OTK USA drivers headed to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida for the opening round of the ROK Cup USA Florida Winter Tour, celebrating its 25th season. The race was held next to the home of the Tampa Bay Rays, creating a fast-paced parking lot circuit with plenty of opportunities to pass. With some drivers still shaking the rust off from the off-season, staying out of the barriers and making it though the weekend would be key for championship battles.
In VLR Senior, Iron Rock Motorsports pilot Helio Meza (Tony Kart) topped every single session from practice on Friday all the way up to the Final on Sunday. Meza had an incredibly dominant weekend in his Senior debut, taking the win on Sunday by 4.7 seconds over second-placed driver Wes Duchak (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic). Duchak gave Meza a run for his money all weekend and was never far off the pace. Brayden Domingue (Iron Rock Motorsports / Tony Kart) made it an all OTK podium in third.
Ernesto Rivera (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) continues to ride his wave of momentum in 2023, taking the win in the ROK Junior class on Sunday. Rivera was in the front pack all weekend and finally took his turn at the point with a win in the Prefinal, and backed that up with victory in the Final by just under a tenth of a second. Oliver Wheldon (JC Karting / LN Racing Kart) scored a podium after having front pack pace all weekend long. Missing out on the podium in fourth was Orsolon Racing driver Sebastian Garzon Orozco (Tony Kart), just a few seconds back from Wheldon.
In the all-OTK chassis ROK Master, David Laplante (Premier Karting / Tony Kart) from Canada took top honors for Round One of the Florida Winter Tour, winning the Final by a couple of tenths over Martin Stone (Racing Edge Motorsports / Kosmic). Third on track and final driver on the podium was Brazil's Andre Nicastro (Racing Edge Motorsports / Kosmic), who also went fastest in the Final. Off the podium but still in the top five were Alex Mueller (Tony Kart) and William Isaias (International Motorsports / Tony Kart).
Yet another win on the weekend went the way of OTK USA in ROK Shifter Master, with Peru native Daniel Dibos Sabogal (International Motorsports / Tony Kart) taking the opening round of the weekend. Up until the Final, Sabogal's best finish was only fourth, but come the main event, he took the lead on lap seven of the 20-lap feature, sustaining the pressure from behind and winning the opening round of the season. Further back and just off the podium was privateer runner Alex Mueller (Tony Kart) finishing the weekend in fourth.
In ROK Micro, a hard-fought win went the way of Iron Rock Motorsports driver Nico Orbezo (Kosmic). Orbezo was consistently finishing in the top-five during the heat races, setting himself up to be in a good position by Sunday for the Final. Orbezo ran second for the first 12 laps of the 16-lap Final, making the pass for the lead in the final section of the track, and holding onto victory as they came across the line.
Of the 23 drivers in the hotly contested ROK Senior class, over half were on OTK machinery, with Blake Nash (Nash Motorsportz / EOS) going fastest in qualifying to start off the weekend. In Heat 1, Nash got shuffled back to seventh, allowing Canadian Ayden Ingratta (Speed Concepts Racing / Redspeed) to take his first win in a senior division. Nash Motorsportz driver Louie Westover (EOS) struck back in Heat 3 taking yet another win for OTK. Come the Final on Sunday, Connor Zilisch (Racing Edge Motorsports / Tony Kart) led the way for OTK chassis, and after hounding the leader for all 20 laps of the Final, come up just short and crossed the line in second as the lone OTK driver on the podium. Jorge Ortiz (Speed Concepts Racing / Redspeed) was just one second back from a podium in fourth.
The VLR Junior had one of the largest turnouts on the weekend with 29 drivers registered for round one of the series. Like in ROK Junior, Ernesto Rivera (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic) would lead the charge for OTK USA, taking the Heat 1 win and stay within the top five for every race after. Rivera ended his weekend in the runner-up spot at the end of the Final, with fellow OTK driver Leonardo Escorpioni (Zanella Racing / Tony Kart) finishing on the podium as well. Finishing fifth after a solid weekend was Diego Ardiles (Rolison Performance Group / Kosmic), only a few seconds away from the podium.
In VLR Master, Canadian Mark Pavan (Goodwood Kartways / LN Racing Kart) was able to record a runner-up result to lead the way for the OTK brand. Pavan fought with LFB Racing pilot Alex Dal Bon (Tony Kart) for most of the Final on Sunday, where Dal Bon would finish third. Just off the podium was independent runner Ryan Molina (EOS) who finished fourth after making up three spots during the Final.
Fion Shi (Supertune/Tony Kart) was the driver to beat on OTK machinery all weekend, starting off his weekend by qualifying in the top-10. Shi battled hard in the 21 driver Micro ROK class, fighting to stay in the top-10 during the heat races and Prefinal. During the Final on Sunday, Shi would break free of that top ten battle and make his way up the field, and eventually coming across the stripe after 16 laps in fifth.
The ROK Cup USA Florida Winter Tour returns trackside in mid-February from the 17-20 for Round Two of the series at Piquet Entertainment & Race Park for the midway point of the three-round championship. For more information about the series, head to www.rokcupusa.com for more information.
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