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EKN Trackside: SKUSA Pro Tour SpringNationals - Saturday Report
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Sunday, 18 April 2010 01:00
If you want to start out a season, the opening day of the SKUSA SpringNationals is the way to do it. Thrilling excitement throughout the day around the Jim Russell International Karting Center circuit crowned the inaugural nine winners in the series’ debut in Sonoma, California. The weather was near perfect despite a strong wind coming over the mountains surrounding the Infineon Raceway. Phil Giebler and Fritz Leesmann were the stars of the opening day as each drove to victory on day one in two different situations.

TaG Senior
The TaG Senior division took the shotgun spot on the schedule for Saturday’s action as the headline division for the day. With the open pit lane for the 12-minute qualifying session, business was expected to be busy during the run. Early on, NorCal driver Gregory Liefooghe (CRG) was the provisional pole sitter with young star Adrian Starrantino (CRG) high on the order. Drivers began ducking down onto pit lane to make some changes in effort to improve their lap times. Liefooghe came in and sat, waiting to see if anyone would better his lap time of 49.969. With no one able to dip below the 50-second mark, Liefooghe earned the top qualifying spot with Starrantino set to start outside row one. Phil Giebler (FA Kart) was third quickest in the session with veteran Larry Fraser (GP) edging out Tory Diede (Intrepid) for fourth.

Liefooghe held strong in the opening heat race as he was ale to fend off a charger Giebler. The former ICA national champion posted the fastest lap of the eight-lap heat race but came up 0.096-seconds short of the win behind the consistent Liefooghe. Starrantino was in the battle until lap five when he experienced brake failure on his CRG machine, putting him on the sidelines. Fraser ran alone in third as Bobby Kelly (Maddox) advanced up fourth with Diede able to hold off Jess Peterson (Intrepid) for fifth.

The second heat race drama began before the green flag waved as Giebler was unable to get his Vortex engine started, with what was later determined to be a bad stator. This put him at the tail of the grid for the main event while the rest of the field took the green flag for the second eight-lap battle. Liefooghe continue his run at the front after moving to row following a few false starts to take the green flag. After the first few circuits, Liefooghe returned to the point and led Fraser and Kelley to the checkered flag. Diede moved up one spot to fourth with Travis Lowe (FA Kart) jumping into the top-five.

The main event was one to remember as the inaugural SKUSA Pro Tour TaG Senior feature. Liefooghe was slow at the drop of the green flag, which allowed Fraser and Kelley to show the way early one. Once Liefooghe was out front by the completion of lap two, attention turned to Giebler’s advancement through the field. By lap three, he was up to the tenth spot and had no idea of settling in. Things were made easier for Giebler as Fraser, Diede and Starrantino were battling for position with Fraser and Adrian getting the worst of it and ending up off track entering turn eight. Diede continued on but would lose the third spot to Giebler by lap eight. Kelley was running second and began to pressure Liefooghe out front at the halfway point until losing the chain and ending a possible podium finish. His DNF put Giebler into second and on the charge toward Liefooghe. Lap after lap, Giebler began posting the fast lap of the race chasing Liefooghe, sometimes cutting into his lead by half a second per lap. By lap 17, Giebler was on his bumper and made the move for the lead in turn three. With Liefooghe now in the challenger position, he returned with his fast laps of the race. Giebler countered by matching his lap times to be able to hold the point. At the line, Giebler scored the thrilling victory by 0.294-seconds over Liefooghe. Diede scored an impressive third place podium run. Peterson was a solid fourth with Lowe ending up fifth.

TaG Masters ran with the TaG Senior group with Craig Corwin (MBA) out front early on in the day. Ethan Wilson (Tony Kart) stepped it up in the second heat and main event to run in the top-10 overall, taking the TaG Masters victory after finishing 11th overall as Corwin retired early.

Hot pit opened up for the 12-minute qualifying effort for the S1 division with the action busy with drivers and crews trying to get the best out of their rides. Issues hit Brad Dunford (CRG) early as a flat front tire kept him on pit lane until they were able to get air back in the tire. On the leaderboard, Nic LeDuc (GP) was the fast driver out early, posting his best lap on his fourth run. Jason Toft (GP) put his name in the hat, besting LeDuc’s time on the same circuit. Just two laps into his session, Fritz Leesmann (CRG) jumped up the order for the provisional pole with a 47.932. About they halfway mark, drivers dived into pit lane to make adjustments to their machines. Many of the front runners came in to make chassis adjustments and pressure changes to the MG Tires. Leesmann was one of the few not to and continued on track, unable to better his time. The rest of the field were also not able to best his time, giving the NorCal driver the pole for the opening heat. LeDuc was second in the order with Clinton Schoombee (CRG) third. Friday’s practice fast driver Tommy Thompson (Energy) was fourth with Toft rounding out the fast-five.

