Wellington’s Stewart sisters, Madeline and Ashleigh, starred as the 10-strong Kiwi contingent enjoyed a stand-out result at the second round of this year’s Australian Rotax Pro Tour in Queensland over the weekend.
The teenage pair were quick from the get-go in the Rotax 125 Light class, with the younger of the two, Madeline, qualifying third quickest and going on to finish sixth, and Ashleigh qualifying sixth and finishing 15th.
The other Kiwis also shone, with Emerson Vincent from Pukekohe the best of the Junior class racers with second quickest qualifying spot and fourth in the Micro Max class. Backing that up were Connor Davison from Hamilton who finished fifth in Mini Max, Sam Wright from Auckland with a fifth in the Junior Max Trophy class and Matthew Payne from Pukekohe who was ninth in Junior Max.
The other Kiwi senior racers at the meeting, Aarron Cunningham from Auckland and Brendon Hart from Palmerston North also did well finishing seventh (Cunningham, DD2 Masters) and eighth (Hart, 125 Rotax Heavy) in their respectvie classes.
Unfortunately, after winning the Junior Max Trophy class at the opening round of the Australian Pro Tour at the end of January, Christchurch driver Jaden Ransley stepped up to Junior Max with high hopes.
However after setting the 24th quickest lap time in qualfying and enjoying a best heat finish of ninth and 14th in the Pre-Final he was an early dnf in the Final.
“I got a fantastic start but coming into the second corner we got a big hit from the inside which sent me into the air and that was the end of the weekend for me,” he said. “It was disappointing but as usual, I gained some knowledge that I will take into the remainder of the season.”
In her first foray across the Tasman, meanwhile, top female Junior class driver Rianna O’Meara-Hunt from Wellington, qualified 29th (in Junior Max) but got as high as 15th in her heats and came back from being hit off the track late in the Pre-Final to work her way from 36th on the grid to an impressive 16th in the Final.
Madeline and Ashleigh Stewart’s father Tony said that the heat and race format made things harder but overall his daughters had enjoyed an excellent weekend.
“They are by far the best results we’ve had at Pro-Tour. We feel really happy with our pace but still have a lot to learn about racing in such a competitive series,” he said.
Friday was a big day for everyone at the meeting with five practice sessions, qualifying and two heats, all in almost 40 degree heat.
Madeline Stewart was fast from the first practice session, consistently in the top five on the Rotax Light time sheets, and though older sister Ashleigh struggled down in the 20s early on, a change of engine saw her get closer to Madeline in later sessions.
Qualifying delivered a similar result with Madeline fourth and Ashleigh eighth. The heats, however, were a mixed bag for the sisters,
“The first corner is particularly difficult if you are starting on the outside,” Tony explained. “Ashleigh got caught out in the first heat, Madeline in the third. They both had some good heats as well, though with Ashleigh fifth in heat three and Madeline thrd in heat two but a DNF each hurt them with Madeline starting the pre-final in 10th and Ashleigh in 19th.
“Both also had difficult Pre-Finals with other people’s crashes holding them up, leaving Madeline starting the Final 14th and Ashleigh 21st.
“Madeline had an amazing drive through to sixth place setting the third fastest time of the race on the way. Ashleigh also had a good race finishing 15th.”
Fellow female Rianna O’Meara-Hunt also had a Final (in her case in the Junior Max class) to be proud of, keeping – as she said – “her best until last.”
“Wow – that was intense,” she said of her Australian debut. “It sure is a different style of racing to New Zealand. The start procedure and first few corners are mega fast and furious and it was not until heat three that I found some of my mojo and remembered to relax enough to drive not just to survive.
“The Pre-Final was a write-off being turned around in the exit of a corner with only a few laps to go, bending a tie-rod and steering column in the process. That meant starting the final dead last (36) – again a new and humbling experience – but I managed to drive through from last spot to finish 16th.
“It was the toughest and hardest racing I have ever experienced – but on reflection – I loved every minute of it and just want to do better next time, both for myself and the team.”
Points-wise after two rounds of the Australian Rotax Pro Tour Emerson Vincent continues to lead the Micro Max standings. Connor Davison is now seventh in Mini Max, Sam Wright is fifth in Junior Max Trophy, and Matthew Payne, Rianna O’Meara-Hunt and Jaden Ransley are 16th, 29th and 32nd respectively in Junior Max.
Madeline Stewart is now eighth in Rotax 125 Light, with sister Ashleigh 18th. Brendon Hart is seventh in Rotax 125 Heavy and Aarron Cunningham is ninth in DD2 Masters.
New Zealand’s Giltrap Group-back Sprint Nationals meeting in Hamilton at Easter will be the next big meeting for most of the NZ-based Australian Rotax Pro Series regulars but they will be crossing the Tasman again ahead of the third round at Sydney’s Eastern Creek kart track over the April 16-17 weekend.