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The season-ending global Rotax spectacle concluded this past weekend, where 11 South Africans vied to be crowned Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals (RMCGF) champions. Hosted at the Bahrain International Karting Circuit in the Kingdom of Bahrain, it was TEAM SA’s first outing to the desert kingdom after missing out in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As always, the best Rotax racers worldwide were present to showcase their talent, making up 384 competitors from 61 countries. South Africa had representation in six of the eight classes at this year’s finals. With grids of international champions, the competition was formidable.

Rafael da Silva (NBR Karting), making his second RMCGF appearance, was the team’s sole Micro MAX entry. Competing for the second time in the most junior class, the double South African Rotax MAX Challenge (SARMC) National Kart Champion gained automatic progression to the final with only 36 entries. Qualifying in 20th for the qualifying heats, the Johannesburg driver finished 19th and 33rd to start the Pre-Final from 24th. After receiving a Nose-Cone Infringement Penalty (NCIP), Da Silva finished 33rd from where he would begin in the final. Following an accident in the final, he retired from the race with three laps remaining to be ranked 31st.

Also making a consecutive Mini MAX appearance at the RMCGF was three-time SARMC National Kart Champion Caleb Odendaal (WORR Motorsport), who, along with debutant Reagile Mailula, represented South Africa in a 72-competitor field. Mailula, a Toyota Gazoo Racing Junior Academy (TGRJA) driver, qualified in 44th, with East London’s Odendaal in 61st. The 72 drivers were then split into four groups ahead of the qualifying heats, where Odendaal finished 21st, 34th and 33rd to line up 32nd for his Pre-Final heat. Johannesburg youngster Mailula, the 2023 African Open Champion, crossed the line in 13th, 32nd and 18th to start his Pre-Final from 20th. In the Pre-Finals, Mailula took the chequered flag in 10th, ahead of Odendaal in 19th. With Odendaal missing the cut for the champion-crowning heat, Mailula advanced to the final with a 31st starting position, where he put on an impressive display of driving to make up a staggering 20 positions to finish 11th.

In Junior MAX, TEAM SA fielded two drivers, SARMC National Kart and African Open Champion Kent Swartz (TGRJA) and SARMC National Kart Vice Champion Wian Boshoff (WORR Motorsport). While Centurion pilot Boshoff competed in his second RMCGF, Swartz, who hails from Johannesburg, was making his first appearance. Swartz impressed on debut and qualified 38th, with Boshoff further down in 52nd. In the qualification heats, Swartz claimed the 24th, 12th and 16th positions for a 16th starting position in Pre-Final B. At the same time, Boshoff finished 28th, 13th and 29th to earn a 26th grid spot for his Pre-Final heat. Finishing in 20th and 33rd, respectively, neither driver finished in the top 36 of the collective results and, as a result, failed to progress to the final.

Appearing at his third RMCGF was KC Ensor-Smith (TGRJA). Witbank resident Ensor-Smith, who participated in the 2022 event in the Junior MAX class, took on the 72-kart field of Senior MAX competitors following his triumph in the South African Rotax MAX Challenge (SARMC) National Kart Championship. 2023 African Open winner Erich Heystek, too, making his maiden RMCGF appearance, qualified in an outstanding 16th position ahead of Ensor-Smith in 50th. Pretoria local Heystek finished 19th, 36th and 27th to head to Pre-Final B, where he would start from 30th. On the other hand, Ensor-Smith recorded a 32nd, a 17th, and a 30th place finish to begin Pre-Final B from 29th. With a 30th and 31st place result, both missed out on the final.

Three drivers represented South Africa in Rotax’s premier DD2 class. Kian Grottis (TGRJA) debuted alongside 2023 African Open Champion Jamie Smith (NST), who made his first appearance at the RMCGF. Capetonian and SARMC National Kart Champion Sebastian Boyd (SBR) made a third visit to the RMCGF after competing in Junior MAX in 2017. Qualification results saw Boyd (10th) ahead of Grottis (44th) and Smith (56th). Boyd showed consistency throughout by finishing 10th, 6th and 6th in his qualifying heats to claim a 5th place start for Pre-Final B. Grottis, on the other hand, concluded his three heats with a 36th, 34th and 32nd result and started 36th in Pre-Final B. Smith, who was racing under a British licence, finished 34th, 29th and 25th earning a 33rd starting position in Pre-Final A. While Grottis and Smith failed to make the final, Boyd started 21st before moving up a couple of positions to finish in 16th.

After 16 years, SARMC National DD2 Masters Kart Champion Kyle Lawrence made his second appearance at an RMCGF. Johannesburg resident Lawrence, like Da Silva, was guaranteed a place in the finals with only 36 Masters entries. After qualifying in 26th, Lawrence claimed an 18th place finish in the first heat but was disqualified from the second, dropping him down to 31st for the Pre-Final. He would make up an outstanding 17 positions to start the final from 23rd. In the final, he would again make up several positions (13) to record South Africa’s best-placed finish at this year’s RMCGF.

The RMCGF celebrates the unifying power of motorsport, where racers from different countries and backgrounds come together to showcase their skills and passion for racing. It is a platform for current racing stars to shine and serves as a breeding ground for the sport’s future stars. It provides an opportunity for young and upcoming racers to gain exposure, experience, and recognition in the competitive world of motorsport. Overall, the RMCGF is a significant event in the karting world, and its impact on the sport and the racing community is immeasurable.

In 2024, the RMCGF will return to Italy and the Circuito Internazionale di Napoli from 19 – 26 October. It will be the third visit to the circuit that hosted the RMCGF in 2016 and 2019.

Published by: Motorsport Fanatix

Picture Caption: Sebastian Boyd (DD2)

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