Leesmann grabbed the holeshot to begin heat one as the rest of the field shuffled in behind minus Felkins who was unable to get started. Leesmann stretched out to a good lead over Toft and Schoombee who each had a great starts. Toft however would be shown the black flag for losing the airbox and forced him onto pit lane. Schoombee was now up into second until dropping a wheel at the exit of turn one, allowing LeDuc and Daniel Bray (GP) around to drop him back to fourth. The would finish that way as Leesmann went on to win by four-seconds over the fight for second. The fight for fifth had Dunford holding off Thompson and Buckwalter however Thompson was able to get by with two laps to go for the position.

Once again, S1 was all Leesmann as he got a great jump as the lights went out to start the second heat and held a sizable lead through the opening lap. LeDuc was followed by Bray, Buckwalter and Schoombee as the crossed the line for the first time. Contact between Bray and Buckwalter shuffled up the fight for second as Buckwalter fell to eleventh and Bray suffered side pod damage the required a meatball flag by the officials to pull him off. Leesmann would go on to take the win by two-seconds over LeDuc with Schoombee close in third. Toft put on a show driving from the tail of the field following his troubles in the opening heat. Posting the fast laps of the race, he drove to a fourth place run to cross the line ahead of Thompson and Lorenzo Mandarino (Vemme).

Continuing to dominate the field, Leesmann showed the way wire-to-wire in the 20 lap main event. Chased throughout the event by Toft and Schoombee, Leesmann kept his poise and ran the fast laps of the race in the final circuits to secure a two-second victory. Toft and Schoombee tried to match his pace but came up short. Schoombee attempted to overtake Toft but would be unable to complete any stab. Behind them was a vicious battle for position early on involving Eady, Dunford, Bray, Thompson and others. Contact on lap four saw Eady get sideways in turn one, collecting Bray and Dunford. This allowed LeDuc to run away in fourth while Buckwalter and Thompson fought it out for fifth. In the end, Buckwalter secured the spot to complete the top-five.

Matt Alcorn (Energy) continues to be the driver everyone was chasing in qualifying. Neil Joseph (Italkart) was at the top of the charts early on until Alcorn came on later in the session to put down a 48.682 lap to secure the top spot. Unable to better Alcorn, Joseph was second in the order when the checkered ended the session. A penalty for not attending the driver’s meeting on Friday cost Alcorn a chance at starting on the pole as he would be docked one position. Hawaiian Alec Gumpfer (Tony Kart) was third with Cody Diede (Intrepid) and Cameron Pringle (GP) fourth and fifth.

The holeshot and victory went to Alcorn as the Energy driver continued to get quicker in quicker in the first eight-lap heat race. Alcorn took the win by 1.892-seconds over Joseph with Gumpfer holding off Diede for the third spot. Christian Bird (GP) came up from seventh to fifth with Pringle pulling off with a mechanical issue.

Alcorn and Joseph got away clean for the start of heat two as they paced the field again. Alcorn went unchallenged with Joseph in tow, crossing the line 1.628-seconds back. Gumpfer was running third until losing the rear bumper and pull off the track, thus moving Diede, Arnstein and Johnson up a position. At the halfway mark, Diede had to pull off as the fuel line came off the carburetor. At the end, Johnson won the battle for third to start the main from inside row two next to Arnstein with Bird once again in the fifth spot.

Putting a stamp on the S2 field, Alcorn continued to cruise out front in the main event as he did all day long. Running lap times in the high 48s, Alcorn was out to a two-second lead by the halfway mark over Joseph. The rest of the field sorted itself out with Pringle able to muscle by Johnson for the third spot on the podium however Diede was closing in on both as the laps clicked off. An off-track excursion took Diede out the chase for the podium, leaving Pringle and Johnson to battle it out. In the end, Pringle prevailed with the final step on the podium with Bird capping off the top-five.

It was a busy track with 18 drivers on course for the S4 qualifying session as drivers fought to find open real estate and fast drivers in front of them to us as rabbits. Jim Inglebright (GP) was quickest out of the box until Alex Keith (Energy) bettered his time. Keith clocked off some fast laps, putting up a 49.419 to hold the provisional pole. On the charge late in the session was Jeff Smith (CRG), the quickest driver in Friday’s practice. Getting quicker and quicker, Smith came up two-hundredths of a second off Keith’s time and unable to knock him off. Inglebright dropped to third in the order with GP drivers Jonathon Allen and Peter Workum rounding out the fast-five.

