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 Masters 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.
Antti Ollikainen – Reigning Vice Champion – Prediction to Win
Antti has represented Finland for the last five years at the Grand Finals and during that time has finished on the podium twice with the last years Antti so close to victory. Let’s go back to 2015, battling for the lead Ollikainen was going toe to toe with Stephen out front and whilst trying a move into the flat out left hander at turn six he collided with Stephen seeing the pair both slide off the track into the gravel. A year later and Ollikainen had a new rival out front in Lee Mitchener. The Fin did everything right, but going into the second corner on the final lap he over defended and Mitchener pulled off a fantastic move around the outside worthy of a World title. With a further podium back in 2014 it’s about time Antti won this event and I think you’ll struggle to find anyone more determined to do so next week.
Ryan Urban – 2015 Grand Finals Champion
It’s difficult to look past Ryan Urban for next week’s Grand Finals as a winning contender. The Kiwi won the 2015 Grand Finals at Portimao, he was certainly helped by the crash between Michael Stephen and Antti Ollikainen but it was a well deserved victory having qualified 3rd for the final. Last year the champion returned and finished 6th at Sarno which was a good result considering he had to start the final from 18th. Away from that Urban has competed in a further two Grand Finals. He’s got the ability to be calm under pressure and has the pace around the tricky Portimao circuit.
Robert Pesevski – 4th in 2016 on debut
Considering I hadn’t seen his name on a Grand Finals entry list prior to last year seeing Robert Pesevski challenging for a podium was great to see. It’s rare to happen in Masters given most drivers would have come through the Junior, Senior and DD2 classes but for Pesevski he was a new face and is now a name many will have their eye on for this year. The Austrian was unlucky to finish in 4th place given how heavily he challenged for the lead early on. But the experience of drivers around soon showed as he was pushed back into a hectic battle for 3rd. Nevertheless it was a brilliant result and I think he’ll be even stronger this year.
Gabriel Zughella – 3rd in 2015 Final
Gabriel Zughella almost did make the final at last years Grand Final but recovered impressively in the Final to come from 29th on the grid through to 13th place! The years prior to that the Argentinian picked up 3rd in the melee of the 2016 final showing good pace. Returning to the Portimao circuit he’ll be looking to settle for no less than a podium. He’s got the ability to overtake and take advantage of situation’s when the racing is chaotic which it certainly will be in the Masters class next week!
Michael Stephen – Taken out whilst leading the final in 2015
Michael Stephen was the second driver involved in that enthralling 2015 final which saw himself and Ollikainen in the late stages of the final whilst battling for the lead. Given the fact he was leading Michael would have certainly felt hard done by as well as devastated to see his chances of World Glory instantly shattered. I’m not too sure what the South African has done since then as he was not at last year’s Grand Finals but if he can repeat the form he had back in 2015 then he’ll be seriously tough to beat.
Others who could challenge…
Tiffany Chittenden – Former British DD2 Champion
The former British DD2 Champion returns to the Grand Finals once again for her fourth appearance. Tiffany, who will be representing New Zealand, had a best result of 6th in 2014 and drove very well at Sarno last year to finish 11th from 33rd on the grid.
Derek Wang – Showed since of brilliance over the last two years
Last time the Grand Finals was at Portimao Derek was fastest in qualifying before eventually going on to finish 27th. Since then the American has been on the podium at the SKUSA Supernationals and was 12th in Sarno last year.
Kris Walton – 5th in last years final
Perhaps one of the stand out performers in the finals last year, Australian driver Kris Walton on his Grand Finals debut was 5th from 22nd on the grid! Should he start further forward in next week’s final he may be heading home with some silverware.