There may only have been two drivers gunning for the Rotax Challenge of the Americas championship this weekend in the Rotax DD2 category as Matt Jaskol withdrew last minute, but did they ever put on a show. Entering the weekend Sabre Cook (CRG USA/CRG) held a marginal lead over Michael Ilavia (J3 Competition/COMP Kart) meaning Ilavia needed to claim near maximum points to take the title.
The epic battle that has been waged all season long, even with only a few karts on track each race, continued on Saturday where Ilavia drew first blood by taking the pole-position and five key bonus points. The Prefinal was a chess match that ended up in a drag race to the finish line, again advantage Ilavia.
While Ilavia jumped out to an early lead in the Final, the draft allowed Cook to close back in after only a handful of laps. The back and forth game of high speed chess continued with both drivers exchanging the lead nearly every lap.
With two laps to go, Cook got into the back of Ilavia entering the tricky tic-tac-toe section, sending Ilavia through the dirt and her into a partial spin. While both continued, Ilavia struck again with the win and closed the gap up in the championship. Cook did claim the fastest lap to snag 5 points back her way, but entering Sunday the gap was 10 points.
Ilavia again grabbed five more points in qualifying and with his win in the PreFinal, another race that featured many lead changes and a wild final lap, the stage was set for the final: winner take all.
Blow for blow, lap after lap, the crowd was on their feet to watch these two duke it out. It was impressive as both drivers drove aggressive yet courteous, constantly knowing another pass was coming. No less than 20 times did the pair exchange the lead, but similar to a day before, contact was made entering tic-tac-toe that this time saw Cook surrender the lead to Ilavia. She would regain the lost momentum and continue on the race for the championship and led as the white flag was thrown.
But a huge lunge into corner five returned the lead to Ilavia. Cook fought back a few corners later and regained the position heading into the final sector of the Sonoma track, a fast kink into a hard right hander that led onto the straightaway. And Again Ilavia threw everything he had into it and he made the pass stick in the final corner, erupting onto the front straight as the leader and with the win, champion.
But it wasn’t done there.
A protest was filed for the contact in the middle of the race, that ultimately forced the officials to delay the podium ceremony in order to hear all sides and make a final decision, given that there was no initial penalty awarded.
And after a lengthy delay that decision went to Sabre Cook who was elevated to the top of the podium and ultimately the top of the championship. She will represent Team USA at the 2015 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Portimao, Portugal this November.
It was a heartbreaker for Ilavia who did everything he needed to overcome the deficit and win the title, only to have it stripped out of his hands. We know he will be back and we know this battle isn’t over between Michael Ilavia and Sabre Cook.