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March 26, 2013 News
Florida Winter Tour Rotax MAX Championship Sunday Action from Ocala

After all the work done by the drivers and their teams during Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour 2013 season, it all came down to Championship Sunday (March 24) , to see who would reign supreme in FWT Rotax MAX competition. On the line as well was $22,000 in Skip Barber Racing awards, the prestigious FWT Nations’ and Manufacturers’ Cups Championships, and a very special Karting Ambassador award.

The Dan Wheldon/FWT Karting Ambassador Award is an annual recognition of a Florida Winter Tour participant who best represents karting with a fiercely competitive spirit, a helpful and positive attitude, and a professional image. The award recipient has their name inscribed on a perpetual trophy, receives a framed certificate declaring them as the award recipient, and a copy of “Lion Heart”, the Michael Voorhees photo book Dan Wheldon created for his family, friends and fans. This year’s recipient was a driver who made his name racing shifter karts in the U.S, Alan Rudolph. But Alan Rudolph is much more than just a Championship winning driver.

The DD2 MAX competition started on Friday when the kings of worldwide Rotax MAX competition took to the OGP circuit for qualifying. During that session, reigning DD2 World Champion Ben Cooper claimed the top spot. However, after wrapping up his championship on Saturday he and his team decided they would sit Championship Sunday out. As such, it was Xen De Ruwe who started the pre-final from the lead spot. De Ruwe led every lap and take the win, but was penalized 10 seconds for a quiet pit rule violation when he inexplicably started his kart and drove it to the grid area!? This handed the race win to Di Leo, but more importantly cost De Ruwe 15 valuable Championship points. The DD2 final started very wet after a huge downpour at the tail end of the lunch break. Fortunately the rain relented for a while, even though the strong winds remained. Switzerland’s Kevin Lüdi shot out to a commanding lead and showed he was the one to beat when the track is really wet. Just after halfway in the race, the hard rain returned, fully testing the DD2 drivers skills. Chasing Lüdi in second was Fritz Leesmann, who was taking a break from his usual Senior MAX ride. Following these two in third was Di Leo as the checkered flag waved. With two spots to the 2013 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals available to the top two in the FWT DD2 season standings it was two-time FWT Champion Cooper and the Canadian Champion Di Leo who claimed those spots. De Ruwe came so close to taking the second spot, but the combination of the error in the pre-final and his finish behind Di Leo in the final moved the Belgian to third and cost him the coveted Grand Finals transfer spot. Cooper will attend the Grand Finals with a chance to become the only four-time Rotax World Champion.

Just as Cooper had done in DD2, Cristiano Morgado (South Africa) and Scott Campbell (Canada) took a pass on Sunday’s racing action, having already secured their spots at the Grand Finals. It was then left to polesitter Alessandro Manetti (Italy) to uphold the honor of the karting World Champions in DD2 Masters. But this battle went to the reigning U.S. National and defending Florida Winter Tour champion Rudolph, won by holding off Venezuelan Juan Font by seven tenths of a second. In the DD2 Masters final, Rudolph, fresh off his recognition as the 2013 Dan Wheldon/FWT Karting Ambassador Award, assumed the lead followed closely by Manetti. On lap three, Manetti retired from the race, allowing Rudolph to run to the checkered flag unchallenged. Behind Rudolph, Font and Andres Fonseca Grajales (Costa Rica) waged a fantastic battle that went all the way to the end of the race. Although Grajales looked able to overtake Font on several occasions, in the end it was Font holding him off to win the battle for second. The DD2 Masters championship was won in fine style by Morgado, with Campbell in second. Both of these drivers will be going back to the Grand Finals. For Morgado, he’ll have a chance to make history by being the first to claim four Grand Finals World Championships. For Campbell, he’ll also be making history, as the world’s most experienced Grand Finals driver, as in 2013 he will mark his 10th appearance. Third in the championship went to Font who used his final day podium to move up in the standings.

