Sunday afternoon was a compilation of 43 different stories, all taking place at the same time around the New Castle Motorsports Park. The 11th annual RoboPong 200 saw a number of highs and lows for each and every team attempting to complete the 200-lap TaG endurance race first. After an hour delay in the early morning to complete the warm-up due to a damp track, the entire day was sunshine with a strong wind to provide another outstanding day. When the final checkered flag waved however it was Jimmy Simpson and Brandon Newey celebrating, with both earning their first ever RoboPong 200 victory and the $10,000 winning check.
The race began roughly around 2pm Eastern, with the team of KartSport North America/AMR leading the 43-kart field to the green flag with Derek Dignan at the helm. The Simpson/Newey entry got the jump at the start, and led the early laps of the race. The field would not get through the opening lap without incident, as ProKart Indoors was spun around in the middle of the track, leaving #KeepFightingAyrton – one of the Ironman entries – no where to go. Hard head-on contact sent both to the pits for repairs and were able to get back on the track. Out front, Free Spirit Racing with Jacob Knueven behind the wheel led until lap 15 when Franklin Motorsports/Mark Coats Racing took over. Kyle Kalish, the 2013 USPKS Leopard Pro champion, posted some fast laps in his opening stint and was the only kart to run in the 1:05’s in the first stint. They were followed by the iKart entry of Mark Boos/Steven Barros, as the top two held a solid lead going into the first pit stops.
Kalish handed the Tony Kart over to its owner, Colton Ramsey after taking four tires and fuel. They kept the lead through the first round of stops, but only for a lap as the Checkered Motorsports/PCR USA 1 entry with Robert and Andrew Bujdoso made up time in the pits and began laying down the fast laps during stint two. Andrew was nearly a full half-second quicker than Ramsey per lap, pulling out to roughly a 20-second advantage by the time second round pit stops began. After lap 113, all of the contenders had made their stop, with the Bujdoso entry still out front and holding a 21 second lead with eight teams on the lead lap.
Before the second pit stops, Simpson put himself into the third spot after the young team of Brandon Lemke/Neil Verhagen pulled in at lap 79 with a flat right front tire. Simpson drove the first 112 laps aboard a brand new Top Kart before handing it over to Brandon Newey. They slotted back into third behind Bujdoso and Kalish. Robby kept the pace going and before making the final stop, put all but five other teams a lap down. Just before the final stop, two teams ran into trouble that were in contention. CometKartSales.com suffered engine issues on lap 142 with IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden behind the wheel, and retired from the event in 37th. The HAAS Arrow was creeping into the top-five when a flat front tire on lap 127 put them off sequence with Kyle Smith and former winner Billy Lewis.
Checkered Motorsports/PCR USA 1 dove to the pit lane on lap 151 for their final stop, taking four tires and fuel with no issues, as the well-trained pit crew led by Adrenaline Fix Karting got Robby out and Andrew in for the final stint. Kalish jumped out and Ramsey went back in with a gas-n-go, making up time to just trail by 11 seconds as the only two teams on the lead lap. Newey came in on lap 147, completing just over 30 laps and giving Simpson his third stint and final stint, but a lap down.
Things looked to make it easier on the Bujdoso group when contact on lap 172 took the nose cone off the Franklin Motorsports/Mark Coats Racing Tony Kart, forcing them to duck into the pits and strap on a replacement. They remained in the second spot when he went back out, but put them a lap down with Simpson just behind. Simpson took over position on lap 180, which would prove to be the winning move.
Disaster struck the Bujdoso PCR machine as the right front spindle broke into two pieces, leaving the kart undriveable with 10 laps remaining. Simpson would inherit the lead and hold onto the top spot for the final circuits for the victory. It was a memorable moment for the long-time competitor, who had a win taken away in 2008 after a passing under yellow penalty and mechanical issues the last few years while in contention. He nearly went as an Ironman, until connecting with Mazda Road to Indy driver and fellow Boilermaker student Newey Thursday night.
Twelve seconds back was the Franklin Motorsports/Mark Coats Racing entry with Kalish and Ramsey. The contact cost them the win, however a good runner-up result was a strong performance after completing the second half of the race with a hole in the seat. The top Junior drivers in the field was the second Checkered Motorsports/PCR USA team driven by Ryan Norberg and Sasha Brun-Wibaux. Aside from Kalish, Norberg also dipped into the 1:05s beginning his second stint on new Bridgestone tires. They finished on the lead lap along with the Boos/Barros iKart. They ran a conservative race, taking just rear tires on their first stop, four on the second and only rear tires on the last, finishing just on the lead lap. Completing the top-five podium was the second best young squad – Top Kart USA Juniors. Zach Holden and David Malukas were in contention throughout the 200 laps, but were forced to pit early in stint two with a broken hub bolt on lap 89. They tried to save fuel on the final run, stopping on lap 137, but were forced to make a splash and go with 10 laps remaining.
