It was Finals Day at the 2023 Rotax MAX Challenge US Trophy Final as 12 Grand Finals tickets to Bahrain were on the line.
With a single warmup and a prefinal in the morning, results from the first wheel-to-wheel action of the day set the grid for the afternoon’s main events. A buzz in the air and a sense of excitement filled the New Castle Motorsports Park as the first green flag of the day flew at 10:00am.
At the conclusion of the day and after the final checkered flag, the final tickets to the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals in Bahrain were secure.
Earning berths to compete for their country overseas were:
Micro MAX: Lucas Palacio (USA)
Mini MAX: Oliver Warner (United Kingdom), Gage Korn (USA), and Matteo Quinto (USA)
Junior MAX: Wesley Gundler (USA) and Nixx Eggleston (USA)
Senior MAX: Ernesto Rivera (Mexico) and Copper O’Clair (USA)
DD2 MAX (Earned by competing in Senior MAX): Dalton Hanes (USA) and Race Liberante (USA)
Masters MAX: Ben Cooper (Canada) and Billy Cleavelin (USA)
Lucas Palacio began his Sunday from the pole position as to his left would be the second-place starter of Lucas Tarrango as they started just ahead of Enzo DiGennaro and Connor Lypka. Palacio jumped out to the early lead as contact behind him saw some drivers together, but they all continued to finish lap one. Staying in line at the front of the field, Palacio and DiGennaro managed to pull a one-second gap over Tyson Underwood and Sterling Mulata, who were now organized behind him running nose to tail. Just past the mid-race distance, Underwood and Holden Myers made contact slowing their progress and bringing more than ten karts into a battle for third. DiGennaro took the lead with less than two minutes to go as Palacio settled into second. Coming to the white flag, Palacio retook the lead and immediately went on the defensive as he managed to hold his competitor at bay to take the checkered flag ahead of DiGennario. Holden Myers improved from seventh to finish third ahead of Mulata and Cam Becker.
Courtesy of his prefinal win, Palacio led the field to the final Micro MAX green flag of the weekend as Enzo DiGennaro lined up to his left side in the second position. Palacio jumped to the lead as Hudson Howard spun in turn one with DiGennaro losing momentum and falling to fourth in the opening complex of corners. Palacio opened a one-second gap by the end of lap one with Holden Myers and Sterling Mulata lined up in second and third as they looked to work together to run down Palacio. Pushing hard to catch the leader, Myers and Mulata closed the one-second gap in a single lap bringing five karts together through the massive draft. Myers was able to lock on to the bumper of Palacio as the front duo were aiming to reopen the gap on the remainder of the field. However, Myers, with the help of Cam Becker, was able to push by for the lead disposing of Palacio to third. As things heated up and with one ticket to Bahrain, Palacio pushed his way back to the front as he stated earlier in the weekend, he always wanted to lead. Behind Palacio, Becker was followed by Myers, DiGennaro, and Mulata. DiGennaro passed for third as he was positioning himself for a late race run as Becker took the lead a lap later into turn four. Short-lived, Palacio was back by for the lead in turn five as the Micro MAX racers were getting aggressive. A lap later, DiGenarro moved to second as Myers made an aggressive move in turn four to move to third, and in only a lap, the #90 entry was back to the bumper of Palacio. Palacio dropped a wheel in the final complex of corners slowing the momentum and bringing the top-five back together. With positions remaining unchanged on the penultimate lap, the white flag flew with one Grand Finals ticket on the line. DiGennaro took the lead entering turn two on the final lap with Palacio taking the lead in turn six. A last lap, last corner bid for the win saw Myers and Palacio make contact with Myers being named the winner on live timing. Mere seconds after the race, Palacio was moved to the top of the results sheet giving him the win ahead of Myers, Cam Becker, Mulata, and DiGennaro provisionally giving Palacio a ticket to Bahrain as he was the first driver to cross the extended finish line, albeit in the grass. Following post-race inspection and penalties, Palacio was awarded the win ahead of Becker, Mulata, DiGenarro, and Connor Lypka.
