The 2023 Rotax Grand Finals in Sakhir, Bahrain ended today as more than 380 competitors from 60 different nations battled the Bahrain International Karting Circuit for the week-long event. With six drivers leaving Bahrain being crowned a Grand Final Champions, Canadian Ben Cooper, who earned his Grand Finals ticket by winning the Masters MAX class at the US Trophy Final, claimed his fourth career Grand Finals victory, first as a Masters competitor. Rotax Winter Trophy qualifiers Julian Rivera and Gianluca Savaglio earned fourth and ninth-place results in their respective classes while Lucas Palacio, who was the first driver to the checkered flag on Saturday in the Micro MAX main event, was stripped of his win in post-race technical inspection.
Following the race and the prize giving it was announced that the 2024 Rotax Grand Finals will take place at the Circuito Internazionale Napoli in Sarno, Italy. The Road to Italy starts now!
Courtesy of his strong heat race results and prefinal win, US Trophy Final combatant and perennial front-runner Lucas Palacio started his quest for Grand Finals glory on Saturday from the pole position with Rotax Winter Trophy standout Julian Rivera rolling off the grid in fifth. A great start in the 12-lap main event saw Palacio lead through the first corner but was passed in turn two falling to second early on. Rivera, who had contact on the opening lap, fell eight positions to 13th as he looked to settle in and try regaining ground in the remaining 11 laps. Palacio sat on the rear bumper of the Team UK driver as he looked to push him away early and make it a two-kart race with Rivera already gaining three places and back inside the top-ten. At quarter race distance, the front two were just under a second ahead of their rivals but lost ground a lap later as the gap closed to within half a second. Rivera was making moves inside the top-ten as he was back up to eighth and leading a train of karts to catch the seven in front. The pack of two quickly turned to four on lap five as the third and fourth place competitors were able to catch the leader and Palacio, and at lap six of 12, Palacio had fallen to third. On lap eight, it was Palacio down to fourth as a trio of Team UK drivers ran 1 – 2 – 3, but on lap nine he was back to P2 but eight-tenths of a second behind the leader who had broken away with Julian Rivera up to six and mounting a serious charge. Working with his competition to close back to the leaders, they had closed to within three-tenths with two laps remaining. The final lap began with Palacio in fourth, but it ended with Palacio in front with a last lap pass to earn Team USA a Grand Finals title. Fist pumping across the finish line, Palacio capped off a great week of racing that included one heat race win, prefinal win and the main event victory today. Julian Rivera finished less than two seconds behind Palacio in the sixth position closing the gap and regaining several positions from the opening lap melee.
Following the final and in post-race technical inspection, Palacio was excluded from the results for a technical infraction dropping him from the top step of the podium to the result of 36th. With an impressive drive all week, Palacio represented Team USA to the highest of standards and we know he will be back to fight at a Grand Finals event in the future. With a few other penalties, Rivera was elevated into the fourth position, just shy of a Grand Finals podium result.
Starting mid-pack and in the 17th position, US Trophy Final ticket winner Matteo Quinto made a huge jump forward in the opening circuit as many drivers defended and he went on the attack. Moving from 17th to 12th, Quinto was the biggest mover on the opening lap. Unfortunately, it did not last long as everything gained on lap one was lost on lap two as he had fallen back to his start position of 17th. As positions swapped nearly lap-after-lap, the #120 machine of Quinto was back forward again, this time to 14th on lap three of the 14-lap main event. A big incident at the midrace distance took our four karts as one ended up upside down and into the tire barrier on the exit of the first corner. With his head down, Quinto was fully focused on moving forward and with seven laps remaining found himself just outside the top-ten in 11th. Falling back but still a net gain from his starting position, Quinto ran 14th with four laps remaining but jumped to the ninth position with three laps to go. In a fight for a top-five result, Quinto was on a mission for the best result possible. Unfortunate contact on the final circuit while battling for a top-ten result, Quinto was forced to the sidelines only a few corners from the finish and eventually classified in the 28th position.