They beat out the pole-winning team of KartSport/AMR as Dignan and Eric Jones struggled with a dragging brake disc early on. Seventh was the third young team of Lemke/Verhagen, making four stops after their flat tire, and finishing just one lap down. Former podium finishers AB Racing (Andy Dunne/Brennan Harrington) drove their Kosmic/Rotax to eighth, three laps down, gaining 20 spots over the course of the race.
The hard-charger award however went to IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon aboard Eagle/Leopard kart. Starting 43rd after coming in underweight for qualifying, they worked up into the top-10 by the end until a brake pad broke off, forcing them to pit lane for repair. The took the checkered flag in the 20th spot, gaining 23 positions over the 3.75 hour event. HAAS suffered a broken clutch with just four laps remaining, dropping to ninth in the final order. Former winners Ed Carpenter/Nathan O’Rourke kept steady throughout the 200 laps to end up 10th.
The top Ironman entry went to Rex Norris III. Aboard his Arrow/Leopard, Norris made an early stop after the green flag and fought his way forward. Toward the second half of the race he flirted with the top-10 and finished 15th, completing 195 laps. While his position is not better than that of the original Ironman Jim Russell Jr. last year, Norris did complete more laps by a full four circuits, making him the new top Ironman of the RoboPong 200. Tyson Catron was next in the final results, involved in an incident early on, but continued to fight to the end, completing 187 laps to finish 22nd. Andy Schlosser drove his Kartwerks USA Praga #KeepFightingAyrton to 25th, two laps off Catron. Colton Aldridge was the top Ironman for most of the race, creeping up into the top-10 until a broken clutch driver took him out of the race with 172 laps completed.
The Yamaha support events saw three $2,500 checks awarded to three different winners. Camden Speth and Joey Eppink made the Yamaha Senior race uneventful, as the two locked up after starting at the front. The original start was red-flagged after a turn three wreck involving Trevor DeLong, who was shaken up in the incident. Before the green flag waved, top qualifier Mick Gabriel (iKart) was unable to start with the starter tip broken off in the starter nut, and thus was unable to go when the field took the green flag. Behind the top two was a battle for third, that Braden Eves (Tony Kart) eventually controlled, but the advantage was already enough for the top two. They stayed locked together until the end, with Speth able to hold off Eppink at the line for the victory. It’s the last race for Speth moving forward, as he begins his freshman year in college. Eppink took the runner-up spot with Eves a comfortable third. USPKS champion Brandon Jarsocrak (Haase) got Kyle Kalish (Merlin) for the fourth spot at the checkered flag.
The Junior race came down to just two drivers as the 30-lap race was a test of endurance. The top-six were together early on, but the lead group gradually dwindled. Brandon Lemke (Merlin) and Emerson Reed (Top Kart) were the first to drop off the draft. By lap 20, Zach Holden (Top Kart) was unable to keep with the pace of the leaders, and with six to go Prefinal winner David Malukas (Top Kart) lost the top two of top qualifier Braden Eves (Kosmic) and John Paul Southern (PCR). Eves felt the pressure of the Junior rookie to the final corner, running the defensive line around the final circuit. Southern could not complete the outside-inside move at the final corner, with Eves taking his second straight victory in the category. Malukas settled for third with Holden fourth and Lemke in fifth.
Drafting is a key component to the Cadet racing across the country, more so at the New Castle circuit. Dylan Tavella (Tony Kart) should split some of the $2,500 winning check with Alex Verhagen (FA Kart), as the two locked up at the end of the race to score a 1-2 finish. Tavella (Tony Kart) came from fourth on the grid to lead the opening lap, followed by a host of drivers. Top qualifier Jason Welage (Top Kart) and Prefinal winner Alex Bertagnoli (Merlin) were dropped off the lead group, which included Tavella, John Paul Southern (PCR), Sam Mayer (Merlin) and Verhagen. Lap traffic played a factor in the race, with the top-four shuffling in the last 10 laps of the race. Southern was caught out as they made their way around lap karts, leaving Mayer out front with Tavella and Verhagen in tow. On the final circuit, coming to the final corner, Verhagen pushed Tavella by Mayer to finish 1-2. Southern settled for fourth with Welage fifth in his Top Kart debut weekend.