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This week between 6 – 9 December, South Africa’s finest karters are taking on the best in the world in the 23rd annual Rotax Max Grand Finals at the International Karting Circuit in Bahrain.

The eleven-man South African team comprising only South African and African champions, will take on 372 rivals from over sixty countries across the six Rotax classes, to effectively crown the 2023 world champions in each class.

“Team South Africa is ready to rock,” says South African Rotax Max boss Ed Murray. “We have a really diverse bunch of strong and talented youngsters making up our experienced team of eleven South Africans who have qualified. Each will do his utmost to add to South Africa’s rich history in the Rotax Max Grand Finals.”

Team SA is headed by three drivers in the top direct-drive two-speed DD2 class. National champion Sebastian Boyd from the Cape is backed by Jozi duo, African Open winner Jamie Smith and young Kian Grottis. Kyle Lawrence will fly the green and gold in the over-31 DD2 Masters. SA champion KC Ensor-Smith is a most exciting prospect alongside Gauteng compatriot Erich Heystek in the top chain-drive open age group Senior Max.

Looking at the junior classes, Johannesburg SA Junior Max champion and African Open winner, Kent Swartz, and runner up in both championships, Wian Boshoff, are SA’s high school class representatives. East London’s South African under-13 karting champion Caleb Odendaal and quick Gauteng teammate, African Open winner, Reagile Mailula will race in the Mini Max Grand Finals. And Gauteng kid Rafael da Silva heads to the Gulf as South Africa’s under-11 Micro Max driver.

Motorsport South Africa Chief Executive Officer, Adrian Scholtz says expectations are high this year for the South African teams who have won no less than fourteen Grand Finals since they first competed in 2000. Durban’s Cristiano Morgado remains the only driver to ever win five Rotax Max Grand Finals. He won the Max title in 2003 before a taking hat trick of DD2 Masters titles from 2011 to 2013. But SA’s success goes far further back. Gavin Cronje won the inaugural Max Finals in Puerto Rico, which Claudio Piazza-Musso followed up on in 2001.

Mark Cronje then won at home at Zwartkops in 2003, before Wesleigh Orr took back-to-back RM1 titles to complete a stunning South African six in a row in 2004 and 2005. Leeroy Poulter was back on top in DD2 in ‘08, Caleb Williams won in 2010 and Mini Max lad Jayden Els was South Africa’s youngest winner 2016. Team SA also won the Nations Cup in 2014.

Murray explains that this is the most level playing field in racing one will find. Each driver is handed a brand new kart out the box and identical to all his or her rivals, a Rotax Max race engine, tyres, and fuel for the week. They, and their team, only have a few practice sessions to prepare and set their karts up from scratch, before a gruelling series of ruthless heats. Only the top 33 qualify for each class final. Bahrain is also unique with several sessions running under lights.

The teams are currently finding their feet in the qualifying heats. Murray says qualifying is all important as it determines your starting position in all the qualifying heats. “While showing good pace in various practice sessions there were mixed results in qualifying,” says Murray. He explains that getting a tow (slipstream) is vital on a circuit like this with several fast straights so qualifying sessions can become chaotic with drivers waiting in the pit lane until the last moment before trying to latch onto a fast group.

Seasoned campaigner, Sebastian Boyd, delivered a strong 5th place in his DD2 group. His DD2 compatriots, Jamie Smith and Kian Grottis, posted 22nd and 23rd respectively.

Grand Final rookie Erich Heystek surprised everyone with an impressive 8th in his group. Another rookie Kent Swartz has been near the sharp end and qualified a respectable 22nd in his Junior Max group. Mini Max drivers Reagile Mailula and Caleb Odendaal will have their work cut out for them, qualifying 25th and 28th respectively in their groups.

The youngest team member, Micro Max driver, Rafael Da Silva will start his first qualifying heat in 22nd position. South African DD2 Masters driver Kyle Lawrence will have his work cut out for him starting from 26th position,

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Photography by: Motorsport Fanatix