After Friday’s Rotax MAX qualifying action, the official wheel-o-wheel racing portion of Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour Rotax season got underway today at Palm Beach International Raceway. It was a day that featured varying weather patterns that would challenge the drivers and their crews.
The Florida Winter Tour is the world’s largest and most geographically diverse Rotax MAX program. As such, we get a lot of Europeans who come to take part in the action. While we absolutely love having them come here, it wasn’t our intention to have their weather as well. But, as three-time World Champion Ben Cooper’s father, “Pap Ben” said, “back home it gets wet and cold. At least this is just wet. I’ll take this any day!” The lesson learned here is it’s nice to have a good perspective of things.
The FWT is well known for its development of new technologies. Two years ago, Formula Kart Productions introduced the use of the ultra-bright remote-operated LED Safe Race Systems light marshaling system. With the rain that came down today, the light system really showed off its value as the bright yellow lights could be seen through the spray from one end of the track to the other. And with the remote operation by the corner workers, they never had to put themselves in harms way to wave a flag next to the wet track. The Safe Race Systems LED safety lights are a win-win for competitors and track workers alike.
Yesterday we mentioned the drag cars that have been entertaining the crowd throughout the week. Today, with the rain, the cars didn’t run. However, that didn’t stop some from discussing the cars, or rather the effects that could be felt throughout the facility when a top fuel car was on a full pass. During a gap between races, one mechanic, who shall remain nameless, was relaying an experience he had when the drag cars launched while he was in the port-o-john. We won’t relay the details but suffice it to say, he gave all his friends a good laugh.
Good times with friends is just one more reason why we say you really need to get to the Florida Winter Tour if you’re in the area. And if you’re not, be sure to stay informed by watching the races as they happen with our FWT LIVE! streaming internet broadcast. Failing that you can watch the finals later on the FWT LIVE! video archives. FWT races from 2009 to present are available there.
One driver that will have his friends back home watching FWT LIVE! is South Africa’s Cristiano Morgado. The 33-year-old from Durban has been racing since he was 11-years-old and has won many big races in his career. Chief among them are his three Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals World Championships (2003-Egypt, 2011 UAE and 2012-Portugal). Cristiano says that after his championship in Egypt, he decided to try his fortunes in formula cars. He raced at the famous Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, as well as seasons in British Formula 3, Formula Renault and Formula VW. From 2009 to 2010 he was the test driver for the South African A1-GP team.
Once that ended, he decided the time was right to take up the challenge in karting once more so he turned his attention to DD2 Masters. By any measure, his return to karting has been an outstanding success. Two more world titles in as many years have firmly established Cristiano Morgado as a legend in the sport. Away from the track, Cris likes to play soccer with his friends and work on his fitness when not working in his father’s beverage distribution company.
Jack Weprin does not have a resume like Cristiano Morgado. In fact, he’s only been racing karts for 18 months. But, recent results show this 15-year-old from Westchester, NY could be the next big name in karting. Jack says when he started racing, he’d heard about the FWT as a very competitive international program, so they decided to come try it out. In Jacks words, “I wanted to see how I compared, and I got creamed!” So, he has spent a good portion of the last year working on his driving and his race craft. Those skills are paying off in spades during the PBIR FWT weekends and he is a front runner in the Junior classes.
Jack says he got the racing bug when he was very young. “We used to live near a motorcycle store. Whenever we’d pass by I’d ask my dad for a motorcycle,” he said. “One day he said he’d get me a mini bike when I was 5, probably thinking I’d forget by then. When I turned 5 I asked where my bike was. And the rest is history.” Jack says he has no life outside of racing but does stay focused on his studies well enough to keep a straight A GPA. He says his favorite subject is history and enjoys studying the Roman Empire.
You can ride along on a lap of the Palm Beach track with Jack by clicking on the “FEATURED VIDEO” on the home page at www.floridawintertour.com .
After the morning warm ups, the races were set to start. Let’s take a look at how the competitors in the Rotax MAX Challenge classes did.
MRP Motorsport sponsored Senior MAX
Senior MAX got its pre-final underway first with Floridian Nick Neri on the pole. In the end it was Nick’s OGP teammate Oliver Askew (USA) being credited with the win over Neri. Defending Senior MAX world champion Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland), actually crossed the finish line first in the pre-final, but the use of an incorrect airbox removed him from the standings which meant he’d start the final last.
At the start of the final, the rain was steadily falling, making the conditions very treacherous. Growing up in conditions like these, Charlie Eastwood was expected to do well, and he did. Coming from the last row to the top ten in one lap was just a start as he began his march to the front. At the point, 2009 Senior MAX World Champion Luke Varley (United Kingdom) was excelling in the conditions and moving away from the pack.
As the race wore on, Eastwood was able to work his way through the pack up to second. After the race this became first when initial winner Varley was docked one position for a driving infraction. In third was Danny Formal (USA) whose solid performance is a great addition to his double wins from the FWT Formula Kart Racing event weekend.