Smith grabbed the holeshot from the outside of row one as Keith and Inglebright tucked in behind to form the three-kart lead pack for heat one. Keith and Inglebright exchanged the second spot, allowing Smith to pull away to a two-second victory. Keith won the battle for second over Inglebright. Workum crossed the line fourth ahead of Phil Conte (CRG). Penalties for jumping the start however put Inglebright back to fourth, moving Workum up to third.

Holding on to the point still was Smith as he got away cleanly in the opening corners. The top-five lost one in turn three as Workum had a mechanical issue on the exit of the corner and watched from the sidelines. Keith put the pressure on early for the top spot with the fast laps of the race but Smith struck back with a few fast laps of his own to take the win by 2.655-seconds. Inglebright and Conte were third and fourth with Raymond Zanotto (Tony Kart) coming up from ninth to fifth over Phil Dunford (GP).

The S4 main event start was exciting as the field scattered across the entire width of the track heading into turn one. Getting through the first corner clean, Smith assumed his position at the point while Keith was a victim of the start, falling back to the fifth spot behind Inglebright, Dunford and Conte. Through the first half of the race, Conte was the hard charger as he assumed the third spot from Dunford and put heavy pressure on Inglebright. Receiving the halfway signal, Conte made his move on for second with a great run down the front straight. As the race progressed, the fight for second bunched up in the first turn resulting in Dunford spinning and collecting Keith and others. Out front, Smith had everything covered and went on to take the win by six-seconds. The fight to watch was for second with Zanotto now on the charge for Conte. The two exchanged the position a few times until Zanotto held him off at the line to secure the runner-up spot. Inglebright ended up fourth with Workum one of only two drivers to run in the 49s to recover to a fifth place run after starting 17th.

Fernando Diaz (GP) was the target entering the qualifying session for G1 as he was quickest on Friday. Out of the box, Diaz was clear of the rest of the field by six tenths early on until the MG Tires began to warm-up for the field. Eduardo Martins (Tony Kart) was up to the challenge as he put down a great lap to take over the provisional pole. Diaz came back the next time by with a better lap, 48.179, and pull off course happy with his time. Martins would not better is time as they came up just short of knocking off Diaz. Robert Marks (CRG) made a late charge to move up to third as did Kelly Baker (Italkart) who sat in the pits for most of the session, posting the fourth fast lap of the session. Roy Montgomery (CRG) was an early challenger for the provisional pole but would fall to fifth by the end of the run.

The opening heat race was all Diaz as he grabbed the holeshot while Baker moving up to the second spot ahead of Martins and Marks when the lights went out. Diaz ran fast laps to keep Baker and Martins at bay as he went on to score the win by 0.847-seconds. Marks kept the front three close as he ran to fourth while Jim Kidd (Italkart) recovered from a slow start to end up fifth at the checkered flag.

Diaz grabbed the holeshot as the lights went out for the start of the second heat but Baker would hang close as they exited the opening corner. Baker dipped inside for the lead at turn three to assume the point for the first time of the day. Diaz wouldn’t let that last long as he return to the lead in the same spot on lap four after running the fast lap of the race. From there, they ran nose to tail to run 1-2 again. Kidd got a great jump at the start and was up to third before missing a shift on the exit of turn three, losing a number of spots. Marks was able to get Martins in the early portion of the race and held on to third at the checkered with Kidd losing the battle for fifth to Imran Husain (CRG).

Able to grab the holeshot, Diaz grabbed the lead to begin the main event as Baker had to drop in behind in second. Quick to strike again, Baker made a similar pass for the lead in turn three in the beginning of the second lap. Diaz came back to reassume the point by lap five as the two cleared the rest of the field in the opening laps. With the top two static, attention was put on the charging Kidd who was on a tear. While watching his progress, Baker made an unexpected error into turn four and spun. Stalling the engine, his race ended in disappointment. With Kidd on the charge, he was able to put Martins and Marks behind him to assume what was now the second spot. As the race wore on, Diaz stretched out his lead, taking the checkered by 7.656-seconds over an excited Kidd. Martins was able to hold off Marks for the final podium spot with Husain besting Montgomery for fifth.

An exciting session for the S5 Junior Stock Moto group as the drivers shuffled the order over the course of the 12-minute run. Putting down his fastest lap at the checkered flag, Daniel Langon (GP) bettered his time to secure the pole position with a 51.012. Alex Tartaglia (Intrepid) was second in the order with Austin Schimmel (GP) and Scott Phillips (Italkart) filling out row two with the top four within two-tenths of each other. Christian Schureman (GP) completed out the fast-five.

