Could there be at least one – and possibly as many as three – Kiwis representing Australia at the Rotax Max Challenge’s annual Grand Final in Brazil later this year?
Incredible as that might sound, it is definitely a possibility as top karters from both sides of the Tasman gather at the all-new The Bend Motorsport Park kart track this weekend to contest the final round of the 2018 Australian Rotax Pro Tour.
Two resident Kiwis, Josh Hart from Palmerston North (Rotax 125 Light) and Ryan Wood from Wellington (Junior Max) have already won their classes at earlier rounds of the 2018 series title fight, and both are currently third in the series’ points standings for their classes.
A third Kiwi, former Dunedin now Auckland-based Joshua Bethune, also lies third in the point standings in the Rotax DD2 class’s second ‘Race for the Worlds’ competition.
While places in the other five classes on the Australian team to compete at this year’s Grand Final in northern Brazil between November 24 and December 01 will only be decided after all six rounds are completed, one of the two spots up for grabs in the Rotax DD2 class was decided after the first three rounds, with the other to go the driver who scores the most points over the final three rounds.
Damian Ward currently leads that ranking from fellow Aussie Jac Preston but Kiwi Joshua Bethune is third.
Having previously earned spots at a Grand Final from both the New Zealand and European Rotax Max Challenges, veteran Josh Hart is one of four drivers vying for two Rotax 125 Light spots on the Aussie squad this year. Ben Jurszak heads to Tailem Bend this weekend in the lead, albeit only 20 points up on second placed Reece Cohen and 304 ahead of Hart with a third local ace, Leigh Nicolaou also with a mathematical chance of earning a trip to Brazil.
Top Australian Junior Jaiden Pope has a good lead in the Junior Max points standings, meaning he is odds-on favourite to take series’ victory and one of the two Junior class spots on the team heading to Brazil. But Kiwi Ryan Wood is one of three – the other two are William Seal and Luke Pink- teenagers in with a chance of earning the other.
The fact that the new Tailem Bend kart track will be new to everyone – Aussie and Kiwi alike – bodes well for Hart, Wood, Bethune and the other Kiwis – Sebastian Manson (pictured) (Mini Max) from Auckland, Jackson Rooney (Junior Max) form Palmerston North, Michael McCulloch (Rotax 125 Light) and Sam Waddell (DD2) from Tauranga – competing there as well this weekend.
Manson finished a season-best second in the Mini Max class at the fifth round of the 2018 Pro Tour at Albury last month and is currently 7th in the points standings in his class. Like fellow Palmerston North driver Josh Hart, Jackson Rooney was also on the podium at that round – Hart third in Rotax 125 Light, Rooney third in Junior Max.
Michael McCulloch, from the Kapiti Coast, has had an up-and-down year but remains a legitimate top six prospect in Rotax 125 Light, as is Tauranga’s Sam Waddell (currently fifth in the overall class points standings) in Rotax DD2.
As his Kiwi friends and family honoured him last weekend in Nelson, Australia’s Rotax community is remembering V8 Supercar ace Jason Richards, who died of a rare form of cancer in 2011, at Tailem Bend this weekend. Richards raced a Rotax DD2 kart at a round of the Rotax Pro Tour in 2010 and this weekend the series’ Jason Richards Memorial Trophy will be awarded to the winner of the DD2 class.
You can follow all the Rotax Pro Tour action at www.rotax.com.au or www.facebook.com/rotaxprotour.