The legend that makes Le Mans one of the most special and memorable venues in motorsport continued to inspire the 293 competitors who participated at the fifth annual edition of the Rotax MAX Challenge International Trophy over the weekend of July 26th to 29th.
There was a great enthusiasm that resonated throughout the week of the increasingly popular event, which has a significant place now on the Rotax racing calendar. And the competition is exciting! The constantly changing weather added yet another dimension for the drivers and their teams at the Le Mans Karting International Circuit, where the conditions were somewhat complicated at times. But the new champions rose to the occasion in France, successful in their campaign for the 2023 title.
With 41 countries represented, the atmosphere really had a truly global feel about it, fuelled by the high level of the competition that produced some fantastic racing every day of the event. When the final flag fell and the lights went out, the results of the title fight still remained unpredictable, as the RMCIT winners succeeded in taking victory amidst the pressure and the perseverance of their rivals.
Micro MAX – Emerson MacAndrew-Uren (GBR)
Mini MAX – Albert Friend (GBR)
Junior MAX – Tom Dussol (FRA)
Senior MAX – Ethan Jeff-Hall (GBR)
DD2 – Antoine Barbaroux (FRA)
DD2 Masters – Maxime Gravouille (FRA)
From Official Timed Practice to the 33 Heats that were run over two days, intermittent rain had a definite impact on the overall results for every class at some point. The 9 Super Heats and 6 Finals on Saturday were fortunate to remain relatively clear, although the wind kept the storm clouds hovering with the occasional sprinkle threatening proceedings. Several of the races were hampered by the sudden light showers and quick-drying track during the morning. The hard-fought Finals were particularly intense and closely contested as the leading drivers wrestled for positions. Once again, all the race fans witnessed a weekend that demonstrated the degree of experience, sportsmanship and budding talent on track at the RMCIT, also highlighting the potential future motorsport stars in the making. After all, as the saying goes, Le Mans is the place “where legends are born”.
Zack Zhu (FRA) set the early pace in qualifying (59.781) with an incredibly close gap of only 0.015 to the defending champion Senn Lindeman (NLD) with Emerson MacAndrew-Uren (GBR) third fastest. The Frenchman secured one Heat win, while Britain’s Jenson Chalk won the other two. MacAndrew-Uren crossed the line first in the Super Heat on Sunday morning, but it was Chalk who topped the intermediate classification to start from pole in the Final. It was a brilliant race between the youngest Rotax competitors to end the sensational week in Le Mans, where any number of these drivers could have won. Dan Holland Racing’s MacAndrew-Uren claimed the 2023 title in a dash to the line that saw him win by a mere 0.014 seconds from Chalk in the photo finish. Oliver Warner completed the podium to make it an all British top 3, Lindeman 4th and Jack Freeman (GBR) in 5th.
It was the RMCGF 2021 Micro MAX champion Nikita Ljubimov (57.159) who topped the time sheet in Thursday’s official timed practice, the Estonian posting quickest lap by just 0.010 seconds to last season’s RMC Grand Finals vice champion Jacob Ashcroft (GBR). In P3 was Maxim Bobreshov, who also took the honours in one of the qualifying Heats, as did Ljubimov. Albert Friend (GBR) won the second Heat to rank first Friday afternoon, two points ahead of the DHR British duo of Ashcroft and Cole Denholm. The results were reversed in the Super Heat, Ashcroft winning with ease in the wet by a clear five seconds to Friend; this meant equal points and front row for Final grid. Starting then on row 2 was Ljubimov and Lars Lammers (BEL) after P3 in the Super Heat, with Spain’s Jeremy Reuvers ranking 5th. Estonia’s champion grabbed the lead in the Final and kept his cool out front, tailed by Friend until just before the beginning of the penultimate lap, when the Strawberry Racing driver made his move for P1. Zdenek Babicek had passed Ashcroft for 3rd on lap 8, having started from grid 12 and the back in all the heat races. Teammates Ashcroft and Denholm rounded out the top 5.
With 70 starters in the field, it was Frenchmen Tom Dussol (FRA) on pole in Group 1 with a time of 54.115 and Philippe Armand Karras (54.150) fastest in Group 2 to rank second overall. 2023 Mini MAX runner-up in Le Mans, Toms Strele (LVA) and Alberto Kiko Fracassi (ITA) were the next quickest in their respective groups. The Italian, with one race win, ranked at the top following the six qualifying Heats, with P2 Kasper Schormans (NLD) also winning one Heat and in P3 Armand Hamilton (HUN). The remaining Heats were won by Thomas Pradier (FRA) ranked 4, Dussol, Conor Clancy (ARE) and Strele. Setting themselves up for a guaranteed front row start in the Final were Super Heats winners Fracassi and Schormans, while Hamilton and Dussol ranked next in the points for row 2. It was a slightly chaotic start to the last race, with the pole-sitter eventually holding onto P1 from Schormans; the Dutch driver losing ground to Hamilton in the early stages, before regaining second to give chase. With the laps almost expired, Schormans passed Fracassi to lead, but in the last moments a few corners from the flag, their struggle left them sliding off-line. Dussol passed both to take the victory for the Junior RMCIT title and the RMCGF ticket. Schormans, who already has his ticket to Bahrain, was not happy in second ahead of Fracassi, Hamilton and Luka Scelles (FRA).
