Kiwi karters Josh Hart and Ryan Wood claimed class wins and compatriots Jackson Rooney and Sebastian Manson backed them up with podium finishes at the third round of Australia’s Rotax Pro Tour at Ipswich in Queensland on Sunday.
In the most successful Pro Tour weekend for the series’ Kiwi regulars since top female drivers Madeline Stewart and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt won a class apiece at the second round of the 2017 series in South Australia just over 12 month ago, Hart from Palmerston North, claimed his second Rotax 125 Light class win in a row to further extend his lead in the class series’ point standings.
It was another vintage performance from the multi-time New Zealand Rotax class winner and Grand Final rep who spent years in Europe working as a race engineer between stints driving.
Though he didn’t qualify particularly well (14th) he and brother Brendon beavered away getting their Praga chassis sorted during the heats on Saturday so that come Pre-Final time on Sunday he was not only a podium possibility ( he worked his way from P9 on the grid to P2 at the flag), he was ready to contend for another round win.
From P2 on the grid Hart spent the early part of the Final battling with 15-year-old Aussie ace Reece Cohen. A miscue by Cohen saw Hart grab the lead, then pull away as Cohen’s focus shifted to defending second place from a fired up Harrison Hoey and fellow Aussie Ben Jurczak.
Wellington teen Ryan Wood, also claimed his second Junior Rotax class victory of the 2018 Pro Tour, after a first-up win at the opening round in Melbourne in January. His was even more emphatic than Hart’s, the talented Wellington teen qualifying quickest then winning two of three heats on Saturday and both the Pre-Final and Final on Sunday.
Along the way he set the fastest race lap in the second heat on Saturday then both the Pre-Final and Final on Sunday, leaving the cream of Australia’s Junior karting talent in his wake.
With the meeting also carrying State Rotax class title status the Queensland Rotax Max Light and Junior Rotax titles and trophies also came home with Wood and Hart..
Jackson Rooney from Palmerston North, made it a Kiwi one-two in Junior Rotax, with second spot in both Qualifying and the class Final, while young Aucklander Sebastian Manson completed the Kiwi podium trifecta with his best Australian finish to date, third place in the Mini Max class Final after a race-long battle with Jordan Ensbey.
The other Kiwis contesting the meeting didn’t quite make the podium though Tauranga Speedway Supersaloon ace Sam Waddell (who races karts to keep sharp between Speedway seasons) got tantalisingly close, finishing fourth in the Rotax DD2 class Final.
Connor Davison from Hamilton backed up Wood and Rooney with an eighth place finish in Junior Rotax, and Michael McCulloch from the Kapiti Coast did the same for Hart in Rotax 125 Light, putting in one of the drives of the meeting to work his way from P24 to P9 in the Final, setting the fastest race lap in the process.
Unfortnately the other regular member of the Kiwi Rotax Pro Tour ‘flying squad,’ top female driver Rianna O’Meara-Hunt, could only sit on the sidelines and watch the Rotax 125 Light Final.
The problem, again, was the amount of lead weight the slightly-built former Junior class race and round winner has to run to make the Minimum All-up Weight (MAW) of the Rotax 125 Light class in her first Senior year.
“We actually had a super promising start to the weekend with good pace and kart balance over the two practice days,” Rianna’s father Marty said on Monday. “Both team and driver were confident we could be in the mix for qualifying and racing, with the extensive hours and work pre-event looking to have paid off.
“Unfortunately qualifying was hampered when on lap 2 Rianna found she had no brakes – the bumpy track and excess lead meant we had somehow worn a hole through the floor tray and subsequently through the brake lines…. starting towards the back of the pack we knew we were in for a tough weekend!”
It didn’t get any easier after that either.
“Race 1 and 2 we made progress forward however an incident in Heat 3 ended up with a DNF. Then on Sunday Rianna had to retire in both the Pre-Final and Final as the underside of the chassis tube became thinner and thinner…….”
The 2018 Rotax Pro Tour is now at the half-way point with the next round at Sydney’s Eastern Creek International Kart Raceway over the June 23-24 weekend.