EKN EXCLUSIVE: Andy Seesemann – Challenge of the Americas
The first words from series promoter after announcing the move to the Rok Cup USA format
The 2017 Challenge of the Americas program came to an end over the April 7-9 weekend in Sonoma, Califorina. The event marked the end of the 10th season, along with the promotion of Rotax Max Challenge categories in the series. Prior to the event, the MAXSpeed-BRP announcement of their relationship termination sent the discussion in motion as to the future of the Challenge of the Americas. On Thursday, April 27 it was confirmed that Challenge promoter Andy Seesemann is moving forward into a new era, partnering with the Rok Cup USA program.
Seesemann has been with the US Rotax Max Challenge program since the very beginning, and has carried on as its longest supporter until now. Vortex is not something that is new to Seesemann and his Full Throttle Karting kart shop. As a driver, you have competed with a Vortex Rok TT in TaG Master events in the past, along with servicing customers utilizing the older version of the TaG motor.
Rok Cup USA has very little presence in the western half of North America, and now Seesemann has the role of expanding the brand beginning today. We were able to reach him following the announcement to get his views on the end of the Rotax relationship and the new future for him and the Challenge of the Americas.
eKartingNews.com: First off, the 10th season of the Challenge of the Americas came to a close the first week of April. It was another great season for the program and we saw five champions crowned, including three that earned tickets to the 2017 Rotax Grand Finals as part of Team USA. Give us a recap of your thoughts on the 2017 Challenge program.
Andy Seesemann: Thanks David. Yes, 2017 was a great season in some respects, and a pretty big challenge in others. The racing was a phenomenal as ever. The pride I have in our program and the respect that I have for our competitors and teams is at an all time high, and the atmosphere in our paddock was as positive and family friendly as it has ever been. Obviously the numbers showed the dissatisfaction that many of the competitors felt towards the Rotax engine platform and our final event had some weather issues. Almost 60 year old Billy Cleavelin going 6 for 6 in Masters was incredible to watch. Christian Brooks going back to back in Senior, our third Senior Max driver to do so after Wes Phillips and Phillip Arscott, was amazing. The emergence of young Junior Max drivers Jak Crawford and Hannah Greenemeier is exciting to see, watching these two young drivers start in our Micro program, Jak ran the table in 2014, going 6 for 6 in winning our Micro championship, and progress to their current spots at the top of the Junior Max field is something I take pride in. Jak will represent The Challenge at the Rotax Grand Finals in Junior Max, alongside his Nash Motorsportz teammate Brooks, and the “elder statesman” Billy Cleavelin.
EKN: The Rotax Grand Finals is among the best events to take part in, and as we all know, you have to earn a spot to compete at the event. Since the beginning, I don’t recall you not being involved in some fashion with Team USA. With the new direction for you and the Challenge, along with the unknown status of the US Rotax Max Challenge program, what participation will you have with this year’s Team USA
AS: I am not sure what the future holds in that respect. Obviously, I will help our three ticket winners get through the CIK licensing process if they need it, and answer any questions they may have. Christian is attending for the 4th straight year, and Billy is returning as well, so they have an understanding of the process. Jak attended in 2015 and actually raced in the Mini Max festival, so he has some experience at the event as well. With SRA taking over US distribution, I would imagine that Patrick Moreau will play a big part in working with Team USA. He has been the point man for Team Canada for many years, and will be a tremendous resource for the team.
EKN: I am sure that as a longtime Rotax customer, service center, promoter and supporter, the last few months have been a very strange and challenging time. Not only for you, but for your customers as well. What can you say reflecting on the longtime relationship with BRP-Rotax, and of course the many people involved in the United States Rotax Max Challenge?
AS: Yes, I have been involved with Rotax since the day the first engine hit the US in the fall of 2000. Its been a good run for sure. The early years were great and from 2004-2012, the program was amazing. Unfortunately, the manufacturer could not keep the quality control at a reasonable level on a few parts and made some critical errors the past couple of years. I cherish the last 16 years, as my business has been built around that product. I have worked with a lot of great people in the program and many, even those that are no longer involved with it, or not in karting at all, still remain some of my closest friends. I reflected for a long time as I was making this decision, as 16 years of loyalty is a long time. Something pretty rare in life, and especially in this sport and industry. It is time however, for a new chapter and I am extremely excited to turn the next page and get to work!
EKN: Loyalty is something that is becoming very rare in karting today. Now looking at the big announcement on Thursday. You are moving the Challenge to Rok, replacing Rotax, and becoming the point-person for the western half of the United States for Vortex and Bridgestone tires. What is it that you see in Rok Cup program that led you down this path?
