Challenge of the Americas Champions Taking on the World
Four drivers set to represent west coast international series and United States of America at 2015 Rotax Grand Finals
The first drivers to join the Team USA roster for 2015 Rotax Grand Finals came via the Rotax Challenge of the Americas program. Held during the winter months of the season, the international Rotax Max Challenge series hosts three events, welcoming drivers from all over North America as well as other parts of the world, fighting for race wins and tickets to the ‘Olympics of Karting’. The series was created in 2007, introduced to the karting community at the US Rotax Max Challenge in Colorado, and has steadily grown each season to welcome a ninth year.
The 2016 program travels to three facilities in the Arizona, California region of the United States. This year’s schedule begins later into January compared to year’s past, allowing for teams and drivers more time to prepare for a championship run. The opening rounds are scheduled for January 29-31 at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona – one of the most challenging courses in the country. Three weeks off before the second stop takes the program back to familiar grounds, the Phoenix Kart Racing Association facility on February 26-28 in Glendale, Arizona. The season will come to a close on April 1-3 at the popular Simraceway Performance Karting Center – site of the 2016 US Rotax Grand Nationals. Entries to the three events are expected to go live on December 1 at rotaxchallenge.com.
Before the 2016 season gets underway, this year’s title winners in the Senior, DD2, Masters and Junior Max categories have unfinished business – competing at the 2015 Rotax Grand Finals. All four drivers will represent the series and the United States of America at the Rotax world championships in their respective four categories. Of the four, two are returning drivers to Team USA, while the other two are making their first appearance to represent the Red, White, and Blue at the Rotax Grand Finals.
Luke Selliken – Senior Max
The path for Selliken has gone from indoor karts, to racing on the world stage. Selliken began racing indoor karts at a young age, and made the transition to competition karting. His path crossed with Mike Rolison of Rolison Performance Group, and the young pupil has emerged as one of the top drivers in the country. Selliken had a breakout season in 2012 as a Junior, coming up just short of the COTA championship. Luke was vice champion once again in 2013, moving up to the Senior ranks last season. While he fought for podium finishes, a championship was out of reach.
Going into the 2015 COTA program, Selliken was among the top contenders. Three podium finishes in the first four rounds landed him among the championship chasers going into the series finale. A second runner-up result of the season put him just a few points out of the championship lead entering the final round. Every point mattered, from qualifying to the Prefinal and Final in the sixth round. Selliken drove his way past his championship rival, finishing one spot better to earn the title by four points. The championship gave Luke his first ever ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals to compete in the Senior division.
Luke drove to a fourth place at the US Rotax Grand Nationals in Kershaw, South Carolina, garnered two podium results at the Can-Am Karting Challenge program in three series starts for 2015, and just finished third at the US Open finale in Las Vegas. Selliken has progressed his way into Super Late Model competition in the Pacific Northwest, learning the ropes of oval racing. That, however, has not taken away the fact of racing for a world championship in Portugal.
“It is really special going to the Rotax Grand Finals for a second time. The Grand Finals are the culmination of all the hard work we do and it is really special take my guys from RPG to see what we can do. Wes, Roli and Kevin will all be there so it should be a great week of racing. I also think that racing the Challenge of the Americas is great preparation for the Grand Finals because three of the top drivers in the series went on to be on the Team USA roster this year, so that just shows the strength of that field. As for goals, the Grand Finals is a step-by-step kind of weekend and you have to make sure everything goes right before you think about results. Once in the Finals, anything can happen so right now my goal is to get comfortable with the kart and track to get into the Final. I would love to build on my eight place in New Orleans as a Junior with another top-10 as a Senior.”
Sting Ray Robb – Junior Max
The pride of Idaho – Sting Ray Robb – can be considered one of the top Junior drivers in North America today. Robb finished his Cadet career in 2013 as one of the top young pilots, winning the Mini Max championship at the Challenge. His rookie season as a Junior driver was strong, finishing fourth in the championship chase at the Challenge, among the top contenders at the US Rotax Grand Nationals, and earned the Can-Am Karting Challenge vice-champion position to earn a ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals in Spain. In his first appearance at the world championship, Robb qualified for the main event, fighting his way to a 27th result in a rain-soaked main event and placing as the top driver from the United States of America.
This season has been one of dominance for Sting Ray. Robb opened up the Challenge of the Americas season with victory in Round One, followed by a runner-up to close out the weekend in Tucson. Phoenix was very similar, producing the same results, except for sweeping the fourth round. The points however still favored his title rival going into the finale weekend. Sting Ray responded with a Prefinal/Final victory on Saturday, earning fast time in qualifying on Sunday to lock up the championship and ticket to the 2015 Rotax Grand Finals.
Robb has been busy preparing for this year’s world championship event. A week after locking up the COTA championship, Robb clinched the Florida Winter Tour title. This summer, Sting Ray drove to the championship at the Can-Am Karting Challenge, utilizing a Praga chassis that will be the spec-frame for this year’s Rotax Grand Finals. That championship earned him a third Rotax Grand Finals ticket on the season, grabbing a fourth possible entry to the world championships as Robb finished runner-up at the US Rotax Grand Nationals. The season has included international racing as well, competing at the Rotax Euro Challenge event in Genk, Belgium. Sting Ray closed out the US Open in Las Vegas with a victory, earning one of the first tickets to the 2016 Rotax Grand Finals. Robb missed a full day of practice after competing at the Skip Barber Racing School Karts to Cars Scholarship Shootout, placing second and earning $15,000 to compete in the racing series in 2016. He now readies for Portugal and the 2015 event, with a strong chance at fighting for the title.
