South Africa has won the Nations Cup in the 2014 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Spain, beating 58 competing countries! The blistering performance of the 10-driver SA team throughout the six-day event ensured that South Africa won this prestigious trophy, ahead of Australia and host-nation Spain. And in a nail-biting finale on a rain-soaked track outside Valencia on Saturday, Durban’s four-time world champion karter Cristiano Morgado finished second in the DD2 Masters Category to cap a highly successful week for the South African squad. Going into the final day of this most competitive championship in international karting, South Africa had no less than six drivers make it through to the finals in the four World Championship categories.
This is a fantastic achievement, as the championship is made up of over 270 drivers from close to 60 competing countries, and all these drivers are either national or regional-open champions. “This is the most competitive squad of drivers we have fielded for many years,” remarked Rotax SA distributor Ed Murray, before the finals on Saturday. However, torrential rain which lashed the circuit saw all of our South Africans battle in the final rounds, competing against northern hemisphere drivers who have vast experience at setting up their karts for wet conditions.
The South Africans had continually been amongst the fastest drivers in the qualifying and elimination runs. Notable was Junior Max contender Jordan Sherratt, who qualified quickest and won one of his elimination heats. However, as the week progressed, the 15-year-old Glenwood Boys High pupil from Durban was dogged by bad luck with some desperate driving from his competitors knocking him to the back of the field in two of his heats.
Then on a rain-soaked track in the final on Saturday, a disappointed Sherrat was knocked out in the opening lap. Similar fates befell the two SA drivers who qualified for the finals in Senior Max. Capetonians Eugene Denyssen and Luke Herring shared the fifth row of their final event, but, again, chaotic starts by many of the desperate drivers saw Herring knocked to the back of the field and Denyssen losing several places. Denyssen fought back brilliantly to run as high as sixth by mid-distance, but again another incident saw Denyssen drop to the back of the field. Herring was eventually placed 17th and Denyssen 25th.
In the DD2 Gearbox Class, South Africa was represented by Bradley Liebenberg in the finals, a 15-year-old student from Crawford College in Lonehill, Sandton, and Benjamin Habig from KwaZulu Natal. Both had performed admirably in the qualifying heats, with Liebenberg starting an excellent fourth on the 34-kart grid. However, set-up problems saw him battle to achieve the right grip on an extremely wet track, and he faded to 14th, while Habig had fought his way into the top 10 before dropping out at half distance after yet another incident.
Set-up problems also put paid to a fourth consecutive world title for Cristiano Morgado on theDD2 Masters category, for drivers older than 32. The Durban ace was fastest in every qualifying session and won all his heats to start on pole for the finals. He led from the start, but unfortunately he had gambled on the track getting wetter, running harder tyre pressures and shorter gearing, whereas the Lucas Guerrero Chiva kart circuit, just outside Valencia, in fact dried out during his event.
Morgado was thus passed by two drivers during his race, but although he finished third on the track, he was promoted to second overall, after Martin Pierce of Ireland was found to have a technical infringement on his kart in post-race scrutiny. The title was won by Mikko Laine of Finland. “Morgado’s result was truly outstanding as he proved once again to be the fastest driver in the world in his category all week in the dry. But the rain definitely hampered Cris, and all our guys, who nevertheless excelled. Unfortunately racing in the rain is always a lottery, as there is only one dry line, so overtaking results in lots of incidents for which drivers can pay a heavy price. However, fortunately for us, the Nations Cup takes into account performances throughout the week from qualifying through all the heats as well, when the track was dry. So I was particularly pleased to win the Nations Cup, as it is the first time in many years that South Africa has managed to win this, in the 15-year history of the Grand Finals. You have to go back more than a decade to chart the last time we won the Nations Cup, despite all the success individual South Africans have had in this series over the years. This world championship bodes well for all the younger talent we are nurturing in our local Max Challenge series, and proves once again how competitive we are as a world karting nation. When you consider that each year, there are some 15 000 Max Challenge karters vying for a place in the Grand Finals all over the world, it gives you some idea what an achievement it is to win the Nations Cup. We can all be proud of our drivers.”said Ed Murray.
Photo: Euegene Denyssen (extreme left of picture is engulfed in spray at the start of the Senior Max finals in Spain on Saturday.