|EKN One-on-One: Andy Seesemann - Rotax Challenge of the Americas
| Andy Seesemann|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.us)
Just a week into the New Year and the karting community is ready to attack the 2013 season. One of the first official programs to begin the new season is the growing Rotax Challenge of the Americas program. The Ďpremier winter karting series on the left coastí will open up the year at the Musselman Honda Circuit on January 11-13. Teams are already traveling to Tucson, Arizona, getting in some testing time before the gates open for official practice on the 11th, with roughly 150 drivers expected to attend the event.
Four drivers will earn the chance to represent the series and their country at the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals event, as champions in the Senior Max, DD2, DD2 Masters, and Junior Max will be awarded a ticket to the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals, set for NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans this coming November. Other title winners will be awarded a trip to the U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals, set for Mooresville Motorplex in North Carolina.
The series is promoted by karting veteran and longtime Rotax supporter Andy Seesemann. Since the Rotax Max Challenge program journeyed to the United States, Seesemann has been both on the industry side and on the competitor side. He ventured into the promotion side with the Gatorz Karting Cup program in Southern California, and that led to the creation of the Challenge of the Americas for the start of 2008.
Since then, the program has seen steady growth in numbers and competition level. Seesemann takes great pride in the product he produces three weekends out the year, and competitors and teams show their appreciation by returning every year. EKN was able to track Andy down in the busy week leading up to the opening rounds in Tucson for a few questions.
eKartingNews.com: We are just a few days away from the start of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas 2013 season. What are some of the final things you are putting in place for the opening weekend in Tucson, Arizona?
Andy Seesemann: Pre-registration just wrapped up on the on December 28 and we are at 111 entries heading to the event, so things are looking good. We are just finalizing some of the final logistical things before we head over to Tucson, such as fuel, tires and make sure we have all our awards ready, in addition to all the staff that will be traveling to the event. Thereís nothing new or unpredictable that we have not dealt with in the past.
EKN: The Challenge has seen participation increase every year, nearly 20% in the past two seasons and 2013 appears to be near the same. What can you pin point as to the main reason why drivers are continuing to flock to the series?
AS: To be honest, when we first started it was new and people were excited to try. The next year, numbers dropped because of the economy. Really, it was also battling with some other programs as drivers tend to choose one or the other instead of both. Now, every year we have a few more people. I wouldnít say itís becoming more legitimate, but it's gaining a great following of talented drivers. Karters tend to have a Ďherdí mentality. When they see other people going in one direction, then they move that way. Every year, just a few more people have signed up. The biggest thing this year is we pulled one big team from Texas, Dallas Karting Complex, which used to go to Florida. That adds ten more drivers and entries. Thatís half of our increase right there because The Challenge has gotten to the point where itís attractive enough for drivers and teams to come out west, especially with the competition level.
| The Challenge could see 150 drivers at the opening round in Tucson this weekend|
(Photo: Sean Buur - Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: Is the internal Rotax ladder system another benefit to the growth of The Challenge, as we now have seen drivers who started racing in Mini Max and now have moved up to Senior?
AS: I would agree with that. Guys that have been with our program since the inception, such as Louie Pagano, Dakota Dickerson, Jonathan May, and a lot of our Masters drivers - Paul Bonilla, John Crow. The kids are great. Iíve watched them grow year after year. Now if Iím doing this long enough to where I see them become Masters drivers, I may have to retire (laughing). Itís definitely cool to see the kids move up, and the results they have been able to achieve prove this series is very competitive and a great place to race.
EKN: You have numerous operations supporting the program this year with class sponsorship, all respected companies within the industry. Do you think the growth of the series has helped in gaining series partners?
AS: Absolutely, Iím certainly grateful for our longtime guys to continue their support - Joey Guyon from Overdrive Motorsports, Buddy Rice Karting and Rolison Performance Group. Those guys have been with us since the beginning and every year sign up. You tend to lose a few every year, but itís gotten to the point that other karting businesses and shops begin to realize itís a valid enough program to invest in and bring their customers to it. Hopefully, they see that value and get a return on their investment through their programs.
EKN: Part of the growth is due to adding a fourth Rotax Grand Finals ticket as the DD2 Masters champion will now earn a direct spot to the ĎOlympics of Kartingí. That has translated into a number of drivers signing up for the class this year, which is great to see and I assume the reason for bringing in the ticket. Is the increase in numbers going to force any changes in the daily schedule?
