Industry Insider: J3 Competition – The Return of Rotax
Karting industry veterans embrace global Rotax to re-introduce formula to United States
For the last 15 years, J3 Competition has been one of the foundation businesses in American karting. The operation is headed up by the three ‘J’s’ in Jim and John Giacomelli and Justin Stefani. In their early years, the shop competed with and imported the Kosmic chassis line, winning races and championships in a multitude of different series and engine platforms. The company began a bold venture in 2015 when they founded the COMPKART brand, which has exploded into an international marquee with customers in North/South America, Europe and Australia. In 2018, J3 Competition launched a new chapter when they entered into an agreement with BRP-Rotax to manage and distribute the Rotax program in the northern half of the United States.
We spoke with Justin last summer to get insight into J3’s plans for Rotax in the United States, and now that we are into the 2019 season, we decided it was a good time to connect once again. Stefani and his co-owners at J3 Competition have been working diligently to feed the re-growth of the Rotax brand and they have two major events on the schedule for 2019. The first event is the Stars and Stripes Trophy, which is scheduled for May 17-19 at the Utah Motorsports Campus.
EKN: Justin, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, your schedule may even be busier than ours. Before we delve into the challenges of running a two-part business effort, let’s lay the ground work in terms of how J3 Competition connected with BRP-Rotax to even begin discussing a potential relationship.
Justin Stefani: Over the years, we’ve been a big proponent of the Rotax platform and have understood the product’s place in the market and its concept, which has essentially taken the sport to the next level. As we transitioned our business in 2014 to include our own proprietary chassis line (COMPKART), our intent was to always ensure that the COMPKART brand had its own identity and resources. This allowed us the opportunity to take our J3 Competition brand back to distribution as well as product and client services, which meshes extremely well with the BRP-Rotax strategy of participant growth all the way to high-performance racing. Initial prospecting with BRP-Rotax began sometime in 2017 and eventually matured into what we have today; a solid unified structure that will allow the market to grow through providing cost-effective powerful racing engines and high performing dependable racing tires to the karting community within a proven racing structure.
EKN: One would assume that the initial planning discussions centered on the strategy for re-introducing the Rotax brand into the American karting community. Can you share with us the strategy and philosophy you’ll employ in this effort?
JS: The philosophy starts with the pillars in which we’ve always operated our business; high-quality products, integrity, knowledge, and unrelenting service to the consumer. This platform will provide the market with the existing confidence in J3 Competition and now we are fused with the world leader in two-cycle engine technology, BRP-Rotax. With our core objective based on growth, a large portion of our efforts are focused on the local and regional levels as we provide the Rotax product line to new and existing consumers with a service and knowledge platform that will be at the highest level.
Additionally, we have two events which we will promote this year – the Stars and Stripes ‘Trophy’ and ‘Open’ – both are centered around providing a high-level experience for the competitor both on and off the track, while awarding the top placing drivers the opportunity to compete in the 2019 Rotax Grand Finals event. These events will provide the international structure of technical and sporting insights to participants, which competitors will be able to take back to their local and regional events to start building the message and share their experiences about the Rotax and J3 platforms.
EKN: For those who are newer to the sport, I’d like to take the opportunity to ask you to detail the product line and the progression of the Rotax engine platform. I think it would be wise to provide the detail, considering the fact that you’re truly rebuilding the foundation for the formula.
JS: The Rotax product line pioneered the concept of TaG engines (Touch and Go), and additionally, they also brought the one-make long-life engine concept to the sport which has indefinitely changed the paradigm of the sport. With that said, the Rotax engine concept provides the perfect mix between performance, reliability and low cost of ownership, while providing engine products for the Micro category all the way to high-performing shifting engines categorized under the Rotax DD2 model of engines.
What many may or may not know is that Rotax, now incorporated under BRP-Rotax, is the world’s leader in all two-cycle engine technology and has a massive presence around the world in nearly 70 countries and was the number one option for 125cc karting engines in North America up until around 2015. The Rotax engine line transitioned through an update that did not go as smoothly as planned, however, with a strong stance and principle in the sport of karting, BRP-Rotax pushed forward and now has an unbelievable product that checks all the boxes the market has been asking for. The commitment shown by the BRP-Rotax factory to our sport is really something to marvel at and the new 125 Max evo engine line is not only a powerhouse, but one with uncompromised parity and longevity.
