|Intrepid Force Rotax driver Dominik Kraihamer has featured strongly at the 9th annual Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals at the La Conca circuit in Mura Leccese southern Italy, taking a brilliant 4th place in the Rotax 2-speed DD2 kart against some of the World’s best drivers in the class. |
Also celebrating his 19th birthday over the weekend, the young karter from Salzburg arrived late Wednesday to Italy after he was finally released from his regulation army national service commitments to attend the prestigious event, which he’d in fact qualified for prior to beginning the six month training. Having already missed some of the official practice sessions, he was still immediately fast for the first time on the challenging 1500m track. Many of the other competitors have in fact either raced there before or been testing at La Conca prior this week’s meeting.
After qualifying 12th quickest Thursday in a field of 72 drivers, Kraihamer ranked 10th overall following his three heat races, for a row-5 start in Sunday's pre-final. He drove an excellent race to finish strongly for 4th and then lined up on the outside of the second row for the all-important afternoon final.
In an action-packed decider, the Austrian took advantage of two of the front-runners colliding on the opening lap and immediately moved up into 3rd. Within several laps, he had overtaken the reigning World number one from Canada who had been impressive during the meeting in defending his title, as well as the newly crowned European Champion who hails from South Africa, that Kraihamer had finished runner-up to in the 2008 series.
The pace was quick and unfortunately the 19-year old was unable to hold back the challenge from his closest rivals. The battle for places was constant and grew even more intense as the race progressed. By the end of the 24 laps, Kraihamer took a well-deserved 5th place across the line, only to be awarded 4th position when the Dutch driver who had finished on P3 was penalised 10 seconds for a false start.
It was a fantastic effort to achieve this result and although disappointed that he'd let the title slip away he had came so close to winning, the IFR driver admitted that he totally enjoyed the tough racing over the weekend.
"It was almost the perfect end to my Grand Finals event, but I realise I may have been a little too eager to get to the front of the field and probably overworked the tyres trying to keep my early lead. In any case, both finals were really good races against such experienced international drivers. They're all karting champions to have qualified for this event, so the level of competition is extremely high. Our team worked very well to be where we were and I want to thank everyone, including my family and our sponsors for their support to help make it all possible."
This was Kraihamer's 3rd appearance representing his nation at the Grand Finals, where he has competed in all three Rotax classes. In his first year racing the gearbox class, he has secured the Euro Vice Champion's title and won the two rounds he raced in the Dutch Championships. The annual Rotax event is the world final for the largest competition in Karting, which saw 215 drivers race at the 2008 event from over 50 countries and five continents.
Two other IFR team drivers qualified as well for this edition of the Grand Finals, owned by BRP-Rotax, Austria. They were the European number three Josh Hart of New Zealand, who qualified 7th and started on P8 for the pre-final. Hart was a strong contender for the title this year and was running in 2nd place in the final on Sunday, until he lost vital positions in the battle for the lead, unable to remain consistently fast. 15-year old Austrian champ Niki Laa was the team’s youngest entry, suffering some bad luck when he had to change engines after a technical problem and consequently failed to finish one heat. He came back strong to take victory in the second chance qualifying race Saturday, to make the grid with his Kiwi team-mate for the finals. Both did very well to finish inside the top 15 in the Senior Max class, showing the competitiveness the small private team [IFR] now has the reputation for.