Ivana Ce­tinich is one of SA’s lucky 13 karters who are com­pet­ing in Italy this week.

South Africa’s fastest karters ready to take on oth­ers from 50 coun­tries in Ro­tax Max Fi­nals

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - STU­ART JOHN­STON

A 13-DRIVER team from South Africa are in Italy this week to com­pete in the 17th run­ning of in­ter­na­tional kart­ing’s most com­pet­i­tive cham­pi­onship — the Ro­tax Max Chal­lenge Grand Fi­nals.

Jonathan Pieterse from Pine­town is back to rac­ing, now in the DD2 Mas­ters Cat­e­gory af­ter a decade’s lay­off.

Pieterse be­gan rac­ing at the age of 11 and won nu­mer­ous im­por­tant South African races as a young­ster, in­clud­ing what was then known as the Natal (KZN) Cham­pi­onship. He then took a 10-year break from kart­ing to es­tab­lish his own au­to­mo­tive re­pair business in Pine­town, called Ver­tex Auto.

Af­ter com­pet­ing in the 2003 Grand Fi­nals as part of the South African team in Egypt, Pieterse is en­joy­ing the thrill of rac­ing again. Mar­ried with two chil­dren, Pieterse’s other in­ter­ests are moun­tain bik­ing and BMX, and he plays golf off an im­pres­sive nine hand­i­cap.

“I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to com­pet­ing at the high­est level of kart­ing com­pe­ti­tion in the world, in Italy. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2003 Grand Fi­nals in Egypt af­ter a 10year break from kart­ing, and in the 2016 Grand Fi­nals are my best achieve­ments.

“What I look for­ward to the most at World Fi­nals this year is that I get to com­pete at the high­est level there is, af­ter so many years.”

Pieterse and his fel­low South African rac­ers have been mea­sur­ing them­selves against 360 top karters from 50 coun­tries.

As all driv­ers in the Grand Fi­nals have to qual­ify for this world cham­pi­onship in their re­spec­tive coun­tries, the stan­dard of driv­ing is ac­knowl­edged to be the high­est in the world in in­ter­na­tional kart­ing. The pres­sure will be on com­peti­tors from the mo­ment they ar­rive in Sarno, near Naples.

With 360 karters com­pet­ing in six cat­e­gories, track time fa­mil­iari­sa­tion prac­tice, qual­i­fy­ing and elim­i­na­tion races have been tak­ing place since Mon­day to the lead up to the Grand Fi­nals, which will be run on Satur­day.

“We have a large team this year, com­pris­ing a good mix of ex­pe­ri­ence and young tal­ent,” said South African Ro­tax im­porter Ed Mur­ray, who ac­com­pa­nied the team to Italy.

“And, of course, we have a huge legacy to live up to in the Ro­tax Max Chal­lenge Grand Fi­nals. Since the first event in Peurto Rico 16 years ago, South Africans have won no fewer than 12 world ti­tles. And in Spain in 2014, we won the pres­ti­gious Na­tions Cup.”

The event of­fi­cially started last Satur­day, with regis­tra­tion at the Cir­cuito In­ter­nazionale Napoli, fol­lowed by var­i­ous pre-event func­tions. Unique to any other rac­ing se­ries in the world, each driver is pre­sented with a new kart chas­sis and en­gine, as well as tyres, fuel, a kart trol­ley and tools.

The kit is awarded in a raf­fle, which was held on Sun­day. This en­sures ab­so­lute par­ity of equip­ment in this kart­ing se­ries, as all karts are checked for le­gal­ity af­ter each on-track ses­sion.

The pres­sure on driv­ers to learn the cir­cuit and find a good chas­sis set-up was in­tense all week. They will to­day start rac­ing in elim­i­na­tion heats, with pre­fi­nal races run to­mor­row.

On Satur­day, the fi­nals start from 10 am (SA time). Lo­cal en­thu­si­asts can watch live stream­ing of the event on www.ro­taxkart.com (click on the Grand Fi­nals but­ton).

Another driver with high hopes for Italy is the cur­rent African Max­terino Kart­ing cham­pion, Kwanda Mokoena.

