Palmerston North karter Josh Hart’s calculated charge from P4 on the grid to win the Rotax 125 Light class Final was the highlight on a mixed weekend for the Kiwi contingent at the second round of this year’s Australian Rotax Pro Tour at Dubbo in rural New South Wales over the weekend,
The multi-time former NZ champ and Rotax Max Challenge Grand Final representative qualified seventh quickest and had a best heat placing of fifth before finishing fourth in the Pre-Final then winning the Final by a margin of almost two seconds from top Australian karters Leigh Nicolaou and Reece Cohen.
Hart made it from fourth to second place on lap 7 then from second to a lead he would never lose two laps later.
It was an impressive performance against the crème of Australia’s top Rotax class drivers, particularly on a track he had never raced at before and with just his brother Brendon crewing for him.
“We were not the quickest in the race but we were probably the most consistent. We made some changes to the set up (before the Final) which probably helped too,” he said on Monday.
When he raced then worked as a race engineer in Europe for several years Hart got used to extensive testing and data gathering weeks before a big meeting.
Now happy to be back home and quietly building up a tuning, set-up and driver mentoring business from his base in Palmerston North, he prefers to simply turn up at a meeting – even the big ones across the Tasman – and take it from there.
“I’m lucky in a way in that I have a team – Australian Praga importer and distributor IP Karting – which transports my kart around and has a tent we are all based in, but in terms of the actual running of the kart it is just Brendon and I.
“Even the kart we run is not new, it is one of the Pragas they ran at the Grand Finals last year.”
“Before we committed to doing the Pro Tour this year both Brendon and I agreed that we wanted to keep it fun. Obviously we take it seriously but we’re both at an age and stage now where neither of us want to lose sight of why we do this. We enjoy doing it and if we win, like we did on the weekend, then that’s great, but if we don’t, for whatever reason, we’re not going to beat ourselves up over it.”
Typical of the brothers’ well practised way of doing things was how they came back from a wrong turn on set up before the Pre-Final.
‘We made some changes to the kart after the heats but they didn’t work out the way we hoped in the Pre-Final. What they did do, though, was point us in a direction – by going the other way – which did work for the Final.”
Sam Waddell was the next best finisher, qualifying third quickest and finishing fourth in the DD2 class Final while fellow Tauranga driver Jay Urwin did well to finish fifth on 2018 Pro Tour debut in the Micro Max class Final.
The other Kiwis all struck problems of one sort or another,
Worst affected was Rnd 1 Junior Rotax class winner Ryan Wood from Wellington. He won all three heats and the Pre-Final then finished third in the Final, only to be disqualified from the event over a technical infringement.
Compatriots Jackson Rooney from Palmerston North and Connor Davison from Hamilton also had issues.
Rooney proving plenty fast enough (he was quickest in the final timed practice session and finished second in the third Junior Rotax heat) but got taken out on the second corner in the Pre-Final and was credited with 26th place, then and after a promising charge through the field from the back of the grid (making it to P9) failed to finish the Final when his chain came off four laps from the finish.
Connor Davison qualified 15th but had issues in the first two heats. He recovered well in the third heat (13th) and Pre-Final (12th) but ended up back in P17 in the Final.
Michael McCulloch from the Kapiti Coast had a similar run in Rotax 125 Light but persevered for a weekend best 13th place in the Final.
Rianna O’Meara-Hunt struggled again with set-up issues related to the amount of lead (weight) the slightly built 16-year-old from Wellington now has to carry to weigh up for the Senior Rotax 125 Light class.
She qualified an uncharacteristic 31st and after a best of 29th in the heats didn’t contest the Pre-Final or Final.