Courtesy of a pair of heat race wins, Wesley Gundler started his Sunday from the pole position next to Diego Ardiles while Canadian Nathan Dupuis and Nixx Eggleston occupied row two. Set for a 14-minute plus two laps heat race, Gundler got the jump while Ardiles struggled to get up to speed opening the door for Dupuis to sneak by into the second position with Ardiles falling to third. All 32 starters made it through the opening lap with Ardiles getting by Dupuis in turn six on lap two. Turner Brown gained four positions in the first two laps moving from ninth to fifth in his charge forward. Ardiles took the lead at the four-minute mark bringing Dupuis with him to P2 as Gundler fell to third ahead of Simon Bulbarella and Eggleston. Nine karts would run nose to tail at the six-minute mark with Gundler taking the lead back from Ardiles on the inside of turn five as the front two had managed to open a 1.1-second gap over the Speed Concepts Racing duo of Dupuis and Brown in third and fourth. Brown would sneak by Dupuis and a lap later, Ardiles was by Gundler at the front of the field. Brown, clear of several karts, was now the fastest kart on the track and with the leaders battling, caught the leaders, and as they went wheel-to-wheel in turn six, Brown slipped by to move to the point and opened a gap of more than half a second in one lap. As the action intensified behind him, Brown and Gundler were able to open a gap to make it a two-driver race up front. Brown defended into turn four but overshot the entry allowing Gundler by in turn five to score the win. Gundler beat Brown, Ardiles, Bulbarella, and Eggleston.
Gundler and Brown lined up on the front row for the 16 minutes plus two-lap Junior MAX main event. Gundler had a great start as he maintained his position at the front as Ardiles was able to sneak by Turner Brown at the start. Ardiles made an aggressive move on the opening lap to sneak by Gundler in turn 14 bringing Brown by him to the first and second positions. Nathan Dupuis had heavy contact in turn four as the front five were separated due to the smashup. Dupuis was able to continue as he fell to last in the running order with Bulbarella moving to third. A lap later, it was Ardiles ahead of Brown and Nixx Eggleston while on lap four, Eggleston was able to push passed Brown with Gundler stalking the lead trio in fourth. Following suit on lap later, Eggleston, with the help of Brown, moved back to the lead as he looked to break away. Brown had different thoughts as he was locked to the bumper of the leader pushing hard to get away from the rest of the field while his Speed Concepts Racing teammate of Jackson Wolny ran third and was one of the fastest karts on track. Brown went to the point on lap eight as Gundler and Ardiles were by Wolny for third and fourth respectively. Gundler moved his way by Eggleston and to the bumper of Brown as five karts were in it for the win up front. Things were heating up with seven laps to go as the front five changed positions several times in one lap with Brown going from first, to fourth, to second and back to the lead in one lap. Eggleston was by Brown in turn two on lap 12 as Gundler was also able to get by. Ardiles’ wheel hopped over Brown slowing the momentum of both as the front five were now separated by 1.647. Eggleston defended hard but Gundler was able to get by in turn seven as Ardiles was also able to get by bringing Wolny with him to third. In some aggressive moves behind him, Gundler was able to open a gap with Wolny getting by Eggleston. Eggleston was by Wolny as Brown ran wide in turn four. As the white flag flew, it was Gundler leading but Eggleston was looking for the win. In a perfect display of defensive driving, Gundler took the win and the Grand Finals ticket while Eggleston finished second securing the reserved ticket. Wolny finished third on track ahead of Brown and Ardiles in an epic Junior MAX final.
