Hard shunting in Portugal
SA team have mixed fortunes and few podiums at Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals
UMHLANGA’s Jordan Sherratt finished in third overall in the Senior Max class at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, the best place in the SA team that finished in second place behind the USA in Portimao in southern Portugal.
The 10-member South African team scored 1 013 points to place second behind the USA, the winning Nation on 1 184 points.
In third place was the Netherlands, with no fewer than 52 countries scoring points in this most hotly contested karting championship in the world.
South Africa have an amazing record in the 16 Rotax Grand Finals held so far since 2000, 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.
Drama in 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.
Stephen 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.
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 practice 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.
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-yearold 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.
The South African team at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Portugal.