Grip. The word that defined a clash of the karting titans at Killarney in the first Rotax MAX Challenge National of 2019.
As layer upon layer of Mojo rubber created a racing dancefloor, the times kept dropping and the karts kept hopping as the sticky tyres just refused to let go on corner exits.
The value of experience was clearly demonstrated this weekend, as those who have been at it for years knew exactly how to set the karts up to shed grip on Friday, resulting in some exceptionally quick times in practice and qualifying.
Of course, the only thing you can be sure of when karting in Cape Town is that conditions will change completely over the course of the weekend. A blisteringly hot day on Saturday literally melted away the grip, as competitors struggled to get the right setup to deal with the different types of corners at Killarney.
With the crowd kept on their feet for hours upon hours of karting action, this National will be hard to forget.
Bambino (5 – 9 Years)
Twelve little racers lined up to do battle in the youngest class, as proud (and nervous) parents watched on. The kids just can’t get enough, spending their time between heats playing with toy cars with their friends in the clubhouse.
Northern Regions visitor Tshepang Shisinwana took top honours for the day, with a smile that quite literally improves everyone’s day around him. He put in a fantastic performance with two wins and a very close second place in the final race.
Rayan Karriem’s (Outsourcing Solutions) results improved throughout the day, with a win in race 3 securing him 2nd place overall for the day. Perhaps more importantly, at least for bragging rights, Karriem broke the lap record with a 58.864s time.
Luan Mostert (Kito Kart / AMV Group / DSD Group / Donadio Plant Hire) brought his kart home in third, with Caleb Odendaal, Jordon Wadeley (EMR Kartsport) and Josh Moore rounding out the top 6. Special mention must be made of Kai van Rensburg (7 Films) who suffered a broken finger in an accident, but still came back to the track for prizegiving to support his friends!
Rotax Micro MAX (7 – 12 Years)
The battle at the front in this class continued to thrill the crowds, as Reza Levy (EMR Kartsport) and Reese Koorzen (GMP) gave a Cape Town welcome to some very strong opposition from the rest of the country.
It was Levy who landed the first blow, putting his CRG on pole position ahead of Koorzen and Luviwe Sambudla, the only three drivers to dip into the 46s in qualifying.
Capetonian Joshua Smit (Dart Motors / S&S Racing) quickly joined the party in race 1 though, as the only driver to really trouble Levy on his journey from pole position to race winner. Sambudla got the better of Smit in the end however, coming home in 2nd ahead of Smit’s 3rd. The drama happened mid-race though, as fellow championship contenders Mohammed Moerat and Koorzen dropped down to 9th and 10th respectively before fighting their way back to 4th and 5th.
The second race was another action-packed affair, as Levy’s fastest lap in the first heat was not quick enough to put him ahead of his biggest rivals Sambudla, Smit and Koorzen on the grid. Although Koorzen led for most of the race, it was Levy who came out on top again. Dhivyen Naidoo and Kyle Beukes (Cozy BnB / Rammteck) took advantage of Smit’s misfortune in the race and Sambudla’s 5 second jump start penalty, to come home in 3rd and 4th respectively.
Heat 3 was a more sedate affair for the frontrunners, with Levy driving a lights to flag victory and Koorzen getting the better of Moerat for 2nd on track, but having to settle for 3rd after a 3 second penalty for not starting in the tram lines. Sambudla banked more points in 4th as Smit’s torrid afternoon continued with a finish in 14th.
With all said and done in this epic class, it was Levy who claimed the top step of the podium with three wins from three races and a 15 point lead in the championship over Koorzen who overcame a very tough day to take 2nd overall. Moerat finished in 3rd, Sambudla in 4th, Naidoo in 5th and Wian Boshoff in 6th.
Rotax Mini MAX (9 – 13 Years)
Jason MacBeath pulled a rabbit out of the hat on Friday afternoon, putting his kart on pole ahead of visitors Muhammed Wally, Troy Snyman and Matthew Morrell. Ethan Stier (Stier Racing / Flatline SA / Tribrake), coming into this race off the back of dominant performances in regional races in Cape Town, could only manage 5th fastest.
Snyman was dominant on Saturday however, with three wins from three races ahead of Wally and MacBeath. Stier had a tough day at the office, suffering misfortune in race 1 and having midfield battles with Morrell and Mikhail Fernandez that kept him busy for the rest of the day as the top 3 drove away.
Behind Snyman, Wally and MacBeath, it was Morrell who won the midfield fight with 4th overall for the day ahead of Fernandez and Stier. The Northern Regions contingent will be thrilled with such a strong showing in this class.
Rotax Junior MAX (12 – 15 Years)
Troy Dolinschek (Makita Power Tools) set the pace on Friday, putting his kart on pole ahead of Joseph Oelz, Tate Bishop and Northern Regions star Kwanda Mokoena. Aqil Alibhai could only manage 5th, but couldn’t have foreseen the way his weekend would improve from there.
