ROTAX AFRICAN OPEN COMES OF AGE – Zwartkops Kart Raceway, August 20, 2016

AO Nick Verheul

  • First Mozambican driver  to win an African Karting Championship
  • Amazing come-back win in new Mini Max Category
  • New Micro Max class sees 14 starters and nail-biting finish
  • Heartbreak for DD2 pace-setter Luca Canderle
  • Double win for lady driver Fabienne Lanz
  • Mini and Micro Max winners head for Rotax World Champs in Italy in October!
The Rotax African Open  Karting Championship came of age at the Zwartkops Kart Raceway on Saturday, August 20, 2016, with the first category championship in the Open’s history going to a Mozambican driver. Karl Pitzer won the championship final in the ultra-competitive Junior Max karting category,  in a fitting ending to his season which has seen him develop as a driver with each successive outing. 

The meeting was also notable from strong performances from other drivers from Mozambique, as well as good showings from Zimbabwean drivers. In the past, drivers from neighbouring states have battled to stay in touch with the South African front runners, but five years after this one-day Championship was first run, the level of competitiveness from our neighbouring countries has risen exponentially.

Also heartening was the number of drivers who travelled to Pretoria from the Cape, despite a long South African Championship season having just been done and dusted, as well as an important Cape regional event in the Rotax series due to be run this coming weekend. Notable amongst these Capetonians was Joseph Oelz, who placed third in the Mini Max category for drivers aged 11-13.

Micro Max Joshua De Paiva Anthony Pretorius nd Reece FullerMicro Max: All eyes were on the new Micro Max category for drivers aged between 7 and 10 at the 2016 African Open, as this would be the first event where many of these young drivers would experience a serious horsepower jump, from the 50 cc Cadet class, as well as the 60 cc Maxterino class.

A strong field of 14 karts  took the starter’s orders for the 12 lap final. African  Open rules see only the final in each category counting towards the championship, with the two pre-final aggregate scores determining the final’s starting grid.

The weather gods dealt this already tense race a serious curved ball by directing a passing thunder shower to the Zwartkops tarmac just as the drivers embarked on their warm-up lap. The result of this was that virtually the entire Micro Max field came unstuck on the very first bend!

It was a testimony to the youngsters’ skill that they all managed to get going again, and on a wet track it was young Aqil Alibhai - with wet weather experience in the UK under his belt this year – who took the lead. But it was young Joshua de Paiva , who took the win on a drying track, beating Alibhai by less than a second. De Paiva drove in Micro Max internationally in 2015 at the Grand Finals in Portugal, (in a non-championship event for Spanish and Portuguese nationals) so he will be relishing his trip to the 2016 Grand Finals.

Third was Reece Fuller, ahead of Anthony Pretorius, Muhammad Wally and a relative new-comer to the top-six , Mandla Jnr Mlangeni!

Mini Max Jayden Els Jarrod WaberskiMini Max. Like Micro Max, this was the first major championship event ever held for this new class of karts, in this case for young drivers aged 11-13. Here there was a strong Cape Town contingent, notably with  Joseph Oelz heading up a challenge to the Gauteng favourites spearheaded by young  Jayden Els and Kwanda Mokoena.

In the final it was Jayden Els who came through the field brilliantly to take the win from Jarrod Waberski whose driving has been at a high level all season. Els had picked up problems in the pre finals and started the final  way down in 11th place. His charge through the field to win was brilliant.

But Waberski fought him tooth and nail right to the end of the final. Less than a second separated Els, Waberski and third placed Joseph Oelz after 12 laps, with Daniel de Paiva still in touch in fourth, followed by Christiaan van Wyk and the fancied Kwanda Mokoena, who was having a rather fraught day in this category.

