Nick Leone

Rotax played a key part in the globalization of modern day karting

The vision of a universal platform opened up an influx of true international racing. Can it prosper again in the U.S.?

Once a dominant force in the United States karting scene, the Rotax branch in America has entirely fallen off over the past 12 months. As the saying goes “everyone's time comes,” it appears Rotax hasn't quite accepted that fate and is giving it another go, with a more in-detailed approach (rightfully so might I add). Only time will tell if these added details will pay off, however with the upcoming Rotax Grand National and US Open, we won't have to wait long to reunite with a not so long-lost friend. 

In the eyes of many, a driver who reigned champion amongst the national Rotax level was considered by many as the next thing out of the United States karting scene. If we take a look in years past, drivers such as Oliver Askew, Juan Manuel Correa, Kyle Kirkwood, Santino Ferrucci so on and so forth have all stated their dominance within the Rotax fields. Fast forward to present day, we see them fighting their ways up the motorsport ladder of Formula One and IndyCar.

Now this is not to say that Rotax is the sole reason for this, or that it is the elite series in the world. It simply indicates that the proper sanctioning and development surrounded by Rotax and the environment that was created had a certain discipline to it. The competition was cut throat, the margin for error was minimal, the tire compounds made it challenging, the vast traveling of venues and world final system allowed drivers to break out of their shells and shine. In the United States, it remains one of the only series` to provide a level of competition that ranged from club to international with room for a driver to grow and expand his or her talent. 

Another interesting aspect of the Rotax program in the United States was its “punch system.” As Rotax ranged from club, to regional, to national, to international, there was a way to progress to each level. For a driver to compete in a national event, they were required to receive two “punches” to move forward and compete in said national. To do so, they would have to compete in two regional events and or a shootout. From a business perspective, it is effectively brand marketing in its finest form. You must compete in “x” amount of Rotax races, to compete in the top tier in the United States, and from there given an adequate performance you may progress to the international level. Some were in favor of this system, where others were not. However at the end of the day, it without a doubt gave regional level drivers a taste of national competition at home. To go further into this, if a driver did not have the funds or was new to the sport, he or she would race with national level drivers in regional events as they attempted to get their punches to compete. This both grew local races, and allowed young developing drivers to test their talents for what would lie ahead of them, given they decide to take their racing nationally. 

Perhaps we can address Rotax as a whole under the category of “borderless racing”. By this we mean, from the smallest towns in your country, to the largest cities in the world, Rotax has created a globalized platform around the globe for drivers to compete and grow. This also applies for racing teams, as there is a wide variety and range in the levels of support and services. From a local track team who teach newcomers the way of the sport, to those with international services producing the next Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen. Rotax has set up and successfully maintained an atmosphere for limitless growth, allowing all participants an opportunity to progress. 

Internationally speaking at Rotax Grand Finals, we have seen the case time and time again where an adequately performing driver would receive factory support following the event. As we all know, motorsport is an expensive sport and to even think about racing internationally may be dangerous to the light hearted. Upon winning a Grand Finals ticket, occasionally if the driver truly stood out in the classes assigned chassis, the following season we would notice some brand support or even a full ride being given to the driver. A driver who's never driven the chassis, standing out to a crowd of thousands, on and international scene, may present itself as a great opportunity for a young racer. 

It has not been all that long since the last Rotax event in America, however it has been quite some time since the last full season of proper Rotax racing in the U.S.A. Will this be the true “relaunch” of a series that has provided some fantastic moments?