Each and every year, Rotax Challenge of the Americas promoter Andy Seesemann always tries to improve the program he provides each winter. Growth in numbers, more prizes, and tough competition are what keep bringing people to The Challenge after six successful seasons. The seventh edition of the Challenge began over the January 24-26 weekend, held at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona. As the chase for the series championships completed the two rounds of action, six of the seven Rotax Max Challenge categories experienced first-time winners.
Holeshot Drive Systems Senior Max
The opening round of the championship chase was a sweep by 2012 title winner Phil DeLaO, but it was no easy task. Qualifying first, DeLaO went wire-to-wire in the prefinal and then was challenged to the very end for the main event victory. Last year’s champion Phillip Arscott, 2013 vice-champion Louie Pagano, and Jake Craig battled through the second half of the race, leading to some last lap drama. Pagano led with Craig trailing when the two made contact in the final corners. This allowed DeLaO to slide through from third to first, scoring the victory. Arscott followed for second place with Craig beating Pagano to the line for the final podium position.
Sunday came down to the wire as well, with Craig earning his first Senior Max victory. Pagano struck back after the disappointment the previous day to lead the field in qualifying, which saw the top-24 drivers all within a half-second. Craig qualified second, and was able to escape with the prefinal win. Craig led the field to the green flag and another 25-lap battle in the main event. He fell back to the fifth position at the start, but quickly worked his way to the lead and pulled away with veteran Matt Johnson in his draft. Johnson took over the lead as they ran 1-2 until the final circuit. Johnson drove a defensive line, but Craig found just enough room in turn five to dive inside for a pass. The two made contact and Craig came away with the lead. Arscott was able to close in on the final laps, pushing past Johnson as well in the same corner. They finished that way with Craig crossing the line first over Arscott and Johnson.
Rolison Performance Group Junior Max
The Junior Max division welcomed two new drivers to the list of race winners, Austin Versteeg and Christian Brooks. 2013 Mini Max champion Sting Ray Robb began his Junior Max series debut in style, earning the pole position over Versteeg on Saturday. The two fought it out for the prefinal win until the final lap, with Versteeg coming away with the victory through the final corners. The main event however was all Versteeg, driving away to a two-second victory. Phillippe Denes drove to second with Robb in third, only to be removed from the results after an issue in tech. That promoted Brooks to the third position on the podium.
Robb bounced back from the issues late Saturday, securing the pole position in Sunday’s qualifying session to edge out Brooks. Versteeg’s race-pace was still on point, as he worked his way to the lead in the prefinal, and showed the way to the checkered flag with Robb in tow. A group of four drives, including Versteeg, Robb, Brooks and Kyle Wick formed in the main event, which would set up a six-lap shootout for the victory. As the drivers shuffled for position, Versteeg was pushed off course, leaving the other three to fight for the win. Brooks was leading on the final lap until turn four, when contact was made and Wick took the lead. Wick crossed the line first, but was penalized two positions for aggressive driving, handing the win to Brooks. Robb was classified second with Wick back to third, ahead of Versteeg.
Energy Corse America DD2 / CRG-USA DD2 Masters
Despite the low number of drivers, the DD2 category was an exciting race to watch with each session. All seven drivers had the speed to contend for the victories, but it was Gavin Reichelt who came away with a double win weekend in his Challenge debut. Reichelt topped the time chart in qualifying Saturday to earn the pole position, and engaged in a three-driver fight for the prefinal win. Sabré Cook would cross the line first, but lost her sidepod prior to receiving the white flag. The penalty put Cook to the tail of the field, and moved Christian Schureman and Reichelt to first and second. Challenge rookie Harrison Mills was in the mix early on in the feature race before he lost the lead group, leaving it to just three fighting for the top spot. Reichelt led for most of the race, and held off the charging Cook for the victory. Schureman was a close third at the line in one of the best DD2 races seen at the Challenge.
The field was close again on Sunday. The top three were within three hundredths of their fast laps in qualifying, as the top spot went to Schureman. Reichelt seemed to be the quickest on the track in the prefinal, making a bold move from third to first early on to take the lead. Schureman however stayed glued to Gavin’s bumper, until two laps to go and held on for the win. It was another three driver fight in the main event, this time including series newcomer Andy Lee with Cook retiring early. The trio fought strong until the very end, with Reichelt once again holding on to the first position and earning his second victory of the weekend. Lee nipped Schureman for the second spot on the final lap for his first podium in the series.
