Palmerston North driver Josh Hart ended up best of the Tasman-hopping Kiwi karters at the latest round of this year’s Australian Rotax Pro Tour over the weekend, finishing third in the Rotax Light class.
A multi-time New Zealand title holder and representative at the annual Rotax Max Grand Final, Hart remains as committed and competitive as ever and, after qualifying 15th, improved in each heat race before spending much of the 20-lap Rotax Light class Final locked in a pitched battle with top local driver Troy Morrissey.
Heading into the meeting, at Ipswich in Queensland, the big story was whether or not top Kiwi female karters Madeline Stewart and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt from Wellington could defend the history-making class wins (and State titles) they claimed at the second round of the 2017 series in South Australia in March.
However it was not to be.
Madeline Stewart had a good run through the heats and started the Pre-Final from P4 but was shuffled back down the order off the start when the driver in front (off P2) was slow away. That put her back to eighth, the position she started – and as it turned out – finished the Final in.
Older sister Ashleigh, now living and attending University in Melbourne, had to use her back up engine (after her main one failed early on) and struggled for pace all weekend, qualifying back in 24th place and finishing the Final 21st.
“Not as good as we would have liked,” said the girls’ father and racing manager Tony, “but we will be back.”
Rianna O’Meara-Hunt, who won the Rotax Junior class and SA State title at the second round, was also out of luck at the third.
After qualifying 15th she made up places in each heat to start the Final from P7 only to – as her father Marty put it – become ‘collateral damage in someone else’s incident on lap one’ and end her weekend at the side of the track.
With O’Meara-Hunt side-lined so early it was left to fellow Kiwis Sam Wright, Jaden Ransley and Ryan Wood to fly the flag in the Junior Final. This time it was Wright who impressed on his run to fifth place at the line which became fourth place when third-at-the-line Kade Vink was relegated.
Christchurch ace Jaden Ransley was also always a factor on his way to sixth place with Wood one spot behind after the comeback drive to beat all comeback drives.
Wellingtonian Wood was on the pace from the outset, qualifying second quickest and claiming a win and two seconds in the heats only to fail to start the Pre-Final. That meant he had to start the Final from P24, but incredibly made up 17 places and was closing on compatriot Ransley when the chequered flag came out.
The other resident Kiwi contesting the meeting, Daniel Bray, had brake problems most of the weekend but after qualifying ninth and claiming a best heat result of fifth, started and finished the DD2 class Final in seventh place.
“The problem was with the front brakes,” Bray said on Sunday evening before returning home, ” so it was very hard to stop a kart with just the rear brake. It really hurt me in the third of the track where there were big braking zones into hairpins because they were also where a lot of the passing was done. The competition was really close too and I think the team and I did a good job to finish where we did with what we had going on.”
No report on how the Kiwis went at the meeting would be without mention of expat Josh Drysdale, the former Palmerston North ace who now lives and works in Sydney. He put in a stand out performance in the DD2 class to win the fourth heat and finish second in the class Final!