Every year, the top drivers and teams from around the globe come together in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino for the Superkarts! USA SuperNationals. As the final round of the SKUSA Pro Tour as well as the largest karting event North America, record entry numbers filled the paddock with drivers from all over the world. ART Grand Prix America entered 11 drivers in 12 classes, all looking for international glory to be crowned a Supernationals champion. While already a difficult race due to the nature of racing on a temporary circuit, this year would prove a bigger challenge than ever with the first and final day being contested in dry, sunny conditions and the middle portions of the event being battled in bitter cold, wind, and rain. The drivers, mechanics, and team members would have to fight just to brave the elements while also working to move towards the front of the field.
Only two drivers would compete in the morning groupings with Colton Herta and Phillippe Denes contesting TAG Junior. Both were among the fastest drivers throughout the first two days of testing, but with the rain not coming until mid-day on Thursday, they both would go into qualifying with no seat time in the wet and just a short warm-up Friday to get acclimated. Herta and Denes would qualify 20th and 26th, respectively, in the 64 kart field. This would leave both of them with work to do in the heats to try and improve their positions come Sunday’s Final. Herta, who finished 5th in the 2012 event, would start 10th in each heat and had some of the best starts of any class on the weekend. Every heat he moved from 10th into the top 4 which helped him to finishes of 12th, 4th, and 4th. Denes proved to be one of the quickest in each of his heats and despite a few turn 1 incidents finished 15th, 7th, and 7th leaving both with solid starting positions for Super Sunday. Sunday would bring dry conditions and starting inside the top 10, Herta would look to attack early and came across the line 7th after the first lap. Taking a few laps for the chassis to come in, Colton began to reel off fast laps and made his way into the top 5. The 2013 Pacific Formula F champion settled into 5th and just couldn’t quite get into the leaders’ draft forcing him to be content with the podium finish. It was a fantastic run and for a driver who had only five days total in a kart this season, it was a very impressive accomplishment for the whole team. Denes was very fast in morning warm-up, but unfortunately an engine issue forced him to be late off the grid, putting him to the rear of the line up, but he battled through the field before finishing 28th. It was a very disappointing end to what was a fantastic week, but the 14 year old Northern California driver will be one to watch in 2014.
In the afternoon, ten drivers competed in four different classes. Steve Wiener made his debut in S4. Progressing each and every session, the rain mixed things up and some unfortunate luck had Wiener in the wrong place at the wrong time in his heats. Enjoying himself each step along the way, Wiener would finish 33rd, 30th, and 35th in the 39 driver heats before a spin on the opening lap of the LCQ ended his event early.
Phillippe Denes pulled double duty on the week contesting the Rotax Junior category in the evening. Confidence was high that Denes would be one of the drivers to beat in this class, but the speed just never came. Battling carburetion issues and the changing conditions never allowed the team to get a good rhythm and find a proper set up for the race. Incidents on the first lap in each heat cost Denes a chance to race his way to the front and again another crash in the opening corner of the final dropped him to the back of the field where he battled back to a hard fought 20th place finish.
ART Grand Prix Karting factory KZ2 driver Martin Doubek came from the CzechRepublic came to compete in the top level shifter category. Showcasing his wet driving abilities, Doubek topped the charts in the wettest of sessions. A difficult qualifying session left the KZ2 veteran 25th, but strong heat race finishes of 7th, 6th, and 11th set Doubek up with a 5th place grid position for the final. Running with the lead pack early, the tire pressure choice proved too high and he fell back to a respectable 11th place finish. It wasn´t the result the 18 year old Czech wanted, but it still marked his career best finish in the event and he has already confirmed he will be back to compete in next year´s edition.
The team would field seven drivers in the most competitive category of the event, TAG Senior. A sold out 88 entries contested the category with team driver Andrew Zimmer looking to lock up the SKUSA Pro Tour championship. With a high powered line up, the team struggled with bad luck all week. From mechanicals in qualifying to difficult conditions, all the drivers seemed to always be on the wrong end of things. 14 year old Black Flag Racing Products pilot Marco Eakins had the most successful heat race campaign rebounding from his 77th place qualifying position with finishes of 22nd, 15th, and 17th to be locked into the Super Sunday. Andrew Zimmer and Jake Craig would both have incidents in their heats that landed them in the LCQ, but with Zimmer leading the championship and Craig´s ProKart Challenge title they both had provisionals for the main event. Andrew Wiener put in a remarkable drive to go from 23rd to 9th in the LCQ while setting fast lap in the race. He was also elevated into the final due to a scoring mistake. Chris Cricca started the week off very strongly being in the top 5 in Wednesday´s dry testing, but with no rain experience and bad racing luck, Cricca would endure too much chassis damage to race the LCQ. Andres Ceballos and Juan Jimenez both showed speed all week and were in the battle for the final transfer spots in the LCQ before finishing 13th and 14th respectively while running times faster than the leaders.
With a lot of work to do Sunday, the four drivers set out to work together to move back towards the front and help Zimmer secure the championship. Zimmer was on a mission after starting 43rd and had moved up to 22nd by the end of the second lap before he started losing pace. A component malfunction inside the engine forced his early retirement and the championship destiny out of his control. Craig and Wiener who had started from 41st and 45th were able to move up to 19th and 20th respectively by lap 5. Continuing to push forward Craig was able to make it all the way to 14th by the end of the race while Wiener pushed all the way into the top 10 improving 35 spots in the race and earning the Hard Charger of the race and a test in a Global Rallycross Lites competition car. Eakins was in a fierce battle all race long and was able to improve from his 29th starting position to finish in 19th in his first SuperNationals as a Senior driver. Zimmer was able to just hold on to the championship following a DNF by his closest competitor with only a few laps remaining and it ended an emotional roller coaster that resulted in the team and their first dealer Black Flag Racing Products celebrating the most prestigious TAG championship in the United States.
“What an unbelievable end to an unbelievable season,” explained Team Manager Kyle Kuntze following the event. “This has been by far the most difficult race of the season for so many reasons, but I can’t believe how hard each and every person worked. Everyone braved the elements and the bad luck we seemed to be plagued with and just kept pushing. To end the week with a podium in TAG Junior and the SKUSA Pro Tour championship in TAG Senior is remarkable for where we were just one season ago. I can’t thank each driver, mechanic, family member, and supporter enough. This has been a magical season and we can’t wait to push for more next year!”