December 7, 2023 [courtesy EKartingnews]

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The fourth day of the 2023 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals featured the final round of heat races for the 384 drivers in attendance at the Bahrain International Karting Circuit. The second and third round of heats were contested on the 14-turn, 1.414km circuit to decide the Prefinal lineups for the nine categories where over 60 countries are represented. The nine drivers of Team USA put in another day of work, some improving their position while others suffered bad luck, and will need more help during Friday’s Prefinal races. Race Liberante (DD2), Derek Wang (DD2 Masters) and Lucas Palacio (Micro MAX) are leading the way for the Red, White and Blue after the heat races.

Below is a breakdown of the Thursday performance and comments from drivers in Bahrain.

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)

Warm Up (odd): 10th – 53.330 +0.418

Heat BvsD: 8th +8.722 – 53.444

Heat AvsD: 5th +4.839 – 53.096

Heat Points: 14th – 88 points

Prefinal: B (Row 4)

It was a solid day for Liberante, in the fact that he remained inside the top-10 in both heat races, which is very crucial when talking about the Rotax Grand Finals. Despite fuel pump issues in the second heat, he survived and then stood out with his best result of the event with his first result inside the top-five. He moves up one row for the Prefinal from where he started in the heat races, A good finish in the Prefinal could move him into the top-10 in points heading into the main events on Saturday.

“My heat races today we’re again up and down. We had the re occurring engine issue and an already rowdy race in the second heat. The last heat race I was able to get to fifth early on but the other four were too far away, so I conserved my tires for the Prefinal. I am hopeful we can start the main in the top-10 if we have no more issues and with a good race on Friday.”

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)

Warm Up (even): 15th – 54.131 +0.543

Heat BvsD: 29th +4 laps – 55.235

Heat AvsD: 11th +5.394 – 53.660 (FL)

Heat Points: 48th – 42 points

Prefinal: B (Row 12)

A DNF is not what you want in an event like the Rotax Grand Finals. Unfortunately for O’Clair, another competitor drove over the back of his kart to dislodge the exhaust, forcing him to retire early in his second heat. The Arizona driver proved he has the speed to contend, gaining 17 spots on track, nearly finishing in the top-10. The task at hand however is to gain 12 spots in the points through the Prefinal races, with 36th holding 13 more than O’Clair.

“The heat races have been a bit up and down with an issue in the second heat but a good result in the third. I’ve known I’ve had this pace all the time, so a fastest lap and good run was what I needed. I still have plenty more for the Prefinal.”

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

Warm Up: 15th – 53.817 +0.613

Heat 2: 8th +6.734 – 53.816

Heat Points: 13th – 42 points

Wang stayed out of the trouble during his second and final heat race. He ran as high as eighth before crossing the line in ninth after 10 laps. A penalty moved him up one spot as he will now start the Prefinal from Row

“Our pace doesn’t give us control of our destiny. We were able to finish inside the top-10even while three drivers who qualified behind us finished ahead. While that makes entertaining racing, we must rely on luck for the remainder of the event.”

#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

Warm Up: 22nd – 54.189 +0.985

Heat 2: 26th +20.776 – 54.270

Heat Points: 29th – 20 points

Veteran racer Cleavelin took advantage of several driver retiring from Heat 2 in order to move up inside the top-30, still about a half-second off the lap time of USA teammate Wang. The path into the top-25 continues.

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)

Warm Up: 6th – 54.796 +0.217

Heat AvsC: 30th +18.054 – 55.305

Heat BvsC: 19th +7.165 – 54.785

Heat Points: 28th – 63 points

Prefinal: B (Row 7)

After a successful opening heat race on Wednesday, the final day of heat racing started off poorly for Eggleston. Midway through the race, he was shuffled to the tail of the field. It was a similar circumstance in the final heat. He ran as high as 10th before getting shuffled back two straight laps but remained inside the top-20. Nixx now holds a position inside the top-30 heading into the Prefinal races, where he’ll need to stay in order to make the main event on Saturday.

“The day didn’t go how we wanted it to. I am looking for a strong Prefinal tomorrow.”

#257 – Giovanni Santora

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Qualified: Top US Trophy Series Finisher

RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying Overall: 68th

Heat Group: D (Row 17)

Warm Up: 18th – 55.877 +1.391

Heat BvsD: 26th +16.618 – 55.732

Heat AvsD: 24th +16.727 – 55.685

Heat Points: 60th – 31 points

Prefinal: B (Row 15)

Both heat races for Santora were in the positive direction, just not as many positions as hoped in the two eight-lap races. Sitting 24 spots out of a qualifying position for the main event, Giovanni needs a lot of help in the Prefinal where he starts 30th to move on to the Saturday Final.

“The heat races didn’t go as we hoped but we have good pace. For the Prefinal, we’re going to show why we’re on Team USA.”

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)

Warm Up (odd): 18th – 59.325 +0.742

Heat BvsD: 33rd +17.873 (PBB) – 59.229

Heat BvsC: 16th +7.590 – 59.318

Heat Points: 38th – 49 points

Prefinal: B (Row 10)

It took only the second lap in the opening 8-lap heat race on the day for trouble to strike Korn. He was pushed to the tail end of the field, working back up to 30th but suffered a pushback bumper penalty to drop down in the final order. The second race on the day did go in the positive direction, just outside the top-15. He’s on the outside looking in, heading into the Prefinal races, needing to improve at least two positions in the final points to make the main event for a third straight time.

“After an unfortunate track position in qualifying setting us back, we were forced to start from the 11th row in each heat. With that, it was difficult to stay out of the on-track carnage and ended up getting collected in it in two of the three heats. We have our work cut out for us, but we have the package to earn a great result moving forward. If we can stay clean in the Prefinal that will set us up for good position in the main.”

#120 – Matteo Quinto

Hometown: Golden, Colorado

Qualified: Top US Trophy Series Finisher

RMCGF Appearances: 0

Qualifying Overall: 29th

Heat Group: A (Row 8)

Warm Up (even): 8th – 58.696 +0.386

Heat AvsC: 8th +2.337 – 59.342

Heat AvsD: 14th +4.419 – 59.464

Heat Points: 21st – 78 points

Prefinal: A (Row 6)

Carrying the flag for Team USA in Mini has been Quinto. He continued advancing forward in the first 6-lap run, gaining seven spots. The final heat race saw a big swing from start to finish. He was back in 29th at the halfway point and was able to gain 10 spots in the final lap to break back into the top-15. Quinto is on the brink of getting inside the top-20 and can do so with a solid Prefinal starting 11th.

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

Warm Up: 5th – 1:01.928 +0.175

Heat 2: 7th +1.710 – 1:02.341

Heat Points: 2nd – 82 points

Another solid performance in the second and final heat race for Palacio has put him in the contender list heading into the Prefinal. Palacio gained three spots in the short six-lap race on Thursday. Starting on the outside of the front row for the Prefinal, Palacio is now in position to battle for a pole position starting spot in the Final.

“Today went ok. The start didn’t go as well as heat 1 and went up and down positions for a bit before I could track down the next pack. Finally, I fought my way to the lead group, but ran out of laps with the short six-lap heat. This puts us in the front row for the Prefinal and that’s much better than where we were in the heats after qualifying. I feel good about tomorrow night’s Prefinal and much happier with where I’ll be starting now to battle for wins.


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