AS: The schedule is going to stay pretty similar. Unfortunately we have not gotten to the point where we have 20 DD2 and 20 DD2 Masters to require us to split the class up. If the numbers warrant it to separate the main events, we may do that. At this point in time, most of the day will see those two classes will still be combined. Regarding the DD2 Masters group, the class has absolutely exploded. Just in our pre-entry numbers, that class has grown 250% - going from four to 10. There are a lot of big names coming this year. That class top to bottom is probably the toughest of the series, as there are no weak links as I think all 10 are capable of winning.
EKN: Will we see you in a DD2 this time around?
AS: (laughing) Not this year or at least not at The Challenge. I used to be able to jump in for a race or two, but 2010 or 2011 was the last time I could afford the time to be able to do that. At this point, the program keeps me busy throughout the day and Iím not able to strap on the helmet. If I chose to, Iíd have to do it later in the year. And if I do, Iíd have to lose some weight as the DD2 class is a heavier package and running at a lighter weight then the standard Rotax Masters class. Everyone who knows me, understands Iím not a featherweight, so Iíd have to lose some 20lbs, and I donít want to give up my guilty pleasures.
| This year, four champions will go to the Rotax Grand Finals set for New Orleans in November|
(Photo: Sean Buur - Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: You traveled to the Rotax Grand Finals this November in Portugal, and have been to previous editions as a spectator and mechanic. You saw first hand the activity of Team USA this year and all 19 drivers on track. What did you take away, from your point of view, on the performance of the drivers and the team in general?
AS: Iím always proud of our drivers and what they do over there. Itís a tough event to race at. You need to realize that Team USA is racing against the respective national champions of over 50 countries, against world champions, against guys like Ben Cooper who is not only a three-time Rotax Grand Finals champion, but a former Tony Kart factory driver for two years. He has a pretty good CV in the sport of karting. As the level of the entire field rises, the drivers we continue to send to the event are among the best. We continue, I suppose, to struggle with a few different things. One is that a lot of the other countries have strictly just Rotax, or at least the top level, such as Canada. So for a lot of countries, the Rotax drivers ARE Rotax drivers. Our drivers also race TaG, WKA, SKUSA, and other forms of karting. You are talking about a 15 hundredths in qualifying can move you down 10 positions on the grid at the Rotax Grand Finals. Some drivers who compete there are racing 30 times a year in a Rotax package versus just 10 times a year, it becomes a huge advantage. Regardless of what the differences are between the motors and the chassis you have, our guys just need to race more Rotax if they hope to do better over there.
EKN: Do you feel a summer series for Rotax would benefit that or just drivers competing at more regional and local events?
AS: I donít know if the current climate could support anything nationally. Right now, our program and the FWT benefit from the calendar we put on our events. In the middle of the year, you have other programs where the drivers tend to go. I think if you piled on more Rotax racing nationally, I donít think it would be supported to the level that it would need to survive. Only so many people can support national programs. Following the sport for a few decades, there are really only about 100 people in the country that can afford to go Ďnationalí racing.
EKN: So your philosophy is to have drivers just race the Rotax more throughout the year?
AS: Yeah. If you look at about half the guys that were at the Grand Finals for Team USA, they had just left the SKUSA SuperNationals. A lot of them flew from Vegas straight to Portugal. They were racing on MG tires with a different motor package. Now you send them to a foreign track, running a completely different tire, and completely different motor package is a tough task to ask a driver. You have to unlearn everything you did the previous week and go back into ĎRotax modeí while learning a new track and a new chassis. It takes a few days to do that, and by that time itís over. No matter how good you are, if you qualify 38th you have a long road ahead to make the main event.
EKN: I remember talking with some of the drivers there and they seemed to struggle adjusting to the kart and the tires during the first initial sessions. It makes since.
| Paul Bonilla earned the Masters title at The Challenge for Seesemann's FTK shop|
(Photo: Sean Buur - Go Racing Magazine)
AS: A good example is Parker Thompson. He raced The Challenge for a number of years so I know how talented the Canadian is, which he showed by driving to the podium this year at the Rotax Grand Finals. His team - Buddy Rice Karting - said that when he came down to test for the SuperNationals, he was off the pace for the first day or two because all he had been doing was racing Rotax all summer. It still took him a couple days at the SuperNationals to get up to speed with the TaG Junior package, and by the end he was among the quickest drivers on the track. Iím sure the exact same thing happened in Portugal. If you look, he wasnít a podium guy when he first got there, but he worked his butt off all week to get to that point. Iím guessing racing another program the week before did not help him.