EKN: When the Rotax program originally broke cover in the United States in the early 2000s, the concept focused on having Service Centers in all the regions where engines would be ‘serviced’ as opposed to being ‘built’ or ‘blueprinted’. All engine service was intended to be the same. Please provide our readership with the new approach to engine servicing for the US market. Is the plan to return to the ‘Service Center’ model?
JS: Our biggest mission is to get back to the growth of our sport through the originating platform. We have initiated a new Service Center structure that will reward members who understand the vision and growth model of the Rotax platform. It’s important that we have trained and certified members servicing Rotax engines; the program is not open to anybody and everybody. Many of the old Service Centers are no longer in the program and we are happy about several of the new Service Centers we have initiated thus far, who are partially new to the sport and have a growth model that will service the market and grow the sport for everyone within the industry. Regarding ‘Blueprinting’, the engines are now produced with a technology most notably in the engines cylinder that provides a quality and consistency that is really unmatched and with today’s regulations of not allowing ‘tool machining’ to the engines surface(s), there is only general maintenance required. Of course, there is always the small adjustment to the carburetor, as well as making sure the engine is rebuilt to spec, but these are normal adjustments on all platforms.
EKN: J3 Competition announced its new partnership with BRP-Rotax in June of last year, and we know you guys have been working hard since then. Can you detail some of the successes you’ve had over the last eight months in re-establishing the Rotax program? We expect that supporting the Rotax brand within series that continue to offer the open-engine TaG categories will be one of your primary goals.
JS: Absolutely, we have firstly re-established somewhere around eight Service Centers and we have also initiated four new Service Centers to the market and this doesn’t mention the queue of members we are presently in talks with. This excitement shows that the market understands the position of Rotax and its place for growth and stability. Additionally, we have organized two key events providing Grand Final Tickets (May and August events). which will be very professional and focused heavily on not only competition, but education as well. We’ve launched a new website dedicated to Rotax Racing – www.RaceRotax.com – which is evolving every week with new details and information, so this is exciting as this will anchor our mission on Rotax. There’s been a lot and, of course, we created partnerships with existing racing clubs and series to have Rotax included in their platforms whereby we are focused on providing the service and products to allow the consumers to enjoy the sport and the existing race promoters the ability to operate their business models independently.
EKN: You have two major events on your schedule for 2019 – the Stars and Stripes Trophy and Stars and Stripes Open. The Trophy event is scheduled for May 17-19 at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Salt Lake City. Please give us a full overview of the event, and other events / regional / club programs that you’re excited about.
JS: These two events will be our ‘pinnacle events’ offering Grand Finals tickets. However, we are probably more excited about our involvement from the east coast all the way to the northwest. We have effectively setup four regions whereby we will see some great racing action with the Rotax engine platform. The regions are – Northeast, Mid-American, Mountain, and Northwest. We have great partners in these areas who have an aligned vision with ours. These regions are providing the knowledge and ‘higher level’ regional events that present our loyal members opportunities to jump out of their local tracks and travel a couple hours to enjoy some added competition and structure. It’s really going to be fun to watch this concept mature, not to mention we have reinstated the national point structure again for Rotax Racing, another pioneered concept from the BRP-Rotax brand!
EKN: Let’s wrap up today’s discussion with a key component to the new Rotax community in the US, and that’s the new online home – racerotax.com. Talk a little about the website.
JS: The site has really been evolving nicely over the past weeks and will continue to do so. The site offers items such as the full Rotax national event schedule, Stars and Stripes entry, Stars and Stripes event information, technical videos, MoJo tire details, and Race Team Service providers. We are continuously working to make the site a one-stop high-value user-experience. We are pushing the message of the Rotax program using the site as well as through some of our new marketing initiatives, including EKN.
EKN: Thank you, Justin. Can you cap this off with all the information that karters would need to follow J3 Competition and Rotax on social media, and who to contact you directly?
JS: Our @J3Competition handle is focused solely on the Rotax effort, so everyone can follow this handle on all social platforms and don’t forget to use the new hashtag #RaceRotax to make sure your Rotax experience is included on our platforms, we love to see the sport growing as well as drivers and families enjoying themselves!
Thanks again for the time on behalf of J3 Competition and, after a long cold winter in much of the USA, we wish all the karters out there a safe and fun season of racing.