With their successes last weekend in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race in France, Kiwi racing drivers Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber have put motorsport here in New Zealand back on the global map.
Before the pair started racing cars, though, they – like fellow Kiwi drivers Scott Dixon (a four-time US Indycar series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner), Shane Van Gisbergen (the current Virgin Australia Supercar series champion) and Scott McLaughlin (winner of the Darwin round of this year’s Australian Supercar series last weekend) – learned then honed their driving skills in karts at home.
New Zealand has a thriving kart scene, with clubs around the country running regular meetings for members and getting together for inter-club series like the long-running WPKA (lower North Island), Top Half (upper North Island) and Mainland (South Island) ones.
This weekend sees the KartSport Bay of Plenty club host the opening round of this year’s now Hampton Downs-backed 2017 Top Half Series at the Te Puke Auto Electrical Raceway tucked into the coastal foothills north-west of the Bay of Plenty town.
Series like the Hampton Downs Top Half one provide an key link between club and national level competition, offering drivers young and old the opportunity to learn new tracks and test their skills against their peers from other clubs.
Set up over 24 years ago by the KartSport Auckland, Mt Wellington, and Hamilton clubs the Top Half Series and is run each year in conjunction with five others in the northern half of the North Island; KartSport Whangarei, KartSport Bay of Plenty, KartSport Tokoroa, KartSport Rotorua and KartSport Eastern Bay of Plenty.
A sign of the regard in which the series is held is the fact that this weekend’s opening round hosts the third round of this year’s ROK Cup New Zealand series.
Trips to the ROK Cup International Final in Italy in October this year for the series’ winner and runner-up in the Vortex Mini ROK class, and a new Vortex Mini ROK engine for the winner of the Cadet ROK series are the key prizes.
So it is no surprise that, with over 30 nine-to-13-year-olds entered in Vortex Mini ROK and 16 six-to-11-year-olds signed up for Cadet ROK, the two Vortex classes are amongst the best supported of the eight which will be contested on Sunday.
After two of the four round of the ROK Cup NZ series it is still anyone’s race in either class. Logan Manson from Levin has a two point lead on Auckland’s Mason Potter with Asten Addy from Hamilton and Kaden Probst from Auckland tied for third a further two points back in Vortex Mini ROK.
Current NZ#1 Louis Sharp is looking good to take over the points lead in the Cadet ROK class, meanwhile, thanks to current leader Emerson Vincent’s mid-series move ‘up the ladder’ to the Vortex Mini ROK class.
The Junior Rotax and Rotax Max Light (Senior) classes are also very well supported this year with over 30 entries in the Junior class and 26 in Lights.
A bumper prize pool has been a feature of the series in recent years and this year is no different. Prizes to the value of over $36,000 will be up for grabs this year, including over $10,000 in prize money, $5000 in Hampton Downs Go Kart prizes, $6,000 in CRC product giveaways, $1200 worth of Dunlop tyres from Lascom Motorsport and a custom-painted Arai SK-6 helmet complete with helmet bag courtesy Arai NZ, Headcase Designs plus Lightning Racegear valued at a further $2000.
Not surprisingly this weekend’s opening round has attracted a 130+ entry across seven classes from all over New Zealand.
As well as individual glory for the drivers, clubs compete against each other for the prestigious Roundabout Kart Shop Trophy. There will also be a Dash for Cash GP race at each round with a reverse grid starting format based on results from the five class heats and $500 cash for the winner.
More information on this year’s Top Half series can be found on KartSport New Zealand’s website www.kartsport.org.nz/events/2017-top-half-series and Facebook page www.facebook.com/TopHalfSeries