|The third successive Rotax International Open hosted by the Zuera circuit in Spain has seen the new champions in all classes seal their titles with a strong victory over their rivals, leaving no risk of losing the showdown in Sunday’s finals. With just short of 100 drivers competing at the event where 22 nations were represented, a field of experience and talent made up the three categories that included Junior and Senior Max, as well as the combined ROTAX DD2/Masters. Seven drivers who had not been fortunate enough to already have won a place at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Portimao, Portugal were given personal invitations to compete at the upcoming this month, while entries to the 2013 Rotax Winter Cup and Rotax Max Euro Challenge series, plus more prizes totalling up to €30.000 were also awarded.|
SENIOR MAX – Amidst a strong grid of competitors, Britain’s James Singleton finally ended his European racing season with the result he had so much hoped for when he secured the 2012 Rotax International Open title at Zuera. The Coles Racing senior driver was one of the deserving group who won a last chance ticket from manufacturers BRP-Powertrain at the Spanish event to line-up against many of the world’s best in their class from more than 60 countries at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Portugal, where he could take home the perfect present while celebrating his 17th birthday there.
With a sun-drenched start to the week, stormy weather made it the worst conditions for set-up on day three that left some surprises and disappointments when it came to Friday’s official timed practice. Fast from the outset, Singleton put his Tonykart on pole with a best lap of 1:19.919 on the drying track as the only one to break through the 1 minute 20 lap-time, “We found a good set-up and the Tonykart just kept improving as the session went on that has put me in a good position for the racing. We always look at qualifying as being so important.” Half a second behind, Ash Hand (GBR) replaced his Dan Holland Racing team-mate, Sean Babington, who dropped considerably down the order during his 10 lap stint. The best of the Strawberry Racing team, Andreas Bäckman (SWE), posted the third quickest time ahead of Nathan Harrison (GBR).
With the rain gone Saturday, James Singleton and Protrain Racing’s Jiri Forman (GBR) both had equal points after taking two wins a piece in the qualifying heats. However, the driver originally from Czechia had only the sixth fastest lap in the timed practice; giving Singleton pole position once again for the pre-final. Nathan Harrison and Ash Hand each took victory in the remaining two heat races to rank 3rd and 5th respectively, divided by Sean Babington with three top 3 results starting on grid 4. The close racing left numerous drivers tied on points in the ranking as the battle for places was quite intense.
It was an exciting Senior Max pre-final that saw Babington had the Alonso kart in the lead by lap 3, eventually stretching the gap to cross the line more than a second over Hand, who stole P2 from Singleton in the last laps. Taking 4th at the flag, Forman was unable to gain any ground as he came under fire from Philip Morin in 5th and the 2012 Euro junior champion Harry Webb; also looking to pass in the closing stages. Former Rotax Open winner, Dave Blom, made amends from being the only driver using slicks in the qualifying practice to claim 7th from Harrison and set the best time of the 12 laps in total.
The opening lap left several drivers out of the race with 15 laps remaining, but at the front it was Babington looking certain to run away off pole as the high-caliber of front-runners diced behind him for positions. Within four laps, Singleton had overcome the newly crowned European champion, followed closely by Morin passing his DHR team-mate who appeared to be losing speed as he was set-upon by the chasing pack and ran wide momentarily, slipping back to 8th. Blom moved into 2nd, but it was the senior rookie Webb this time going quickest and carving his way through to pass Forman, Hand, Morin and then Blom by around half-race distance.
The Coles driver’s lead of over 2 seconds was cut to 1.7 by the finish, admitting he was careful to ensure his victory was at no risk. Webb took the runner-up honours for Strawberry Racing to give his rivals a taste of what’s to be expected in 2013, while Morin won the battle for the final step of the podium and claimed his ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals that he’d narrowly missed out on winning at the Swedish championship. In 4th place was Forman, then the only Dutchman in the field Blom in a close dash to the line with Oliver Myers and his fellow British team-mate Harrison. Babington was disappointed to be 8th and Ash Hand was 9th, who also received a warning from the race officials together with Webb in the final. Last year’s junior world number 1 Ukyo Sasahara rounded-out the top 10.