With frenetic pace at the front of this class and closely-matched competitors, the recipe for drama was clear. It didn’t take long either, as race 1 saw an extraordinary display of ups and downs for the top drivers.
After Tate Bishop led for the first third of the race, a racing incident in the 180s with Dolinschek (for which Dolinschek was penalised) severely affected his race, dropping him to 7th before he fought back to 5th. With Oelz dropping down on the same lap, Mokoena took full advantage to lead the race from Alibhai.
The drama was certainly not over. With the crowd screaming, Mokoena’s kart decided to rather become a tricycle, shedding a wheel as he braked for the first 180 towards the end of the race. Hardly able to believe his luck, Alibhai took the lead and the checkered flag ahead of Oelz and Ethan Coetzee who drove from 7th to 3rd.
In the second race, Oelz and Dolinschek battled for most of the race. Oelz eventually came out on top, while Dolinschek dropped to 3rd after being pipped on the final lap by a resurgent Bishop. Mokoena drove from 9th to 4th, but dropped to 7th overall due to a 5 second nose cone penalty (which shows just how tight the class is). Coetzee got the better of Storm Lanfear (Private Client Financial) to take 4th, while Alibhai came home in 6th.
In the final heat of the day, it was Dolinschek, Oelz and Alibhai who fought for the lead, coming home in that order ahead of Bishop and Kyle Visser (RKT) who had endured a disappointing day up to that point.
The overall result saw Oelz on top from Alibhai, Bishop, Coetzee, Dolinschek and Lanfear. Mokoena’s 7th overall is not the championship start he would’ve hoped for, but there are many more laps to be raced in 2019.
Rotax Senior MAX (14 Years +)
Charl Visser (RKT) absolutely dominated Friday’s qualifying session, beating his closest rival by almost three tenths.
After an eventful start in the first race, Visser and Kai van Zijl (Unlimited Auto) scythed their way through the field to take 1st and 2nd respectively from Storm Lanfear (Private Client Financial), who put in an incredibly impressive display on the day with double duty in Junior MAX and Senior MAX. 2018 Africa Open champion Wayland Wyman managed 4th ahead of Simon Simpson-Heath in 5th and Luca Canderle who brought it home in 6th after qualifying behind Visser in 2nd.
In race 2, it was Capetonian Andrew Rackstraw who came back strongly from misfortune in race 1, taking the win away from Visser who managed 2nd. Simpson-Heath came in 3rd just a few tenths back, before the rest of the field came home led by Lanfear.
The final race of the day was all about Simpson-Heath who took the checkered flag from van Zijl and Rackstraw, earning him the overall victory for the day by a single point from van Zijl thanks to smart and consistent driving.
Visser finished 3rd for the day only one point behind 2nd place, with Rackstraw, Canderle and Wyman rounding out the top 6.
Senior MAX is wide open for the rest of the championship, with only 2 points separating the top 3 drivers.
Rotax MAX 175 (32 Years + or >85kg in your shorts)
Although there were only 6 karts entered for this class, the level of experience and talent on display was superb, with some seriously big names lining up to try dominate the chain-driven class for older or heavier drivers.
Nicholas Verheul took pole on Friday, as the only driver to dip into the 41s. Notably, his time would’ve been good for 9th on the grid in Senior Max, despite the substantial weight difference between the classes.
Whatever Jonathan Pieterse ate for breakfast on Saturday clearly worked, as he took the lead from Verheul in the first race and stayed there. Michael Stephen (Volkswagen Motorsport Academy / Scribante Construction / Stu Davidson & Sons / RAW Projects / ECSD) also got the better of Verheul to come home in 2nd.
The second heat was a battle for the win between Michael Stephen and Verheul, with Stephen eventually coming out in front of his rival. Pieterse tussled with Erwin Sterne before rampaging through to 2nd overall ahead of Verheul once more.
Having been beaten twice, Verheul lined up for the 20 lap finale with a point to prove. He did exactly that, taking the win from Michael Stephen and Pieterse. Jared Jordan (Jordan Racing) notably finished ahead of Sterne and Geoff Stephen (Stephen 2 Racing) in the final race.
Once the dust had settled, multiple South African champions Michael Stephen, Pieterse and Verheul finished in that order ahead of Sterne. Jordan finished 5th overall for the day and Geoff Stephen brought up the rear of a class that has eye-watering potential to become a crowd favourite.
Rotax DD2 (15 Years +)
As the best of the best in South Africa fly into Kosmic often two-abreast at speeds that are barely legal on a South African highway, the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd make it easy to identify that the DD2 class is out on track.
Roman de Beer, former GP3 driver, set the pace on Friday with a quite ridiculous pole time of 40.198 ahead of fellow Birel and current GTC2 driver Brad Liebenberg. Dino Stermin (Phoenix Risk Solutions) was the quickest of the Capetonians in 3rd, with Jason Coetzee lining up alongside him in 4th. Verheul’s MAX 175 qualifying form was repeated in DD2, with a very impressive 5th ahead of Benjamin Habig and Jonathan Thomas.
The stage was set.