A pair of Junior MAX drivers in Rotax Winter Trophy winner Francisco Paredes and US Trophy Final competitor Nixx Eggleston started Saturday’s main event from row 11 in the 21st and 22nd positions. Contact in the first corner, and even more on the opening lap hurt a lot of drivers' chances at victory or a solid result but Eggleston and Paredes were both able to make it through in 23rd and 20th positions. Maintaining the spots on laps two and three, the Junior MAX drivers settled into a rhythm in their long 18-lap main event. With a great battle inside the top-ten, Paredes had made up a few spots further down the order as he slotted himself into the 19th position at the midrace point. Eggleston, who lost his momentum due to contact a few laps prior was back up to speed, albeit down in the 26th position. Lap eight saw Paredes lose momentum after contact as he dropped to 26th with Eggleston taking advantage of the mayhem and moving forward to P23. At only midrace distance, it was still anyone's race up front as first through 20th on track were separated by only six seconds. Contact in turn one at the start of lap 11 eliminated another couple of competitors elevating Paredes to 21st and Eggleston to 23rd with seven laps to go. Swapping on track positions on lap 12, it was Eggleston now who was just outside the top-20 with Paredes in 23rd. Fast forward to the checkered flag and while the action was intense upfront, it was Francisco Paredes who crossed the line 23rd, with Nixx Eggleston in 25th. With penalties set after the race, Paredes’ official finishing position would be marked as 21st with Eggleston just behind in 22nd.
With his prefinal results, Cooper O’Clair, who made it to Bahrain through the US Trophy Final, managed to squeak into Saturday’s final and started the main event from deep in the field in 31st. A clean opening lap saw all 36 drivers complete the first circuit without any major issues as O’Clair fell one spot to 32nd. Moving forward a lap later, the young American was back into the position that he started in with the focus on moving forward and gaining experience at the Grand Finals event. Unfortunately, the forward progress was stalled on lap three as it was two steps forward, two steps back for O’Clair, but by the completion of lap six, he was back to battling for P30 on track. At the completion on lap seven of the 21-lap final, 20 drivers were within five seconds of the lead in the competitive Senior MAX division. Running in his own gap in 31st, O’Clair was two seconds behind the driver in front of him and two seconds ahead of the driver behind him with ten laps to go. Action was heating up inside the top-five as drivers were getting racy and aggressive for the win with a German leading four drivers from the United Kingdom. With too much action to keep up with over the final six laps, O’Clair was able to take advantage of some other drivers' misfortunes to move forward and finish 22nd to complete his Grand Finals experience.
DD2 MASTER MAX
US Trophy Final Master MAX champion Ben Cooper started his quest for a fourth Grand Finals victory from the outside of row one with Rotax Winter Trophy Champion Rubens Barrichello in 11th, who was utilizing a brand new chassis due to his incident in the prefinal the day prior. MAX Karting Group Canada Final champ Derek Wang rolled off the grid 13th for Team USA on Saturday as US Trophy Final Masters MAX driver and ticket winner Billy Cleavelin has steadily moved forward throughout the week to begin his main event from 24th. A better start for the entire field compared to yesterday's prefinal with only one driver not completing the first lap, Cooper slotted into the third position with Wang up two spots to 11th followed closely by Barrichello in 12th and Cleavelin who had fallen to 29th. Cooper made quick work of the second-place driver on lap two to move back to second as Barrichello and Wang swapped positions just outside the top-ten. Cooper then took the lead on lap four with a pass in the infield as Barrichello fell three positions to 16th, elevating Wang back to 14th who had fallen back the lap prior. Cleavelin continued to complete laps and by the end of lap five, was running in 25th, down just one spot from where he started. Cooper had stretched his lead to around one second at the end of lap six but with 15 circuits remaining, it was still anybody’s race. Derek Wang was showing his speed at the one-third race distance moving to tenth and having one of the fastest laps of the race. On lap ten, Cooper