The top three went unchanged in the two heat races as Langon paced the field in both eight-lap runs. Tartaglia held on to second with Schimmel. Phillips was fourth in the opening moto while Schimmel took the position in the second.

Langon continued to shine in the 15-lap main event. Getting quicker and quicker as the race progressed, the young star posted the fastest lap of the race on his final circuit to take the win by 5.450-seconds. Tartaglia was able to hold onto the second spot with Schimmel a solid third to complete the podium. Phillips battled with Schureman until he retired on lap 13, thus going unchallenged to the checkered flag for fourth.

TaG Junior
The field continued chasing Luis Tyrrell as the Wild Kart driver showed the way in the qualifying session. Tyrell posted a fast lap out of the box and was a comfortable eight-tenths of a second quicker than anyone else. Midway through the session his rear bumper was dragging and officials brought him in, thus ending his session with a 51.587 lap time. Jake Craig (CRG) and Emmanuel Mestre (Tony Kart) continued to get quicker as the session wore on but were not able to better Tyrrell’s time to end up second and third in the order. Kyle Kaiser ended fourth in the session aboard his Invader with Kathryn Cornell (Intrepid) completing the fast-five.

Craig got the jump at the wave of the green flag over Tyrrell to begin the opening heat. The two swapped the lead during the first half of the race until Tyrrell was able to establish some distance, en route to the win by 0.876-seconds over Craig. Mestre was third while Emily Maddison (Tony Kart) won the battle for fourth over Austin Dement (Top Kart) and a host of others.

The battle for the win in heat two lost one driver as Craig went wide in opening corner to fall to the tail of the order. Mestre kept the pressure on Tyrrell throughout the eight lap event but the Wild Kart driver posted his fast lap of the race in the end to hold on for the win by 0.340-seconds. A great battle for third ended with Norris earning the spot over Niki Luna (CRG) and Dement.

Tyrrell was on his game the entire day and the main event was all his. From the drop of the green, Tyrrell gained a sizable lead over Mestre while Norris and Dement established a race long battle for the third and final podium position. Tyrrell all but secured the victory with three laps to go, dropping down the fastest lap of the race with the win by 2.803-seconds over Mestre. Norris sat behind Dement until the final lap as the two ran side-by-side through a number of corners. Into corner seven, the two made contact with Dement getting the worse of it, offline and spun around. The fight for fifth with a group of four drove by as Dement got going once again. Norris capped off the podium with Cornell able to come from shotgun on the field to win the battle for fourth over Austin Thomas (GP), Maddison and Kaiser to put Dement back to eighth.

TaG Cadet
An exiting session for the TaG Cadet during their qualifying run as the drivers mixed up the results throughout the 12-minutes. Colton Herta was able to score the top spot with a 56.478 lap time with Christian Brooks just a tick back to make it a BA-1 chassis front row. Blaine Rocha (Wild Kart) was third in the order with Parker Thompson (Tony Kart) and Noah Grey (FA Kart) completing the fast-five.

Unable to get out of pit lane, pole sitter Herta watched the race from the sidelines while Rocha assume the pole position. His time out front was short-lived as he spun heading into turn three and was unable to get started. Grey assumed the point and would be challenge throughout the eight-lap race but held on for the win by 0.275-seconds over Baker, Thompson, and Brooks with Hunter Corbitt (Top Kart) back in fifth.

Starting from the pole, Grey was able to hold off Thompson by 0.182-seconds to win the second heat. Brooks was alone in third but the battle to watch was for fourth with the rest of the field in a great pack. Coming to the line, it was four-wide as Corbitt stole the spot over Davey Manthei Jr. (Wild Kart), Tate Holleran (BA-1) and Herta.

Continuing through the main event, Grey was able to break away early at the start and hold his ground at the point. A group of drivers got in line to try and bring in Grey but their continued dicing for position allowed him to keep his lead. In the end, Grey to the inaugural TaG Cadet victory by just under four-seconds. Three drivers fought tooth and nail for second with Herta able to edge out Holleran and Corbitt. Thompson was up in the fight until issues saw him drop in the closing laps of the race while Rocha ran alone in fifth.

With the day complete, the inaugural day of the SpringNationals went into the books with exciting racing and a day full of drama. The same is expected for Sunday as competitors will work over the night to prepare for the final day of competition and go one more step in the championship chase.