Sarno, Italy - Jayden Els, a Grade Six learner at Laesrskool Baanbreker in Boksburg, won the Mini Max category in the 2016 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Italy on Saturday.
The twelve-year-old was part of a 13-driver South African team that competed at the Sarno circuit in Italy in this 17th edition of this World Championship event.
Rotax karting is the most competitive series in the world, as all 360 drivers taking part from over 50 countries have to qualify for the event in their respective countries. The event is run over six days each year in a different country around the world. Jayden earned his race seat in Italy by winning the Rotax Africa Open Mini Max category in Pretoria in July this year, for drivers aged 9-12 years old.
Jayden’s drive in the Finals on Saturday was a masterclass in race craft. Having qualified for the finals in 12th position, he raced in the pre-final to place in 10th position on the grid for the finals.
As the flag dropped, Jayden made a brilliant start and by the end of Lap One he was up to fifth place. He then consecutively picked off the front runners ahead so that by half distance he was leading.
It then looked like a straightforward drive to the finish for the 12-year-old from Boksburg, as he initially drew away up front, but the pack was closing, thanks to the slip-steaming top-speed benefit of a bunch of karts running nose-to-tail. And with just over a lap to go he found himself demoted to third!
But at the start of the final lap he read the race brilliantly in front of him, taking a tighter line onto the back straight and he was back in front, holding his re-gained lead for the final lap to the finish.
Jayden finished just nine-tenths of a second ahead of second-placed Thomas Nepveu from Canada, with Luka Nurmi of Finland third, Victor Bernier of France fourth, Ziggy Kermanshahchi from UAE fifth and AriasDeukmedjian of the USA rounding out the top six.
“I would like to dedicate this victory to my grandfather,” said Jayden, who is also on the public speaking team at his school, and numbers amongst his sports and interests chess, rugby, cricket and golf. Jayden’s grandfather recently passed away, and Jayden said he knew his grandfather “was watching” as he took the chequered flag.
Jayden also made sure to thank his father Jean and mother Yolande for all the effort they’ve put behind his karting career
Going into the final, Jayden was very clear in his stated aim: “I’ve worked hard for this and I’m going to win it,” he said some two weeks before the final. And so he did!
Mixed results for the rest of SA’s team
The rest of the South African team competing in the 2016 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals had mixed results. Competing over a number of class categories, many of our drivers started the week-long practise, qualification and elimination heats in very strong positions.
Notable amongst these was Nick Verheul from Edenvale, who was the fastest qualifier out of 72 runners in the DD2 Masters class (for drivers 32 and over) , and started the pre-final in eighth position, before being punted out of position in a miserably wet pre-final. Thus Nick failed to make the Saturday Finals, which ironically were run on a dry track under blazing sunshine!
An amazing performance was put up by young Luca Munaretto from Boksburg. At one stage he was second overall in the qualifying events for the highly competitive DD2 class, where at the age of 14 he was the youngest competitor by far. But unfortunately he was eliminated when the weather turned late in the week, and didn’t make the Finals.
The wet conditions on the Thursday and Friday also caught out the likes of Bloemfontein’s Justin Allison in the DD2 class, and Eugene Brittz, these two being very quick in their qualification runs and heats. But they were at a disadvantage, like the rest of the South Africans, in the wet conditions, and they started the DD2 Final way back on the grid. They both improved in the race, Allison charging from the very back of the 34-kart grid to 18th, while Brittz finished the final in 23rd spot.
Fabienne Lanz was another driver who showed plenty of speed in the qualification runs, running as high as fourth-fastest at one stage, but was also caught out by the damp conditions.