Interview with the Champion: Juan Manuel Correa
MAXSpeed Group sits down with 2013 Rotax Max Challege Grand Finals Junior Max Champion
In late 2013, a United States karter made history by being the first ever American to stand atop the podium at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals. Juan Manuel Correa, the 2013 United States Grand National Champion, shocked the karting world with a last lap, last corner pass to win the drag race to the checkers and make history. Not only was JMC the first American to win on the Rotax world stage, he did it on American soil at the NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, Louisiana and collected a cool $10,000 from the MAXSpeed Group for his efforts. MAXSpeed Group recently had the chance to sit down with Correa this past weekend while he was competing at the Winter Cup in Lonato, Italy, to ask him how his life has changed and his future in motorsports.
MAXSpeed Group: Juan, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down with us. We are sure a lot has changed in your life since that memorable day in November.
JMC: Thanks guys for allowing me to be part of this interview. A lot has changed in my life but all for the better. It’s going to be a good year this year and I am looking forward to it. Today I qualified 17th out of 90 drivers at the Winter Cup in Lonato and drove forward to finish seventh after running fifth in heat one in my first ever KF Junior race.
MAXSpeedGroup: The first question we want to know is, how does it feel to be a Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals Champion and the first to achieve this from the United States?
JMC: I am very proud to be the first American Grand Finals champion. The event at NOLA is like the Olympics that are going on in Russia and I was happy I could represent my country and win. The win didn’t seem like much at the time but since then, I have realized how big of a deal it was as it has open many opportunities for me. The Grand Finals was the single biggest karting win of my career.
MAXSpeed Group: When you moved from third to second on the last lap and then made that bold last corner, last lap pass for the win, what were your thoughts when you crossed the finish line?
JMC: At first, I didn’t have any real thoughts, I was celebrating a victory and didn’t really think about that much. After the race, it had not sunk in on what I had done until post race tech was complete and we were preparing for the podium presentations. I saw the American flags and everyone was congratulating me and then it hit me, I was the Rotax Junior Grand Finals Champion.
MAXSpeed Group: Since becoming a Grand Finals Champion, what direction has your karting program taken?
JMC: I recently moved to Italy and signed a deal with the Energy Corse Factory team. I will be competing in WSK, CIK/FIA events, European Championships, World Championships, DKM in Germany and of course the SKUSA SuperNationals in Las Vegas. There are some other deals that are taking place but I cannot discuss them yet. I may have some news in the future…
MAXSpeed Group: What are your current plans for 2014? What chassis and engine platform will you be racing? Also, what class?
JMC: I will race several European series with the Energy Corse squad in KF Junior. I am focused on learning and gaining experience as well as living on my own in Italy. Everything is new for me: a new country, a new engine, kart and class as well as living on my own away from my family.
MAXSpeed Group: Looking back at your karting career, what series and events really helped you gain the necessary experience to finally become a Grand Finals champion?
JMC: I have been racing for almost seven seasons and started in Ecuador. I raced club and local programs before traveling to the United States to compete at the Florida Winter Tour. In 2011, I moved to the USA and competed in all the high profile events including the United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals, Rotax Pan-American Championships, Rotax Summer Shootout as well as a lot of testing. All of these programs increased my experience and really helped me to get better.
In 2013, I was able to take part in some Euro Max events. The competition is really close there and I was able to race against a lot of the drivers that would be attending the Grand Finals. We made plans to do this after winning the ticket to join Team USA and I think this was the greatest preparation leading up to NOLA. I trained hard to race like a European and be really aggressive.
MAXSpeed Group: The Rotax Junior class at the Grand Finals was raced on an Energy chassis, did you happen to test the chassis before the event? Did you test at NOLA? If so, did that give you an advantage?
JMC: Yes, we bought and tested an Energy chassis before the Grand Finals. I did a few days on track at Homestead Karting but not as much as I would have liked. My team and I planned to race the Energy chassis at the Rotax Pan-American Championships and prepped the chassis for that event. Unfortunately, on the second session of the first day, the chassis weld broke near the spindle mount. Good thing we had brought along my Tony Kart as a back up. I missed a few sessions but was back on track later that day. Heading to the Grand Finals, I wasn’t as prepared as others were and it was a big concern of mine.
MAXSpeed Group: Your Dad seems to be a huge supporter in your career. He is always seen at the track cheering you on but allowing the hired tuners and driver coaches to do their jobs. Does karting help you build a better bond with him and the rest of your family?
JMC: For sure. My Dad and I are best friends. I love having him at the track as when things aren’t going well, I have someone to turn to. He is my biggest supporter but also a strong critic. I think this is what makes our bond so strong. As for the rest of my family, they aren’t always with me so our bond when we see each other is that much stronger. We try to make up for lost time when I am traveling.
MAXSpeed Group: Given your experience in North America and Europe, how does karting compare and differ between the two countries?
JMC: The competition in Europe is a little tougher than in the United States. At any given time, there are 20 or 30 drivers that can be fast and win a race in Europe while the USA has four or five at each event. I don’t think American drivers lack talent, as they can be fast anywhere in the world and compete against the Euros; just the competition is not as strong at home. A lot of Americans have come over here and done well, while a lot come and run mid-pack. It is all about those last hundredths or tenths of a second to help be upfront.
MAXSpeed Group: Any plans to move out of karting and into cars in the near future?
JMC: I am always planning to move to cars. I want to make a career in motorsports. For 2014 and 2015, I will focus on karting and see what the future holds.
MAXSpeed Group: Rotax karting is big in North America. What are your feelings towards the Rotax engine platform and the competition in the United States? Would you change anything?
JMC: The Rotax is a good engine package and great for the US market and I think it makes good drivers great. It takes a lot of talent to be fast in a Rotax. Also, the Rotax package has given me an advantage here in Europe. Even though I am racing a KF, I can easily tell when the motor is lean or rich and it directly comes from my experience in Rotax. I am a strong believer that the fastest drivers in the world in Rotax can run at the front of the KF field in Europe and the knowledge of Rotax will help them be even better. Rotax drivers are proven to be fast in every form of karting.
As for the items I would change, I love grip so a softer tire would be awesome. It will make the slower drivers better and decrease the gap between the fastest and slower competitors. However, if nothing changes, I think Rotax is a great product and has a very bright future.
MAXSpeed Group: Last question…what did you do with the $10,000.00 prize money awarded to you from the MAXSpeed Group for becoming the first American Grand Finals Champion?
JMC: To be honest, I gave it all to my Mom and Dad. They have supported me my entire career and this was the least I could do to pay them back. Also, moving to Italy was pretty expensive so I am sure they used some of those funds to help offset the costs.
MAXSpeed Group: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. We wish you the best of luck in 2014.
JMC: Thanks guys. Good luck to all the United States Rotax karters this year. I will be following all of you at the US Rotax Grand Nationals, Rotax Pan-American Championships and Rotax Grand Finals. Thanks again.
For more information on the MAXSpeed Group, promoted events including the Rotax Summer Shootout, United States Rotax Grand Nationals, Rotax PanAmerican Championships, Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, Team USA and the entire Rotax program, please visit GoRotax.com. Be sure to like GoRotax on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/GoRotax) and follow on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/GoRotax).