All-stars, philanthropy unite with $81,000 raised in charity kart race

Photo courtesy Kart 4 Kids

PALMETTO, Fla. – It’s not often you get a glut of talent from the open-wheel and sports car racing worlds in one spot, and also take them back to their roots in go-karts.

Even better is when you take the talent assembled and have them all there for a good cause.

But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night at Andersen RacePark for the sixth annual Kart 4 Kids Pro/Am Kart Race, which raised $81,000 for the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

At the event, a mix of items were auctioned off at both a live and silent auction, while the 14 pro drivers competed in a 75-lap kart race with each team featuring four amateur drivers alongside.

Pros in practice. Spencer Pigot leads Trent Hindman here. Photo: Tony DiZinno

This provided fans or observers who wanted to donate an opportunity to bid on such unique items as both Sebastien Bourdais ($4,300) and Patrick Long’s helmets ($5,200) which will be race worn this weekend, Scott Dixon’s Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT firesuit ($6,100) from a year ago, and also a two-day racing school at the Lucas Oil School of Racing.

One of the children at the hospital also hand designed a print for the event, signed by all pro drivers.

Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver, had helped take the event from its origins to where it is now during its first five years.

But the opportunity for Bourdais to take on a greater role with the event’s growth this year allowed Long to step back from a full leadership position into a joint leadership one, and allow the Children’s Hospital to move to the front of the fore.

Having been at the event, seeing the smiles and excitement on the faces of those amateur drivers – myself included – was all the evidence needed to call the event a success. And the fundraising aspect brought the total amount raised to $281,000 over the six years.

Pros prepare for their final 10-lap stint. Photo: Tony DiZinno

The drivers were all game for the evening too. The mix of talent saw five full-time Verizon IndyCar Series drivers set to compete this weekend in Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones, along with Pirelli World Challenge drivers Long and Nate Stacy.

The remaining pros all ran in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year (Jordan and Ricky Taylor, Jan Heylen, RC Enerson, Daniel Morad, Trent Hindman and James French) or in other sports cars last year (Ethan Low, Glenn McGee). The Taylors, French, Bourdais and Morad all won their respective classes of Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona at this year’s Rolex 24.

Pigot’s team takes checkered flag. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Pigot’s team was particularly well stacked, with Bell Racing USA Director of Motorsports Chris Wheeler joined by three Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda active drivers in Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood and three-year USF2000 driver Luke Gabin. That team won the race by more than a lap, and from watching Jupiter, Fla. natives and longtime friends Askew and Kirkwood run together in practice, it was no surprise to see their excellence continue in the fun race.

As a media member in car, my teammates were Enerson, Thomas Nakagawa and son Colin, and Robert Keller on the teal team, number eight. Our team finished a little further down the order as we learned the intricacies of our kart; most of the competitors acknowledged some karts were a little bit better than others. The five of us though had a great time and the Nakagawas, in particular, were thrilled with the opportunity to run together as a pairing in this environment.

Seeing the interaction between the drivers who otherwise don’t get to see each other too often given their competing forms of motorsport was a fun part of the night. Ricky Taylor, for instance, was fresh off his Rolex 24 victory and his own first IndyCar test with Team Penske, whereas for Dixon and Kanaan, it was a chance to return to their roots more than two decades ago.

Then you have the up-and-coming drivers like Low, McGee, French, Askew, Kirkwood and Gabin who were all loving the opportunity to race against and learn from some of their racing heroes in the same equipment. Low, in particular, stood out as he battled Dixon late in the race.

Bourdais, in helmet, waits for his final stint. Photo: Tony DiZinno

A late change announced by Bourdais saw the pros’ required lap count drop from a minimum of 20 laps and maximum of 25 to a total of 15 only, the first five followed by the last 10. This allowed the amateurs to run the bulk of the race and get the most track time, though.

Ultimately though, this event is about the hospital, and the cause of raising money for children’s medical needs. This is the sole purpose of Kart 4 Kids, Inc., which is an all-volunteer organization where all money raised net of direct event expenses goes to directly to the St. Petersburg-based hospital.

This hospital, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is the only critical care children’s hospital on the West Coast of Florida. Included in their areas of expertise are extreme premature births, infant open-heart surgery, pediatric cancer, and children’s critical care and trauma.

Partners who helped the event included Tequila Patron, Cardio Access, Construction Services, Rally Stores and Alegra Motorsports, to name a few.

Bourdais joked during the live auction he hoped he’d win this weekend and thus make his Bell helmet even more valuable than it already was.

But he, Long and the hospital have already won with their charitable efforts and the continued growth of this pro-am kart event, which served as a great kickoff to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.