|press release||13 March 2017|
Top New Zealand karters Madeline Stewart and Rianna O'Meara-Hunt made history across the Tasman over the weekend, the pair - from Wellington - winning their respective classes at the second round of this year's Rotax Pro Tour series at Bolivar in South Australia.
Not only was Madeline Stewart's win in the Rotax Light class a first for the Rotax Pro Tour, it was also the first by a female driver in a major Australian national karting event in at least 10 years, and was backed up later on Sunday afternoon by Rianna O'Meara-Hunt's own debut Australian win in the Rotax Junior class.
Above: Kiwi karter Madeline Stewart (Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
With the wins came SA state titles, and having finished second in class at the opening round of this year's Rotax Pro Tour in Melbourne in late January, the result also bodes well for Madeline's Stewart's Australian Rotax Pro Tour series title aspirations.
"It is an unbelievable feeling,' 16-year-old Madeline said after working her way from fourth to first place in the class Final. "To be the first female racer to do this in this series and the first in such a long time to win a major karting event in Australia is a huge honour and gives me even more confidence heading to the next round to carry on the good run of form."
Rianna O'Meara-Hunt, 14, also started her Final from P4 and like Madeline Stewart, quickly worked her way to the front, eventually crossing the finish line almost two seconds in front of second-placed Harrison Hoey with pole sitter and early leader Jac Preston third.
It was a mixed weekend for the other Kiwis who competed at the event.
Madeline Stewart's older sister Ashleigh, finished eighth in Rotax Light, Sam Wright from Auckland finished seventh in Junior Rotax, Josh Drysdale finished 10th in DD2 and Ryan Wood from Wellington qualified fifth in Junior Rotax but ended up 18th in the Final.
Above: Rianna O'Meara-Hunt (Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
Speaking from the track late on Sunday evening Madeline and Ashleigh Stewart's father Tony said the significance of his daughter's win was still sinking in.
"To be the first female to win a major event in Australia in more than 10 years is a fantastic feat. We are also extremely happy that fellow Kartsport Wellington driver, Rianna O'Meara-Hunt was able to follow in Madeline's footsteps in the Junior class and make it two Kiwi females on the top step of the podium. Ashleigh also did a great job showing she is also a top ten contender in Rotax Light in Australia with her eighth place."
Madeline's path to her historic class win was no walk in the park either.
"Practice went well but in qualifying Madeline's engine faltered as she drove out of the grid. Ashleigh was right behind her and saw her slow, so got in behind her and pushed her along until her engine cleared and she was able to continue. But it compromised both their qualifying, with Madeline 11th and Ashleigh 17th.
"Both made up ground through the heats with Madeline starting fifth in the Pre-Final and Ashleigh 14th.
"In the Final, Madeline was able to move in to second off the start then passed for the lead going in to turn one of lap two, leading 29 of the 30 laps and steadily increasing her lead to four seconds by the finish. Ashleigh meanwhile fought hard for the whole race eventually finishing eighth.
Both Stewart sisters run with former racer Tom Williamson's team and Tony says that Madeline would like to thank Tom for believing in her and 'pestering Mum for months to let her join his team.'
Madeline says she would like to thank 'the whole TWM family for all their support, including Darren and Sharon Gillis for looking after the karts and transporting them to the events, Peter and Clint Cathcart from CC Racing who have looked after our engines since we started racing in JMax Trophy in Australia and Kerry Moore for convincing us to start racing in Australia and who has been a great supporter.'
She would also like to thank her sponsors Xero, Liqui-Moly, PartsTrader and Freem Racewear and acknowledge the support of Ian Black from IKD 'for putting on such a great series and being so welcoming towards the Kiwi drivers.'
Rianna O'Meara-Hunt's father Marty is also 'super-proud' of his daughter's achievements,
As Rianna said;
"We were running top five all weekend so knew we had the pace, we just needed better track position. A good start from Grid 4, on the outside, in the Final saw us jump a spot straight to P3 at Turn 2. The kart felt good early so I was keen to use what we had and make the most of it passing into P2 on lap 3.
"I then chased down P1 by lap 7 then drove away from the field winning by a two second margin."
"It feels great to get the first BIG win under our belt and to beat Australia's best young racers in their own backyard. They race hard here and it's a tough gig - however both the racers and their families are extremely supportive when others gain success - a credit to them.
"To be the first ever junior female racer to win an Aussie Pro Tour event and Maddy the first senior racer both in the same day is astonishing. We both now have South Australian state titles too.
Above: Madeline and O'Meara-Hunt with their winner's trophies at Bolivar (Fast Company/Coopers Photography)
"Winning is a team effort and in our case stems from hard work, courage and determination. Arie, Lorraine, Troy and Brent - thank you."
Auckland Junior driver Samuel Wright also had a strong event moving forward from qualifying 13th to finish the Final in seventh position.
KartSport Wellington’s Ryan Wood also showed good pace in Rotax Junior, qualifying fifth, but was involved in a few racing incidents during the day and eventually finished the Final in 18th position.
Expat kiwi Josh Drysdale finished fifth in the Rotax DD2 Final.