Preview: NZ Rotax MAX Challenge, Rotorua

Rotorua is the next stop for this year’s Giltrap Group New Zealand Rotax Max Challenge, with the country’s top Rotax category karters set to battle out the second ‘double-header’ meeting of the 2018 season at the KartSport Rotorua club’s long, flowing Century Batteries International Raceway over the (May 19-20) weekend.

In the interests of providing as level a playing field as possible for karters committing to the multi-round series promotor Richard Bethune of Rotax engine importer Right Karts has mixed and matched round and race formats.

Zac Stichbury was a winner in Rotax Max Light at the previous round (pic – Fast Company/Graham Hughes)

This weekend’s is a repeat of Rnds 1 and 2 held in Palmerston North in February, and sees classes run to a CIK format (Qualifying, two Heats and a Pre-Final and Final) for Rnd 4 on Saturday.

For Rnd 5 on Sunday the format reverts to a traditional club meeting-style four heats with pre-determined grids then fifth heat with a grid based on results from the previous four; with the best four results across the five for each driver dictating the final ‘round’ result.

Bethune says that the mix worked well at Palmerston North and believes that after running Rnd 3 as a single round to the CIK format at Tokoroa last month, competitors will have to be on their toes to get the maximum benefit points-wise out of the double-header meeting this weekend.

Matthew Hamilton, DD2 Masters (pic – Fast Company/Graham Hughes)

“Nobody said it was going to be easy but then again no-one is going to be able to complain to me that one format or another didn’t suit them or favoured one of their competitors because by the end of the season they will have experienced every current race format at least once.”

Fast-rising young second-generation karter Zac Stichbury from the Hawke’s Bay claimed a breakthrough Final race and class round win in the Rotax Max Light class at the third round of this year’s Challenge series at Tokoroa in April. And having finished a close second to multi-time NZ#1 Daniel Kinsman at the annual KartSport NZ National Sprint championship meeting at the Rotorua track a month before he enjoys joint favourite status in the Light class this weekend with current class points leader Ashton Grant from Auckland.

Also impressing – again – at Tokoroa were Rnds 1 and 2 class winners Jono Buxeda (DD2) from Tuakau and Jackson Rooney (Rotax Junior) from Palmerston North who went on to win all their class races.

Jono Buxeda, DD2 (pic – Fast Company/Graham Hughes)

In Rotax DD2 Buxeda finally got on top of tyre wear issues to win the first heat from Aucklander Jason Lee and Tauranga’s Sam Waddell, then the second heat, Pre-Final and Final from Waddell, Lee and Kaleb Ngatoa from Marton.


And though both Fynn Osborne and Ryan Wood qualified quicker, it was Jackson Rooney who absolutely owned the Rotax Junior class races, winning both heats and the Pre-Final before lowering the class track lap record after coming back from P3 to win the Final from Hamilton trio Fynn Osborne, Connor Davison and Fynn’s brother Clay Osborne.

This weekend also sees the Rotax Junior class and series debut of one of the country’s other top up-and-coming drivers, two-time NZ Vortex Mini ROK class champion Jacob Douglas from Christchurch.

Jackson Rooney, Rotax Junior (pic – Fast Company/Graham Hughes)

Another Christchurch driver, Matthew Hamilton heads north with a healthy lead in the Rotax DD2 Masters class points standings over Palmerston North pair Fraser Hart and Callum Orr.

Now in its 19th year the Giltrap Group-backed New Zealand Rotax Max Challenge series has again attracted a talented group of karters of all ages, all keen to qualify for a spot on the local squad which attends the annual Grand Finals meeting which this year is being held in at Conde in the Paraiba province of Brazil between November 24 and December 01.

2018 Giltrap Group New Zealand Rotax Max Challenge Series
Points after Rnd 3 of 8

Rotax DD2
1. Jono Buxeda 272 points; 2. Sam Waddell 256; 3. Kaleb Ngatoa 250; 4. Bond Roby 238; 5. Simon Davies 235; 6. Jason Lee 168

Rotax DD2 Masters
1. Matthew Hamilton 262 points; 2, Fraser Hart 258; 3. Callum Orr 257; 4. David Malcolm 242; 5. Garry Claxton 236; 6. Chris Jensen 231.

Rotax Max Light
1. Ashton Grant 263 points; 2. Jaden Hardy 259; 3. Zac Stichbury 257; 4. Joshua Bethune 243; 5. Caleb Cross 162; 6. Scott Manson 88

Rotax Junior
1. Jackson Rooney 267 points; 2. Fynn Osborne 254; 3. Clay Osborne 248; 4. Ryan Wood 244; 5. Connor Davison239; 6. Ryan Crombie 236.

Rnds 1 & 2: Manawatu Toyota Raceway, Palmerston North Sat-Sun Feb 17-18
Rnd 3: Stihl Shop Tokoroa Raceway, Tokoroa Sat-Sun April 21-22
Rnds 4 & 5: Century Batteries International Raceway, Rotorua Sat-Sun May 19-20
Rnd 6: Te Puke Auto Electrical Raceway Te Puke Sat-Sun Aug 04-05
Rnds 7 & 8: Agrisea Raceway Hamilton Sat-Sun Sept 22-23

2018 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Final: Nov 24-Dec 01 Conde Paraiba Brazil