Defending DD2 Masters champion Alan Rudolph extended his series win streak carried over from last year to seven, opening up the 2014 season with two days of sweeps. Rudolph ran unchallenged for the entire weekend, establishing a solid point lead heading into the second event of the season. Brent Harper ran second to Rudolph each session, getting quicker as the weekend went on but was unable to battle for a win. Series newcomer Ben Johnston capped off the podium each day in third.
Nash Motorsportz Masters Max
Veterans led the way on the weekend in Masters Max category, but it was series rookie Kurt Fisher who started out as the driver to beat, qualifying first in Saturday’s timed session. Defending champion Donald Durbin Jr. started fourth, but was quick to take over the lead and pull away for the race win with former series champ John Crow second. Crow was shuffled back to fourth at the start of the main event, allowing Durbin to run consistent laps and pull away. The 2013 class champion earned his first series victory after four straight podium finishes won him the title last year. Crow fought his way back to second with Ken Maxfield scoring a solid third place.
Crow made things look easy on Sunday, as we swept the action to put himself in position to challenge for the title in 2014. Crow laid down a fast lap early in qualifying to secure the top spot. In both the prefinal and final, Crow established an early lead and with fast laps of the race, maintained the lead until the checkered flag waved. Durbin drove to second with Brian Phillipsen capping off the podium.
BBR Karting Mini Max:
The Mini Max category fielded the largest line-up of drivers in series history, adding two new names to the list of winners – Jacob Blue Hudson and Dylan Tavella. Hudson was on point, as the 2012 Micro Max champ swept the Saturday action. From qualifying to the final checkered flag, Hudson was unchallenged to earn a near perfect weekend, missing out on the fast lap of the race to Conner Wick. Tavella bounced back from a tough qualifying run to advance up to second with Trey Brown placing third.
Hudson began Sunday where he left off Saturday, securing the fast lap in qualifying. Tavella got a better start to the day, placing third in the timed session in order to challenge Hudson in the prefinal. The two locked up and drove away from the field, with Tavella slipping through for the win. In the final, the duo pulled away once again, setting up for a last lap fight. Hudson drove a defensive line, but left just enough room heading into turn 10 for Tavella to take the real-estate. Tavella beat Hudson to the apex, and drove to the checkered flag for the victory. Hudson settled for second with Brown winning the battle for third.
Black Flag Racing Micro Max:
Young driver Jak Crawford doubled up in his Challenge debut, though the feat did not come without some adversity. Crawford qualified first for Saturday’s round, but was found to have an improper carburetor setting, moving him to tail of the field for the prefinal. That put Austin Torgerson to the top of the order, leading the field to the green flag. A wild race led to Sebastian Davis escaping with the win. A four driver breakaway formed in the final, including Davis, Ethan Arndt, Cole Keith Cotham, and Crawford. After some early shuffling, Crawford established himself as the leader and would hold on to the checkered flag. Arndt ran second with Davis completing the podium.
Crawford started Sunday in similar fashion, edging out Torgerson for the top spot in qualifying. The two were joined by Davis and Arndt in the prefinal, as the quartet battled for the win. Crawford crossed the line first, but was given a three-second penalty for a starting infraction. That gave the win to Davis with Arndt up to second and Crawford fourth. The same four pulled away in the main event, with the win decided between Arndt and Crawford. Arndt went to the lead with an outside move in turn one, but Crawford struck back in turn four. Crawford fought them off to the checkered flag for his second victory of the weekend, as Arndt and Davis completed the podium.
The Rotax Challenge of the Americas would like to thank Ribtect, Acceleration Kart Racing, K1 Racegear and Precision Karting Technologies for their support in the podium ceremonies and prizes during the drivers meeting.
The second stop of the Challenge is scheduled for February 21-23 at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association (PKRA) facility in Glendale, Arizona. Pre-entry deadline, with all prices held at the same rates experienced in 2013, is set for February 10, 2014 for all competitors in the seven Rotax Max Challenge categories. Online registration can be found at the RotaxChallenge.com website or through a PDF Form.
Continue to watch www.rotaxchallenge.com for updates as the season continues or to enter for your chance to be part of the Challenge. You can also find them at their new Facebook page by searching Rotax Challenge of the Americas.
About Rotax Challenge of the Americas:
The Rotax Challenge of the Americas series is a growing international Rotax Max Challenge series hosts over 140 drivers each weekend from all across the United States, Canada, and other surrounding countries. The six-round championship takes place from January to March with three weekend events, taking drivers to Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona with the season completing in Sonoma, California. Series champions in the four premier categories will earn tickets to the 2014 Rotax Grand Finals and the United States Rotax Grand Nationals. Click over to www.rotaxchallenge.com for more information.