Title Contenders Emerge at South African RMC Season Opener

Columns: Races
The Motorsport South Africa (MSA) South African Rotax MAX Challenge (RMC) season opener commenced at IDube Raceway, outside Camperdown, KwaZulu-Natal, on 3-4 March and saw early title contenders emerge following a weekend of fierce competition. (Raymond Cornwell)

A significant development in 2023 is the series' return to events hosted under the MSA banner. One of the primary motivating factors was the eligibility of competitors to compete in the annual RMC Grand Finals, the international showpiece in the Rotax crown. The two years outside the auspices of MSA, the only FIA-recognised governing body of motorsport in South Africa, resulted in competitors having difficulties in obtaining international competition licenses after qualifying for the finals, either by winning the national championship or the annual African Open event. The past decade has seen many South African drivers emerge on the global car-racing map. Examples include Kelvin & Sheldon van der Linde, Jordan & Tasmin Pepper, Roman de Beer, Jonathan Aberdeen, Keagan Masters, Aqil Alibhai, and recently, Jarrod Waberski and Leyton Fourie are just some of the names who are competing abroad. Like in so many countries, their introduction to racing came in karting, and many of South Africa's top drivers still proclaim karting as the best preparation for competition at the top level. Bradley Liebenberg, a four-time South African saloon car champion, still regularly competes in karting and represented his country in the RMC Grand Finals in 2022.

With a lot of development and commercial interest in karting, the RMC contingent enjoyed record numbers of participants in 2022. It remains the healthiest motorsport code in South Africa in 2023. The 2023 championship sees national events at four circuits, with two races hosted in Gauteng at Formula-K Kart Circuit in Benoni and Zwartkops Kart Raceway in Pretoria, with the latter also hosting this year's African Open. The recent season opener was held 60km northwest of Durban, while the Killarney Raceway in Cape Town hosts the fourth event. These regions also boast healthy regional championships.

The Bambino class, contested by the youngest competitors, saw Luhan de Wet dominate proceedings throughout the weekend. The status quo of De Wet, Adriaan Steyn and Caleb Rogers remained throughout Qualifying and Saturday's first two heats. The final heat, however, saw Rogers excluded from the results, with the driver and kart found to be underweight. De Wet and Steyn repeated their results in Heat 3 to finish the day as winner and runner-up, respectively. Rogers' exclusion saw Ronald Venter take third place in the final heat and the Round 1 result after the latter outscored Rogers on points.

While Cristian Verheul started the Micro MAX battle from the pole position, defending champion Rafael da Silva took the honours for the day after winning the first and rain-affected final heats. Brodi Dowling only took a podium finish in the day's first heat, but his consistency throughout the day saw him finish Round 1 as the runner-up, thirteen points adrift. While Verheul scored 87 points and took the Heat 2 win, he was classified in third place as Dowling's accumulated race time was better. Matthew Shuttleworth showed his skill in wet conditions to end the day in fourth place, ahead of Aiden Beaumont and Bambino graduate Ronaldo Koen.

Reagile Mailula won the Mini MAX class, following a win from pole in Heat 1 and from second in Heat 2. The final heat saw him struggle in the rain, but seventh place saw him emerge with enough points to finish the day on top. Keagan Beaumont finished all three heats on the podium to take the runner-up position for the day. After his second place to start the day, he took two further third-place finishes. Defending class champion Caleb Odendaal bounced back from a difficult start to finish Heat 2 as runner-up before showing his skill in the rain to take victory at the end of the day. This saw him complete the Round 1 podium. Kyle Spies, Micro MAX graduate Emma Rose Dowling and Kegan Martin completed the top six.

Kent Swartz joined the Junior MAX class in 2023 while sporting the colours of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Junior Academy for the first time. He finished Round 1 as the early championship leader. He bagged wins in the first and last heats after starting from the pole position. Particularly in the wet conditions of the final heat, he showed great skill and dominance en route to victory. Although he was the first to take the chequered flag in Heat 2, a Front Fairing Infringement Penalty saw him reclassified in fourth place after five seconds were added to his time. Heat 2 winner Uzair Khan finished Round 1 as the runner-up, while Jonno Wilson completed the podium. Gianna Pascoal, Travis Mingay, and Jordan Wadeley rounded out the top six.

The Senior MAX class produced some of the day's most spectacular racing, starting with the morning's challenge for pole position, snatched by defending champion Charl Visser. Visser could not convert his pace into a victory in any of the heats and played second fiddle to local driver Troy Snyman, who won Heats 2 and 3. Muhammed Wally, who won the day's opening heat, took the final podium position for Round 1. Reigning Junior MAX champion, KC Ensor-Smith, moved up to the Senior MAX class and concluded his impressive debut by finishing in fourth place, ahead of Ethan Bostander and Olerato Sekudu.

The DD2 and DD2 Masters classes ran concurrently. In the DD2 class, multiple South African karting and main-circuit champion Bradley Liebenberg took the honours with all three heat wins. Sebastian Boyd withdrew for personal reasons, which eliminated him from a potential runner-up finish, with Wayland Wyman taking the position ahead of Kian Grottis. Dusan Radojevic also completed the day ahead of Boyd. Five-time RMC Grand Finals winner, Cristiano Morgado, took the DD2 Masters honours ahead of Jonathan Pieterse and Kyle Lawrence.

Round 2 of the championship will be held at Formula-K Kart Circuit, Benoni, Gauteng, on 28-29 April 2023.

Photocredit: Motorsport Fanatix™

Created by: fmarangon2 - 16/03/23

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