EKN: A rules bulletin announced that The Challenge would be utilizing the 2012 Rotax regulations, rather than the recently released 2013 rules package. Is this a common thing with the series to use the previous yearís rules?
AS: Yes. Iíve done that for many years for the simple fact that Rotax does not release their rules package until after the Rotax Grand Finals. They have multiple meeting there with distributors and discuss the final details. In yearís past, the event was later in the year, so with the time crunch, Iíd rather not introduce something new. We just wanted to make sure everyone was up to speed and understood the small changes we made, such as the D1 tire for all the Junior categories and the addition of the Mini Max Rev Limiter. Bill Wright of the Florida Winter Tour and I agreed to run similar rules structures to mirror one another so we do not affect anyone trying to do both.
EKN: Is the addition of the Mini Max Rev Limiter from the MAXSpeed Group something you have been hoping to see for the category?
AS: Mini Max has gotten a bad rap over the years for the ďTurboĒ situation. Guys figured out that if they got the chassis and carburetion just right, you could create this ďTurboĒ effect that gain more RPM for the engine and more MPH. That scared a lot of people away from Rotax, people who should have been racing it. They elected to run elsewhere because of the voodoo that is ďTurboĒ. To get ďTurboĒ, it wasnít but hard work like anything else in racing. It was not voodoo. Iím very happy with the Rev Limiter. Iím very happy we will eliminate the ďTurboĒ, and produce some closer racing. More importantly, it will take the perception of ďTurboĒ away from the Rotax program.
EKN: This was the first year you served as the WKA Trustee for District 10. What have you taken away from your first 12 months of your term?
AS: Like anything with that type of board system, you are going to have a lot of personality that come from a lot different walks of like. You got guys who own businesses in karting, outside of karting, promoters, and just guys who love the sport. Itís interesting when you get all those people together for conference calls and personal meetings. It is interesting for me to see whatís going on in other parts of the country. Itís been different because a lot of the WKA business is east of the Mississippi, where sometimes I feel like we are on an island out here in southern California. I probably have the largest geographical district, so I call it the ĎLouisiana Purchase Westí (laughing). Itís been an eye opener. The challenge with groups like that is itís all volunteer work. We all give up our time for it. From the people that want to poke holes, they always want to say there is a conflict of interest. Well, in karting, there is no conflict of interest, there is just INTEREST, because if you didnít have an interest in the sport, you wouldnít spend all the time volunteering for it. That part sometimes upsets me because you hear people saying you canít vote on that, because there is a conflict of interest. Itís not a conflict, itís something I do every day and care about.
| Seesemann has competed in every Rotax Grand Nationals in the Masters class, finishing second in 2012|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - Studio52.us)
EKN: Overall would you say 2012 was a good year?
AS: Itís been a good year for us. Financially it is still a struggle out west. We have a lot of programs that are in flux, a couple strong clubs. We have SKUSA still strong. IKF was strong but seems to be struggling as of late. The Challenge has been great. The growth is always a positive. Our shop is still doing well where I go to work every single day. Itís been good.
EKN: Bonilla got Full Throttle Karting a couple of championships.
AS: Itís not been bad. Paul can legitimately say he was consistently the best Masters driver in the country. There are few maybe out east that could stake their claim as well, but he won the Challenge of the Americas Masters title, he won the SKUSA Pro Tour Masters title - winning two of the five races, finishing second in two others. Iím not sure he was not off the front row all season, as it was amazing how well he qualified this year. He put it on the pole at the Rotax Grand Nationals. If it were not for another competitor breaking a chain right in front of him that put him into the barriers, he was definitely a contender for that race. I think Paul can stake his claim that he was the best Masters driver in the United States.
EKN: And will we see you at the Rotax Grand Nationals in August behind the wheel once again?
AS: I guess inertia is hard to stopÖIíve been at every Rotax Grand Nationals, Iíve competed at every single one that had a Masters class, and itís hard to stop that streak. I always end up getting enough punches on the year to be able to qualify to go. I really donít have the time to be as competitive as I want to be, but I still like to get out there a mix it up.
EKN: Runner-up wasnít bad this past year was it?
AS: Wasnít too bad. First loser is still first loser. A lot of things happened in front of me that allowed for me to move up, but I was still there. When the checkered flag flew, I was the second guy to see it so it wasnít too bad.
EKN: Well, thanks Andy for your time and we will see you Tucson.
AS: Thanks and looking forward to seeing everyone at the opening rounds of the Rotax Challenge of the Americas.