Massive entries bode well for the remaining three rounds in 2018

DD2 podium. Picture by Werner VietOne of the biggest karting entries for a National Championship meeting in a decade guaranteed that the first round of the 2018 National Karting Championship provided thrilling competition at IDube karting circuit near Pietermaritzburg on March 31.

32 starters faced the flag in the top-ranking DD2 class - two speed gearbox direct drive karts in the Rotax series, and this was just two karts shy of the maximum allowable number for a starting grid under international karting rules.

And if this ultra-competitive field wasn’t enough to whet the appetite, the topsy-turvy weather, which switched from rainy conditions to dry and then back again, played havoc with the best-laid plans for race set-ups all day long. So predicting a winner in each of the five National Championship Rotax classes was more of a lottery than an educated guess.


DD2 and DD2 Masters winner Michael Stephen. Picture by Werner Viet

Qualifying for the fastest National karting class in South Africa was run in dry conditions on Friday, April 30, and the times showed just why this class has been rated as the most competitive category of racing in South Africa today. Local KZN ace Benjamin Habig took pole position, and the top 10 qualifiers were separated by less than half a second! Second-quickest was Cape Town’s Jurie Swart, followed by wily Port Elizabeth veteran Michael Stephen. Next up was Simon Moss, making a surprise return to karting, while the current SA champ Bradley Liebenberg managed fifth-fastest.

In fact the fastest twenty competitors in race one (in the rain) were separated by less than second on the tricky iDube circuit, which is quite literally situated on the side of a mountain.

 “There is simply no other kart circuit like this anywhere else in the world,” enthused South African Rotax distributor Ed Murray, who has been involved in kart racing for over five decades.

Murray joked that the DD2 class was in fact a Finishing School for the Global Touring Car series which currently enjoys top status on long-circuit racing in South Africa, and he has a valid point. Out of the top five grid positions, three of the kart drivers currently run in GTC, whilst a glance down the DD2 entry list reveals many South African and World Karting Champions.

Notable amongst these was Arnold Neveling from Vereeniging, who is a past Rotax European Champion. Neveling, who runs a team of a younger kart drivers, was making a welcome return to driving at IDube, but his qualifying run was spoiled by a mechanical glitch, so he had to start right at the tail-end of the 32-kart grid. Local hopes, however, were pinned on Ben Habig and also local KZN hero Cristiano Morgado, a multiple Rotax World Champion, who is running in both the DD2 and Senior Max classes this year

The racing was as tight as the grid times suggested, but the changeable conditions throughout the day meant drivers guessing the weather and opting for either a dry or a wet set-up.  For this reason, no single driver dominated the day’s racing. But the man who came closest was Michael Stephen, also known for a string of South African championships in Karting, Polo Cup, Production Cars and the GTC series.

Stephen won the first race and followed this up with a second place in the second race and a third in the final race, to take the overall win for the day. Behind him, Arnold Neveling showed what a classy driver he is, fighting his way through from 32nd place on the grid in Race One to finish second overall for the day. He placed fourth in race One, third in race Two and won the final race of the day!  Cris Morgado didn’t disappoint. He was second in the first race and took the win in the second race, but fell afoul of the changeable conditions in Race Three, only placing seventh. So Morgado ended up third overall. Benjamin Habig showed great pace to place third in race One and second in race Two, but a fifth place in the second race saw him end up fourth, ahead of current SA Champion Bradley Liebenberg from Lonehill. Liebenberg, who has been dominant in DD2 for a number of seasons now, had a quiet race by his standards and finished fifth overall, his best placings being two fourths in Race Two and Race Three.

Rounding out the top six was the very impressive Cape Town driver Jurie Swart, while current SA Senior Max champion Luke Herring (also from Cape Town) was seventh. Robert Whiting, 2017 Junior Max SA Champ Sebastian Boyd and Ivana Cetinich completed the top 10. Another new name to watch in DD2 is MSA Academy star Jordan North who thoroughly enjoyed his baptism of fire in iDube.

In the DD2 Masters class for drivers aged 32 and over, Michael Stephen was the winner, followed by Morgado and Pinetown local ace Jonathan Pieterse.

Senior Max

Senior Max winner Jonathan Pieterse. OPicture by Werner Viet

The very enthusiastic Pieterse has entered not only DD2 this season but also the Senior non-gearbox class, Senior Max. Here although the field was smaller than DD2, the competition was still intense. There were three different race winners in Senior Max, but Jono Pieterse was the most consistent in the wet-and-dry races, taking a third and a fifth in the first two races and then scoring a very popular “local” win in the final race to end up the overall winner.

Local protagonist Dominic Lincoln who has set the pace in Senior Max in 2018 had a difficult day starting with his nosecone being ripped off in a first lap squeeze into the Cork Screw and then losing a chain in the final race. Wayland Wyman fought hard after missing the pre-race practices and for big things can be expected from these two going forward.

