At the brand new Kartodromo Lucas Guerrero Chiva, some 30 km west of Valencia, Spain, a team of nine South African drivers will be amongst 288 karting champions from over 60 countries competing for the 2014 Rotax Max Challenge Grand finals – effectively the World Championship of karting.
No other karting series in the world can boast a total of 7 500 drivers each year competing for a place in this prestigious final, which in 2014 is now in its 15th year.
And South Africa has a proud heritage in this event to live up to. At the very first Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals held in Peurto Rico in 2000, South Africa’s Gavin Cronje was crowned as the world champion. And since then no less than 12 World Rotax titles have been won by South Africans.
The race meeting starts on November 25 and ends on November 29, 2014, with gruelling practice, qualifying and pre-final races culminating in the four final races on November 29.
The South African Rotax Karting Team:
This year South Africans will compete in four categories: Junior Max, for drivers between 13 and 16 years old, Senior Max for drivers 15 years and older, DD2 Gearbox for drivers 15 years and older, and DD2 Masters, for drivers 32 years and older
DD2 Masters: Cristiano Morgado
Heading up the South African team which competes in Spain from November 25-29, 2014, is Cristiano Morgado. The Durban-based motor-sportsman has won no less than four Grand Final titles, scoring his first as a Senior Max driver in Egypt, way back in 2003. In the past three Grand Finals, in UAE, Portugal and the USA, Cris Morgado has come through to win the DD2 Masters category, a feat no other driver has achieved in the Rotax series. This year he is hoping for this fourth successive title.
Cris has also raced Formula Renault in Europe to great effect in his long career. He 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
Bradley Liebenberg is just shy of 16 years old, but he is already a multiple karting champion. This year he scored a clean sweep in the two most important Rotax championships by winning the DD2 Gearbox classes in both the African Open Championship in September and the South African Championship in early October.
He has been karting since he was eight years old, and last year was the Junior Max champion. He has already competed overseas on numerous occasions, so he won’t be overawed by the magnificence of the Grand Finals in Spain. Apart from karting he plays for the A cricket team at his school, Crawford College in Lonehill, Sandton.
Senior Max: Luke Herring
Cape Town’s Luke Herring 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. Luke won the Senior Max South African title at Zwartkops in early October in fine style, and was the favourite to do so all season.
The 18-year-old started karting in 2001 at the age of 5, and has since notched up numerous regional and SA national titles. He has represented South Africa overseas five times in international karting championships, including the Rotax Grand Finals in new Orleans in 2013. Luke is a keen sportsman, enjoying body-boarding, surfing and rugby and attends Parklands College of Education in Cape Town. His ambition is to race professionally overseas.
Junior Max: Jordan Sherratt
Jordan Sherratt hails from Durban and at the age of 15 is already a veteran karter, having started in the sport at the age of 6. This season’s Junior Max title is his second on the trot, and like Luke Herring also represented South Africa at last year’s Grand 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 ultimately race overseas professionally.
Jordan attends Glenwood Boys High in Durban and his 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 a slender two points. He was leading the championship through the second half of the season until the final round at Zwartkops when a first heat incident side-lined him. He fought back to win the third heat, and pundits were amazed at his pace, having only competed seriously in the Rotax series for the first time this year. Previously he competed in other championships at regional and national level.
Having just turned 16, Benjamin is an undoubted talent, which is not surprising. His father Jan Habig is a past multiple SA Rally Champion. Apart from karting, Benjamin 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 hails from the Western Cape and is this year’s African Open Senior Max champion. He has competed in karting at top level for a number of years now, winning his first Junior Max title in 2012. Eugene is known as a classy, mature driver who refuses to get flustered in tight situations. He also competed in Formula Ford this year on the main circuit.
Eugene is 18 years old, attends the Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, and not surprisingly, given the school he attends, loves rugby. He plans to race Formula 4 single-seaters in Europe next year.
Junior Max: Kohen Bam
Kohen Bam comes from a karting family with motorsport roots that go back to the 1950s. His mother, Jacolize, is a former karting champion and the daughter of the SA Saloon Car Champion in 1964, Koos Swanepoel.
Kohen has been carving his own career in motorsport successfully since 2007 at the age of nine, winning his first race in the Cadet class. He won the Western province Maxterino championship in 2010, following that up with the SA Maxterino title in 2011. This year he wins his place in the Grand Finals after finishing second to Bradley Liebenberg in the African Open in September, in the Junior Max category. Kohen 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 1970s. Erwin is in his mid-30s and is a third-generation glass merchant, his grandfather having started E Sterne Glass in Pretoria back in 1947.
Erwin says he only started karting a couple of years ago and, with the help of Nick and Jennifer Verheul, “I have gradually built my knowledge and pace. My goal is to get through all the qualifier races and make it into the final.”
Erwin is married and together with his wife, also enjoys boating and watersports.
DD2 Masters: Richard van Heerde
Richard van Heerde is a self-confessed hobbyist karter, a 48-year-old successful businessman from KZN. Married with “two wonderful children” he has been racing for six years now and has won regional championships in KZN and also has finished second in the DD2 Masters Championship – “not easy when you are racing against Morgado!”
Richard raced last year in the 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, and suffers a weight disadvantage, even in DD2 Masters which runs to a higher minimal weight limit than the other classes, to cater for “veterans” older than 32 years-old.
What Rotax Provides at the Grand Finals
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.
On arrival at the Grand Finals circuit, all chassis and engines are drawn for by the 288 competitors, and all the brand new engines are sealed for the duration of the event, so there is no chance of modification. Doing well in the Championship is down to driver skill and chassis set-up knowledge, as well as staying out of trouble in the packed qualifying heats that count towards a place in the final.
With over 70 karters competing in each of the four championship categories, all of them champions or vice-champions from their respective countries, the competition is the most intense of any motorsport in the world.
The brainchild of the karting division of BRP, an Austrian company that manufactures all manner of leisure sporting power products, the Rotax success story is legendary. Since first introducing the Rotax Max water-cooled two-stroke karting engine in the late 1990s, BRP sales figures for this 125 cc karting engine now number close to 100 000 units, world-wide!