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
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’
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.