The Micro MAX pre-final started with Matthew Latifi (Canada) on pole, with Dylan Tavella (USA) alongside. At the start, a scary looking shunt between Giovanni Bromante (USA) and Jordan Heffner (USA) captured the attention of the crowd. Fortunately both drivers escaped unharmed, allowing them to prepare themselves for the final. As the 14-lap pre-final progressed, a four-way battle between Tavella, Guilherme Romano Peixoto (Brazil), Latifi, and Harry Coulton (USA) eventually fell to Tavella, with the other three drivers covered in just over three quarters of a second. At the start of the Micro MAX final, the field streamed into turn one four-wide in an impressive display of kart control by the youngest of the Rotax competitors on the slick surface. Latifi was the first to lead the race, however, Coulton shadowed the Canadian looking for any way past. While that dice was going on, Bromante was slicing his way through the field from his 31st starting position to an eventual fourth. Coulton eventually passed Latifi to take the win, while Peixoto rounded out the podium in third. At the end of the race, when all the points were added up, it was Bromante would stood atop the podium holding the Big FWT Championship Palm trophy. After his misfortune in the pre-final and having to start way back in the pack, it was a gritty drive by the New Yorker who drove like a champion and was justly rewarded. Bromante will be the FWT representative at the Micro & Mini Invitational to be run alongside the Grand Finals this November in New Orleans. Joining Bromante on the championship podium were Peixoto in second and Tavella in third.

In MAX Masters, Derek Wang (USA) used the pole position he earned on Friday to lead the pre-final and take a 1.494 second win over Patricio Larrea (Ecuador). At the start of the Masters final, Larrea grabbed the lead, with Wang giving pursuit. For several laps it looked as though Larrea would take the last victory of the year for the MAX Masters class in the FWT. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Scott Falcone (USA) came storming to the front. First he dispatched Wang and set out after Larrea. Lap-after-lap Falcone looked for an opening to get by the Ecuadorian. He managed to get alongside a couple times, but the going was very slick off line and some of the puddles on the backside kept him from passing. Finally, with a handful of laps to go, Falcone found a way past and never looked back. At the stripe, it was Falcone over Larrea who had a comfortable lead over Wang. On the podium, Falcone once again brought the Stars-and-Stripes to celebrate the victory. When asked about his standing in the points earlier in the week, Wang said he had no idea; he just comes to the track to win. Apparently that’s a good strategy, because that’s exactly how he became the 2013 Florida Winter Tour MAX Masters champion. Joining Wang on the championship podium for an American sweep were Falcone in second and Jason Bell in third.

In the Junior MAX pre-final, it was Kyle Kirkwood (USA) on pole flanked by Jamaican William Myers. The two were very close in qualifying, and with the full field behind them, many anticipated a great race. And a great race they got! At the start, Kirkwood grabbed the lead and was looking to extend on his win from Saturday. Try as they might, the field could not catch the young Floridian, and he streamed home to the victory. In the Junior MAX final, Kirkwood powered into a turn one lead with fellow Floridian Ashley Rogero right on his tail. These two had clear command of the lead for the first few laps. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Antonio Ptak (Poland) found his stride and in a flash was up to challenge the leaders. Although it took a few laps to get by, Ptak eventually did so, and it seemed Kirkwood and Rogero would be left to fight over second. This they did for a while, until Rogero broke free to make a run at the lead. As the karts screamed past the white flag entering their last lap, Rogero drafted past and looked headed to the victory. However, Ptak had other plans and made a strong move to retake the lead, and held Rogero off to take his second FWT win. With a season that included two wins, Jamaican Thomas Issa was able to wrap up the championship before the last race, but behind him was a great battle for second. Going into Sunday’s Junior MAX final, any number of drivers could have taken second in the FWT Championship. In the end, it was Rogero and Kirkwood’s podiums that got them into second and third respectively. Although Issa has been to the Grand Finals before, this will be the first time he has gone as a representative of the FWT.

