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  • Fellow South African driver Arnold Neveling was fourth in DD2 and Michael Stephen was fifth in DD2 Masters.
  • The 18th Rotax Max Challenge Grand Final was run for the first time in Brazil this year.
  • More than 300 karting champions from 50 countries took part in the biggest kart racing championship in the world.

Durban’s veteran kart racer Cristiano Morgado won the 2018 Rotax DD2 Masters Grand Final world championship in Conde-Paraiba, Brazil on Saturday, December 1, 2018.

The 39-year-old started from pole position in the final after a week-long round of elimination races and lead from green light to chequered flag in energy-sapping hot conditions. He was hounded all the way to the flag of the 20-lap final, initially by fellow South African Michael Stephen of Port Elizabeth, and then by Antti Ollikainen of Finland and Fraser Hart of New Zealand. Stephen finished in a close fifth place behind Mathew Hamilton of New Zealand and the top five were covered by just five seconds.

Morgado’s win was a record-making fifth World Championship karting title in the annual Rotax Grand Finals, which were first held in Puerto Rico in 2000. That event was won by another South African, Gavin Cronje, and Morgado’s latest win brings the victory tally of South Africans in this international series to 14.

Cris won his first Rotax world title in 2003 and was the World DD2 Masters Champion in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

An emotional Morgado dedicated the victory to his father Rui, who has supported him in his racing career that stretches back more than three decades. Apart from karting, Morgado has competed at the top level of single-seater racing in Europe and in 2006 finished second in the British Formula Three Championship.

Every driver that makes it to the Rotax Grand Finals has won a championship in the region in which he or she has competed throughout the 2018, to gain entry to the Rotax World Championshp event.

For Michael Stephen, competing in his third Grand finals, it was once again of so-close, yet so-far, as he came within an ace of winning the DD2 Masters category (for drivers aged 32 and over) in 2015. This past weekend in Brazil he ran second for a number of laps just behind Morgado, but was caught in the closing stages by Ollikainen, Hart and Hamilton.

Yet another KZN-based driver, Jonathan Pieterse, finished an excellent 10th, after qualifying 18th for the finals. This was the experienced Pieterse’s best result in the world championship to date. He was very quick all week in the elimination races in Brazil, and he has also enjoyed a fantastic season in Rotax karting in 2018 in South Africa.

In the DD2 Gearbox class for younger drivers (aged 15 and over) Vereeniging’s Arnold Neveling scored a brilliant fourth place. Arnold started from seventh place on the grid and worked his way up to the front of the field where he challenged for the lead on many occasions throughout the 20-lap DD2 final. He followed DD2 winner Paolo Besancenez from France, Daniel Formal of Costa Rica and Taylor Greenfield of the USA over the line.

Fellow South African driver Benjamin Habig of Balito did well to place 19th after a topsy-turvy week in Brazil that saw him show excellent pace on occasion. The third South African DD2 driver in the 2018 Grand Finals, Wayland Wyman of Benoni, just failed to make the final round, placing 38th in the overall standings after the week’s elimination races. Only 36 karters start each final and just to make the final held on the Saturday is a huge achievement, considering each driver in this category competes against 71 other drivers who are all national champions or vice-champions in their respective regions.

Wyman, aged just 16, was driving in his first Grand Finals, securing his slot in the World Championship driving a non-gearbox Rotax machine in South Africa. His achievement was thus excellent, as he had precious-little experience with the powerful two-speed DD2 machine going into the final.

This year a total of 12 South African drivers qualified for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, and all of them acquitted themselves very well.

In the Micro Max class for drivers aged 8-11, Muhammad Wally of Johannesburg ran as high as fourth place in the final, before a slow-puncture saw him drop back to 19th place. This was Wally’s second Grand Final and his much quicker pace in this year’s event showed how much progress he had made this season.

Young KC Ensor Smith from Witbank was in his first Grand Finals and he finished a brilliant 13th overall in Micro Max, a fantastic achievement for the 10-year-old.

In the Mini Max class for drivers aged 10-13, Kyle Visser from Durbanville showed increasing pace throughout the week-long Grand Finals. Kyle was running in the top 20 in the finals, but a huge crash involving a dozen drivers saw him drop down to the tail end of the field on the third lap of the 14-lap final and he did well to fight back to 25th position.

In the Junior Max category for drivers aged 12-15, Aqil Aibhai from Johannesburg did well to qualify for the final in 33rd position. He ended up finishing 34th after an incident-filled race. His fellow South African in this category, Charl Visser from Durbanville, had a difficult week and didn’t qualify for the final.

In the Senior Max category, for drivers aged 14 years and over, our sole South African representative was Dominic Lincoln from Balito. Dominic showed great pace in his first qualifying heat, finishing 12th, but in his second qualifying heat he struck trouble and just failed to make the cut for the 36-kart final.

Ed Murray, South Africa’s Rotax distributor, was heartfelt in his congratulations to Morgado and all the South African team members who made it to Brazil in 2018.

“Well done to Cris and his dedicated team, who have helped him come back from a serious neck injury sustained in our South African Rotax series two years ago. To win a fifth Rotax Grand Finals title is an immense achievement, and this makes him unique in the karting world!"

“For all our team members, getting here to Brazil was already a serious achievement and you all did us proud!"

“For my part, I am proud to be a member of this great team, and I hope to see you all again at the next Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals.”