James Singleton – “We didn't really expect to have the win as easy in the final and were a little concerned if we’d have the pace, but when I passed Sean Babington for the lead he seemed to be slowing. I knew he'd have a hard time from the guys behind me and I managed to get a break out in front. We found a good set-up and the Tonykart just got better and better as the race went on. The gap was not as much to Webb near the end because I didn't push so hard to risk it. I want to thank my dad for supporting me as my mechanic and for funding my racing this year, Adrian Coles from the Coles Racing Team for setting-up the kart so well and being here this weekend, and Jack Whelan for his support also. It's not been the best season for me, so I'm really happy to have such a good result here and also to win a ticket to go to the Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal.”
JUNIOR MAX – This year’s European vice champ Janneau Esmeijer of the Netherlands practically dominated the entire weekend beginning from qualifying through to the final showdown as he did at round 2 of the Euro Challenge, missing the win in one of three heats plus the pre-final from his near clean-sweep of the event at Zuera. However, the Team TKP driver was not looking quite so confident in the lead-up to the official practice, having swapped chassis’ brands overnight and then suffered an electrical problem on the grid in the first session Friday morning. In the end, what was initially planned to be a testing opportunity in preparation for his Grand Finals assault at the end of November, turned into a brilliant success.
A few spits of rain fell as the qualifying madness got underway in the afternoon with Junior Max on the 1,700 metre track near Zaragoza that had been declared ‘wet’ prior to the 15-minute session. The shuffle for provision pole saw a number of drivers hit the top of the timing screen from the full grid of starters, but it was Esmeijer who went fastest with just over one minute remaining. Driving the Tonykart for the first day, he set a best lap of 1:21.215 ahead of the Protrain Racing duo of Max Aitken (GBR) 0.198 seconds in arrears and Thomas Preining (AUT) both in the Formula K kart. The gap between the majority of the class following the top 3 came down to mere hundredths and thousandths of a second in tough conditions.
Lining up alongside Esmeijer on the front row for the pre-final was the young driver from China Guan Yu (Joe) Zhou, who recently had an outstanding victory over his Strawberry Racing team-mate Harry Webb at the closing round of the Rotax Euro Challenge in France. Also taking the Tonykart to the chequered flag to win in the third heat when the pole-sitter could only manage 5th place, Zhou kept a determined Thomas Preining behind him, as he would in the overall rankings for grid positions after the qualifying races. Grids 4 and 5 were filled by more Tonykart drivers Jan Jonck (DEN) and Jai Nijjar (GBR).
When it came to the first of Sunday’s finals, Preining from the inside row was eager to take the early lead, but stayed in P3 and battled with Nijjar to claim his short-lived 2nd soon after. It was definitely an exciting clash of the young guns as the 9 laps unfolded with Central Eastern European champ Preining pushing to the front to pass Esmeijer on lap 6, as did Nijjar who snatched the lead next lap around. Dicing with Zhou to maintain P3, Preining lost out to Esmeijer who regained 2nd in the last lap and leave the Austrian 3rd just ahead of the Chinese driver now living in Great Britain. CRM’s Josh Price was 5th to advance seven places in the thick of the racing, then came Brett Ward and Euro #3 Ryan Anderton impressive from P28.
