Karting the United States is about to take a major turn, and it’s not around any racetrack. About two months ago it was announced that ROTAX and MAXSpeed Entertainment, the North American distributor and race series promoter for the brand, would be severing ties, and subsequently, the MAXSpeed organization was dissolved completely. This left many people wondering what the next big engine brand to rise in karting would be, and that answer was quickly given. Vortex and the ROK Cup USA program swiftly picked up the pieces and began shaping a plan to capitalize on this gap left behind in the industry.
As rumors circulated and speculations grew, many in the industry saw this coming as an inevitable possibility, especially given the timeline of events leading up to the partnership termination between MAXSpeed and ROTAX. Just a week prior to the official statement from ROTAX, it was announced that Garrett Potter, former Director of Operations for MAXSpeed, would be transitioning into that same position for ROK Cup Promotions. And just one day before the split was made public, ROK Cup Promotions released an engine trade-in program geared almost exclusively towards ROTAX engines. Both of these moves were a clear indication that there was trouble in the water for ROTAX, and that the tide was already beginning to turn to ROK Cup Promotions and the Vortex engine program as the next wave of spec racing for the sport.
While ROTAX shifted its product distribution to SRA Karting in Canada as a temporary move, the question on everyone’s minds was, what would the future of the brand and its race series be in the United States? MAXSpeed owned the rights to the extremely popular Florida Winter Tour series, and had recently developed its own ROTAX-based series US Open as well. What was to become of these two series? The latter, it seems, is being absorbed back into the traditional US ROTAX MAX Challenge Grand Nationals, set for the end of June, with no further news about what’s in store for the remainder of the year or 2018. The former was secured by ROK Cup Promotions, of course, as they purchased the rights to the series not more than a month after the initial news broke.
Florida Winter Tour in the hands of ROK Cup Promotions is a natural transition for the series, given that the Vortex engine package has already played a key role in one of the race weekends. The ROK program was introduced into the Florida Winter Tour three years ago, and in that time has seen its numbers grow, while ROTAX entries have declined. Many speculate this was due, in part, to the release of the EVO upgrade to the ROTAX engine program in 2014, a costly and ineffective update that left many teams and drivers struggling both from a financial and a performance standpoint. ROK has already announced dates for 2018, with a ROK weekend already set in place, but has yet to confirm what will take place on the second race weekend.
With Potter, a seasoned karting veteran and experienced race organizer, now at the helm of the ROK Cup program in the United States, it will be interesting to see how the brand’s growth fares. While they have seen a slow and steady increase in the five years they have been present in US Karting, Potter seems to be taking an aggressive approach to expand their dealer distribution network and secure partnerships with key race series, in particular on the West Coast. They’ve already announced a partnership with West Coast series Challenge of the Americas, previously a ROTAX series, for the 2018 season, as well as adding ROK classes to the Sanazaru Games Karting Championship. However, the question of entries looms as Vortex does not currently have any presence in these new territories. Both of the series partnerships piggyback on new distributors being established and engine trade-in programs offered, with the hopes that drivers will have no choice but to trade-in their ROTAX engines for Vortex if they want to compete. ROK Cup has also committed to providing dedicated on-track support at all race events to help smooth the transition to the Vortex engine.
While all of this could certainly hurt ROTAX and their numbers, there’s another wrench that may possibly be thrown in: SKUSA and its IAME engine platform. SKUSA is by far the biggest race series on the West Coast, with a huge influence and presence from the club level events to its National SKUSA Pro Tour. And SKUSA is not shying away from its expansion across the United States, either. They made the move to the Midwest two years ago, and established an additional WinterNationals event in 201 that was held in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Most certainly, ROTAX is not going away completely, but they need to quickly strategize and regroup to determine what will be their next move. As it always happens in karting, when one program fades away another quickly comes to take its place. Only time will tell if ROK and its Vortex program will be able to do just that.