Challenge Re-Starts its Engines in the U.S.

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The Challenge Family announces a return to American soil with a unique event at Daytona International Speedway next December.

Challenge Family, Ironman’s largest competitor throughout Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, has announced plans to return to the U.S. with the debut of the half-distance Challenge Daytona on Dec. 8-9, 2018. It’s potentially big news for a brand that had a big—albeit brief—splash in North America when it announced plans to expand throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2013.

Challenge debuted with events in Penticton, British Columbia, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, and then announced a partnership with the Rev3 series for the 2014 season that saw popular Rev3 events like Quassy, Cedar Point, and Maine rebranded under the Challenge name. That marriage ended swiftly after one year, resulting in a lawsuit that was settled behind closed doors before Rev3 reemerged with its own name and events in 2016. Challenge Penticton lost its licensee and ultimately disappeared when Ironman came into Whistler; Ironman replaced Challenge in Atlantic City, and less than three years after it’s arrival, Challenge was nowhere to be found in North America, aside from one-off events in Aruba and Mexico.

Needless to say, today’s announcement of a Challenge Family event coming to Florida came as a bit of a surprise, and not only because of the unique venue at America’s most iconic speedway. Whether or not this will be a one-off event or the beginning of Challenge’s second attempt to expand into the U.S. remains to be seen, but Challenge CEO Zibi Szlufcik did say in an interview that he’s had conversations with at least a dozen potential venues around the United States over the past two years. With the debut of Challenge’s “The Championship” in Slovakia this past June, Challenge is no doubt interested in giving U.S. athletes a chance to qualify on home soil to bolster their championship event’s international appeal.

One unique aspect of Challenge Daytona is that three different companies will have equity in the race. It will not be the case of a local organizer owning the event and merely licensing the Challenge brand. Challenge, the Daytona International Speedway, and local organizer Case Imagine will all share ownership of the event and all have a vested interest in the event’s success. For Szlufcik, it was crucial to come back to the U.S. market with a splash, and he’s confident Challenge Daytona will do just that.

“It was important that if we were going to reenter the U.S. market, that we do it with something big—something that’s adding value to the sport on a global scale,” he said. “We had to not only reevaluate our business model, but we needed to reenter the market with something monumental. I think a race at one of America’s most iconic sporting destinations will be just that.”

In keeping with Challenge’s commitment to support professional athletes, Challenge Daytona will host a pro field, but the amount of prize money on offer is not yet known. Andy Potts attended the press conference announcing the event, and Szlufcik indicated that Jesse Thomas has also been involved in the planning of the race and has put his support behind the event. Szlufcik said he’s also interested in working with his partners at Daytona International Speedway to have NASCAR drivers compete in the event, and they will entertain the idea of a drivers’ category for athletes from all walks of motorsport that would like to compete.

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Driver Landon Cassill is no stranger to half-distance tris and has the event marked on his calendar. “This will be an incredible venue for a long-distance triathlon,” he said. “This is a racetrack that has meant so much to me and our sport, and it’s definitely a race I will have to get ready for.”

The 1.2-mile swim will take place in Lake Lloyd, a manmade lake on the infield of the 3.56-mile speedway. The 56-mile bike will take place partially on the track, but mostly on the roads surrounding the track. The 13.1-mile run will take place entirely within the speedway grounds.

“The venue itself is spectacular. It’s almost built for triathlon,” Szlufcik said. “Our plan is to turn it into a festival. There will be music and people will be able to camp within the speedway—we hope to create a great atmosphere around the event.”

In addition to the half-distance race, there will also be a pit-stop challenge a sprint-distance tri, a 5K run and a relay triathlon. Registration for all events will open on Dec. 14 at Challenge-daytona.com.