The 12-year-old from Paulshof, Sand­ton, has worked flat out in the build-up to the Big Week in Italy, often rac­ing and win­ning in three classes in re­gional races on a sin­gle race day and fight­ing hard en route to end­ing up run­ner-up in both the SA na­tional Max­terino and Mini Rok cham­pi­onships, which Mini Rok class world ti­tle the Rivo­nia Pri­mary pupil will now chase.

“I am up­beat and ready to step up my game, and most of all, I am hon­oured to be go­ing to Italy to rep­re­sent South Africa in the Mini Rok World Fi­nals,” Kwanda said.

“But I am un­der no il­lu­sions — there will be 170 of the best driv­ers from all over the world chas­ing just 30 places on the fi­nal grid, so it’s go­ing to be a hell of a job all week long!”

That es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that there will be names like Fit­ti­paldi, Bar­richello, Mon­toya, Trulli and Ba­doer — all sons and grand­sons of those F1 rac­ers — among that all-star field.

“I’m hop­ing for a bit of luck though. It’s been a hard year — we lost two na­tional cham­pi­onships by a point or less each, so I am so thank­ful for all the love, sup­port and be­lief my team, Thabs my me­chanic, my par­ents and fam­ily have had in me when it felt like I had such a heavy load on my shoul­ders.

“But now it’s time for the Rok World Fi­nals and I’d like to wish ev­ery one of my coun­try­men com­pet­ing the best of luck. Let’s make South Africa proud!”

The Euro­peans are not the only ones to take in­her­ited driv­ing skills to the track.

South Africa’s Fa­bi­enne Lanz will be com­pet­ing in the DD2 Cat­e­gory with all the ge­netic and prac­ti­cal back-up her mo­tor­sport fam­ily can pro­vide — with her fa­ther, Peter, be­ing a for­mer SA sa­loon car cham­pion.

Lanz cur­rently leads the 2016 North­ern Re­gions Se­nior Max cham­pi­onship, and was run­nerup in the 2012 African Open.

She has been three times run­ner-up in the South African Na­tional Max Chal­lenge Cham­pi­onship.

Lanz also has ex­ten­sive over­seas rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, which will stand her in good stead in Italy, although she has never raced at the Sarno track.

Among in­ter­na­tional suc­cesses she was the first woman to step onto the podium (fifth place) at the 2007 World Rok Fi­nals, and has also won in the UAE Se­nior Max cat­e­gory.

Kart­ing is Lanz’s life and she cur­rently runs a team of 25 young karters just start­ing out in the sport. “Grow­ing the sport is the aim,” she said. When not kart­ing, she loves be­ing in na­ture, and also com­petes in the Jeep War­rior Race each year.

As for Italy, she said: “Go­ing into these Grand Fi­nals is ex­cit­ing and a bit nerve-tin­gling, as I have never been to Sarno and there are only five ses­sions to get in the groove. But at the same time, I am at my best un­der pres­sure!”

The youngest driver on the SA team, Joshua de Paiva, is only nine, and will com­pete in Mi­cro Max Cat­e­gory against driv­ers be­tween the ages of seven and 10.

De­spite his ten­der years, Joshua al­ready has five years of toplevel kart­ing be­hind him, hav­ing com­peted since the age of four.

He won the Mi­cro Max cat­e­gory in the 2016 African Open meet­ing at Zwartkops, and he is cur­rently ly­ing sec­ond in the re­gional Max­terino se­ries for driv­ers aged eight to 13.

Last year, he rep­re­sented Por­tu­gal (he has dual cit­i­zen­ship) in a non-cham­pi­onship Mi­cro Max race at the Grand Fi­nals, so he has in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence too.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to the 2016 Grand Fi­nal be­cause Ro­tax makes me feel like a For­mula One driver, or a fa­mous rock star. I feel special and proud to rep­re­sent my coun­try, and I even get my own per­sonal um­brella girl!” said the young racer.

ED MUR­RAY, Ro­tax im­porter ‘South Africans have a huge legacy to live up to in the Ro­tax Max Chal­lenge Grand Fi­nals’

PHOTO: MOTORPRESS

PHO­TOS: SUP­PLIED

FROM LEFT: Fa­bi­enne Lanz, Kwando Moekena and Jonathan Pieterse are among 13 karters from South Africa com­pet­ing this week in the world’s tough­est kart­ing race, the Ro­tax Max Chal­lenge, be­ing staged in Sarno, Italy.

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