“I’m very excited to get to go to the Rotax Grand Finals again this year with Team USA after having attended last year’s event. I’ve been working hard to better my skills since and I’m hoping that Portugal will crown off the amazing season that I’ve already had this year.”
Sabre Cook – DD2
Rotax racing has seen a number of female drivers stand out and be among the top drivers in their respective categories. The latest is DD2 driver Sabre Cook, who will compete at the Rotax Grand Finals for the first time. A Rotax competitor dating back to the Junior ranks in 2009, Cook has developed up the ladder system going to Senior and now into the DD2 division. Sabre’s first year in the DD2 category came in 2012, as she came up one spot short of qualifying for Team USA at the US Rotax Grand Nationals in South Bend. After multiple attempts at the Challenge, the US Rotax Grand Nationals and the Pan-American Challenge, Cook continued to miss out on the opportunity to compete at the world championship.
The 2015 Rotax Challenge of the Americas DD2 category was not stacked with numbers, but with talent. Cook’s lead rival was 2014 Team USA member Michael Ilavia. The two swapped victories at the opening event in Tucson. Cook got the victory in Round Three while veteran Matt Jaskol broke up the party, beating both Sabre and Ilavia in Round Four at Phoenix. Cook entered the series finale in Sonoma with a slim lead over Ilavia in the standings. Ilavia swept Round Five, and took the qualifying bonus and Prefinal win on Sunday to make it a winner-take-all in the Final. An epic 25-lap battle came down to the end with Cook determined the winner, and the champion.
Sabre, an accomplished shifterkart driver since moving up to the Senior ranks, has a shifterkart national championship to her credit, and finished as the top United States driver in the US Open point standings. This will be the first Rotax Grand Finals start for Cook.
“I’m very excited to be going to represent the USA for the first time at the World Finals. I’ve heard many times it is a great experience to have so I plan to take in all I can and try to enjoy every aspect of it. My goal for the event is first and foremost make the main event. I would be very pleased with a top-5 finish but I am trying to not put too much pressure on a specific result as I hear luck and what equipment you get can play a big role in how your week goes. No matter what happens I am grateful to the Challenge of the Americas for the opportunity and I will work my hardest to represent Team USA in the best way possible.”
Paul Bonilla – Masters Max
The Masters category has always been a division that Team USA has been in the hunt. The inaugural DD2 Masters podium at the Rotax Grand Finals in 2008 saw USA driver Curtis Cooksey in the runner-up position, still holding the best result to date in the category. This year’s Team USA roster in DD2 Masters is stacked with talent, including first year competitor Paul Bonilla. The SoCal driver is no stranger to the sport, as a longtime competitor and 10-year Rotax racer. Bonilla is a two-time US Rotax Grand Nationals top qualifier (2008, 2012) and is the only ever winner of the Rotax Masters division at the SuperNationals event (2007).
Bonilla was known for coming up just short of the big victory or the major championship, until 2012. Bonilla put together a solid string of podium results and finished with his lone victory in the six-race championship to earn the Challenge of the Americas Rotax Masters title. Bonilla tried his hand at DD2 Masters in 2013, and returned back to the Rotax Masters division when Challenge of the Americas announced a Rotax Grand Finals ticket to the series champion in 2015. Paul won the opening three rounds of the Challenge to position himself as the point leader. John Crow was his lead challenger, winning Round Four. Bonilla however put together three straight runner-up results in the Finals to secure the championship. His worst finish was a fourth place in the Round Six Prefinal, finishing top-three in the other Prefinals and all six qualifying sessions.
This will be Bonilla’s first trip to the Rotax Grand Finals, joining a roster of talented Masters drivers set to take on the world in Portugal.
“It means a great deal. Early on the funnel for Masters drivers to get to the Worlds was much tighter for us here on the west coast. While winning a series championship like Challenge of the Americas was a feat in itself, our only opportunity was to earn a ticket by winning the US Rotax Grand Nationals. Many top Masters drivers have lead or nearly won the USRGN but have fallen short, myself included. To finally go to the Grand Finals has been a life long dream that started in 2005 when I bought my first FR125. Actually 10 years before that, if you consider the first time I raced a kart and had heard about others who had gone off to Europe to race. The goal of course is to WIN (laughing). Honestly, we’ll have to break it down and take it a day at a time. Obviously we hope to qualify well but mostly we’re looking to stay out of trouble in the heats and start the main more forward than back.”
Karting enthusiasts can follow the progression of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas drivers along with the rest of the Team USA roster as they battle drivers from around the world at the 2015 Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal through the website rotax-kart.com. Live timing and live video will be available during the November 8-14 event at the Kartodromo Internacional Algarve. More information on the rest of Team USA can be found HERE. Team Canada information can be found HERE.
Tuesday, November 10
Three (3) Practice Sessions
Wednesday, November 11
Two (2) Practice Sessions
Thursday, November 12
Qualifying Heats 1 & 2
Friday, November 13
Qualifying Heats 3
Second Chance Heat
Saturday, November 14
Event pages for the 2016 Rotax Challenge of the Americas program will be updated soon with host hotel and other related information. Series promoters are encouraging competitors to book their hotel rooms ahead of time to ensure confirmation. For more on the Rotax Challenge of the Americas program, be sure to visit rotaxchallenge.com.