Esmeijer got a great start in the final proceeded by Zhou, Ward and Nijjar giving chase. A scuffle resulted in Ward dropping down the order and Price falling victim of a mid-field battle that left him almost ROF within a few laps, while Zhou was overpowered by one of the likely favourites Nijjar, as Preining picked off places to sit 3rd by lap 5. The intensity grew as a pack of 8 karts fought amongst themselves for a chance of a podium; yet Esmeijer had bolted by in excess of a second before the halfway mark. It was Preining who grabbed 2nd, avoiding the closing challenge on third-placed Zhou by the British Coles Racing pair of Josh White and Ryan Anderton that left White penalized 10 seconds for unfair driving. Anderton was awarded 3rd and his Grand Finals ticket given to Nijjar in P4 seeing that he had already qualified from the Euro Challenge. Zhou’s misfortune saw him finish 6th behind Ward with the fight for the top 10 continuing from the pre-final amongst Lars Lamborelle and Jay Goodwin, also including Tom Meijer up from row 9 to P9 and David Wooder in 10th. Early front-runner Max Aitken fell out of contention, as did America’s Jack Weprin who had been fast in the rain Friday.
Janneau Esmeijer – “We made good progress in the dry for the racing after taking pole in the wet, as we learnt more about setting-up the Tonykart which we have not worked with at all before. I thought it would not be easy to win against so many good drivers, so we were a little bit surprised that we were fast enough to do it. I really like the Zuera circuit, but the long straight means it is very important to get the slipstream for overtaking. Overall, it’s been a pretty good year and we’ve done some testing with the Birel chassis here too for the race in Portugal, so I’m looking forward to the Grand Finals now. I want to thank everybody who supports me and my mechanic Gerard, Hank my coach, Team TKP with Ton Vink and JVD Power.”
ROTAX DD2 – Since his memorable drive from last to first to take the maiden ROTAX DD2 International Open title in the 2-speed gearbox category back in 2010, Belgium’s Xen De Ruwe left no room for being challenged when he stormed home in Sunday’s finals to make it a double victory and claim yet another title to add to his growing portfolio at Zuera. Now residing in Spain for his studies, the 19-year old racing for Formula K Europe took race honours in two of the qualifying heats to start on pole position for the pre-final, giving him the advantage in the competitive class of experienced drivers.
As the track dried, a gamble to opt for the D3 slicks over the regulation wet MOJO tyres in official timed practice on Friday resulted in Kevin Kemmling of Germany posting the quickest lap of 1:17.749 in the closing moments of the session. About to turn 18 years, the Kartschmie.de driver has only raced in the DD2 class on a couple of occasions prior to the Rotax Open and admitted it was a risk to select dry tyres, but he was confident of his decision after watching another Formula K driver in the Senior Max session beforehand. “I was happy with my choice and taking pole is a nice surprise. It’s a great start to the weekend for us. I like the DD2 and learn a lot at this level of racing as I have this season driving the Max in the Euro Challenge.” Making his DD2 debut, Kalman Racing’s Shaun Slavin (GBR) is familiar with the circuit where he took pole in seniors in 2011. His best time in the Birel was beaten with under two minutes left while De Ruwe’s last lap edged out Patrick Pearce for 3rd.
Knowing exactly who he was up against and starting on pole, Kemmling felt the pressure of the opening qualifying heat, but had two top 5 finishes in the remaining races. De Ruwe’s two wins sealed his place on row 1 for the pre-final where he was joined by Slavin, while a second Birel driven by Kevin Ludi from the Swiss Spirit Racing team just out-ranked Finland’s Topi Toikka of MPT Racing on the Tonykart to make up row 2. Tatum Racing’s Pat Pearce won the last heat and ranked 5th.
With no rain in sight Sunday, Slavin got an blinder of a start in the first of the action-packed finals, settling in for a good lead until around half-way in the 12-lapper. From grid 4, Toikka had assumed P2 for much of the race before De Ruwe made his move and then successfully went after Slavin for the lead. In the change of places, the Finn also followed-through by relegating the early leader to 3rd on the next lap. As De Ruwe pulled a gap, Pearce was already setting the pace in 4th and during the closing shuffle for positions Toikka held onto 2nd, but Slavin failed to protect P3 from Pearce on the very last lap.
