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The Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) Junior Academy’s season got underway this past weekend, with the team participating in the opening round of the Northern Regions Rotax Kart Championships at the Zwartkops Kart Raceway, Pretoria. The sextet enjoyed mixed results in a feisty regional opener amid warm Highveld conditions.

In the premier DD2 class, team debutants Jason Coetzee and Karabo Malema qualified in fourth and sixth, respectively, before enjoying differing results in the opening heat. Malemela claimed a top-four finish, while Coetzee retired from the race while battling for the podium after only five laps. Coetzee would again challenge for the win in Heat 2, but after crossing the finish line in third, would be demoted a position after receiving a Nose-Cone Infringement Penalty (NCIP). Malemela finished fifth. In the final heat, Coetzee finished third to claim his maiden podium in the colours of TGR despite briefly leading the race. Malemela, who was caught up in the mid-pack battle, finished seventh to claim the fifth overall result ahead of Coetzee.

The Senior MAX class saw an action-packed day of racing, with class rookie Kent Swartz driving superbly to edge out the competition in the overall standings. Qualifying in third, Swartz recorded runner-up finishes in the first two heats before a multiple-kart incident at the start of the third and final heat saw him drop down the order. Despite starting from the pole position, Swartz would recover from tenth to cross the line in fourth. Following several blistering laps, he clawed his way back up the order to finish just off the podium, but due to the impact of the incident, he was handed an NCIP, demoting him two positions.

2023 Mini MAX graduates and academy stalwarts Reagile Mailula and Emma-Rose Dowling made their Junior MAX debut for the team this weekend. Despite a less-than-desired qualifying position that saw the duo start in seventh and eighth, both faced a challenging opening heat. Contact on the opening lap saw Dowling retire from the race, while Mailula finished just outside the top five. Heat 2 was brutal, with both pilots fighting for positions in the midfield. Dowling finished in eighth and Mailula in 11th at the waving of the chequered flag. In an improved performance, the team scored their maiden class podium of the season, with Mailula finishing third and Dowling fifth. An NCIP, however, would see Dowling drop to sixth. In the overall standings, Mailula was classified fifth and Dowling ninth.

Tshepang Shisinwana proudly flew the academy’s flag in the Mini MAX class, claiming a maiden podium on his way to a fourth-place overall result. While qualifying in fourth, Shisinwana moved up a position to finish the opening heat in third before an NCIP saw him classified sixth. The second and third heats saw much of the same, with the academy’s youngest driver again fighting for the podium placings, finishing in third and fourth.

The academy will now focus all its attention on the all-important double header in Cape Town over 22-23 March. The Killarney International Raceway is set to host the opening national round of the South African Rotax MAX Challenge (RMC) Kart Championship and the 2024 RMC Africa Open.

Published by: Motorsport Fanatix

Picture Caption: Kent Swartz (Senior MAX)

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