With a pole position and three heat races wins to his credit, Ben Cooper was aiming to continue his perfect weekend Sunday morning as he started the prefinal next to the #682 of Laurentiu Mardan. John Bonanno started on the inside of row two next to Grand Finals ticket holder Derek Wang and as the green flag flew, it was Cooper in his natural position, at the front of the field. Wang got into the back of Mardan as he tried to shove him to the front around the outside of the first corner, but it was to no avail. Copper led ahead of Mardan as Bonanno was showing great speed running in third. Closing the gap to Mardan, the second and third place competitors could work together to maybe close the gap to Cooper. Behind them, Wang was able to get by Christopher Mann at the five-minute mark as the front three had skirted away. More than halfway through the race, the top-five remained static with Cooper opening a two-second gap and looked to be the main combatant for the Grand Finals ticket. At the ten-minute mark, Bonanno was by Mardan for second, but it was too little too late. Mundy Loyer was by Mardan a lap later as he began to flex his muscles as the next-best driver on track and was able to move into the second position a lap later. With three laps to go, Cooper was gone as he was able to drive off to the prefinal win. Behind him, Loyer crossed the line in the second position ahead of Bonanno, Wang, and Mardan.
It was time for the Masters MAX final with Ben Cooper aiming for a perfect weekend starting from the pole position. Behind him, a pair of drivers over 50 years of age in Mundy Loyer and John Bonanno were ready to try for a major upset while Derek Wang looked to be the spoiler starting fourth having already earned a ticket to Bahrain as he started just ahead of Mardan in fifth. Mundy Loyer got the jump on Cooper as he and Derek Wang were able to go around the outside to take over the top two positions. It did not take long, but Cooper was able to get by Wang for P2 as it was the first lap all weekend long in the Masters MAX class that was not led by Cooper. Positions remained unchanged on lap two, but lap three saw Cooper go by Moyer in turn three with the front five still running close. With heavy pressure from behind, Cooper dropped two wheels on the exit of turn two but managed to maintain the lead. By the end of that same lap, Cooper had opened a slight gap to the duo of Loyer and Wang. The fastest kart on track was Billy Cleavelin as he was marching his way forward to try and earn a possible reserved ticket moving to seventh. Cooper began to stretch his lead upfront as Cleavelin moved into the sixth position. With eight minutes to go plus two additional laps, anything could happen with the second through seventh-place drivers battling hard. Wang was by Loyer for second on lap nine as Cooper began to streak away as he was ready to take home both the US Trophy Final victory and ticket to Bahrain. Mardan made a huge lunge to go from fourth to second on lap 12, but a loss of momentum saw him fall to third only a corner later. Contact between Bonanno and Christopher Mann in turn nine saw Bonanno spin and off track as Cleavelin was by both and into a ticket position and in the fifth position. Mann was sixth, behind Cleavelin for the only reserved ticket. Mann had chased down Cleavelin and was by in turn four retaking the fifth position and reserved ticket. 66-year-old Billy Cleavelin was inside Mann into turn four as contact was made but he gained the position to take the spot and the ticket. Up front, it was Cooper who drove to the win and ticket to Bahrain ahead of Derek Wang who will also make the trip overseas. Mardan provisionally stood on the podium in third ahead of Mundy Loyer and Cleavelin who earned the reserved ticket after starting in the tenth position. Following post-race penalties, Cooper scored the win with Wang and Mardan joining him on the podium with Cleavelin and Randy Nelson rounding out the top five.