The Mini MAX pre-final began under threatening skies with the drivers having the option of using rain or dry tires. At the start, David Malukas (USA) used his pole position to his advantage, but soon after the start the rains came. With all the 9 to 12 year-old drivers having started the race on slicks, some in the grandstand assumed the conditions were too unfavorable and were asking for the race to be stopped. But, the FWT Mini MAX drivers showed they were more than capable of handling a slick track as very few drivers slid off. Doing the best under the testing conditions was Texan Nicholas Brueckner, who put on a driving display that would have made Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher proud. Brueckner was so fast, that he was catching lapped traffic faster than it could be black flagged off the race track. He handled it with ease and still managed a comfortable victory over Neil Verhagen, (USA), who himself had built up a 13-second gap to Kollin Stuart (USA) in third. With the Mini MAX final being started on a wet track, this time all competitors started on rain tires. Brueckner took up the lead and looked set to take the final win of the FWT Mini MAX season, but a determined Stuart showed he had what it takes to master the OGP circuit under the conditions. At the halfway point in the race, Stuart had found a way around Brueckner, and he held the point to take his first FWT win. Behind Brueckner in second was Anthony Gangi Jr. (USA), who had come all the way from 17th at the start to claim the last of the FWT Palm trophies in the Mini MAX class. With his dominating run in the pre-final and second place in the final, Bruckner claimed the Big Palm and the 2013 Florida Winter Tour Mini MAX Championship. As such, he will be the FWT driver in the Mini MAX class at the Micro & Mini Invitational. Coming in second after having an awesome year was Gangi Jr. His charge from deep in the field in Sunday’s final almost won him the championship, but it was not to be this time for the multi-time FWT Champion. Coming home third on the championship podium was Floridian Mathias Ramnirez. During the champagne spray, the kids had several “targets” to choose from. The unfortunate recipient of all this “love” was FWT owner, promoter and announcer Bill Wright, who took a serious soaking from all three Championship podium finishers. But “the guy in the goofy hat” took it all in stride as another example of the serious Fun to be had at the FWT.

The Senior MAX pre-final started in wet conditions, with all drivers choosing to run the grooved rain tires. Tadasuke Makino (Japan) started from pole and lead early. But, even as fast as he was, he could not hold off a charging Oliver Askew (USA), who took the win in the 18-lap race. With Bryce Choquer (Canada) in third and Nick Neri (USA) fourth, the first two rows for the Senior MAX final were set. Even before the start the drama was pushed to an all-time-high, as championship contender Danny Formal could not get his kart started when the call to enter the track was given. Formal eventually joined the race before the start, but at the tail of the 34 kart field. At the start of the final, the field sped into turn one knowing this was the last race of the season. Everyone in the grandstands knew this race would be a street fight for Senior MAX supremacy, and they were right. With many top drivers with no shot at the championship it was “Katy bar the door” for the last FWT race win of the season. On the first complex of corners, polesitter Askew got pushed off track, but was able to get back on in fifth. Makino took a healthy early lead over 2009 Rotax MAX Senior World Champion Luke Varley (UK) who had started sixth. By lap six, Varley had run Makino down and was in the lead. During this time, Neri was also making his move towards the front, and was also eventually able to get around the Japanese driver for second. Also on drives that would have serious championship implications were Charlie Eastwood (N. Ireland) and Formal (USA). Going into the final, Eastwood had the championship all but locked up and his fourth place sealed the deal. With his problems in the grid and the resulting start from the backm Formal had to settle for second in the championship this year, while Neri was yet again on another FWT Championship podium taking third. With Eastwood claiming the ticket to the Grand Finals, all three defending World Champions that chose to come to the Florida Winter Tour in 2013 are assured a chance to repeat their accomplishments this November at the NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans.

For Formal, his great runs in Senior MAX, coupled with his near-perfect season in the Formula Kart Championships TaG Senior class was enough to vault him into the top spot in the $22,000 Skip Barber Racing Scholarship award contest. Second place in this popular program went to Jack Weprin, while Ignacio Salvucci took third. These drivers now have credit towards school days and racing in the world famous Skip Barber Racing program.

With strong finishes all year, the United States of America retained its title as the Nation’s Cup champion. For a long time it looked as though Venezuela would overtake Canada for the second spot in this prestigious Championship. But, in the end, our friends from up north regained second with strong results in Ocala.

The Manufacturers’ Cup championship again went to Tony Kart, as the green team had a sensational year. However, CRG was close in second, and numerous wins by Birel had them in third at season’s end.

It’s hard to believe the season is now over. What started as a sunny and warm weekend in Palm Beach accompanied by the sound of NHRA Top Fuel cars before moving south to Homestead has come to a close in Ocala. For those that want to relive the highlights of the 2013 Florida winter Tour season, be sure to log on to the official FWT website, http://www.FloridaWinterTour.com and hover your mouse over the MULTIMEDIA section to see a photo gallery and all the archived videos from the FWT LIVE! broadcasts. It’s been a fantastic year for one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse kart racing programs. Everyone at Formula Kart Productions want to wish everyone a great 2013 season wherever they compete next, and hope to see everyone back in 2014 at “FWT… THE Winter Place to Be!” For more detailed information log on to the official FWT web site at http://www.floridawintertour.com
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