Junior Max Podium Pitzer Duminy LincolnJunior Max. This category for drivers 13 to 16 is arguably the most competitive karting class in South Africa at the moment, and  the field that started the 20-lap final was headed by drivers from all parts of the country. A brilliant dice ensued between Mozambique’s Karl Pitzer, KZN’s Dominic Lincoln and fellow KZN driver Daniel Duminy for the lead, and at the end less than second separated these three, who finished in that order. Tiago Rebelo  from Gauteng was fourth, followed by the first Zimbabwean driver to finish in the top six in an African Open, Zachary Dufty in fifth place! Sixth was Wayland Wyman from Benoni.

Ivana CetinichDD2 Gearbox and DD2 Masters. The fastest kart racing class in the Rotax series is the DD2 twin-speed class. And with places in the Grand Finals in Italy up for grabs, it was small wonder that a quality field of 17 karts took the start in the final. Setting the pace all weekend until this point was former Rotax champion Luca Canderle from KZN.

After a close tussle up front Canderle established himself as a deserved winner, but, sadly, his kart was found to be under weight (probably due to not adding enough fuel at the start of the race). Thus he was out, with the win going to the classy lady driver Fabienne Lanz, who also earned herself a place in the Grand Finals in Italy.

Lanz’s win came after not only Canderle’s disqualification, but after Nic Verheul, having a great weekend and running second for most of the race, slowed on the final lap to be passed by Lanz and second-placed Luca Munaretto, who is all of 14-years-old!   Verheul was third and the Masters category winner, followed by the ever-improving Rachelle du Plessis, Stuart White and Richard Fuller (second in DD2 Masters). Du Plessis  in the second pre-final had a great start and led the race for several laps, doing a great job of fending off her pursuers, before tangling with Masters driver Jonathan Pieterse.

Fabienne Lanz leads Senior MaxSenior Max. Fabienne Lanz also won the Senior Max event for the day, making her a double winner, ahead of the impressive Ivana Cetinich, and Michael Buchholz. For some reason the Senior Max event was poorly supported at the African Open.

Nevertheless, Tylan Swartbooi could take pride in his fourth pace in Senior Max, having improved immensely in 2016 as a driver. He was followed home by Nicholas Spanoyannis.

Maxterino Podium Kwanda Aqil WallyMaxterino. It was heartening to see that, with all the buzz surrounding the new Mini Max class, there was still a serious entry and ensuing dice in Maxterino, the 60 cc class for drivers aged 8-13. After just losing out in this year’s Rotax Max Challenge championship in this class, it was just reward for Kwanda Mokoena to take the win,  only 0,2 seconds ahead of his arch rival Aqil Alibhai. Muhammad Wally was less than a second behind these two after 12 laps, followed by Liam de Beer, Allessio Angelucci and Vassilli Lanzanakis. Mokoena won a spectator’s air ticket to the Grand Finals for his efforts (or a R10 000 cash voucher at Ed Murray Racing)!

Cadet supporting classSupport Races: There was also great racing in the two support classes at the 2016 African Open. In the Cadet 50 cc class for youngsters aged 5-8, there was a tremendous tussle for the win, the honours going to Kyle Beukes from Moosa Kajee by just one tenth of a second, followed by Mohammed Moerat. The podium finishers here received really impressive trophies for their efforts in an event that had the whole Zwartkops crowd on their feet!

There was similar fun and excitement in the noisy 125 GP class for six-speed “old school” karts, where the average age is closer to 40 than five years old! Here the win went to Gerald Fourie, from Kurt Bakewell, Ian Basson, Clint Jones, Wayne Masters and Ryan Bakewell.

*Following the African Open, the South African team for the Rotax Grand Finals in Sarno, Italy in October is taking shape. Although the team has yet to be finalised, it currently  reads as follows:

Micro Max: Joshua de Paiva
Mini Max: Jayden Els.
Junior Max: Cameron O’ Connor
Senior Max : Either Dino Stermin or Delon Thompson
DD2: Justin Allison, Fabienne Lanz, Luca Munaretto, Ivana Cetinich.
DD2 Masters: Nicholas Verheul, Richard Fuller, Jonathan Pieterse