- East Rand 12-year-old wins a Rotax World championship
- 13th World Kart championship won by SA driver since 2000
- 360 karters from over 50 countries racing in Italy
By STUART JOHNSTON
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Jayden Els, a Grade 6 pupil at Laesrskool Baanbreker in Boksburg, Gauteng, won the Mini Max category in the 2016 Rotax Max Challenge finals in Italy on Saturday (Oct 22).
The 12-year-old was one of a 13-driver South African team that competed at the Sarno circuit in Italy in this the 17th edition of this World championship event.
Rotax is the world’s most competitive karting series. All 360 drivers from over 50 countries must qualify in their respective country and the event is run over six days each year in a different country.
Els,who earned his race seat by winning the Rotax Africa Open Mini Max category for drivers aged 9-12 in Pretoria in July 2016, gave a masterclass in race craft. He qualified 12th for the finals and raced to 10th on the grid for the finals.
SUPERB LAST-LAP EFFORT
He had a brilliant start and by the end of the first lap was up to fifth place before picking off the front-runners and was leading by mid-race and it was looking like a straightforward drive to the finish for the 12-year-old.
However, the pack was closing thanks to the slip-steaming top-speed benefit of a bunch of karts running nose-to-tail and with just over a lap to go he found himself demoted to third! By the start of the last lap he had read the race brilliantly and took a tighter line on to the back straight to retake the lead and hold it to the flag.
Els finished only 0.9sec ahead of second-placed Thomas Nepveu from Canada, with Luka Nurmi of Finland third, Victor Bernier of France fourth, Ziggy Kermanshahchi from UAE fifth and AriasDeukmedjian of the USA rounding out the top six.
Els said after the race he had dedicated his win to his recently deceased grandfather: “I knew his was watching as I took the chequered flag.” He also thanked his father Jean and mother Yolande for all effort they’ve put into his karting career.
Els was very clear two weeks before the race about his stated aim: “I’ve worked hard for this and I’m going to win it!”
The rest of the South African team competing in a number of class categories had mixed results, A number whos started the week-long practice, qualification and elimination heats were in very strong positions.
Notable was Nick Verheul from Edenvale, Gauteng, wh
o was the fastest qualifier out of 72 for the DD2 Masters class (drivers aged 32 and older) and started the pre-final eighth before being punted out of position in a miserably wet pre-final.
Thus Nick failed to make the Saturday finals which, ironically, were run on a dry track under blazing sunshine!
An amazing performance was put in by young Luca Munaretto from Boksburg. At one stage he was second overall in the qualifying events for the highly competitive DD2 class in which, at only 14, he was the youngest competitor by far.
He was eliminated when the weather turned late in the week so didn’t make the finals.
RAIN CASES PAIN FOR SA DRIVERS
Rain on Thursday and Friday also caught out Bloemfontein’s Justin Allison (DD2) and Eugene Brittz, who were very quick in their qualification runs and heats but at a disadvantage, like the rest of the South Africans, on the soaking track. They started the DD2 final way back on the 34-kart grid but Allison charged from the back of the grid to finish 18th. Brittz was 23rd.
Fabienne Lanz showed plenty of speed in qualifying, running as high as fourth at one stage, but was also caught out by the rain.
South African Rotax importer Ed Murray, there to encourage the team, said before the fFinals on Saturday he was proud of the team’s performances. “None of you’ve had enough wet-track practice to compete fairly with drivers from ‘wet’ countries. Nevertheless, you all did well under extremely difficult conditions.
“Many of you were disappointed by missing out but let’s put this into perspective: In 2016 more than 15 000 drivers participated in the global Rotax National series and many in various international series, such as the Euro Challenge, Florida Winter tour and were hoping for the opportunities you achieved – the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals!
“A big thank you to all of you, for doing us proud!”
A LITTLE HISTORY…
*Jayden Els’s World championship victory in Sarno, Italy, was the 13th World title achieved in the Rotax Grand Finals by South African drivers since the series was first run in Puerto Rico in 2000.
That event was won by Gavin Cronje; then in 2001 Claudio Piazzo-Musso won in Lankawi. Gavin’s brother Mark took the World championship in early 2003 and since then we’ve had multiple title winners in various categories: Leeroy Poulter, Wesleigh Orr, Caleb Williams, Cristiano Morgado.
SKILL, NOT CHEQUEBOOKS, DETERMINES WINNERS
Unlike other karting championships in South Africa and Europe, Rotax drivers must qualify for the Grand Finals by being their country’s best. Thus the Grand Finals is rated as being the most competitive in the world in terms of driving standards.
A big cheque book is enough In lesser championships to secure a drive in such events but Rotax ensures an absolute premium is put on driving skill by supplying each competitor (340 in 2016!) with new engines, kart chassis, tyres and equipment with which to compete in this championship.
No other motorsport championship does this for World championship finals. Rotax’s formula has proved a huge success as more drivers take part in Rotax karting than in any other formula.
That South Africans have been so successful in this event over the years is testament to the competitiveness of our local championship, and the inherent skill and resilience of our top drivers.