Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals
EDKRA Member Rob Kozakowski Shares Personal Experience
Congratulations to Rob Kozakowski for being 1 of 17 drivers from Canada that qualified to race at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Bahrain!
Team Canada Finished P3 in Rotax Grand Finals Nations Cup.
Q: How did you qualify to be a competitor at the Grand Finals?
Rob - "I was runner-up to the EDKRA’s Jared Freeston at the Canada Final event in Chilliwack in DD2 Masters. Unfortunately, Jared wasn’t able to make the trip, so I was “next up” and jumped at the opportunity to go."
Q: What was the best advice you got before the race?
Rob - "I’ve been lucky to have made lots of friends over the years who offered advice based on their past experiences (Dowlers, Dunning, Freeston, Campbell, Choquer, etc). We had some motor and chassis issues early on, and the advice we got to not be afraid to take the kart to the Rotax and Praga tents to make sure things were properly sorted proved to be real important. The other advice that I took to heart was to enjoy the entire experience, because it really is a one-of-a-kind event and you never know if you’ll be able to experience it again. "
Q: What would you do differently now that you’ve run the race?
Rob - "I wish I could have got some seat time in the months leading up to the race. I had entered the SKUSA Supernationals in Las Vegas, but with only a week and a half between events, and the Covid situation, it just wasn’t feasible to do that race before heading to Bahrain."
Q: How challenging was it fitness wise?
Rob - "I focused a lot this year on improving my overall health and fitness, including losing about 40 lbs, and I’ve been working out regularly all year long, so the physical demand wasn’t a big problem, other than a bit of arm pump fatigue in the longer Pre Final and Final from a lack of recent seat time."
Q: How challenging was it technical wise?
Rob - "We were a bit unlucky to have had some motor problems that cost us valuable time in 4 of our 7 practice sessions. The Rotax crew were eventually able to get things running properly with a change of fuel pump, and a new wiring harness. Fortunately, all the Rotax motors are so even out of the box, that all we needed to sort out on the motor was jetting and gearing. The bigger problem from the motor trouble was that it took a little longer to get the chassis working to my liking and shaking off the driving rust. While the chassis was different from what I’m used to, I was able to get some advice from Joey Guyon on things to try, based on his experience with the IPK/Praga chassis.
In the end, we had to move the seat from where we’d normally run it in the OTK karts to get the balance we needed to drive consistently. All that said, I was lucky to have Pier-Luc Ouellette as a teammate (a 2-time Grand Finals winner in DD2, and this year’s polesitter and runner-up in DD2 Masters), and the knowledge of Ben Cooper (a 3-time Grand Finals winner) as Team Captain. Overlaying data with PLO proved exactly what I was feeling behind the wheel – I was gaining a tenth by over-driving into the corners, and losing 3 tenths on exit because of it. While I didn’t have the pace or talent to run at the front like PLO, it was interesting to see that he made a gearing change for the Final that helped him, based largely on my input from battling in the main pack during the heat races and Pre Final.
Q: How do you set yourself up for success psychologically for a big stage amidst the travelling?
Rob - "The most important thing I did was I got to Bahrain 2 days earlier than we had to be there to get a chance to recover a bit from the 30 hours of travel. I suppose I’ve done enough racing over the years that I tend not to get overwhelmed by the size of an event. While it was my first Grand Finals, over the years I’ve started races next to 3 different Grand Finals champions, so I didn’t feel like I was out of place trying to compete with the best DD2 Masters racers in the world. "
Q: How did you study the track and prepare before hand? Did you make notes about specific corners?
Rob - "I watched some on-board footage of the track that I found on YouTube, and I downloaded a karting sim with the track that I was never able to get to work properly. On the check-in / registration day, we were able to get a few laps in a rental kart which was good because the video and sim just couldn’t replicate the elevation changes and sightlines that the track offered. Overall, the track was pretty high speed, but maybe not too technically difficult. The high speed definitely punished me for over-driving though, which for me really came down to a lack of seat time. Although I knew what I was doing wrong, I just couldn’t program my brain to communicate with my hands and feet to find the rhythm it took to be real fast."