The list of 107 entries was split into three groups for timed practice, where the initial 85 drivers were within one second of pole position. One of Britain’s junior stars, Ethan Jeff-Hall, set the pace on Thursday and was the only driver to break the 53-second mark with 52.983 in Group 1. At the top of Group 3, Elia Pappacena (ITA) posted a 53.072 and best of Group 2 was Matthew Higgins (GBR) with a lap of 53.145. Senior MAX raced a total of 15 Heats with another former Rotax European champion Kai Rillaerts (BEL) triumphant in four of his five races, ranking one point ahead of triple RMCGF title-holder Mark Kimber (GBR) with three victories. One bad result left another British champ Kai Hunter down the order in P15, after three race wins too. Ranking P3 was Jeff-Hall with one first place, likewise Lewis Gilbert in P4. Pappacena ranked P5 and Higgins P6. Also winners of a single Heat were Devyan Roest (NLD), Georgios Kafantaris (GRC) and Sverre Ubben (BEL), who originally qualified P34. On Saturday, the Super Heats were dominated by Rillaerts (A), Kimber (B) and Hunter (C) which left the top 6 in the intermediate standings unchanged for the start grid after lunch. The Final brought out the elbows as Rillaerts led the trio from Strawberry Racing and a long line chasing. Kimber, appearing frustrated, took control on lap 5, but was soon passed back by his new teammate. As the field shuffled for positions Jeff-Hall tucked in behind leader, saving his decisive move for the last lap – aided by the slipstream. Higgins slotted into second, while an awkward exchange between Kimber and Rillaerts ended any chances. So it was Kafantaris classified third on the podium following the post-race penalties, and the UK’s Lewis Gilbert 4th and Hunter 5th.
The threat of rain had eased off by the start of DD2 qualifying, where the scramble to change to MOJO W5 tyres and adjust the chassis set-up created a bit of havoc in Parc fermé. For Christian Sorensen, the option to pump up the air and drive with his MOJO D5 slicks was the only one, without any alternative. It worked a treat, as the Dane set a best lap of 1:05.310 to be 1.140 seconds faster than last year’s pole-sitter Antoine Barbaroux. However, it was the well-known French driver who led the rankings following the three Heat races for the 2-speed category. Barbaroux levelled on points with race winner Victor Sendin (FRA), but the P2 in qualifying gave him the advantage to take pole for the Super Heat Sunday. Rasmus Vendelbo P3 and Sorenson P4 made it a second row Danish lockout, each claiming one Heat victory, with Edward Matthews (GBR) sharing equal points ranking P5, the only UK entry in the class. Saturday was a new day with a new leader on track when Xen de Ruwe (SVN) climbed six spots to take the Super Heat win. He recovered from a disappointing qualifying result to reach fifth on the Final start grid. It was Barbaroux though starting pole beside Vendelbo, with Sorenson and Matthews on row 2. The Sodikart-supported entry took a lights-to-flag victory in the deciding race on his return to Le Mans from racing cars nowadays, and is now looking forward to returning to Bahrain for another shot at the RMCGF title. De Ruwe pushed to the last moment over 16 laps in the hope to challenge his rival, but second place and a new 125 MAX DD2 engine was rewarding. Sorenson was near to the front-runners in third and promises to come back in 2024, while Dylan Léger and Maxim Dirickx gained 15 places collectively to finish up in the top 5.
The experience of the German drivers in the rain was evident during official timed practice, but clever thinking as the storm moved in was an added bonus for Lennart Schreiber. Going out the gate immediately to get some warmth in the MOJO wets as the weather closed in was the key for the MS Kart driver to set best lap of 1:11.150. It’s been seven years since he raced in Le Mans and this was a highlight to the season he will never forget! The gap was 1.414 seconds to another of Slovenia’s high achievers Primoz Matelic, with Andreas Matis (DEU) in P3 making a strong comeback to racing DD2. When it came to the Heats, it was Paris-based Maxime Gravouille who literally stole the show by winning two of the races to rank first overall. Some more familiar names from Rotax racing topped the results: Jannik Nielsen (DNK), Romain Mange (FRA) and Carl Cleirbaut (BEL), plus Heat 3 winner Schreiber. Gravouille was basically unstoppable in the Final and gave Nielsen no opportunity to take the RMCIT title this time. In third, Olivier Paris was the next of the French drivers to take the chequered flag, then came Florian Bourdon, Charles Seguin and defending champion Vivien Cussac-Picot finishing 6th with best lap of the race and the class event record as well (53.521).
Race organisers and promoters 3MK Events, together with their supporting partners, welcomed the drivers, crews and fans to Le Mans to enjoy a truly international race event with attractive rewards. Each of the six Rotax class champions was presented with their RMC Grand Finals 2023 tickets to compete in Bahrain from December 2-9. They’ll be lining up with their respective national teams – France and Great Britain. The RMCIT vice champions were awarded with a brand new Rotax 125 MAX evo engine and third-placed drivers received a Rotax voucher worth €1000. Senior MAX competitor Zsombor Kovacs took home the entry draw prize from Rotax of €9.400 [the value of the cool Can-AM Ryker on display], while several other drivers won a new Bell Helmet for their racing.
All the action of the RMCIT 2023 at Le Mans was broadcast over the net all day Friday and Saturday by motorsport.tv, produced by WFR Live TV, while the social media channels shared the highlights.
Watch the RMCIT 2023 races and prize-giving ceremony videos online now at motorsport.tv - https://motorsport.tv/results?search_query=Rotax%20MAX%20Challenge%20International%20Trophy
ALL RESULTS - https://rmcit.3mkevents.com/en/results.html