The 2020 South African Rotax Max Challenge karting championship may have wrapped up at Killarney a few weeks back, but the national team to race in the Rotax Max Grand Finals ‘Olympics of Karting’ in Portimao, Portugal in January, is still far from settled. That's because the winners in most of the classes in the Sunday 15 November African Open at Benoni’s Formula K Raceway, still need to join the SA champions in the team.
The annual African Open is unique in that it opens the way for wildcard drivers to get into the Grand Finals. First however, they must come out on top of the wild winner-take-all Open finale in each class on Sunday. Even more intriguing this year, is the fact that several top drivers who missed out on those national seats, will be the men to watch on the weekend.
SA champion Sebastian Boyd and runner-up Rob Whiting have booked their places in Portimao's premier gearbox class DD2 Grand Finals. That leaves it up to a wildcard driver to drive their way into the SA team’s remaining seat. Three of those prospects all won national rounds this year — Jozi’s multiple SA champion Bradley Liebenberg, multiple SA Grand Final winner Cristiano Morgado from KZN and Cape lad Jurie Swart. And don’t ignore Cape drivers Jason Coetzee and Charl Visser, or Jozi lot Jamie Smith, Nicolas Spanoyannis and Niko Zafiris for an African Open upset.
Pretoria driver Nicholas Verheul takes his Grand Final seat by virtue of his SA over-30s DD2 Masters title. A second Masters seat remains subject to space, but the African Open winner still wins a ticket to the Grand Finals. Several men are up for that trip, including Jonathan Pieterse, Conor Hughes and Jason Greyling: Alistair Mingay, Tinahe Ncube, Marouan Selmi, Pascal Acquaah, and Eric Marzoppi.
Cape Town’s SA champion Tate Bishop is one Senior Max driver on the SA Grand Final team, but who will join him in Portugal? Both late season Senior graduate Aqil Alibhai and 2019 SA Senior champion Charl Visser have twice raced Grand Finals and both can be considered favourites for the African Open win. They must first beat some pretty tough customers though, including KZN driver Shrien Naidoo and Cape lads Jason Coetzee and Andrew Rackstraw to claim that second ticket to Portugal’s Senior Max ‘Olympics of Karting’.
Jozi lad Muhammad Wally clinched the under-15 Junior Max seat with a national meeting still to race, but there are a few young men in the frame for that second ticket. Among them have Grand Final experience under their belts. 2019 SA champion Troy Dolinschek was untouchable in his home national Cape final, while 2019 Mini Max Grand Final sensation, KZN kid Troy Snyman has had a trying season and is keen on an African Open break. Junior outsiders include Dhivyen Naidoo, Andre and Kyle le Riche, Ethan Stier, Juandre Nel, Kian Grottis and Matthew Wadeley.
Dainfern's Under-13 Mini Max champion Ghazi Motlekar has booked his seat in the Grand Final. A second Mini seat is however also subject to space on the limited Portimao grid. Either way, a ticket to watch the action is available to the African Mini winner. Last year’s Mini man Troy Snyman will fight it out with Joaquin de Oliveira, who stormed to four straight wins in the Cape Town SA Finals. Don’t ignore Reza Levy, Erich Heystek, Ntiyiso Mabunda and Ethan Deacon here though — they are all in the race for that ticket.
Caleb Odendaal has already snatched the SA champion's ticket to the under-11 Micro Max Grand Finals. Last year’s SA Micro Grand Final representative, Cape kid Reese Koorzen looks to be favourite for the second seat. He must beat Jozi hotshot Mohammed Moerat on home ground first, while Keagan Beaumont, Joshua Smit and Jordon Wadeley are also all in with a shot too.
The baby Bambinos will be out in force in support in Sunday's African Open, where Mattao Mason will fight it out with Rafael da Silva, MJ Thekiso, Christian Verheul and the rest.
Sunday’s races follow straight on Saturday's FK Raceway third round Northern Regions Max Challenge races, where the local racers must contend with upcountry rivals preparing for the African Open at the same time.
Jamie Smith is leading the NR DD2 title, Philippe Chapat DD2 Masters and Aqil Alibhai is ahead in Senior Max. In the schoolboy classes, Muhammad Wally leads Junior, Ghazi Motlekar Mini, Mo Moerat Micro Max and Mattao Mason Bambinos. Go to www.kart.co.za for more.