South African karters once again excelled at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, finishing the 2015 event in second place behind the USA, at a fantastic karting complex at Portimao on the Algarve coast in southern Portugal.
The 10-member South African team scored 1013 points to place second behind the USA, the winning Nation on 1 184 points. In third place was the Netherlands, with no less than 52 countries scoring points in this most hotly-contested karting championship in the world. South Africa has an amazing record in the 16 Rotax Grand Finals held so far since 2 000, our karters having won a total of 12 World titles in that time. Last year South Africa won the Nations Cup for the first time
DD2 Masters category: For the first 18 laps of the 20-lap DD2 Final, Port Elizabeth’s Michael Stephen was on his way to winning a 13th Rotax World title for South Africa. Stephen was fastest out of 72 DD2 Masters competitors in qualifying earlier in the week and had won two of his heats going into the final day of the event, as well as the all-important pre-final, which determines the starting order for the Final.
Stephen led from the pole in the Final and was never headed for 18 laps of the 20-lap event. Then, in a cruelly ill-judged move, Finnish driver Antti Ollikainen, who was running second, attempted to take the lead at a corner where overtaking was clearly impossible. He collected the rear wheel of Stephen’s kart, and pushed the South African off the circuit, and effectively out of the championship. The DD2 Masters class was won by Ryan Urban of new Zealand.
The impetuous Finn was later penalised by the race stewards for causing an avoidable accident. An understandably upset Stephen said he never even saw the Finn making his move, he just felt his kart being hit from behind, and the next moment he and Ollikainen were off the track and spinning into the dirt. Michael regained the track to finish in 11th place. It was bitter blow for Stephen, who has won a total of three SA karting and four SA saloon car championships in a career approaching three decades in the sport!
Senior Max Challenge: The driver who ended up doing South Africa proudest of all in this amazing week-long karting championship was Jordan Sherratt, of Unhlanga, KZN. Jordan finished a fine, fighting third overall in the Senior Max class, the non-gearbox class that is still in many competitors’ minds the most competitive of all the Rotax classes. Sherratt in fact led the Senior Max Final for a few laps before giving best to Alex Alex of Italy and Lucas Selliken of the United States. A delighted Sherratt said afterwards that he felt he was in with a chance of winning early on in the 20-lapper, but reckoned he had set his kart’s tyre pressures too high.
DD2 Gearbox: Bradley Liebenberg of Lone Hill, Sandton was competing in his second Rotax Grand Final , having been in contention in the DD2 class last year in Spain. This year he was once again at the sharp end of the 72-kart field in his category, which runs the same two-speed gearbox and four-wheeled disc-braked set-up as the karts run by the DD2 Masters drivers.
After a brilliant drive in the pre-final, Liebenberg lined up in fourth position in the Final. But amazingly, he didn’t even complete a single lap as he was one of a couple of front-runners caught up in a pincer-movement as half a dozen drivers fought for the same piece of track right after the start. Again, it was bitterly disappointing for Liebenberg, as well as his team mates, family and fans watching on live-streaming television back home in South Africa. Nevertheless, just to make it onto the 34-kart grid in the Finals is an honour, considering that all 288 drivers competing at the Grand Finals are champions or vice-champions in their respective countries!
*The other South Africans in the 10-driver squad suffered mixed fortunes. Jonathan Aberdein from Cape Town was one of the quickest drivers of all in practise in the Senior Max category. But, bizarrely, as he joined the circuit on his official qualifying run earlier in the week, his kart was rammed by another competitor, knocking the exhaust pipe off, and as he failed to set an official qualifying time he was out of the championship.
Ronnie Baptista and John van Wyk in the DD2 Masters category were also knocked out in collisions earlier in the week, as was Gauteng’s Chad Maciver in the DD2 Gearbox Category. Delano Fowler of Stellenbosch battled to find the right set-up in Junior Max and failed to make the cut for the Finals, while Dino Stermin, of Cape Town, was setting fast times, but excluded after failing to weigh himself and his kart after returning to the pits following some drama in one of his qualifying heats. Pretoria’s Eugene Brittz in the Senior Max category battled to find the right chassis set-up and just missed the cut to make it into the Finals. To give some idea of how competitive Rotax karting is, Eugene’s lap time on the 1,6 km circuit was just three-tenths of a second off the quickest time in DD2, and this put him in 46th position!
MINI MAX: Although not officially part of the South African team, three karters from South Africa, but of Portuguese nationality, took part in the Mini Max challenge, a non-championship event being run at the Grand Finals for the first time and open to youngsters under 13 years of age of Portuguese or Spanish citizenship.
It was amazing to see 11-year-old girl-racer Cammy Dias of Vereeniging finish an excellent fourth overall in this category, while Daniel de Paiva, also based in South Africa, finished in sixth place. This series was such a hit that it is almost definite that Mini Max will form part of next year’s Grand Finals, and equally on the cards that the South African Rotax organisers will be establishing a championship for this category in 2016, to enable our youngsters to compete