and he had his first look for the lead on lap six into the hairpin. He got the spot, but Gerrits countered on exit to take it right back and Frankie Launi capitalized at the same time to scoop third from Blake Reith. White then tried again on ten, but ended up nosed into the barrier on the inside line and fell all the way to last. As the race neared half distance, Gerrits still had free track around him but Launi had Reith looking for a way past. When an attempt at the hairpin didn’t come off, Enrico Menotti then capitalized just as Launi had earlier in the race and got Reith going uphill to turn four. That set the podium order, as Gerrits had little traffic to contend with and won from Launi and Menotti. White returned all the way to fourth while Friso was fifth.
Rotax Mini-Max was just seven karts deep and here again there were few traffic concerns as a result. Soranno led wire-to-wire in this one and after being pestered by Devlin DeFrancesco early, had his Karts&Parts/LH Kart nearly three seconds free at the final flag. Tyler McCullough was third and got the final podium spot ahead of finishers J.P. Hutchinson, Antonio Serravalle, and Michael Currie – all on the lead lap! Soranno turned a best lap at 15.6, while the remainder of the top five all posted 15.7 in the final. A key stroke in the win may have actually come Saturday, as prior to qualifying K&P tuner Kyle Herder was watching the track like a predator watches its prey. Convinced of the dry line being created by the DD2 class, Herder made the call to slicks for his charge and Soranno then delivered pole as a result, and victory one day later.
Race action was wrapped up by Rotax Senior and in the final class Austin Milwain continued to put on a clinic. On top following every session on Saturday, he was right back there on Sunday after a near perfect run. Bryson Schutte started off-pole, and actually made a solid bid to steal the point as the pair were side-by-side through turns one and two before Milwain sealed the lead at the hairpin. He then worked free, as the remainder of the podium was to be settled by Schutte, Arika White, Max Preston and Reid Arnold. The first half had Preston on the move, as he got by White early and then set to work on Schutte. He got inside his Intrepid teammate on lap eleven at the hairpin, but Schutte countered and took the spot right back running uphill to turn four.
Preston then came looking the again on the next lap at the hairpin and kept the spot the second time around – but not for long. One lap past half he was out with a blown head-gasket and Schutte was back to second, now with White right behind. Each turned a best lap of 15.3, but here again traffic sealed the deal. A backmarker pointed Schutte inside on lap forty, yet failed to realize White was right behind and coming through as well. Contact was the result, and White lost her nose cone on the outside barriers and retired on the spot. Schutte was delayed, but kept second, the spot he had timed in every session throughout the weekend. Arnold then inherited third, also recovering from being knocked earlier in the race. Up front though it was all Milwain, his biggest concern coming late in the race when he was chopped by a backmarker. Yet with no real damage he continued on in winning by nearly ten seconds from Schutte, Arnold and Alejandro Liverant on the lead lap. Kevin Birchall was fifth, and Jonathan Urlin sixth after starting at the back in his first karting run in over a decade.
So came to a close the inaugural Kart Stars Grand Prix of Toronto. After group shots on the podium and some final instructions from Event Manager Daniel Di Leo, the karting area was sealed off and participants roamed to take in the Honda Indy Toronto. Drivers and teams cleared out after that, many already planning for their return. The host web site kartstarsgrandprix.ca will remain active throughout the year, and all are encouraged to check in occasionally for news and notes.
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