December 8, 2023 [courtesy EKartingnews]

Live Timing HERE

The 384 drivers that are in attendance for the 2023 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals took to the Bahrain International Karting Circuit on Monday for the opening laps of the event. Today was about learning the 14-turn, 1.414km course for those who were not in attendance back in 2021, get accustomed to their spec karts, and break in the Rotax engines for the week long battle. Half of the eight categories competing received two sessions, while Mini, Micro, E20 Senior and E20 Master already put in their third practice sessions of the event. The nine drivers of Team USA with nearly all sitting inside the top-15 in their respective groups.

DD2 – Birel ART (72 Drivers)

#451 – Race Liberante

Hometown: Palmdale, California
Qualified: Second Highest US Trophy Series Finisher
RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying Overall: 20th
Heat Group: D (Row 5)
Heat Points: 14th – 88 points
Prefinal: B (Row 4)
Warm-up B: 19th – 53.355 +0.466
Prefinal B: DQ
Overall Points: 28th – 88 points

Despite power issues throughout the event, Liberante kept himself in the hunt in the competitive DD2 category, his debut in the class. Starting the Prefinal B from seventh, he was looking to survive and maybe make up some positions. He made it clean through the opening first corner and was settling in when contact through turn three and four took him out of the race. Without scaling the kart, he was disqualified from the race. Despite receiving no points in the race, he held enough points to transfer to the main event, on tires with 14-less laps than nearly the entire field.

“Today started out well with our changes giving us some great direction for our Prefinal race today, which I had a great starting position for. Unfortunately, on the opening lap in corner two, I was three-wide on the outside. I backed off to slot in behind and 1/2 way into the corner, I was podded wide onto the curbing for the crest of the hill, which caused me to cross the track. I saved it before I went off only losing two positions and was ran over from the rear shortly after. But wait there’s more. I was then spun onto the track because of that, in traffic, and the nose of the kart was completely wiped out. All things that can be fixed for the final tomorrow, which we fortunately did make! I’m going to enjoy the ride and hopefully make an epic drive to a top-10.”

Senior MAX – Sodi Kart (72 Drivers)

#312 – Cooper O’Clair

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Qualified: Top US Trophy Series Finisher
RMCGF Appearances: 2 – 2021, 2022 (Junior Max)

Qualifying Overall: 60th
Heat Group: D (Row 15)
Heat Points: 48th – 42 points
Prefinal: B (Row 12)
Warm-up B: 25th – 57.975 +4.216
Prefinal B: 9th +2.443 – 53.952
Overall Points: 31st – 81 points

Sitting 12 positions out of the final transfer spot into the Final, a lot needed to happen for O’Clair to make the main event on Saturday. Cooper did his part on the track, advancing a total of 10 spots in the 14-lap Prefinal B. With the provisional results, O’Clair was about 37th in the overall point total. When his race was finalized, he gained five positions after penalties in order to move him nearly into the top-30 in final points, earning a spot on the starting grid for the main event.

“The Prefinal went pretty good. I knew I had the pace, so I just relaxed and got about the best result I could. It feels great to make it into the final to cap off a good recovery after that qualifying.”

DD2 Masters – Charles Leclerc (36 Drivers)

#504 – Derek Wang

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Qualified: Canada Finals Champion
RMCGF Appearances: 11 – 2010, 2011 (DD2), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 (DD2 Masters)

Qualifying: 12th – 53.284 +0.369
Heat Points: 13th – 42 points
Warm-up: 28th – 54.388 +1.239
Prefinal: 13th +11.224 – 53.687
Overall Points: 13th – 78 points

The 12-time Team USA member was able to avoid carnage at the start of the 14-lap Prefinal and was into the top-10 early. He trailed the second group but was caught up by the third group halfway through the race. He survived another session with contact and will start inside the top-15 for the Final on Saturday.

“We got lucky at the start when a couple groups in front got into each other. We were hoping to keep inside the top-10, until I got repassed and then a group caught up to us. We were too slow to defend or repass. The final is always crazy, so we hope to get lucky again and move up a little. But there is no way we can hide our speed deficit over 21 laps.”

#524 – Billy Cleavelin

Hometown: Shell Beach, California
Qualified: Top US Trophy Series Finisher
RMCGF Appearances: 2 – 2016, 2017 (DD2 Masters)

Qualifying: 32nd – 54.225 +1.310
Heat Points: 29th – 20 points
Warm-up: 30th – 54.506 +1.357
Prefinal: 22nd +19.181 – 54.107
Overall Points: 24th – 44 points

Cleavelin continued moving forward in the 14-lap Prefinal. His pace continues to improve, now only one-second off the quick drivers. He will start from the outside of row 12 on Saturday.