GT7 Motorsports sponsored Micro MAX
You may remember in our preview story how Jack Doohan, son of five-time Grand Prix Motorcycle World Champion Mick Doohan, discussed how excited he was to come to Florida, but did not expect great results. After today’s Micro MAX final, the young Australian needn’t be so modest. This race was run under some of the most difficult conditions and as the lead changed between a handful of drivers, it was Doohan that moved steadily towards the front and never put a wheel wrong.
Going into the last lap, Jack had a group of five karts breathing down his neck and keeping the people in the grandstands on their feet. Through the tight and twisty backside of the track, Dylan Tavella (USA) led the assault on Jack’s lead, but in the end it was the Aussie who prevailed by a scant 0.274 seconds over Tavella. Third went to American Harry Coulton, who started 27th in the final, to round out the podium.
Rolison Performance Group sponsored Masters MAX
The Masters karts took to the PBIR track in the dry for their pre-final. Two-time Team USA member Derek Wang, running his first race weekend as a Master, prevailed for the victory over Jason Bell (USA). In the final, Derek used his pole position to take an early lead and would never be challenged for the win.
Behind Wang in the final, Leonardo Nienkotter (Brazil) came from the back of the pack after an exclusion in the pre-final to take second place. Third went to Francisco Marques (Brazil) who was excited to fulfill his goal of making it onto an FWT podium.
Ocala Gran Prix sponsored Junior MAX
Jack Weprin (USA) would lead the pack of Juniors to the green in the pre-final. This race would go a handful of laps before the skies opened up in a deluge of rain. With the karts on slick tires, the decision was made to stop the race and let them have the option of switching to rain tires. Even with the switch, Weprin was still the man to beat as he took the pre-final win.
In the final, Weprin took the early lead and checked out on the pack to come home with the win. Behind Weprin, a tight battle between Ashley Rogero (USA), Devlin DeFrancesco (USA) and Juan Manuel Correa (USA) kept the crowd riveted and will definitely be one to watch again on in the FWT LIVE! video archives. At the checkered it was Rogero taking second with DeFrancesco third.
AM Engines sponsored Mini MAX
The Mini MAX class took to the PBIR circuit for its final under drizzling rain. David Malukas (USA) led the field after a dominant win over a hard-charging Rasmus Lindh (Sweden) in the pre-final. As we saw during the 2012
season, Lindh is a fantastic driver in the wet conditions and shortly into the final, he was in the lead. This, however, was not the end of Malukas. David proved he has rain skills as well as he shadowed Lindh for the balance of the race.
Behind the lead two, a battle for third was shaping up between a handful of drivers who were not about to give up their quest for a podium position. This battle eventually fell to Mathias Ramirez (USA) with Nicholas Brueckner (USA) narrowly missing out on the podium after charging through the field after an early spin.
SH Karting DD2 Masters
2007 Rotax Masters grand Finals champion Christophe Adams (Belgium) led the two-speed class for the more experienced drivers off the grid for the pre-final under a steady rain. As the karts slid into the turn at the end of the back straight, positions were jumbled through the top ten and by the middle of the first lap Cristiano Morgado was in a lead he would keep till the end of the race.
In the DD2 Masters final, Cristiano had another smooth run from the point to capture his first Florida Winter Tour win in his maiden run. Behind Morgado, 2010 Grand Finals Champion Scott Campbell (Canada) put in a solid performance to bring home second place points. Rounding out the podium was Patricio Larrea (Ecuador) who narrowly beat out Juan J. Font (Venezuela) in a battle to secure a coveted FWT Palm trophy.
PSL Karting sponsored DD2
The headline class of the FWT Rotax MAX Challenge took to the track in wet and slippery conditions in both the pre-final and final. With the extra horsepower of the DD2 engine, this would surely provide an even greater challenge for the drivers. Canada’s Ben Cooper proved his three Grand Finals world championships were well earned as he had no issues in the tricky conditions to record a win in the pre-final.
In the final, Ben took an early lead and smoothly drove away from the field to record an FWT win in his bid to make it back to the Grand Finals. Behind Cooper, Kevin Lüdi (Switzerland) was on the move from his second row starting spot and finished within 4 seconds of Cooper at the flag. Completing the DD2 podium was Canada’s Marco Di Leo who used his front row starting position to stay out of trouble.
Tomorrow the action continues at the Palm Beach International Raceway. Although the weather forecast is the same as today, a 30% chance of rain, that is still a 70% chance of no rain. Furthermore, even if it does rain that just makes a better spectacle for the spectators and the viewers watching on FWT LIVE! So, be sure to stop by or log on to www.FloridaWinterTour.com to witness the awesome action from the Florida Winter Tour!
The Florida Winter Tour is one of the world’s largest, longest running and most geographically diverse kart racing programs. In 2012 the FWT featured over 400 drivers from 28 countries and all six karting continents, and for the 5th consecutive year was the world’s largest official Rotax Max Challenge series and event.
For more detailed information log on to the official FWT web site at www.floridawintertour.com
Report and Photos by: Ken Johnson/Bill Wright