As one of the main drivers to beat all weekend long, Issac Malcuit started from the inside of the front row next to Gage Korn and just ahead of Oliver Warner and Fion Shi with Marco Sammut and Jeremy St-Cyr in row three. Malcuit got a great start, but it was Warner who struggled to get off the line opening the door for Korn and Shi to slot into second and third with Warner falling to fourth ahead of St-Cyr. On lap two, Korn made a move to the front, and a corner later, Warner was by Malcuit for second. Korn and Warner would battle hard in corner two allowing Malcuit back to the point, but it was brief as Fion Shi made a bold move to take the lead on lap three ahead of Malcuit and Jackson LaChapelle. Shi was sideways at the start of lap four falling from the lead to sixth as Korn also lost momentum falling with him to seventh with Malcuit back to the point. LaChapelle was up five positions in four laps to slot himself into second with Warner, Sammut, and Matter Qunito in fifth. The on-track action settled down for a lap, but it was short-lived as Korn made a move from fifth to fourth as he continued his march forward. On the same lap, Warner was by LaChapelle for second. The next lap it was a double pass into turn four with Warner getting by Malcuit for the lead with Korn by LaChapelle for third. In turn nine, things got shaken up even more with aggressive racing as Warner led ahead of Korn, Shi, Malcuit, and LaChapelle. With two laps to go, it was a two-driver breakaway as Warner and Korn had drove away from Shi and Malcuit with no changes as the white flag flew. Korn went to the point in turn four and held the lead to take the win ahead of Warner, Malcuit, LaChapelle and Sammut. Following post-race penalties, Malcuit was awarded the win ahead of LaChapelle, Sammut, Shi, and Quinto.
With Malcuit and LaChapelle on the front row, Korn and Warner would be forced to start from the tail of the field due to post-prefinal technical inspection failure. Malcuit led early on with Sammut in second early before Wuinto was by for second in turn ten. After one lap, Malcuit led Quinto, Sammut and St-Cyr. Warner went from 17th to sixth in the opening lap and went from sixth to first on lap two in an epic drive to the front with Korn following suit moving to fifth by the end of lap two and to second on lap three. Both MPG karts, from 16th and 17th on the grid, were first and second in less than three laps. Locked bumper-to-bumper upfront, Warner led Korn as Max Mokarem was able to move his way up three positions to third. Lap five saw Makorem get by Korn for second as he set his sights on the leader. A few corners later, Makorem was to the front as Warner was by a few corners later, but Makorem said “no way” and was back by again. All on the same lap, Warner and Korn pushed by Makorem to retake the top two positions as it was still anybody’s race. Makorem ran wide and through the grass on lap seven falling back to seventh with Warner, Korn and Quinto running one, two, and three. With light rain falling, drivers adjusted their lines as competitors tiptoed their way around the circuit. Contact between Sammut and Feliciano Bruschi entering turn four took them out of the race and with rain falling harder, and the medic needed on track, officials made a quick decision to throw the checkered flag with the race more than 75% complete. Korn was the first to the flag with Warner in second as the top two earned tickets to the Grand Finals through the open ticket program while Max Mokarem earned the reserved ticket in third. Malcuit crossed the line in the fourth position as Jackson LaChapelle crossed the stripe in fifth. Following a rule that where the checkered flag was intended to be a red flag and officials went back one lap, Warner earned the victory ahead of Korn as they both earned tickets to the Grand Finals, ahead of Malcuit, Qunito, and Fion Shi.
