Kartsport is common denominator for Kiwi heroes

Photo: Earl Bamber #7

The top step of the podium at Le Mans is a world away from a club kart day in Palmerston North. Yet 2015 co-winner Earl Bamber, and co-runner-up Brendon Hartley have proved there is a direct link.

Just a day after he and co-drivers Mark Webber and Timo Berhard finished second to fellow works Porsche 919 Hybrid drivers Earl Bamber, Nico Hulkenberg and Nick Tandy in this year’s 24 hour classic Hartley, 25, tweeted; ‘ was just thinking what mine and Earl’s 10 y/o selves would say if they were told we would stand on the Le Mans podium together…a long way from the Manawatu kart club!”

“It certainly is but it’s also a very good example of where a start in our sport can take you,” says KartSport New Zealand President Graeme Moore. “KartSport is the nursery for almost all four wheel motorsport in New Zealand as well as being the place many of our 1000 driving members have decided to stay; to compete in karts both locally and internationally.”

In winning the race Bamber, 24, became only the third Kiwi to stand on the top step of the podium at Le Mans,  Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon having shared the winning Ford GT40 in 1966.  Hartley’s second place also echoed the runner-up position earned by the other Kiwi motorsport great of the era, Denny Hulme, in a second Ford GT40, in 1966.

Two other Kiwi drivers, Mitch Evans, 20, and Ritchie Stanaway, 23,  also made an impression at the event, Evans finishing second in the LMP2 class, Stanaway qualifying his Aston Martin on pole in the GTE Pro class and battling for the class lead until his co-driver was involved in an on track incident with another car.

All four raced karts at home before moving to cars. Bamber, Hartley and Evans getting their motorsport start in the sport, Stanaway using it to familiarize himself with four wheels and tarmac after a sporting start in motocross then speedway.

Bamber, from Wanganui, started racing at the age of eight, competing locally first then moving further afield, winning the North Island Junior Restricted 100cc Yamaha title at Hamilton in 2002 and the New Zealand Junior ICA title at Auckland in 2004.

That year the then 14-year-old also won the Junior class in the multi-round Rotax Max Challenge, and went on to be the first New Zealand driver to claim a podium spot (third) at the Rotax Max category’s annual Grand Final (where winners of the National Challenge series from 33 countries competed against other) held at Lanzarote in the Canary Islands in January 2005.

Mitch Evans was even younger when he started, learning the basics as a six-year-old at the KartSport Mount Wellington club’s track in Auckland.

He won his first New Zealand title in 2005 – Junior Restricted 100cc Yamaha – and followed that up with the CIK Trophy of New Zealand in the Junior ICA class and a win in the Junior class in the Rotax Max Challenge series, both in 2007.

That saw him follow in Earl Bamber’s footsteps, this time to the Rotax Max Grand Finals meeting in Dubai.

Hartley, 25, was another early starter, racing karts at his club track in Palmerston North from the age of 6, and winning four consecutive Cadet class titles in the local Gold Star series. Like Evans he then took advantage of MotorSport NZ’s Junior Driver Licence which allows suitably qualified youngsters to race cars from the age of 12. He continued to race a kart through his teenage years as time allowed, however, being one of a group of karters from Palmertson North Boys High to win the National Schools Championship title in Taranaki in 2005.

The success of Bamber, Hartley, Evans and Stanaway at Le Mans is just the latest in a distinguished line for Kiwi karters.

Three-time Indycar champion and the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 2008, Scott Dixon, got his start in motorsport in karts at the Mt Wellington track in Auckland, as did 2003 Karting World Champion and 2005 US IndyLights series winner, Wade Cunningham.

Earl Bamber and Mitch Evans have also won the New Zealand Grand Prix, as has karting contemporary, three-time winner Nick Cassidy, currently leading the Japanese Formula 3 Championship.

Bamber is also a former winner of the Formula BMW Asia title and both the Carrera Cup Asia (twice) and Porsche Supercup series, while Evans won the World GP3 series in 2012.

Hartley is a former winner of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series and was part of Red Bull’s F1 development team for a number of years, and Stanaway is the former winner of both the German Masters series and German Formula Three championship who won the GP2 support race at the recent Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monaco.

With categories for everyone from the age of six to over 60 KartSport remains the first step on the motorsport ladder – not just for the likes of Bamber, Hartely et al.

There are 21 clubs affiliated to the sport’s governing body, KartSport New Zealand, with club-run tracks from Invercargill in the south to Whangarei in the north. Clubs cater for everyone from those who dream of following in the footsteps of the Earl Bambers and Mitch Evans of the world to others who value the camaraderie of a shared group activity as much as the competition.

To find out more go to www.kartsport.org.nz

Media: Fast Company Photo: Geoff Ridder

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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