Young gun Josh Bethune is the latest Kiwi karter to make a big impression at a round of Australia’s Rotax Pro Tour series this year, the 15-year-old battling for the lead and finishing a close second in the Rotax DD2 class Final at the fourth round in Sydney over the weekend.
In his series debut in the premier Rotax DD2 class the former Dunedin, now Auckland-based schoolboy, was the quickest of the four Kiwis contesting the class on Saturday before carding a 9-6-3 run through the heats then working his way from sixth through to a brief lead and eventually second place in the Pre-Final.
He then went straight into the lead at the start of the Final, holding the position until lap 13 when he was passed first by a resurgent Lucas Ward then four laps later by the other 15-year-old in the field, Jac Preston.
Preston crossed the line first but was relegated to third place with a “push backed” nosecone penalty, gifting the race and round win to Ward and elevating Bethune to second place.
There were mixed fortunes, meanwhile for the three other Kiwis in the Rotax DD2 class at Sydney’s Eastern Creek International Karting Raceway. Top female driver Madeline Stewart from Wellington was next best, working her way up through the field from 11th to sixth in the Final.
It was also the 16-year-old from Wellington’s 2018 Rotax Pro Tour debut in the class (after earlier in the year focusing her attention on the KZ2 class and Australian Karting Championship series) and though she says she enjoyed the new challenge she rued an engine issue which slowed her in qualifying and a loose rear axle grub screw which meant the rear brake dragged through left hand corners in the Pre-Final.
She actually got as high as fourth in that race before being slowed by the dragging brake to cross the finish line in ninth place, then be relegated back to 11th in the results thanks to a nose cone penalty.
Sixth place in the Final was more to her liking, particularly after a frantic first few laps saw contact eliminate several front-runners, including fellow Kiwi Josh Drysdale. The now Sydney-based Drysdale qualified fifth quickest and finished fifth in the first two heats before failing to finish the third, not even getting to start the Pre-Final, then being one of the first casualties of early race contact resulting in another dnf in the Final.
Tauranga’s Sam Waddell found himself a little further back in the field (he qualified 10th) than at previous rounds of this year’s Pro Tour but persevered, improving for a best result of 7th in the Pre-Final but slipping back to 10th in the Final.
Previous series round winners Ryan Wood from Wellington and Josh Hart from Palmerston North also found it hard adapting to the unique nature of the western Sydney circuit.
Hart took a healthy lead in the series points standings in the Rotax 125 Light class but struggled with a bad head cold. He did well to qualify eighth quickest and retain a spot in the top ten (8th in the first heat and 7th in the second) but it was all downhill from there.
He finished 11th in the third heat, 19th in the Pre-Final and 30th in the Final after getting as high as 15th before contact sent him tumbling down the order, where he crossed the finish line one place ahead of fellow Kiwi (and Josh Drysdale’s younger brother) Dylan Drysdale.
Drysdale, who looked like a genuine podium prospect after qualifying P2 and claiming a heat-best 2nd in the third heat, ended up back in 33rd in the Pre-Final, however, after getting tangled up in some multi-kart contact on the first lap, then was recorded as the last official finisher a lap down in 33rd place in the Final.
Madeline Stewart’s older sister Ashleigh was another to have a wretched weekend. An engine issue slowed here in qualifying and after only managing to set the 34th quickest time she had her work cut out. She did manage to make it up to P26 in the third heat but got caught up in a Turn 1 incident in the Pre-Final, finishing 35th then have her race end in a gravel trap (and a dnf) in the Final.
The only bright spot for the Kiwis competing in the Rotax 125 Light class, in fact, came from young Kapiti Coast karter Michael McCulloch. He dnfed the first heat but came back to finish where he qualified (4th) in the second before finishing 8th in the third heat, 7th in the Pre-Final then setting the fastest race lap on his way to 8th in the Final.
Top Kiwi Junior, Ryan Wood, meanwhile, got better as the meeting went on, setting the 7th quickest Junior Max lap time in qualifying before carding a 6-5-6 run through the heats then finishing 4th in both the Pre-Final and Final.
Fellow Junior and regular NZ sparring partner Jackson Rooney was another driver new to the circuit who struggled to find the last 3-4 tenths to be able to match the top locals, however.
He qualified and ended up finishing 13th after a weekend where whenever he made it into the top 10 be found himself being bundled back down the order, to 19th in the second heat, 17th in the Pre-Final and 13th in the Final.
Meanwhile the youngest member of the 11-driver kiwi contingent, Mini Max ace Sebastian Manson from Auckland, enjoyed a weekend-best fourth place finish in his Pre-Final but was only able to make up three places (from P15 to P12) in the Final.
The weekend’s round of Australia’s 2018 Rotax Pro Tour series in Sydney was the fourth of sixth with the fifth at Albury in August and the final at a venue yet to be decided in September.
You can follow all the Rotax Pro Tour action at www.rotax.com.au or www.facebook.com/rotaxprotour.