Meet Half of the 10 Aspiring Drivers in this First of Two Parts
By Godwin Kelly
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) soon will announce the inaugural winner of the IMSA Diverse Driver Development Scholarship.
Ten finalists are in the running for the honor. To be eligible for the scholarship, drivers must have a strong desire to compete in IMSA, outstanding previous race results and/or proven on-track potential in junior racing categories and the ability to build a compelling business plan for securing the remaining funding needed to compete in a full season in 2022.
The scholarship winner will receive upward of $250,000 in value toward a full season of competition in either the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge or IMSA Prototype Challenge in 2022. Substantial support for the IMSA Diverse Driver Development Scholarship program comes from IMSA and partners including Michelin, VP Racing Fuels, OMP, RECARO and LAT Photo USA.
To get to know the candidates better, IMSA.com interviewed each one. This is the first of a two-part series taking a closer look at the candidates, who appear in no particular order.
Sarah Montgomery, 27 | Lafayette, Louisiana
Montgomery started her racing career at 12 years old wheeling a dirt go-kart. When she turned 15, she began racing Spec Miata. She raced karts and Miatas simultaneously for a few years before going full-time in race cars. Her first Miata, which was built in 1994, spent two weeks underwater after Hurricane Katrina. Even though the car’s floorboard was rusted out, Montgomery said racing that Miata sharpened her skills.
Montgomery is currently competing in the World Racing League (WRL) GTO class driving a Porsche Cayman S 3.8 for Round 3 Racing. She earned three poles, seven podiums and a victory during the 2020 WRL season. She was also the first woman to score a podium result in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires ND1 class.
“Winning this scholarship would be a dream come true because it would mean I have a full ride in IMSA,” Montgomery says. “This is the closest I’ve ever been to an IMSA ride. For them to offer this scholarship to people like me, who don’t have my parents’ paychecks to get me where I want to go, it’s really an honor for me to recognize that my skill level and previous history has gotten me to where I am now. To me, that’s a really cool thing.”
Mateo Llarena, 17 | Hallandale, Florida
Llarena has the distinction of being the only teenager among the finalists but has eight years of racing experience under his belt, including four go-kart national championships. He started go-karting at 4 years old. He has raced on three continents, including competition at 12 tracks in Europe.
He made his race car debut driving in 2020, becoming the youngest (16) driver to compete and score points in the European Supercup series. This year he showed his speed in full-bodied cars by taking pole at Watkins Glen International during IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship LMP3 qualifying. That made him the youngest pole-sitter in series history. In addition, Llarena is a Lamborghini GT3 Junior Driver.
“I am humbled to be a finalist on such an important driver development initiative from one of the most important motorsport organizations around the globe like IMSA,” Llarena says. “It means so many things to me. Winning would be a defining moment in my life because all my energy will be canalized to rise all the way to the top classes in the coming two to three years. I’m eager to represent all the Hispanic community in this sport.”
Christina Lam, 33 | Vienna, Virginia
Lam got her start in motorsports during a vacation to Germany in 2012. A quick stop to the Nürburgring had her in the driver seat of a Suzuki Swift race car and learning how to drive a manual transmission, all at one of the most famous tracks in the world. When she returned home, she bought a 1998 BMW M3 as a dedicated track vehicle. With all the parts nearly two decades old, she quickly learned to maintain, upgrade and build her new car.
Since 2016, she has raced NASA, SCCA and Hoosier Super Tour. Lam became so good that she was hired as an instructor at the Skip Barber Racing School. She is the co-owner of the Hi-Speed Motorsports race team founded this year. When Lam’s not racing, she works for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
“I’m very grateful that IMSA is taking these steps to increase diversity in their paddock and grid,” Lam says. “It goes to show that IMSA is a true leader in professional race series and committed to the progress of equality. This opportunity is a huge leg up to make the transition to professional racing. To race in IMSA has been a dream of mine for many years, and thanks to this scholarship, it is finally within reach. It would allow me to further develop my skills with a top-level team and compete among the best drivers in the world.”
Sebastian Carazo, 23 | Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
Carazo started racing go-karts when he was 4 and continued until he turned 9, then as he says, “the sport just died on the island.” When he was 16, racing started picking up in Puerto Rico again. Carazo found a BMW in a junkyard and he said, “Let’s give it a try.” He raced the BMW in 2015, then started club racing in the Power Racing League based in Miami.
From there, Carazo started competing in SCCA races in 2017. The following year, he raced in some SCCA nationals and entered a few Porsche Club of America events and a few Trans Am races. He won the 2019 Porsche GT3 Challenge USA Powered by Yokohama Gold Cup championship and made the jump to the Porsche Carrera Cup North America Presented by the Cayman Islands as a Porsche Junior Driver this year. Carazo is general manager of Allied Car & Truck Rental in Puerto Rico.
“Everybody in racing needs a little bit of help to make it possible,” Carazo says. “Out of all the sports you can get into, racing is on the top end of being most expensive. For me, it would be a great honor, as a Puerto Rican, to be chosen. To get that publicity, where so many good drivers are driving right now, and get that boost (from the scholarship) and showcase my talents in an IMSA racing series, it would definitely mean the world to me.”
Nikko Reger, 23 | Austin, Texas
Reger describes his father as a “gearhead.” His family would play on dirt bikes and ATVs most weekends. He got his first taste of racing in an asphalt go-kart at the age of 11 and immediately “caught the bug.” When Reger turned 13, he started driving a Mazda MX-5 Miata in a program called the Teen Mazda Challenge. He ran a full season in 2014 and finished third in championship points, then captured the title the following year.
After that, he competed in a Skip Barber MX-5 series and MX-5 Cup. He moved up to the Global MX-5 Cup in 2016 when he turned 18. Reger won the 2018 Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Presented by BFGoodrich championship. For his efforts, Mazda awarded him a scholarship to compete in the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge, where he made six starts. The Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on his racing, which he hopes to resume as soon as possible. He is currently working for Oracle in technical and software sales.
“This scholarship would mean a whole lot to my racing career,” Reger says. “Because of Covid-19, a lot of funding was pulled from racing and it’s been really hard to get back on the track and justify what we do out there. This scholarship would be an incredible steppingstone for my career. I think this is an incredible step in the right direction for IMSA and in general. This would be life-changing, to say the least. If I got this, it would give me a platform to drive the change I want in the sport and lead the next generation of Asian-Americans to victory lane.”