EKN One-on-One: Andy Seesemann – Challenge of the Americas
Ninth season of winter west coast series expanding while keeping same focus and principles
The 2016 season is set to get underway and for the staff at EKN, that means heading back west to be part of the Challenge of the Americas. Started in 2008, the series has served as an international Rotax program for the winter months, giving the teams and drivers in the western half of North America the opportunity to prepare for the upcoming season, while competing for the prestigious tickets to the Rotax Grand Finals.
eKartingNews.com is once again providing its unmatched EKN Live coverage for the entire series, sitting trackside for all three weekends of the Challenge of the Americas. Each weekend, live audio will be broadcasted via the EKN Live page, along with daily reports, forum updates, and much more through the EKN Social Media pages of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
There is not a more unique, fun-going and personable character you will find in the karting paddock or the industry than Challenge of the Americas promoter Andy Seesemann. The Chicago native who calls California home began as many in the sport did, as a driver before moving into the industry as a mechanic, now shop owner and for over a decade, a race promoter. Seesemann is among the first and longest members of the Rotax community, but enjoys the sport in all aspects.
This year’s Challenge of the Americas is set for another trio of events, beginning at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Arizona (January 29-31) Pre-registration closes on January 15. The Phoenix Kart Racing Association in Glendale, Arizona (February 26-28) and the Simraceway Performance Karting Center in Sonoma, California (April 1-3) complete the program. Five Rotax categories (Senior, Junior, Masters, Mini, Micro) will be joined by Senior Shifter and Masters Shifter for the first time. It will also be the first year the Rotax EVO engine packages are utilized at the Challenge, as the series always retains the previous year’s rules from season to season.
We caught up with Seesemann just after the New Year began to discuss the upcoming Challenge of the Americas season and Rotax racing in general.
EKN: I remember sitting in the airplane hanger at The Track at Centennial outside Denver during the Rotax Grand Nationals as you made the announcement for the series. What was your outlook then on the Challenge of the Americas and how, if at all has it changed as you get ready to host the ninth season of the program?
AS: Wow, that was a long time ago. August of 2007.
As it was uncharted waters, I didn’t know what to expect when I created the Challenge of the Americas. I was in the middle of a successful run with the Gatorz Karting Cup, my local Rotax program, so COTA was a natural progression. I had confidence in my crew’s ability to run a race event, I just didn’t know how it would be accepted and supported by the customers. I was certainly excited and optimistic as to what the future held.
That being said, it has continued to ebb and flow over the years and weathered external economic factors, as well as the internal factors, like the infighting within the sport.
As for this year, I am as excited as ever to get things started. Every year is a new “Challenge” so to speak, and 2016 is no different. I put my COTA hat on in late summer and get to work putting the pieces into place for January.
EKN: Have you accomplished the goals you set out when it all began in 2008? And what are some of the new goals you have for the program moving forward?
AS: Many of my goals when I started out remain the same today.
I aimed to provide a very competitive, high quality, family friendly, well run series, where all competitors are treated equally and fairly, regardless of chassis or team affiliation.
We have most certainly accomplished that.
My main goal is to continue that path and to build my business as best I can. The addition of the shifter classes should help our growth for the future.
EKN: The shifter divisions is something new to the Challenge for 2016. The previous years, the focus has been exclusively on Rotax competition. The development of the new US Open bringing Rotax and shifterkarts together in 2015 has certainly helped to bring these new categories to the Challenge. What is your outlook on the Senior and Masters divisions in their inaugural season?
AS: I am optimistic after hearing some of the chatter on Facebook and emails from several of the drivers and teams.
Since we go to some of the best circuits on the West Coast, shifter drivers are interested in seeing what we have to offer. I know those that come will be happy to see how well our races are run and how well they are treated as customers. Most have been off for almost two months and will be itching to get back in the seat.
I know that two of our sponsors, Dallas Karting Complex and Energy USA, have a large shifter clientele and there are many West Coast shifter pilots that have called and emailed with questions regarding our rules and schedule. Obviously, we have never offered Honda classes, so we are an unknown commodity for shifter drivers.
I have seen a few of the names of the registered drivers in both our Shifter Senior and Shifter Masters classes, and some front runners in both classes, regardless of the organization and/or event, will be in attendance.
EKN: Big name drivers have never been an issue when it comes to the Challenge since its beginning. The most recent star to come out of the Challenge is last year’s Senior Max champion Luke Selliken, who went on to record the best finish by a United States driver at the Rotax Grand Finals in the Senior category, finishing second. Earning the championship is a feat of its own at the Challenge, but the ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals is a prestigious award to earn for that crown and keeps the racers coming year after year. You’ve been to the world championships a number of times, how would you explain it to someone that has never been there?
AS: I think that this year was our best showing as a complete team. We won the Nations Cup in 2013, but that was on our own soil. It was special winning it “across the pond”. Top to bottom, this was the best TEAM USA that we have ever had.
As far as the Grand Finals goes, there is nothing like it. From a logistics standpoint, the level of organization is unparalleled. From the almost 400 brand new karts, the circus tents for the paddock, power at every station, meeting tents and manufacturers’ row, to the temporary grandstands that are brought in that can hold over 1000 people and the number of personnel and professionalism of the staff. It is called the Olympics of Karting for a reason. The level of the facilities that host the events are among the best in the World and the officiating staff is the best there is. Seeing all the team colors and hearing 25-30 different languages in the paddock makes you realize that the World is a pretty big place.
I have told many people that they need to go and experience it at least once to really appreciate what Rotax is all about.
Race organizers around the World put on races with budgets of $50K, $100K, $200K, but this event probably has a budget of $5 Million.
