JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng - Nine South African drivers will be among 288 karting champions from more than 60 countries at the 2014 Rotax Max Challenge finals at the new Kartodromo Lucas Guerrero Chiva, near Valencia, Spain, in November 2014.
It's the World championship of karting.
No other karting series has 7500 drivers competing annually for a place in this prestige final, which in 2014 will be the 15th.
South Africa has a proud heritage in this event. At the first Rotax Max Challenge finals in Peurto Rico in 2000 South Africa’s Gavin Cronje was crowned World champion. Since then, 12 World Rotax titles have been won by South Africans in various classes.
The event will start start on November 25 and end on November 29, 2014, with gruelling practice, qualifying and pre-final races culminating in the four final races on November 29.
This year South Africans will compete in four categories: Junior Max (drivers aged 13-16), Senior Max (15 and older), DD2 Gearbox for (15 and older) and DD2 Masters (32 and older). Here is the selection from South Africa:
DD2 Masters: Cristiano Morgado
Heading up the SA team is Cristiano Morgado. The Durbarn motorsportsman has won four Grand Final titles, his first as a Senior Max driver in Egypt back in 2003. In the past three Grand Finals (UAE, Portugal, USA), Morgado has won the DD2 Masters category, a feat no other driver has achieved in the Rotax series.
He's hoping for a fourth...!
Morgado has also raced Formula Renault in Europe and is the 2014 South African DD2 Masters champion. Apart from being motorsport-mad, this 35-year-old lists soccer as his main hobby.
DD2 Gearbox: Bradley Liebenberg
He's just shy of 16 but already a multiple kart champion. In 2014 he had a clean sweep in the two most important Rotax championships: the DD2 Gearbox classes in both the African Open in September and the South African championship in early October.
He's been karting since he was eight and was 2013 Junior Max champion. He's already competed overseas many times so won’t be overawed by the magnificence of the event. Apart from karting, he plays for the cricket 'A'-team at his school, Crawford College in Lonehill, Sandton.
Senior Max: Luke Herring
Cape Town’s Luke Herring, 18, has been knocking on the door of ultimate National success in the Rotax series for a long time and it all came good in 2014. He won the Senior Max South African title at Zwartkops in early October 2014 after being the favourite all season.
Herring started karting in 2001 aged five, has won many SA Regional and National titles and has represented South Africa overseas five times in international karting, including the Rotax finals in New Orleans in 2013. He also enjoys body-boarding, surfing and rugby and attends Parklands College in Cape Town. His ambition is to race professionally overseas.
Junior Max: Jordan Sherratt
Jordan Sherratt is 15, from Durban, and started karting at six. This season’s Junior Max title is his second in a row and, like Herring, he represented South Africa at the 2013 finals in New Orleans. He has also competed in kart championships in Italy and races a Mini Cooper Production car. His dream is to race in Polo Cup locally and to race overseas professionally.
Sherratt attends Glenwood Boys' High in Durban: favourite sport, apart from karting, is rugby.
DD2: Benjamin Habig
Benjamin Habig finished second in the fastest and most competitive karting class in South Africa in 2014 by two points. He led the championship through the second half of the season until the final round at Zwartkops when a first-heat incident sidelined him. He fought back to win the third heat and pundits were amazed by his pace, having only competed seriously in the Rotax series for the first time this year. He's competed in other Regional and National championships.
At just 16, Habig is an undoubted talent, which is not surprising. His father Jan is a former multiple SA Rally champion. Apart from karting, Habig the Younger is a top-ranked swimmer, and attends Ashton International College in KZN. He also plays rugby for his school, enjoys music and wants to start rallying “as soon as his dad gives the go-ahead".
Senior Max: Eugene Denyssen
Eugene Denyssen, 18, is from the Western Cape and is 2014 African Open Senior Max champion. He's competed in karting at top level for a number of years, winning his first Junior Max title in 2012. Eugene is known as a classy, mature driver who refuses to get flustered. He competed in 2014 Formula Ford racing.
He's at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, loves rugby, and plans to race Formula 4 single-seaters in Europe in 2015.
Junior Max: Kohen Bam
Kohen Bam comes from a karting family with motorsport roots that go back to the 1950's. His mother, Jacolize, is a karting champion and daughter of 1964 SA Saloon Car champion in 1964 Koos Swanepoel.
Bam has been carving a career in motorsport since 2007. At nine he won his first Cadet race. He won the Western Province Maxterino championship in 2010, following that with the 1011 SA Maxterino title. In 2014 he won a place in the Grand Finals after finishing second to Liebenberg in the 2014 African Open in September, in the Junior Max category. Bam attends Fairmont High in Durbanville and enjoys body-boarding and fishing. His ambition is to race in the Le Mans 24-Hour.
DD2 Masters: Erwin Sterne
Erwin Sterne is another karter with motorsport roots that go way back. His uncle Richard Sterne was a Formula Ford and Hot Rod champion in the 1970's. He started karting only a couple of years ago with the help of Nick and Jennifer Verheul. "I've gradually built my knowledge and pace. My goal is to get through to the final.”
Sterne is married and and he and his wife enjoy boating and watersports.
DD2 Masters: Richard van Heerde
KZN businessman Richard van Heerde, 48, is a self-confessed hobbyist karter who's married with “two wonderful children” and has been racing for six years. He's won KZN Regional titles and was second in the DD2 Masters championship – “not easy when you're racing against Morgado!”
Van Heerde raced in the 2013 Grand Finals and battled in the qualifying rounds, so his ambition this year is to do a lot better. He says his problem is he’s a big guy so has a weight disadvantage, even in DD2 Masters which runs to a higher minimal weight limit than the other classes.
WHAT ROTAX PROVIDES
The Rotax Max Challenge karting series is unique in that it provides all its Grand Final qualifiers with brand new engines, kart chassis, tyres, fuel, oil, tools and a kart trolley with which to contend the four-day World championship.
All chassis and engines are drawn for by the 288 competitors and the engines are sealed for the duration. Doing well in the championship is down to skill and chassis set-up - and staying out of trouble in the packed qualifying heats.
Competition is intense with more than 70 competitors in each of the four championship categories.
For a link to watch the 2014 Grand Finals to go live video streaming from November 25-29.