Jason Coetzee from Cape Town was a Race One winner, and a third place in Race Two and an eighth in the final race saw him placed second overall, followed by Cris Morgado, who also ran two classes at Idube. Dane van Heerde, son of popular KZN  DD2 masters driver Richard van Heerde, was a fine fourth, followed by Edenvale’s Nick Verheul, who was quick all day and won race Two, but a wrong choice of slick tyres in what turned out to be a very wet final saw Verheul, Lincoln, Morgado and Coetzee fight for the lower places while trying to stay on the soaked track. Carlo Olivier, after leading the final race for a while rounded out the top six.

Junior Max

Junior Max winner Jarrod Waberski. Picture Werner Viet

This class for drivers aged 12 to 15 has really come of age this year and there were 20 starters on the grid at IDube. A favourite to win here was Cape Town’s Charl Visser, but he was just pipped for pole position in qualifying by fellow Capetonian Joseph Oelz.

Once again, wet-to-dry-to-wet conditions meant that some drivers were caught out with set-up changes between races, while others made the right call. One of these was young Jarrod Waberski from Gauteng, who made no mistake in winning Race One and Race Two, and took the overall win for the day, despite struggling in the final race.

Jayden Els, the 2016 Rotax Mini Max World champ, impressed with pole position and built up an impressive lead in Race One but from mid distance the drying track favoured those who chose to race on slicks and so he eventually dropped to second position. Els’ day got worse when he came in underweight which moved him to last.  Race two second place result was downgraded after a 5-second nose cone penalty was applied so this is an event he would rather forget! The point scoring system provides for three races to be dropped at the end of the series so don’t write anyone off yet.

Charl Visser was an impressive second for the day, winning the final Junior Max race of the day, followed by Aqil Alibhai. Also impressive was 2017 Maxterino champ Tate Bishop from Cape Town, who placed fourth overall ahead of Daniel Patrizi. Kwanda Mokoena – reigning 60cc champion from Gauteng - is always good value at IDube, and he scored an impressive second in Race Two to end up sixth overall, just ahead of pole man Oelz, who scored two seconds in races One and Two, but had a torrid race Three to drop him down the overall standings.

Mini Max

Mini Max winner Mikhail Fernandez. Picture by Werner Viet

Cape Town drivers were also prominent in Mini Max, for drivers aged 9-13, none more so than young SAKRA driver Mikhail Fernandez. On a day where consistency was key, young Fernandez won Race One, placed fifth in Race Two and second in Race Three to head the Mini Max standings.

Local kart fans in KZN were cheered by the pace of young Richards Bay driver Liam de Beer, who backed up two fourth places in races One and Two by a fine win in Race Three, sending the packed grand stand at IDube wild with delight!

Josh le Roux gave Gauteng a look in in Race Two by coming out on top, and he placed second overall for the day, followed by Liam de Beer, Capetonian Joaquin de Oliveira, and Joshua de Paiva and Reece Fuller from Gauteng. Cape driver Kyle Visser, who is normally a front runner had an off weekend but will no doubt be back at the front soon.

Micro Max

Happy young karters on the Micro Max podium at Idube KZN Round One of Rotax Championship 2018

The new Micro Max class for drivers aged 9-13 drew an impressive entry of 17 karts, and all was set for a very completive display in this championship for primary-school-aged drivers. But the form book was turned on its head as the Micro Max runners were challenged weather. The changeable weather meant that the slower half of the field qualified first (best of two flying laps ) in the dry, while the drivers quickest in the last practice session had to qualify in the wet!

Thus you had drivers like current champion Muhammed Wally, Reza Levy from Cape Town and Joshua de Paiva, Reese Koorzen, all  very quick in practice, starting from near the back of the grid!

Joshua De Paiva 618 Micro Max winner. Picture by Werner VietThe driver that made the best of this “bad situation” was young Josh de Paiva, who racked up three straight victories, the only driver on the day to dominate. He was followed home by Troy Snyman, a recovering Reza Levy (who started in last place in race One!), and Bjorn Bertholdt, son of well-known off-road racer Gary Bertholdt. Bertholdt in particular had a fine second place in Race Three.

Local drivers Dhiyven Naidoo and Rayn Asmal kept the KZN flag flying by placing fifth and sixth for the day.

Rotax Man Ed Murray said that the event boded well for the remaining three National Championship rounds still to come in 2018. “The number of top drivers in DD2 in particular shows that the Rotax series rates as the most competitive motorsport arena anywhere in South Africa right now. The Junior Max class is just as competitive at the sharp end of the field, and drew an impressive 20-kart entry.  And it’s great to see that our relatively new class, Micro Max, drew an excellent 17 entries for Idube and will have many more at the next rounds in Gauteng and Western Cape where more locals will compete at National level.”

“It was a great event, well organised, with the particular down-home flavour that makes IDube special.  All the provinces are represented and the level of competition in several classes is on a par with any European or any other international kart racing”

For More information, go to www.kart.co.za. The event was also filmed, and will be posted on YouTube in the coming week.