Jayden Els Mini Max World Champion

  • The East Rand 12-year-old wins the Rotax Mini Max World Championship at Sarno, Italy, on Saturday, October  22, 2016
  • Jayden’s triumph is the 13th World Karting Championship by a South African driver in the Rotax Grand Finals, run since 2000.
  • Over 360 karters from over 50 countries took part in this year’s Grand Finals, most of them champions or vice-champions from their respective countries.

Jayden Els, a Grade Six learner at Laesrskool Baanbreker in Boksburg, won the Mini Max category in the 2016 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Italy on Saturday, October 22, 2016.

The twelve-year-old was part of a 13-driver South African team that competed at the Sarno circuit in Italy in this 17th edition of this World Championship event.

Rotax karting is the most competitive series in the world, as all 360 drivers taking part from over 50 countries have to qualify for the event in their respective countries. The event is run over  six days each year in a different country around the world. Jayden earned his race seat in Italy by winning the Rotax Africa Open Mini Max category in Pretoria in July this year, for drivers aged 9-12 years old.
Jayden’s drive in the Finals on Saturday was a masterclass in race craft. Having qualified for the finals in 12th position, he raced in the pre-final to place in 10th position on the grid for the finals.

As the flag dropped, Jayden made a brilliant start and by the end of Lap One he was up to fifth place. He then consecutively picked off the front runners ahead so that by half distance he was leading. It then  looked like a straightforward drive to the finish for the 12-year-old from Boksburg, as he initially drew away up front, but 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!

But at the start of the final lap he read the race brilliantly in front of him, taking a tighter line onto the back straight and he was back in front, holding his re-gained lead for the final lap to the finish.

Jayden finished just nine-tenths of a second 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.

“I would like to dedicate this victory to my grandfather,” said Jayden, who is also on the public speaking team at his school, and numbers amongst his sports and interests chess, rugby, cricket and golf. Jayden’s grandfather recently passed away, and Jayden said he knew his grandfather “was watching” as he took the chequered flag.

Jayden also made sure to thank his father Jean and mother Yolande for all the effort they’ve put behind his karting career.

Going into the final, Jayden was very clear in his stated aim: “I’ve worked hard for this and I’m going to win it,” he said some two weeks before the final. And so he did!

The rest of the South African  team competing in the 2016 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals had mixed results. Competing over a number of class categories, many of our drivers started the week-long practise, qualification and elimination heats in very strong positions.

Notable amongst these was Nick Verheul from Edenvale, who was the fastest qualifier out of 72 runners  in the DD2 Masters class (for drivers 32 and over) , and started the pre-final in eighth position, 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 up by young Luca Munaretto from Boksburg. At one stage he was second overall in the qualifying events for the highly competitive DD2 class, where at the age of 14 he was the youngest competitor by far. But unfortunately he was eliminated when the weather turned late in the week, and didn’t make the Finals.

The wet conditions on the Thursday and Friday also caught out the likes of  Bloemfontein’s Justin Allison in the DD2 class, and Eugene Brittz, these two being very quick in their qualification runs and heats. But they were at a disadvantage, like the rest of the South Africans, in the wet conditions, and they started the DD2 Final way back on the grid. They both improved in the race, Allison charging from the very back of the 34-kart grid to 18th, while Brittz finished the final in 23rd spot.

Fabienne Lanz was another driver who showed plenty of speed in the qualification runs, running as high as fourth-fastest at one stage, but was also caught out by the damp conditions.

South African Rotax importer Ed Murray, on hand to encourage the team in Italy, said before the Finals started on the Saturday, that he was really proud of the performances of all the team members. Speaking on the night before the Finals he said:

“None of you have had enough wet weather practice to compete fairly with drivers from ‘wet’ countries on a day like today. Nevertheless you all did well under extremely difficult conditions. Many of you were disappointed at missing out on the Finals, but let’s put this into perspective: In 2016 more than 15 000 drivers participated in Rotax National series around the world, and a large number in various international series, such as the Euro Challenge, Florida Winter tour, and so on. And all of these drivers were hoping for an opportunity that you all actually achieved! To be racing in the 2016 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals! A big thank you to all of you, for doing us proud!”
* Jayden Els’s World Championship victory in Sarno, Italy, was the 13th World Championship title achieved in the Rotax  Grand Finals by South African drivers, since the series was first run in Peurto Rico in 2000.

That event was won by Gavin Cronje, and the next year Claudio Piazzo-Musso won it in Lankawi. Gavin’s brother Mark took the World Championship in early  2003 and since then we have had multiple title winners in various categories, such as Leeroy Poulter,  Wesleigh Orr, Caleb Williams and Cristiano Morgado.

Unlike other karting championships in South Africa and in Europe, Rotax drivers have to qualify for the Grand Finals by being the best in the respective countries. Thus the Grand Finals is rated as being the most competitive in the world in terms of driving standards.

In lesser championships, a big cheque book is enough to secure a drive in these events . Rotax also ensures that an absolute premium is put on driving ability by supplying each competitor (some 340 of them in 2016!) with brand new engines, kart chassis, tyres and equipment, with which to compete in this championship.

No other motorsport championship anywhere in the world does this for its World Championship finals. Rotax’s formula has proved a huge success, as more drivers take part in Rotax karting than in any other formula in the world.

The fact 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.