Q: What did you think of the chassis that you drove in Bahrain? Did you enjoy it or do you prefer your own chassis better?
Rob - "We were all on the Praga/IPK chassis in DD2 Masters. I’d say I’ve become very accustomed to the OTK karts and all the front end grip that is built into them, so while the Praga was alright, I definitely prefer the OTK karts I normally run at home."
Q: Would you want to go to the Grand Finals again
Rob - "100% yes! I just have to figure out how to beat Jared Freeston, who is the top DD2 Masters racer in Western Canada. "
FUN QUESTIONS ABOUT THE RACE
Q: Favorite food in Bahrain?
Rob - "On our first full day there, Brandi and I went to an incredible brunch that our hotel put on with all sorts of amazing dishes from all over the world. There was lots of good food, but surprisingly the thing that stood out to me was how amazing the hummus was anywhere we went."
Q: Favorite moment of the whole trip?
Rob - "All of it. Everything about the event was amazing – 380 drivers from 61 countries all under one big tent; a world class kart track with incredible amenities; racing under the lights; the kick-off party behind the garages of the F1 circuit,; etc. Being able to travel to a country that I would never have otherwise visited and staying a couple days after the end of the event to be a tourist and enjoy the beach was well worth it! It was also great when Wendell Dunning shot himself in the face with the hose from the bidet... on that note, I have to thank Wendell for coming along as my mechanic and to my wife Brandi for making sure we were staying out of trouble."
Q: Favorite racer from a different country?
Rob - "Tereza Babickova from Czechia was the star of the entire event in Senior Max. She dominated the entire week, and was the only driver who had anything for Callum Bradshaw (the 2020 World Karting champion). It was a shame to see her lose the win with a starting lane violation (her fault) and a pushback bumper penalty (not her fault). She more than proved that the girls can take it to the guys at the top levels of karting. "
Q&A About Rob
Q: How old were you when you started karting?
Rob - "Short answer – I was 8. Longer and more entertaining answer – I started my first short-lived career in karting when I was 8 at the old Westwood kart track in Coquitlam, BC, in the same days as Greg Moore was dominating the junior karting scene on his eventual way to Indycars. On my 3rd ever lap, I went off the track, launched up a hill, hit a tree with all 4 wheels 6 feet in the air, totalled the frame, and scared myself. Track safety has come a long way since the 80’s. I got back into a kart when I was 14 in BC, raced for about 8 years, then had another sabbatical until I was a Masters aged driver when I joined the EDKRA."
Q: What do you love about racing karts and what got you into it?
Rob - "I grew up around motorsports. My dad, my uncle, our next door neighbors, and their friends raced amateur level sports cars and I grew up at race tracks around the Pacific Northwest. I played with toy race cars all the time as a kid. It was basically a guarantee that I was going to end up in a kart, and I was fortunate as a kid that my parents were very supportive of it. What I love about karting – (1) it’s a family sport like no other (my 72 year old dad still tries to come to my races when he can); (2) the lifelong friendships that I’ve made; (3) there is no more competitive form of 4-wheel motorsport in the world, where you can occasionally find yourself sharing the track with F1 drivers on an equal footing. "
Q: What was your first kart? (brand/chassis/engine?)
Rob - "1983 Margay with a 5 hp flathead Briggs (on gas, not alky). I still have the leather seat cover that came with that kart."
Q: What kind of kart do you race right now? (brand/chassis/engine?)
Rob - "I’ve raced lots of chassis over the years, but I’ve been racing the OTK chassis the last few years with support from Apollo / Fusion Motorsports at home and with Ruthless Karting out of Phoenix when I race south of the border. I’ve got a mix of Overdrive-tuned Rotax, DD2, and Rok motors, along with some stock Briggs motors in the garage right now."
Q: What classes do you race in at the EDKRA?
Rob - "I run a mix of DD2, Rotax and Briggs and I used to run some Shifters."
Thank you so much for doing this Q&A Rob!
It was so much fun to read about your personal experience at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals. Thank you for taking the time to share with us!
Photography by Canadian Karting News