|press release||31 January 2017|
Fast-rising female karter Madeline Stewart was the toast of the Kiwi contingent at the opening round of Australia's Rotax Pro Tour in Melbourne over the weekend, claiming a heat win then a breakthrough second place in the Rotax Light Final.
Above: Madeline Stewart on her way to a heat win (#82) (pic - Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
The 16-year-old from Wellington did it in style too, closing in on multi-time Australian champion - and eventual race and Rotax Light class round winner Brad Jenner - late in the Final and looking set to challenge for the lead before a full course yellow flag thwarted her charge.
"It felt really great to be a New Zealander standing on the podium at a round of the Australian Pro Tour," Madeline said on Sunday. "I've been working really hard with (the manager of the team she runs with) Tom Williamson to improve my driving and I'm feeling really positive about what I can achieve this year."
Unfortunately, older sister Ashleigh, 18, who was on track for a top finish of her own in the same class, was hit from behind and ended her Final in the gravel trap at Turn 1.
Above: Madeline with her Rotax Light trophy (pic - Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
"I'm really disappointed to not have even completed a lap in the Final," she said. "I felt like it was one of my best meetings in Australia and starting 11th in the final, I thought a top 10 was possible."
The girls' father Tony said that he was very happy with the way his daughters acquitted themselves at the round.
"We were a bit worried when we started practice on Thursday but when we put new tyres on both girls were on the pace; to the point where we were second and third fastest in Practice 4, and going into qualifying Madeline was third, Ashleigh seventh."
Madeline went on to qualify second only two-thousandths of a second off pole and though Ashleigh didn’t get as much gain out of the new tyres she was expecting and qualified 15th her time was still within three-tenths of pole.
In the heats Madeline finished second in the first, 14th in the second and ran away from the field off pole to easily claim her first win in Australia in the third.
Ashleigh finished fifth in the first heat, sixth in the second and ninth in the third.
Both girls lost places at the start of the Rotax Light Pre-Final but kept cool heads as they worked their way back up the order, Madeline to third, Ashleigh to 11th.
Madeline then jumped from third to second on the first lap of the Final then exchanged fastest race laps with eventual winner Brad Jenner as they drove away from third.
Tony summed up the weekend by saying;
"It's great to have achieved a breakthrough podium. This is our fourth year racing at Pro-Tour and our second year with Tom Williamson Motorsport. We are really grateful to Tom for all his help and support."
Another Wellington karter, Ryan Wood, was the best performer of the other six Kiwi drivers who contested the meeting, ending up fifth in the Junior Max class Final. Wood got better and better as the meeting went on, qualifying 16th but putting together a 10-11-9 run through the heats then finishing ninth in the Pre-Final and an event-best fifth in the Final.
Above: Ryan Wood (#40) finished fifth in the Junior Max Final (pic - Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
Recent Vortex Mini ROK class graduate, Jackson Rooney from Palmerston North, in his debut Junior Max class race meeting on the Australian Rotax Pro Tour, raised eyebrows with his pace early on, qualifying and finishing second in the first heat and claiming top six finishes in the other two (a fifth and a fourth).
He ended up back in 20th in the Pre-Final but showed that he will be a factor on both sides of the Tasman this year with a head-down charge back up to 11th in the Final.
The other three Kiwis in the class enjoyed mixed fortunes, Jaden Ransley from Christchurch qualifying 19th but working his way up the field to finish 15th in the Final, and Auckland's Samuel Wright qualifying 12th but ending up 18th in the Final.
Having a weekend to forget, meanwhile, was one of New Zealand karting's other fast young females, Rianna O'Meara-Hunt from Wellington. She qualified fifth quickest and had two top six finishes in the Junior Max class heats but slipped to 17th in the Pre-Final and failed to finish the Final.
Above: Jackson Rooney (#30) from Palmerston North qualified second in Junior Max and finished 11th in the class Final (pic - Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
"Just not our weekend, unfortunately," said her father Marty. "Our pace was good on Friday, we qualified P5 and were fourth fastest on track in the first race which Rianna finished seventh in, but we got smashed from behind and sent into the shingle at Turn 1, emerging 20th, after a single file re-start, in the second race then after a sixth place finish in the third heat we had mechanical and motor troubles in both the Pre-Final and Final, meaning no laps were completed in the Final - one of those weekends to take what you can from and move on, I'm afraid."
Which is probably how Palmerston North's Brendon Hart feels like after a horror round in the Rotax Heavy class. Hart qualified 21st but dnfed in all three heats, the Pre-Final and Final.
2017 Australian Rotax Pro TourCalendar:
Rnd 1: Todd Road Melb, VIC 26-28 Jan
Rnd 2: Bolivar SA 10-12 Mar
Rnd 3: Ipswich QLD 05-07 May
Rnd 4: Port Macquarie NSW 16-18 June
Rnd 5: Puckapunyal VIC 04-06 August
Rnd 6: Albury/Wodonga VIC 15-17 September