Ryan Wood, Tiffany Chittenden and Jacob Cranston were the top finishing Kiwi karters at this year’s Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals meeting at Portimao in Portugal.
Wood, from Wellington was ninth in Rotax Junior, Chittenden from Christchurch 17th in Rotax DD2 Masters, and Cranston from Palmerston North 24th in Rotax 125 Max.
“The racing here has been next level,” Wood said of the event. “To start the Final 16th and finish ninth…the whole thing has been a fantastic experience.”
Chittenden, now the veteran of a number of Rotax Max Grand Finals (first with the UK team and since moving here, with the NZ one), was also on track for a top 10 finish and was actually disappointed with where she ended up in her Rotax DD2 Masters class Final.
“I always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we had an issue with the brakes so I wasn’t able to really make the moves I needed to, to move back up through the field,’ she said.
Jacob Cranston showed very good pace across practice (where he was ranked 9th overall) and had a heat race high of third in his second race in the 125 Max class. However nosecone penalties cost him in the other two. Despite that he still ranked 24th heading into his Pre-Final (in which he finished 22nd) and 24th in the Final.
Seven Kiwi drivers qualified to compete at the annual gathering of the best drivers from national Rotax Max Challenge category series around the world, but Wood, Chittenden and Cranston were the only ones to make it through to the Finals of their respective classes.
Aucklander Ryan Urban, who won the Rotax DD2 Masters Final at the same track in 2015, was one of the pace-setters early on at the event, topping the Rotax DD2 Masters times sheets in the third practice session, and finishing fourth and setting the fastest race lap in his second heat race. However in the third heat a kart spun in front of him and his race ended in what he described as ‘the biggest shunt of my life.’
He was able to repair his kart but just three laps into his Pre-Final his race – and with it any chance of a place on the grid for the Rotax DD2 Masters final – ended when he rode a wheel of a kart in front. He continued but was penalized 10 seconds for a pushed back nosecone and classified 30th.
That was outside the cut to qualify for the final and he ended up 48th overall in the Rotax DD2 Masters rankings.
The other Kiwis enjoyed mixed fortunes through practice and the heats. Jono Buxeda from Tuakau, didn’t have the best of starts to his campaign in the Rotax DD2 class, getting taken out and failing to finish his first heat race. He came back to claim top 20 finishes in the other two and finish 14th – and set the fifth quickest race lap – in his Pre-Final. Like Urban, however, it was not enough to get him into the class Final and he ended up classified 43rd in class.
Fellow young gun CJ Sinclair from Auckland showed excellent pace in his Rotax DD2 practice runs, but was put through the ringer in the heats and though he put in one of his best drives in his Pre-Final (making it to 16th from P28 on the grid) it was not enough to earn him a Final spot and he was classified 46th in class.
The third Kiwi in the Rotax DD2 Masters class, Auckland veteran Dave Malcolm, was ranked 28th in his group after the three practice heats and had a best heat race finish of 20th but again a P21 finish in his Pre-Final was not enough for him to advance to the Final and he was classified 52nd.
The focus of several of the Kiwis who ran at the Rotax meeting in Portugal now turns to the annual SuperKarts USA (SKUSA) Supernationals meeting in Las Vegas this week and weekend.
Tiffany Chittenden, her partner Matt Hamilton, and Daniel Bray (the latter pair working behind the scenes at the Rotax event), left Portugal on Sunday to join Jacob Douglas from Christchurch, Dylan Drysdale from Auckland, his Sydney-based older brother Josh, the Stewart sisters, Ashleigh and Madeline, from Wellington and Jay Urwin from Tauranga at the 21st annual Supernationals meeting in the United States’ casino capital.
This year both Bray and reigning class NZ KZ2 class Sprint champion Dylan Drysdale will be running in the main international class, KZ.
Hamilton, who won the S4 Stock Moto class at the same meeting three years ago, will again run in the top SKUSA class, S1 Stock Moto, while Josh Drysdale will run in S2 Stock Moto, Chittenden in S4 (Masters) Stock Moto, Douglas in Mini Swift and Urwin in Micro Swift.
As they have in Australia this year Madeline Stewart will run in KZ, Ashleigh in X30.