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The Toyota Gazoo Racing Junior Academy (TGRJA) started their 2023 MSA South African Rotax MAX Challenge campaign in convincing form, with two victories and a podium this past weekend (3-4 March) at Idube Raceway, Camperdown, KZN.

It was a victorious outing in the Micro MAX class for Reagile Mailula. Starting from pole position, he was overtaken by Keagan Beaumont on the opening lap of Heat 1, but this set up a good tussle between the pair, with Mailula retaking the lead on Lap 3. He went on to start the day with a victory. The pair were at it again in the second heat, with Mailula moving to the front on the penultimate lap. This also saw him record the quickest lap of the day. A rain-affected final heat saw him struggle, but coming home in seventh place, crucially scoring enough points to finish Round 1 as the Mini MAX winner.

Emma-Rose Dowling, who debuted after her successful 2022 Micro MAX campaign, established herself as one of the early midfield contenders in this year’s championship. Heat 1 saw her gradually gaining positions from sixth place on the grid to finish her first Mini MAX outing with a third-place podium. A contender for the lead at the start of Heat 2, she slotted into the midfield after the opening laps. A good tussle with Kegan Martin commenced, with Dowling finishing in sixth place. Like Mailula, she struggled in the wet conditions at the end of the day but finished ahead of him in sixth place in the final heat to secure a fifth-place finish for Round 1.

While reigning Junior MAX champion KC Ensor-Smith moved to the Senior MAX class, the TGRJA grip on the Junior MAX field remained firm in the season opener. This came thanks to the team’s newest recruit, Kent Swartz. Starting from pole position in the first heat, he controlled the pace at the front to draw first blood in 2023 while setting the fastest lap in the class for the day. On the opening lap of the second heat, he was involved in an incident that saw him drop to seventh place, but he kept a level head to make his way to the front of the field, passing for the lead on the final lap. However, despite crossing the line in first place with a margin of comfort, he was reclassified to fourth place following a five-second Nose Cone Infringement Penalty (NCIP) added to his time. The day’s final rain-affected heat saw him move into an early lead to win the race by 10 seconds and take the opening round’s honours.

Ensor-Smith found his feet quickly in the Senior MAX class and set the fourth-fastest time in a closely-contested qualifying session. He crossed the line in fourth place after a multi-kart battle for the Heat 1 win, but a five-second NCIP saw him drop to eighth. An early contender for the win in Heat 2, he settled into a battle for the final podium position and finished in fourth place. In the final heat, he crossed the line in third place but benefitted from an NCIP added to the runner-up to be classified in second place. This saw him finish the day in fourth overall.

Olerato Sekudu, also competing in the Senior MAX class, started Heat 1 in 10th place. He moved into an early ninth place in the running order, but a host of NCIPs in the middle order saw him classified in 10th place. In Heat 2, he finished in seventh following a good tussle with Yifan Li. Another seventh-place finish at the end of the day followed, but like Ensor-Smith, he benefitted from a host of penalties to be classified in fifth place and finish a solid day in sixth.

Kian Grottis started the day’s DD2 action with the third-fastest time in the qualifying session. In Heat 1, he held onto the position while holding off DD2 Masters competitor Jonathan Pieterse. He repeated his third place in Heat 2. The day’s final heat in the rain saw him cross the line in third place but classified fourth due to a five-second NCIP. However, this did not substantially affect his aggregate points classification for Round 1, finishing the day in third place.

The day saw an unfortunate incident resulting in Junior MAX competitor Matthew Chiwara being hospitalised. At the time of reporting, Chiwara was stable while awaiting further medical consultation. Toyota Gazoo Racing Junior Academy, its driver and brand partners, want to take this opportunity to wish Matthew a speedy recovery.

Published by:  Motorsport Fanatix – Raymond Cornwell

Picture Caption:  Kent Swartz