The first few laps of race 1 were characterised by a mistake from Liebenberg and a thundering performance from Stermin. After Coetzee and de Beer had a coming-together, Stermin shot into the lead ahead of Habig and Liebenberg. That’s how it stayed until the end, with Capetonian Sebastian Boyd coming home in 4th ahead of Thomas and 2018 Senior MAX champion Dominic Lincoln.
After another chaotic start in race 2, it was Boyd who led the middle part of the race as Thomas and Habig battled behind him. Habig eventually broke through with Stermin behind him as Boyd dropped down the field in the closing laps. Habig took the flag, with Thomas in second having overtaken Stermin right at the death. Lincoln finished strongly to take 4th ahead of Boyd and then Coetzee. Liebenberg’s nightmare of a day continued, with a retirement after 3 laps ruining his chance of a strong overall classification.
With a packed grandstand, the DD2 gladiators lined up for race 3 with all to play for.
After the initial exchanges, it was Boyd who emerged from the pack to lead for over 10 laps of the race from Stermin, Coetzee, de Beer, Habig and Thomas. The top 6 established a leading train that set the race up for an explosive finish with all to play for.
Stermin and de Beer made moves on lap 15, overtaking Boyd and Coetzee respectively. De Beer went on to make a move on Boyd onto the back straight for 2nd place with a lap to go, with the unfortunate result that Boyd dropped all the way to the back of the bullet train at the front. Stermin took the win from de Beer and Coetzee, with Habig, Thomas and Boyd rounding off the top 6.
Thomas broke the lap record set earlier in the day by Stermin, putting in a phenomenal 40.367s lap time.
Stermin took overall honours for the day, carrying the Cape Town flag proudly. Habig finished in 2nd, with Thomas taking the third step on the podium. Boyd finished in 4th and Lincoln in 5th, while lady luck shone upon Brandon Smith as he took 6th overall thanks to the Coetzee – de Beer incident in the first heat.
Rotax DD2 Masters (32 Years + or >85kg in your shorts)
The “gentlemen’s” DD2 class was hardly any less ferocious than the feisty DD2 class, with all to play for in the season opening race.
Michael Stephen (Volkswagen Motorsport Academy / Scribante Construction / Stu Davidson & Sons / RAW Projects / ECSD) put in a qualifying lap of note on Friday, taking pole with a magnificent 40.725, four tenths faster than Jonathan Pieterse who is no slouch in a kart. Roy Gruer put in a great performance to secure third on the grid, but sadly this would prove to be the highlight of a race weekend that he will try to forget as quickly as possible.
Stephen was untouchable in race 1, despite the best efforts of Pieterse who broke the Masters lap record (41.309) while trying to catch him. Conor Hughes was ahead of Gruer for most of the race, but they swapped places a couple of times before the finish before Hughes got the better of Gruer. Marco Viegas won the midfield battle, finishing just ahead of Ernst Viljoen and Andre Steenkamp (Carbs and Coffee Media).
As the Masters revved their karts in the pre-race grid for the start of the second race, Gruer’s kart decided that this was all too difficult and refused to start. A DNS is brutal for the championship, as you score no points vs. scoring say 18 points if you start the race and don’t finish a single lap.
As hearts broke for Gruer, Stephen got the better of Pieterse to take the win, with Hughes, Viljoen, Steenkamp and Brett Brito (Grand Prix Digital & Print) rounding out the top six. Behind them, all hell broke loose on the exit of the second 180 on the first lap, as a parking lot of DD2s formed with huge amounts of damage to several karts and an immediate retirement for Robert Peche (Carbs and Coffee Media) with a very bent kart.
Race 3 brought more heartbreak for Gruer, whose kart once again registered a DNS. Pieterse had his own share of pain, watching from the sidelines for half the race with a broken kart after a tussle with Stephen. Hughes stole the show, putting on his best dog-and-hare routine with head down as he did everything possible to stay in 1st position ahead of a charging Stephen. It was not to be, with Stephen taking the lead towards the end of the race and setting a new lap record for DD2 Masters of 41.150s as he charged down Hughes. Brito came home in an impressive 3rd place ahead of Viljoen, Viegas and Alistair Mingay.
The final classification saw Stephen on top with a perfect performance of three wins from three races, adding to his overall victory in MAX 175 and proving once again why he is one of South Africa’s most decorated racing drivers. Hughes was thrilled with 2nd overall, with Viljoen bringing his signature hairstyle to glory in 3rd. Pieterse came 4th overall despite his misfortune, with Brito and Viegas rounding out the top 6.
You can always spot those in the crowd who have never witnessed a Rotax karting National. With eyes as wide as saucepans and smiles that are even wider, they all say the same thing – they have never seen racing like this. Ever.
As the dust settles on Killarney, battle lines have been drawn. The karting spectacular heads to Port Elizabeth in April for the second round. You can be sure that high drama and unbelievable racing will come to the Eastern Cape.
Issued on behalf of Western Province Motor Club (WPMC)
Picture credit: David Marchio