“18 American drivers take on the world in Italy”. Heading into the 17th edition of the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals (RMCGF) as the reigning Nations Cup winners, expectations and hopes were high for the 18 Team USA drivers. Battling changing weather conditions throughout the weeklong event at the Circuito Internazionale di Napoli in Sarno, Italy, as well as top international drivers from around the world, young Rotax Micro MAX pilot Diego LaRoque did not disappoint. Claiming the first ever championship title in the youngest Rotax division at the RMCGF, LaRoque added to Team USA’s glory at the prestigious international event. “I am extremely proud of all 18 Team USA drivers that represented the United States at the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals this year,” explains Team USA Entrant and USRMC Director Andy Seesemann. “This event was extremely difficult with changing weather conditions and some of the most competitive fields in the history of the event. While we achieved mixed results as a team, I am so thrilled that Diego LaRoque can now be called the first ever World Champion in Micro MAX. Diego’s name will be listed forever as a World Champion and only the second US driver to earn that distinction in the 17 year history of the event.”
Starting with Qualifying on Wednesday, both Team USA Micro MAX drivers placed in the top-15, James Egozi second and LaRoque 15th, showing they had speed to compete immediately. The day’s Heat 1 put the two on everyone’s radar, with Egozi maintaining second just shy of the victory, and LaRoque improving to eighth. Continuing their runs in Heat 2 and fighting hard, the duo ended with a fourth place result for Egozi and tenth for LaRoque. With only two heats run for Micro and Mini, the grid for the prefinal would be set for Egozi in fourth and LaRoque in eighth.
With both Americans lining up on the difficult outside row for the prefinal, stakes were high for the all-important nine-lap race. Each had a bid at the lead, however Egozi came out on top to score the prefinal victory and pole position for the final. LaRoque ended fourth, and would have to again endure the outside row.
The weather miraculously cleared for the Saturday afternoon finals, and young James Egozi would lead the way for the first ever Micro MAX RMCGF championship race. Both Americans were in the lead pack, with drivers battling it out in typically fantastic Micro MAX fashion. Moving into 1-2 on lap eight of the ten-lap race, with LaRoque leading, drivers began to put it all on the line to secure the win. Shuffled out as the lead duo, Egozi made his way back to the lead with one lap to go. With LaRoque in P2, he passed Egozi for the lead in turn four. Egozi was then freight trained and fell back to fifth. LaRoque went on to take the checkers to score USA the inaugural Rotax Micro MAX Grand Finals Championship. Egozi was just off the podium with a stellar fourth place result.
The USA Rotax Mini MAX contingent was lead by Arias Deukmedjian. Qualifying seventh, the Florida resident fought for the Heat 1 victory, but crossed second at the stripe. A third place result in Heat 2 put Deukmedjian third on the grid for the prefinal. Looking to continue his strong run, Deukmedjian would meet disaster in the prefinal, as contact while passing for position put him down the running order. Luca Mars was elevated to tenth, with Ashton Torgerson also improving to 17th. Starting the Final in 32nd, Deukmedjian put on a clinic, moving all the way up to finish in sixth place against the top Rotax Mini MAX drivers in the world. Contact put Mars out of the top-ten, finishing 23rd overall, while a nose-cone penalty dropped Torgerson from 16th to 24th.
Qualifying surely did not go as planned for the Team USA Rotax Junior MAX squad, but the quartet improved during wheel-to-wheel competition. 2015 RMCGF Junior Vice-Champion Mathias Ramirez went from 19th on the grid to eighth in Heat 1. Ramirez had another strong run in Heat 2, moving up to seventh, with Michael d’Orlando just outside the top-ten in 11th. Prefinal A was a gamble on tires with Ramirez holding on enough to transfer to the Junior MAX final, however Nick Brueckner’s event would come to an end. d’Orlando was in a transfer spot until contact twice on the last lap took away his chance to make it to the final. Dylan Tavella was also not able to transfer and saw his Grand Finals competition over. Ramirez continued to fight during the 17-lap Junior final, battling hard to finish 16th at the stripe. However, the 2016 Grand Finals continued to not go as plan for the talent, as Ramirez faced a disqualification after cutting the track to avoid an incident.
The Rotax Senior MAX duo of Christian Brooks and Jake Craig struggled in a dry qualifying session, but just as the Juniors, used their race craft to fight their way through the field in racing action. Craig placed 14th, 10th and 21st, with Brooks 24th, 13th and 13th. Wet conditions also plagued Craig in his Prefinal, with ultimately ended his run in Italy. Brooks managed to stay out of trouble in his Prefinal and avoid the melee to finish seventh, putting him 14th on the grid for the final. Pushed down the running order at the start of the Final, Brooks never gave up. Running as high as 15th, the Californian finished in 18th before a nose-cone violation classified him 24th.
The ultra-competitive Rotax DD2 MAX class saw a solid effort from Team USA rookie Dev Gore, and second time team member Christian Munoz. Placing 19th and 23rd respectively in Heat 1, Gore added another top-20 before the first corner melee in Heat 3 dashed his efforts. Munoz added two top-20 heat results, pinning both drivers down the running order for the prefinals. A difficult week would come to an end for both after the Prefinal, with neither Team USA driver making it to the final event.
Luis Schiavo started out his official competition with third in Rotax DD2 Masters MAX Qualifying and backed that up with a flag-to-flag victory in Heat 1. Schiavo continued his efforts with a fourth and third in the remaining heats, with Mike Jones adding a two sixth place results and one 14th, after qualifying 12th overall. As well, Derek Wang added two top-tens, posting tenth in Heat 1 and ninth in Heat 3. Schiavo and Wang continued strong runs in Prefinal A, finishing third and seventh, but with outside row starting positions for the final. A promising run for Jones came crashing down in Prefinal B, as the Challenge of the Americas champ was spun around putting him out of contention for a final transfer spot. Billy Cleavelin and Nathan Mauel would also see their Grand Finals experience come to an end. Gunning for a podium result in the Final, Schiavo’s Grand Finals hopes were dashed once again. While running in the fifth position, the Miami, Florida resident found himself with no where to go when a competitor got sideways in front of him. Schiavo ended with a DNF while Derek Wang worked his way up to a solid 12th place finish.
More than 60 countries were represented at the 17th edition of the RMCGF, making up 360 of the most-decorated and talented Rotax drivers from around the world.