NEW CASTLE, Ind. — Over the last several years Mick Gabriel has racked up wins and championships in LO206 competition across the United States, but the Illinois native seemed to have a “monkey on his back” when it came to Cup Karts North America’s premier national races. At the series’ major events — including the 2021 and ’22 Spring Nationals at Charlotte, last January’s inaugural Winter Nationals at Jacksonville, and the biggest of them all, the Grand Nationals at New Castle — for one reason or another, Gabriel was continuously denied of a CKNA national win.
That all changed Sunday afternoon when Gabriel rode his No. 2 AEM Karting / OTK EOS chassis to victory in the Senior Medium final at the sixth annual CKNA Grands at the famed Indiana karting complex.
The 25-year-old racer entered Sunday’s finals as one of the favorites in two of the event’s headline divisions, Senior Light and Senior Medium, both of which started with around 70-kart fields that were brought down to 50 after Sunday morning last-chance-qualifier races.
First up was Senior Light’s 16-lap main. Mick would start P7 and advance to the top three just past halfway. He’d make it past Dylan Amundsen for second on lap 10 and ride behind leader Colin Warren for the next several circuits. Late in the race with another legitimate shot at a Grands win, once again Gabriel would have to settle for a secondary spot on the podium. He took the lead from Warren on lap 15 and appeared on his way to the win only to get contacted from behind and bumped outside of the top three to P5 in the final running order.
Mick had one last shot at a Grands win and he’d make the best of it in the day’s final race, Senior Medium. Gabriel started P2 to his friend James Overbeck and get shuffled around the top five early until settling into third just before halfway. He’d ride behind Warren and Overbeck for most of the second half of the race before advancing to P2 past Overbeck and then past Warren for the lead in the Cell Tower corner on the final circuit. Warren and Overbeck battled for second, allowing Gabriel to build a few kart-length lead on his rivals and hold on for his first win in the world’s biggest LO206 race.
“We finally got the monkey off our backs at Grands,” Mick stated. “Amazing weekend; after a few years of bad luck at this race we finally won a CKNA Grand National. Racing against the likes of extremely talented drivers like Colin Warren, Brandon Lemke and Jordan Prior makes it even sweeter. In Senior Light, we had a good run, too, leading on the last lap, but contact sent us back to fifth. We nearly had the Light, Medium sweep.
“Congrats as well to AEM drivers Jeff Bays, Gabe and Jake Sessler, Todd Baron and Blade Fountain on their successful runs,” Gabriel continued. “Thanks to Mike Gray, Randy Raridon, Eric Maitlen and Jeff Hudlett for all the help under the tent. Big thanks to my ace Michael Gabriel for giving me an awesome AEM-powered EOS all weekend. And congrats to Jakab Nyiri on another national podium in Masters. AEM Karting puts a stamp on 2022!”
Nyiri continued his string of podiums at CKNA national events. The Chicago resident battled hard all weekend in the 46-kart Masters division and shined brightest when it counted. After qualifying P8, Nyiri raced his AEM-powered EOS to finishes of 11th, 9th and 18th in the three heat races to place him P11 in the main event starting lineup. He’d fall back to P13 early in the final and proceed to put on a masterful drive, advancing past a number of the top Masters racers in the country into P7 late in the race. Nyiri wasn’t done, moving into fifth on the final lap and crossing the finish stripe in that position for his best result of the weekend.
Becoming one of the most consistent Masters racers in the US, Nyiri now has top-five finishes in three consecutive CKNA national races — he finished a close third at the 2021 Grands and was fifth in the Charlotte Spring Nationals in March.
North Carolina’s Todd Baron raced under the AEM tent for the first time and was one of the fastest drivers in both Legends and Masters all event. Unfortunately for Baron luck wasn’t on his side in the finals. In Legends, he’d start second but cut a tire down after contact on lap 1, forcing him to retire.
In Masters Baron would start third and race inside the top five until the final lap, when Nyiri and another driver overtook him, placing “TB11” seventh in the final rundown.
Washington state racer Jeff Bays joined AEM teammates Nyiri and Baron in Masters and had a solid event in his first try at the Grands. After qualifying 22nd, he’d finish 23rd, 19th and 16th in the three heat races before driving to a very respectable P16 finish in the Masters final.
Brothers Gabe and Jake Sessler — Washington staters like Bays — made their presence known in the East. Racing for the second time at NCMP and the first time there with AEM, Gabe was one of the top racers all weekend in Senior Light and Medium. He’d open competition with the Senior Light pole award over 67 competitors and record heat finishes of P2, P3 and P2 to start third in the 16-lap final. Gabe Sessler would go on to a P8 finish in the final for his first top 10 at the Grands; his brother Jake would finish a solid P12 in the stacked field.
Gabe and Jake scratched for everything they could get in Senior Medium after qualifying 21st and 26th of 72 entrants.
Gabe would finish 10th in his first heat, DNF in the second, and 13th in the third. Starting 32th in the final, Sessler put on an incredible drive as the race’s hard charger. He’d advance into the top 10 by midway through the 16-lapper and end up finishing a fine P6.
Jake was a DNF in his first heat but rebounded for a solid P13 finish in heat two. He’d finish P8 in his third heat to solidly lock himself into the Medium final starting field. Jake started the final right behind his brother in 33rd and made some nice moves to advance into the top 20 and finish 18th.
Blade Fountain ran Senior Light on an AEM entry and had his best weekend at the Grands. Fountain had an outstanding qualifying run for P12 of 68 and finished 13th, 17th and 13th in his heat races. He’d battle hard in the final and end up finishing in the top half of the field with a P23 result.
Justin Wishard gave AEM another top-five qualifying effort, timing P5 in Senior Heavy. Unfortunately for Wishard, he was involved in a hard wreck during a Saturday heat race and he wasn’t able to complete the weekend.
In all, AEM drivers netted three top-fives, six top-10s, a pole award and numerous top-five results in qualifying and heat races. This year’s CKNA Grand Nationals attracted more than 340 drivers totaling 409 race entries among only eight divisions. The turnout made it the second largest sprint kart race in North America this year.
Stay tuned for announcement on upcoming races for AEM Karting and Mick Gabriel as the 2022 racing season enters the fourth and final quarter.
AEM Karting is based in Bolingbrook, Ill., and is an official authorized OTK distributor, offering sales and support for OTK products, Briggs & Stratton LO206 racing engines, IAME 2-cycle engines, and many other karting brands and products that make a successful team. Led by championship-winning kart racer Mick Gabriel, AEM offers at-track coaching, tuning and support, arrive-and-drive packages and more. For more information, visit the team’s official website at aemkarting.com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.