AS: The Rok Cup program has been in existence for several years, but never really made it to the Western United States. SKUSA ran the Mini Rok for a few years, but that obviously ended with the IAME relationship. That was a nice program, but there was never an effort towards the entire program, Micro to Shifter. With the latest developments in the Rotax program over the past couple of years, culminating with the dissolution of the relationship between MAXSpeed and BRP, the future of Rotax was obvious to me.
Some of the issues are a result of BRP not being a ‘karting company’. Rok is a karting company through and through. Karting is everything and the only thing they do. They can respond to issues in a timely manner, they can make decisions expeditiously and most importantly, karting is not only their business, its their passion. Those qualities match my expectations to the ‘T’. Vortex has a great platform in place, from 7-year-olds to 70+ year-old drivers, from Micro Rok engines to the Rok Shifter. Couple this with the Rok Cup International Final race and a growing international program, and you can see that the decision was a ‘no-brainer’. Rok has a solid tire partner in Bridgestone as well, which was also very attractive.
EKN: Looking at the 2018 Challenge of the Americas – outside the addition of Rok and removal of Rotax categories – what do you expect, if anything, will change with the premier winter series on the west coast?
AS: I cannot see much changing, except for the power plant and the excitement level. The Challenge of the Americas has the reputation of being a high quality, fair, competitive, drama free, family friendly and fun series for karters to come enjoy and race. That will never change. That’s what my staff and I pride ourselves in, and those qualities will always set us apart. That being said, the move to Rok will certainly change a couple of things.
For one, I expect the series to start growing again. Just a couple of years ago, we averaged over 130 drivers in basically 5 classes (Micro to Masters). I fully expect within a year or two to hit that number again and surpass it. Every year, I heard from drivers and teams that they would like to come, but they would not invest in the engine program. That obstacle has now been removed. The move to Rok shows those potential customers that they do have another venue to attend and enjoy their sport.
Part of our contract with Rok also stipulates that there will be a Rok representative at each event to support the teams and end users with the product. This is a big commitment from Rok Cup USA and shows that they are fully vested in supporting the western half of North America. Finally, the awards packages have been increased. Not only do we have tickets to the Rok Cup International Final in Junior, Senior and Masters, but also in Mini and the Rok Shifter categories as well. The Micro Rok champion will earn a ticket to the Rok Cup USA Finals event. This means that every category has a big prize for the champion and this should bring out the best to come and try to earn the right to represent the Challenge of the Americas in Italy.
EKN: You have a number of loyal racers and teams that have invested a ton of time and money into their Rotax programs. The current Rok Cup USA trade in program ends on April 30. Do you expect to offer something similar to those specific racers that have competed in the Challenge previously with the same options to help jump start their commitment to the 2018 Challenge?
AS: Absolutely. We are currently working out those details, but there will be a couple of steps in the program. There will be a trade in program put into place in the near future, similar to what Rok has done for the month of April nationwide. In the late fall, we will also introduce a package program for the 2018 Challenge of the Americas, which will include entry to all three rounds and an engine for one great price. This won’t be a trade in program, so if a customer wants to trade an engine in, they will need to do so when we roll out the trade in program in the next couple of weeks.
EKN: The announcement also mentioned the ‘Rokken the West Coast’ event to help jump start the Rok Cup USA program. Can you give us any early details about the event, as we know the summer is a busy time on the karting schedule?
AS: Yes it did. Garett and I are looking at options to put on an event some time in the late Summer to give the West Coast Rokkers a fun race to jump start 2018. Dates are scarce and options are limited, so we will make a decision within the next month or so. If we cannot find a suitable date and location that will actually add to the karting community instead of making racers make a tough choice, we won’t do it.
EKN: One of the things that helped the Rotax Max Challenge program is the promotion of the program at the local level. Have you begun to set out some goals for the Rok Cup USA program in the western half of North America?
AS: We are committed to working with other programs instead of creating adversarial relationships. This certainly starts with local events and grassroots racers. We want to play nice with others to offer options to the racers, and the local level is where it all starts. There are too many national programs that orphan the local racer. We are committed to breaking that cycle. There will be an announcement or two in the near future that kicks off our local focus.
EKN: Thank you Andy for taking the time to speak with us and we look forward to hearing more news about the Challenge and your relationship with the Rok Cup USA program.
AS: Thank you, DC. I’m excited to get started on this new project and begin the next chapter of the story of the Challenge of the Americas.