The first races of the year usually bring a surprise story or two that most of us just don’t see coming. Some drivers quietly prepare for a new season and hit the ground running. Some drivers who ended the previous year with success take the short break and arrive a little behind and some drivers just continue where they left off, always a contender.
In the case of Matthew Taskinen, ending his year at the Rotax Grand Finals in Italy lit a fire under him, motivating him to be ready for 2017 as he progressed up the ladder and into the Rotax Senior Max category, arguably the toughest Rotax class.
With new tires coming into play, Taskinen took part in the Maxspeed Entertainment Winter Collective in December in Florida to come to grips with new Max One by Vega that he will race on. He also spent time with his Rolison Performance Group team just after the turn of the calendar, taking part in a team test in Tucson, Arizona in anticipation of the 2017 Challenge of the Americas championship.
Arriving in Tucson this past weekend, Taskinen was more than ready for his big Rotax Senior debut and through hard work, a learning curve and a little luck, he was rewarded with a big victory to close out a hard fought weekend racing against some of the best Rotax drivers on the West coast.
“Coming out of the last corner I immediately started to celebrate by throwing my hands in the air and screaming inside my helmet. I could see my team on the roof of the trailer all celebrating with me. It was a huge thrill for me.”
Taskinen hails from Leduc, Alberta and has only been racing for four years. He’s yet another example of a driver jumping into the deep end early in a karting career and pushing through until he stands atop the podium. A kid who rarely stops smiling, wears a camo printed race suit and loves it. While he enjoys travelling to the big races, his fun nature attracts him back to the two kart clubs in his home province where he gets to race against his friends in two completely different disciplines, Rotax and Briggs LO206. Always enjoying the challenge, he will be back there this spring when the ground thaws and the tracks are dry.
Finally, reflecting on his experience as a member of Team Canada at the Rotax Grand Finals in Italy, he felt out of place racing against a grid of the best drivers from around the world, but learned that he earned his place to be there just like everyone else and with it, needed to be confident every time he rolls onto the track, regardless who else it out there.
Constantly learning, we can’t wait to see what else is in store for Taskinen along the way.
We caught up with Matthew after the race and asked him a few questions.
First, were you expecting a victory in your Rotax Senior debut? Describe the feeling coming across the finish line.
Going into the first round of the Challenge of the Americas championship, I was confident that I could do well. I was quick at the test weekend and quick during the practices days. I was worried about my lack of race craft compared to the other more experienced Senior drivers but I knew that podiums were achievable if I drove my best. Unfortunately the first day I drove my tires past the limit after qualifying second. The second day I yet again qualified second. Heading into the races I knew what I had to fix from Saturday. Everyone at RPG, especially Wes and Alex, helped me with that.
After a brutal start on my behalf I ended up getting pushed wide sending me back to fifteenth. I pushed the kart as hard as I could trying to catch the leaders. With me being in the right place at the right time allowed me to cross the three leaders over as they had zero momentum out of the corner and as I went in the lead. I was pumped. Then all I had to do was drive the next seven corners and I’ll have my first senior win. Coming out of the last corner I immediately started to celebrate by throwing my hands in the air and screaming inside my helmet. I could see my team on the roof of the trailer all celebrating with me. It was a huge thrill for me.
“Just in the Senior class I have Ritter, Gulick, Rocha, and McKean. They are the best teammates possible. We all help each other on test days and in practice and support and learn from each other constantly.”
How much of a confidence boost is the victory? Is the championship in the cards now?
Knowing that my first win in senior is accomplished, it takes a big monkey off my back. My confidence is sky high right now, plus that I feel like luck might be on my side from time to time makes me believe that the championship is definitely a possibility. This is a tough group I am competing against. Nearly any of drivers in this field could win on any given day. With one win in the books my chances are as good as anyone’s.
How has working with Rolison Performance Group helped develop you as a driver?
RPG is fantastic. Roli [Mike Rolison] has a put together a great team. It works for me anyway. I learned in Hockey that it takes a team to win and there is a great team spirt and vibe working under the RPG tent. The guys like Roli, Wes [Boswell], Alex [Vincent], Bonner [Moulton] and all of the others are so good at helping me improve as a driver and also help my mechanic set up my kart. The other drivers are unreal also. Just in the Senior class I have Ritter, Gulick, Rocha, and McKean. They are the best teammates possible. We all help each other on test days and in practice and support and learn from each other constantly. Billy Cleavelin is the nicest and classiest guy in racing. The younger drivers are great to be around also. There is no other team I would want be on right now. I really have to thank Kevin for getting my Dad to get me on this team.
“That qualifying session taught me not to be intimidated and have confidence when you drive, like you are the fastest kart on track.”
Was there a moment at the Rotax Grand Finals that stood out to you as a major learning experience?
For sure it would have to be my first qualifying session. It was a mess for me , I have never been on a track with so many drivers who were all very quick. I drove around like an amateur in the kart for the first time. I was so intimidated by everyone and was focused on them and not myself trying to do a quick lap. That qualifying session taught me not to be intimidated and have confidence when you drive, like you are the fastest kart on track. I believe it helped me this past weekend and I think it will me help me out at more races to come.
Will you be racing in Canada this season? What are your ultimate goals this year?
Unfortunately due to schedules clashing, the only big races I will be able to attend in Canada are the Canadian Nationals and the Can-Am at Chilliwack. I will be doing as much club racing as possible in Edmonton and Calgary. It is so much fun there. Everyone at both of those clubs are so nice and supportive I will not be able to stay away. I owe a lot to everyone at those clubs for the success I have had at the international events, especially the Dowler’s.
I believe I could do better at Rotax Grand Finals if I were to go again, so obviously my main goal is win another ticket and prove I am right. No matter which event I am able to do. I am for sure wanting to go back and prove to myself I can do better.
Round two of the Challenge of the Americas championships takes place in Phoenix, Arizona on February 24 to 26.