Junior MAX – Praga (72 Drivers)

#224 – Nixx Eggleston

Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona
Qualified: Runner-up – US Trophy Final
RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying Overall: 23rd
Heat Group: C (Row 6)
Heat Points: 28th – 63 points
Prefinal: B (Row 7)
Warm-up B: 13th – 55.057 +0.374
Prefinal B: 11th +7.529 – 54.503
Overall Points: 22nd – 97 points

It was a clean start for Nixx at the start of Prefinal B and remained inside the top-12 for much of the race – holding 11th for the final seven laps of the 11-lap race. The advancement in the Prefinal helped him to gain spots for the grid in the Saturday Final, starting from the outside of row 11.

“The Prefinal went well. The start was good and trying to hang the outside, I made up a position or two. I finished 11th on track. The driver parade was cool! Getting to see all the other nations and some of the really small nations all together was amazing. I am looking for a good start and hoping for a trip to the podium for Team USA with the 18-lap Final ahead.”

#257 – Giovanni Santora

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Qualified: Top US Trophy Series Finisher
RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying Overall: 68th
Heat Points: 60th – 31 points
Prefinal: B (Row 15)
Warm-up B: 11th – 54.979 +0.296
Prefinal B: 25th +13.625 – 54.606
Overall Points: 56th – 43 points

A great start to Prefinal B for Santora, up nine spots on the opening lap. He continued moving forward after starting 30th, reaching 17th with four laps remaining. On lap 8, he was shuffled back, and it continued, eventually crossing the line in 28th.

“The parade and the USA flag were very special. There were a few incidents that dropped us after making our way to the front half of the field. My first Rotax Grand Finals has been a fantastic experience, I can’t wait to come back in Senior!”

Mini MAX – Birel ART (72 Drivers)

#127 – Gage Korn

Hometown: Aurora, Colorado
Qualified: Runner-up – US Trophy Final
RMCGF Appearances: 2 – 2021, 2022 (Mini)

Qualifying Overall: 42nd
Heat Group: B (Row 11)
Heat Points: 38th – 49 points
Prefinal: B (Row 10)
Warm-up B: 17th – 59.187 +0.636
Prefinal B: 23rd +15.609 – 59.127
Overall Points: 42nd – 63 points
E10 Practice: 6th – 1:02.309 +0.553

The chance at racing his way into a third straight Mini MAX main event at the Rotax Grand Finals went away halfway through Prefinal B. Korn kept himself inside the top-18 until the halfway point of the 10-lap race. Another driver spun Gage around while the Colorado driver was running a defensive line. This dropped him down to 36th in the order, driving his way back up to 27th on track. Despite not qualifying for the Final on Saturday, Korn was selected to participate in the inaugural E10 E-Kart Cup event at the Rotax Grand Finals. He is one of 12 Mini MAX drivers that did not qualify to be selected. They made one practice at the end of Friday’s action and will return on Saturday for a main event.

“Prefinal was a do or die situation for us and we got the die side of the situation. E10 was actually pretty cool. Literally all you hear is the wind through your helmet and the tires rolling across the track! Oh, and the BOOST button, it’s a nice little gitty-up when you need it.”

#120 – Matteo Quinto

Hometown: Golden, Colorado
Qualified: Top US Trophy Series Finisher
RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying Overall: 29th
Heat Group: A (Row 8)
Heat Points: 21st – 78 points
Prefinal: A (Row 6)
Warm-up A: 7th – 58.830 +0.488
Prefinal A: 8th +1.480 – 59.293
Overall Points: 17th – 120 points

A solid run for Quinto, the only Team USA driver to make it through to the Final. He gained a few positions at the start but was shuffled back. Eventually, he made up positions on the final two laps of the 10-lap opening Prefinal to cross the line in 10th, earning a few more positions after penalties.

Micro MAX – Praga (36 Drivers)

#12 – Lucas Palacio

Hometown: Vienna, Virginia
Qualified: 1st – US Trophy Final
RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying: 10th – 1:01.784 +0.513
Heat Points: 2nd – 82 points
Warm-up: 14th – 1:01.933 +0.390
Prefinal: 1st +0.006 – 1:01.524
Overall Points: 1st – 157 points

It was a classic USA Cadet performance for Palacio. As we have seen here in the United States, the Trinity Karting Group driver slotted himself into the second spot after early fighting, finding a driver to latch his front bumper onto and push away from the field. It wasn’t until the final lap that he pulled the trigger. After several attempts, he was able to get inside in the final corner and win the drag race to the line to earn the pole position for the main event. Palacio has put himself into a position to become the fourth different USA winner at the Rotax Grand Finals, the third in Micro MAX after Diego LaRoque (2016) and Brent Crews (2018).

“The parade was really fun, being there with my teammates, it was a great experience. Winning the Prefinal was big, puts us on pole position for tomorrow in the Final.  That’s a solid advantage and now I just have to do it one more time.”



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