had maintained his one-second gap up front as Wang continued his march forward up five positions to eighth with 11 laps to go but it was race over for Rubens Barrichello who was forced to retire. Billy Cleavelin was having his best run of the weekend as he was in 22nd and turning lap times less than seven-tenths slower than the leader. Lap 11 was disastrous for Cooper as a lead of 1.2 turned into a deficit of 1.6 as he slowed with three corners to go in the lap with an issue. Following the race, Cooper explained that fluid on the track forced him off and he did everything he could to just keep control. Back up to speed a lap later, Cooper turned a faster lap than the leader, but would need to put his head down for a fourth Grand Finals win. Wang continued to run in the eighth position as Cleavelin, for the first time on the weekend, jumped inside the top-20. Cooper shrunk the gap to 1.4 with six laps remaining as Wang rocketed his way into the sixth position and Cleavelin made up spots, now in 18th. An apparent issue with Cooper halted his forward progress as he now sat two seconds behind the Australian driver who was leading with three laps remaining. Unable to mount a charge in the last few laps, Cooper crossed the line second for another Grand Finals podium finish, Wang finished in the sixth position while Billy Cleavelin had his strongest session of the weekend in 16th. Following the race, the winner was given a penalty for a pushback bumper giving the win to Cooper, his fourth Grand Finals victory. Wang held on to the sixth position with Cleavelin in 16th.
Canadian and Rotax Winter Trophy winner Gianluca Savaglio started the main event from the tenth position while US Trophy Final ticket winner Race Liberante rolled off the grid in P28 for the final on-track session of the weekend. With only one, 21-lap race to go, it was all to play for in DD2 MAX as drivers were a little too anxious on the first attempted start. The second time was a good one and while a lot of drivers bettered their positions, Savaglio was able to maintain his difficult P10 starting spot to stay tenth. On lap two, the Canadian moved to ninth as Race Liberante was up six positions from 28th to 22nd in the opening two laps. Savaglio moved into the eighth position on lap three as Liberante had a disastrous circuit and fell back to the 32nd position after contact. Savaglio moved into the top-five on lap four with a solid as he eyed a podium finish while Liberante continued to soldier on in 32nd. On lap ten, some hard racing inside the top-ten saw a lot of contact amongst drivers, including Savaglio who fell from fifth to ninth. At the other end of the field, Liberante was slowly picking up a few positions and had worked his way back to 28th. With six laps remaining, Savaglio was leading a train of three karts as he sat in the tenth position with Liberante back up into P26. Savaglio was able to move to ninth on lap 17 with Liberante advancing to 23rd on the same circuit. With the front duo more than five seconds ahead of third, it was a two-kart race for the win with Savaglio looking to salvage a top-ten finish, and when the checkered flag flew it was a ninth-place finish for Savaglio with Liberante rebounding to finish 20th. Savaglio would gain one more position post-event for a penalty to a fellow competitor while Liberante incurred a penalty of his own and fell to 28th in the final tally.
As a demonstration class at the 2023 Rotax Grand Finals, several Junior drivers who did not advance to Saturday’s Mini MAX main event were invited to compete. Selecting the drivers that were ranked 37th through 46th respectively, the opportunity was passed down to the next in line if one declined. American and US Trophy Final qualifier Gage Korn was one of the invitees as the electric application was easily fitted to his Mini MAX chassis in less than ten minutes following Friday’s prefinal. A short session to get accustomed to the equipment on Friday evening, it was straight into the race on Saturday where Korn rolled off the grid in the second position for the ten-lap race. Battling hard and aiming to finish at the front of the field, Korn fell to the sixth position where he finished the E10 Final.
With the Rotax Grand Finals now complete, drivers from around the world, especially in North America, can shift their focus to qualifying for the 2024 edition of the event in Italy. In the United States, the Rotax Winter Trophy and the US Trophy Series registration is now open via the links below.