Earning the pole position in qualifying, Oliver Hodgson was able to maintain the inside of the front row entering Sunday courtesy of a consistent set of heat races as Ernesto Rivera, Ryan Norberg, Diego Ramos, and Dalton Hanes rounded out the top-five. Hodgson was able to hold the point as the two Rolison Performance Group drivers of Rivera and Norberg ran nose-to-tail ahead of Ramos and Hanes in fourth and fifth. Rivera took the lead at the start of lap two as drivers went wheel-to-wheel through turn five with Norberg getting the short end of the stick falling to fifth. Rivera led Hodgson at the start of lap three, but Hodgson, with the help of Ramos, went to the lead bringing Hanes with them to third. A lap later, Ramos was by for the lead into turn four with Hanes by for second in turn nine on the same lap as the top-seven had broken away from the field. Hanes took the lead at the start of lap five with Ramos returning the favor to Hanes in turn four to take the lead. Hanes took the lead again a lap later and this time defended into turn four to keep the lead disposing of Ramos as Norberg was able to get himself back to third. Macy Williams was on a charge up nine positions in six laps to run sixth as the front five had broken away. After eight minutes, Hodgson was back by Hanes into turn two bringing Norberg with him as Norberg made his move to the lead on the same lap as he entered turn four. Norberg led lap eight as Williams was up to fifth. Norberg defended on the start of lap ten, but it was Hodgson who muscled his way by, and in doing so, Norberg dropped to sixth. Hodgson led Hanes, Rivera, and Frankie Mossman in fourth. With two minutes plus two laps to go, Rivera had closed the gap to Hodgson and Hanes with Mossman finding speed and getting by Rivera for third with four laps remaining. Hanes was by Hodgson for the lead in turn nine with Mossman coming with him to second. Hanes was on the defensive straight away as he looked to keep his TB Kart at the front of the field. Mossman and Hodsgon were by for the lead at the start of the penultimate lap as 15 karts ran bumper-to-bumper. When the white flag flew, Mossman led Hodgson and Hanes as Norberg went from fourth to second around the outside of turn four and then to the lead in turn seven. Norberg took the win ahead of Mossman, Hodgson, Hanes, and Diego Ramos in fifth. Race Liberante was the biggest mover in the prefinal gaining 12 positions to finish ninth.
With rain falling at the end of the Mini MAX race and driver introductions taking 25 minutes of time, competitors and mechanics were left to contemplate wet or slick Mojo tires for the 18-minute plus two-lap main event. With a host of setup changes being done throughout the grid, most of the competitors opted for the slick weather tires while a couple of drivers chose the grooved wet weather tires. Norberg and Mossman occupied the front row with Hodgson and Hanes starting in row two. With two open tickets and two reserved tickets available, it was the highest of drama as drivers began their formation lap. Not lined up for the start, a third warmup lap before the green allowed drivers on slick tires a better chance at success. Contact up front in the opening lap saw Diego Ramos spin as Chase Jones on wet weather tires moved to the lead as Norberg and Mossman had contact in turn one. Jones led early as Hodgson moved to the lead at the start of lap two while Race Liberante moved to third ahead of Dalton Hanes and Norberg. Hodgson led lap two with Race Liberante in second ahead of Hanes and Norberg as Jones fell to fifth with wet tires degrading quickly. Liberante got into the back of Hodgson but no harm no foul as Hanes was holding Norberg at bay, but he was able to take the lead on lap four as the front two were more than two seconds ahead of Hanes and Norberg. Ernesto Rivera battled his way forward and sat fifth ahead of Canadian Griffin Dowler. Hodgson was back to the point on lap six utilizing his wet weather and slick track experience. Norberg passed Hanes on the same lap, but Hanes was able to get him back on the very next corner. Rivera was able to get by Norberg after Hanes defended but Norberg was able to return the favor later in the same lap. Contact in the top five saw Rivera move to third ahead of Aiden Fox and Norberg as Hanes fell back to the sixth position. Hodgson, with a ticket in hand, had stretched his lead to nearly two seconds on lap nine as Liberante fell to seventh after an off-track excursion. Norberg was the next driver to fall down the running order as he dropped to sixth as Hanes was by Fox for third in turn four. Rivera was taking chunks out of Hodgson’s lead nearly half a second a lap faster than the leader. Diego Contecha dropped a wheel a lap later allowing Norberg to get back to the fifth position in his hunt for a ticket. With four laps to go, Fox was pushing Hanes hard for the third position and a potential Grand Finals berth. Hodgson continued to lead from Rivera as the front two spots looked secure. Hanes and Fox were battling on track for not only a podium but also a Grand Finals ticket. Ramos moved to fifth on the penultimate lap as Hanes defended into turn four on the white flag lap. Hodgson took the win to claim the US Trophy Final ahead of Rivera, Hanes, Fox, and Ramos. Ramos was dropped to tenth on the results sheet for a penalty with Contecha moving into fifth.