And Rotax gives it away to the qualified drivers for FREE.
That is why its the best race on the planet.
EKN: Three of the best racing circuits in the United States remain part of the Challenge in 2016. Each has its own characteristics, and provide some of the best racing we and EKN see all season long. If you had to take one section from each to build a perfect track, what would they be? Also, if you had to select the best one as a driver, which would you choice?
AS: You’re absolutely correct, and that is why Musselman Honda Circuit, PKRA and Simraceway Karting Center have all been long terms partners with the Challenge of the Americas. They are all different and challenging in their own ways. MHC is almost a road race track, with long corners and sections where you can’t turn the wheel too much, or it will cost you time. PKRA is physically demanding track where you never stop turning the wheel and grip builds to very high levels. Simraceway is the best piece of karting real estate in the country. Its up on a bluff overlooking Napa Valley and the San Francisco Bay. Its an “Infinity Kart Track”, like an infinity pool.
My favorite section of MHC is off of turn one until you enter the esses. Exit one wide to maintain your momentum on the run up to two/three. Turn two is a fast ninety degree right that you must get correct, or you will shoot out too wide when you exit turn three, which is a left hander. If you run too wide, you will leave the door open to get passed into turn four. The run from three to four is very wide and long, so you can get a bit lost if you don’t find a some good markers during practice. Turns five and six are both rights, which you drive as one long arch until you enter the esses. That is a very fun section.
At PKRA, I like the section through turn 5 all the way into the hairpin that leads onto the main straight. Turn 5 is a very long left hander that rewards those who pick a good line, but also have a chassis setup that can handle the long turn without breaking loose midway through. When you come off the long left, you drive straight for a bit to get setup for a quick run through the fast esses that lead to the hairpin. You need to straight-line the esses and jump a curb or two to get the run perfect. After getting the kart back under control and back to the left, you need to have controlled and aggressive braking to be able to turn in properly for the right hander to get on the straightaway. You are basically turning left in some degree for almost 8 seconds.
Simraceway is one of my two favorite tracks to drive in the US. It rewards patience and throttle control more than most others. The harder you drive, the slower you go, which is not the case with some tracks. This one would be my overall favorite. I like so many different pieces of the track. I really like turn 1 and how it falls away on exit, so if you enter too fast or make an overly aggressive pass, you will end up in the grass on exit. I also like the run off tic-tac-toe back to the left hander, turn 6, and the run through the esses seven and eight up to turn 9. The flat-out right hand bend into the final right hand corner is really fun as well.
That being said, I haven’t decided which way we are going to run this track this year. I have a trip scheduled in early February to test the full track both ways to determine if we want to switch things up for 2016. Whichever way we decide to run, the US Rotax Nationals will run the same way.
EKN: The United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals are scheduled to make another swing in the west, for the first time right on the coast in Sonoma this August. Are you expecting your numbers to increase at the Challenge event in April because of this, and throughout the series as racers begin to prepare for what is the Rotax national championship event?
AS: Our entry numbers will most certainly increase for our finale in Sonoma this year with the Nationals being held there. Racers can race at the Nationals track in a high quality event against top caliber competition. It’s the perfect scenario for those who want to get some track time in prior to Nationals week.
EKN: Another thing that has been consistent is the hard work and effort put in by the entire staff at all Challenge events. Regular competitors know who is working what area of the event, and everyone comes in with a very friendly and approachable attitude. Is this year’s race staff carrying the same faces as we have seen in the past?
AS: Oh yes. Most of our staff has been with me for a long time. My guys and girls are also the National staff that works most of the Rotax races across the country, so the officiating is very consistent. That is very important to me, to have our rules enforced the same way across the country, no matter which big events our competitors compete in.
EKN: Regarding the Rotax ‘National’ staff, you are now in the position as United States Rotax Max Challenge Director. Of course we will see you at the national championship and the US Open events. Is this position also sending you over to the Florida Winter Tour and any other events in 2016?
AS: Yes, after Josh Smith left last year, I took on the role of USRMC Director. I have been a consultant to the program for many years, now I have a title. My schedule includes the US Open races, the US Nationals and the Grand Finals. I may travel to the final FWT race to welcome the first drivers that earn a ticket to be a part of Team USA, but I don’t have the time to be at every event during the winter. Organizing the Challenge of the Americas takes most of my time.
EKN: 2015 was a transition year for Rotax, with the introduction of the EVO engine package. With any new products, bugs need to be worked out. The one thing still remains consistent with Rotax, providing close and equal racing as we saw at the Rotax Grand Finals. Is there any information as to possible updates this season for the EVO engine?
AS: 2015 was a transition year for sure, and it looks like we have put all of that behind us. Rotax works very hard to make sure that they are developing the product without making older engines completely obsolete. While customers may have had to upgrade a clutch, a power valve, or a cylinder over the past several years, the basic engine design has remained consistent for 17 years. People forget that other brands have had three completely different engines over the same time period. The EVO rollout of 2015 was a huge undertaking by distributors and dealers worldwide, with the initial discounted Upgrade Kit offering and a free upgrade or two during the year. Over time, we found that there were some issues with the new wiring harness breaking, so Rotax listened and improved the quality of the product. Those new harnesses were utilized at the Grand Finals in Portugal, and I did not hear of one harness issue among the more than 350 karts there. That is impressive. There will be an exchange program in place for the harnesses starting at the Florida Winter Tour and the Challenge of the Americas. This should be the end of the cycle and we can move forward.
EKN: Thank you very much Andy for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Tucson for the opening weekend of the 2016 Challenge of the Americas.
AS: Thank you. Excited to see everyone in Tucson.