As the anticipation built-up at the start, the ROTAX DD2 final was pumping the adrenalin as the karts went three-wide into turn 3, De Ruwe leading from Pearce, Slavin and Toikka. A challenge by Ludi and Harry Drysdale (GBR) moving into the first 5 left Toikka to be caught by last year’s Rotax Open winner and current French champion Antoine Lepesqueux with Kemmling not far behind. De Ruwe was quick and holding a 1.7 second buffer, as the three leading drivers kept a generous gap between them. Ludi passed Drysdale, as did Sodikart’s Lepesqueux, but the Frenchman later dropped to 7th to the benefit of Drysdale re-claiming 6th. In the end, the Belgian driver was an incredible 3+ seconds in front to take a clearly convincing win. Pearce and Slavin maintained 2nd and 3rd to receive the sort-after Grand Finals invitations as well as the additional prizes on offer from organisers RGMMC. With 4 laps to go, Toikka fought back for 4th and although there was another change in positions, Ludi lost out to the lengthy 180 metre Zuera straight slipstream. In 9th was former Grand Finals podium place-getter Georg Vann and 10th was the winning DD2 Master of Formula K Europe, Igor Mukhin (RUS).
Xen De Ruwe – “It’s my second time becoming the champion at the Rotax International Open, so of course, I like the track! We worked hard for this, everything was good and I felt confident. It’s been a very nice year – lots of racing, great results and I feel very confident with the team, so I can work easily with them. Without my dad here this weekend, I would like to thank Ivan for being my mechanic, Formula K’s Cash and Roberto, Formula K Europe, my parents and Uncle Mark for their support.”
ROTAX DD2 Masters – Russia’s Igor Mukhin racing for the Formula K Europe team in the 2-speed class deservingly won his first Rotax International Open title at the Spanish event, where he finished 10th overall in the combined ROTAX DD2 and DD2 Masters category. Second place in a very close finish just one spot behind the winner was the British lady driver who took the DD2 Masters European runner-up trophy in 2012, Tamsin Germain of DG Racing in the Gillard chassis. Sodikart driver Guy Pansart from France racing for GP Circuit was 3rd in the DD2 Masters and crossed the line in a close finish for 13th.
The best of the Masters in the official timed practice Friday was European DD2 Masters champion Christophe Adams, who qualified 8th in the class, but unfortunately, didn’t have the luck over the weekend in Zuera. After Saturday’s heat races, Formula K driver Igor Mukhin ranked 11th in the DD2 field as the Master with the lowest points accumulated to be seven points ahead of Guy Pansart and nine in front of Tamsin Germain. Mukhin took the chequered flag in both the pre-final and final in P10 and was the leading Master in both races, with a well-deserved victory for the 2012 champion’s trophy.
Having won the Russian Rotax Max Challenge to represent his country at the Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal, Mukhin accepted the invitation from BRP-Powertrain as the newly crowned Rotax International Open winner and his national ticket will be given to the next place-getter in his local series.
Igor Mukhin – “After being fast in the qualifying in the wet which is not really my strength, I was very confident to win in the dry conditions here. It was not easy, as most of the good Euro drivers were here racing in the Masters, but it was nice racing! Thanks to my mechanic Jeffrey who was very patient this year when I was unlucky or made some mistakes – so he should be glad. Thank you also to the team at Formula K Europe, my friend Oleg from Russia who has supported and given me advice.”
Additional prizes were also awarded for each class by event organizer and promoters RGMMC Establishment that included free entry and credit to the 2013 Rotax Winter Cup season-opener to be hosted by Karting Campillos in Spain in February, as well as credit for the 2013 Rotax Max Euro Challenge for drivers who had already qualified for the Rotax Grand Finals event this month. In total, €30,000 worth of prizes were handed out at the prize-giving ceremony where every driver also had the chance to win a complete season in the Rotax Max Euro Challenge with all entry fees paid courtesy of RGMMC.