The Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals fires into life this weekend as drivers get ready for one of the biggest karting events in the World. Entered into the Junior class as ever are 72 drivers who have won tickets throughout this season and all racing on equal equipment supplied by Rotax and the relevant chassis partners gives all an equal chance at victory. In this article we will look at some ones to watch along with the driver I am predicting to win the event. We will also look at the British drivers taking part in the event.
Tijmen van der Helm – Rotax Max Euro Challenge Champion – Prediction to win!
Tijmen van der Helm has had a fantastic 2017 season and is in a strong position to finish off with a win at one of the biggest events in the World. Coming into the Grand Finals, Tijmen is the reigning Rotax Max Euro Challenge Champion in the Junior Max class following a 4th at the Winter Cup earlier in the year. Representing the Netherlands he also finished 2nd in the CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy with two podiums in three rounds. At the IAME International Final the Dutch driver was unlucky to finish 6th place and I think the experience from that event should help him on his Grand Finals debut.
Tyler Gonzales – Florida Winter Tour Champion
Tyler Gonzales has to be a strong favourite for this event after wins at both the Florida Winter Tour and SKUSA Supernationals late last year. He blitzed the Winter Tour beating Dylan Gennaro to the crown by over 200 points in both the Junior Max and Junior ROK classes. His Supernationals win came in a grid of over 60 drivers and will give him a lot of confidence heading into the all-important Grand Finals. Other than three wins in the Mini and Micro Max classes the states have won the RMCGF just the once back in 2013 when Juan Manuel-Correra dramatically beat Brett Ward at the last lap last corner to win on home soil. There’s no doubt Tyler will looking to increase that list this year and bring a Junior Max trophy back home.
Mike van Vugt – 4th CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy
Along with Tijemn, Mike was another driver selected to race in the CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy this season competing for the Netherlands. After a perfect start to the season bad luck eventually saw Mike finish 4th in the championship, that added to his Winter Cup podium and strong performances in the Rotax Max Euro Challenge make him a strong bet for this year. Mike had his first taste of the Grand Finals at Sarno last year in the Mini Max class but unfortunate luck in the final saw him finish down in 34th place. He would have learnt a lot of lessons in that first year and will be keen for a good result this time around.
Luca Leistra – BNL Rotax Golden Trophy Champ, BNL Vice Champion
Winning the last ticket to the Grand Finals via the BNL Rotax Golden Trophy event was Belgium’s Luca Leistra as he breezed to victory despite tricky conditions. He may have been new to the Junior class this year but Luca has looked like a seasoned veteran as he ran Clayton Ravenscroft all the way to the final race in the BNL Karting Series taking two wins and four second place finishes. Having commentated on plenty of his races one thing I particularly like about Luca is his ability to deal with pressure and I don’t think he’ll be at all phased by the magnitude of the event next week.
Xavier Handsaeme – CIK Academy Champion
My last one to watch is Xavier Handsaeme. The Belgian has had a brilliant season winning both the Rotax Winter Cup and CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy. Xavier won the CIK-FIA Academy Championship so convincingly that many saw him as a favourite for the IAME International Final two weeks ago. Not the smoothest run through the heats meant the Belgian eventually recovered to finish a solid 5th place, but back in Rotax I think he’ll be even stronger. Xavier was 15th at last years Grand Finals and having already had a good season he shouldn’t be putting himself under immense pressure. Should he win he would become just the second Belgian to win a Grand Finals along with two times Champion Christophe Adams who won back in 2007 (Al Ain Raceway) and 2009 (Sharm El Sheikh).
Others who could challenge…
Sami Megeutounif – 5th CIK Academy
The French driver has had a strong season and looked quick at the IAME International Final albeit emding his weekend with a DNF. He’ll be looking for a much stronger result at the Grand Finals.
Ryan Wood – Rotax New Zealand Champion
The Kiwi’s have always gone very well at the Grand Finals particularly in the Masters class with two wins in the last two years. Ryan Wood seems to have won almost everything there is to win in New Zealand and I think will be one to watch.
Lachlan Robinson – UAE Champ
After qualifying pole at the IAME International Final it’s hard to rule out Lachlan Robinson. Eventually finishing an impressive 7th he’ll be a threat to the likes of Van der Helm and Handsaeme.
Clayton Ravenscroft kept the BNL Karting Series title in the KR Sport awning this year after beating Luca Leistra and Ilian Bruynseels in convincing style to follow in footsteps of fellow Brit Joe Turney. With most of the Junior’s in Super One having to move up to Seniors Clayton was able to deservedly get himself a ticket to Portugal and I think could be a huge player at the event. He’s been one of the quickest drivers in Europe this year and is a driver that has never had the chance to prove himself on the World stage. This will be Clayton’s biggest race by far and he looked blisteringly quick at the BNL Rotax Golden Trophy event two weeks ago on the Praga chassis. Great Britain have won the Junior title twice thanks to Mark Kimber and Harry Webb and I honestly think Clayton is capable of following in their footsteps if he is able have a good set of heats. He’s a well respected driver around the paddock and a good person off track, a good result would definitely be very well received.
Tommy Foster won his place at the Grand Finals via the Rotax Festival held at Clay Pigeon in the summer. It was a last lap move on Ravenscroft that saw him do it in a dramatic finish to the race. That said the move itself was perfect and it caught out the KR Sport driver and now they’re both through I’m sure they’ll both look back at it as a great race. Foster won the British Open title this year and finished 5th in Super One with some impressive drives. The Arden Young Racing Driver Academy member has never stepped foot out of the UK in racing terms and that will put him in the back foot going into the event. However, the privateer is in a fully level playing field event and is what the RMCGF are all about. I think his first priority will be to make the final and from there look towards a top ten finish. Either way it’ll be an experience he’ll never forget.
Previous Junior Max World Champions
2016 – Mark Kimber (GBR)
2015 – Florian Venturi (FRA)
2014 – Juri Vips (EST)
2013 – Juan Manuel Correra (USA)
2012 – Harry Webb (GBR)
2011 – Ukyo Sasahara (JPN)
2010 – Martin Rump (EST)
2009 – Ukyo Sasahara (JPN)
2008 – Facundo Chapur (ARG)
2007 – Kevin Korjus (EST)
2006 – Jorrit Pex (NED)
2005 – Kenneth Hildebrand (EST)
2004 – Benjamin Salvatore (FRA)
2003 – Martin Omar (ESP)