The addition of a new driver to Sauber’s young driver development programme and its karting team was one of the big talking points of the WSK Champions Cup weekend.
Joining Formula 2 star Theo Pourchaire and GB3 race-winner Roberto Faria in Sauber’s academy is Taym Saleh, a German teenager who is going into his third season of junior karting.
In 2021 he was third in the ADAC Kart Masters and 11th in the German championship for OK Junior karts, then last year he was third in the WSK’s Open Cup, 10th in the Champions Cup and 16th in the Euro Series. He was also 18th in the CIK-FIA World championship and 20th in the Champions of the Future series.
His time with Sauber started on a high this weekend at South Garda as Saleh finished third in the Champions Cup’s OK-J final behind the dominant Lewis Wherrell and Niklas Schaufler.
Wherrell topped qualifying and won all three of his heats, with Niklas Schaufler, Saleh and Iacopo Martinese winning the other three, then he dominated his pre-final.
The second pre-final was won by new factory Kart Republic driver Sasha Bondarev, which put him fourth on the grid for the final behind Wherrell, Dries van Langendonck and Filippo Sala.
There was no question of who was going to win the final, although Sala gave Wherrell a challenge early on which kept the front six tightly packed. Once Sala made a big mistake though, Wherrell started to pull away and Ukrainians Lev Krutogolov and Bondarev moved into second and third.
WH Sports-managed Bondarev passed his compatriot halfway through the race, with Schaufler following him past Krutogolov who like Sala started to tumble down the order. But Bondarev then made a mistake, leading to a condensed fight for second again and enabling Schaufler to get through.
As the top two broke a way a battle between Kart Republic’s drivers and Saleh heated up over third place. Saleh resisted several laps of pressure from a queue of karts, just about holding off Kart Republic’s Mercedes-AMG F1 junior Luna Fluxa and Sala.
Sauber’s only other karter is Miguel Costa, who is now in his fourth season with the team but is not one of its F1 juniors. He finished 22nd in the Champions Cup’s OK final on his debut in the senior kart category. Sauber is yet to confirm either driver’s programme of events for the year.
The first final at South Garda was for X30 Junior karts, and despite making an awful start Riccardo Ferrari was able to win for Zanchi Motorsport.
He spent most of the race battling with Sacha van’t Pad Bosch, but the Dutch protege of FIA Formula 3 champion Victor Martins was never in victory contention due to a five-second penalty for jumping the start.
Angolan karter Lorenzo Campos led early on before Ferrari and then Tiziano Kuzhinni came through.
Kuzhinni had the pace to pass Ferrari too, and the latter then spent the next laps sat right behind but not willing to make a move. He finally darted by with three laps to go, and Kuzhinni responded on the next lap but only momentarily held the lead.
That fight allowed van’t Pad Bosch to close right in for the final lap and there was a photo finish between the three. Ferrari won by 0.049 seconds, with van’t Pad Bosch 0.114s behind before his penalty.
That dropped him to sixth behind Victory Lane’s debuting Rocco Coronel – son of 1999 Super Formula champion and 2022 TCR Europe runner-up Tom – and Clovis Nougueyrede.
While the track action took much of the weekend attention, ahead of the event there were two major announcements.
Brando Pozzi won the WSK Champions Cup X30 Senior final by 0.005s
The poleman led early on from Pacome Weisenburger, who led some laps before losing a four-way final corner fight. Federico Rossi then rivalled Pozzi, who defended the last lap before Rossi tried a last corner move pic.twitter.com/0ogSie7rbg
— Formula Scout Karting (@KartingScout) January 29, 2023
The first was about the FIA’s new International Karting Ranking that has just come into effect. The logarithmic ranking will position drivers based on their results in FIA and non-FIA races across the world in many kart categories, and aims to limit “unrecognised competitions” and use driver experience for entry eligibility.
It is inspired by the ATP tennis rankings, and follows TCR’s recent adoption of a ranking for its touring car drivers worldwide. The FIA’s own competitions will be weighed at the highest coefficient for scoring points, followed by likes of Rotax and X30 kart competitions in ‘Category 2’ and mini karting in ‘Category 3’.
The second announcement was that the the racing debut of the new OK-N and OJN-Junior kart categories has been postponed from next week’s WSK Super Master Series opener to the first round of the WSK Euro Series at the end of August “due to ongoing tests by the teams for the technical preparation”. A global FIA contest for OK-N is set to arrive in 2024.
OK-N is a restricted engine that is forming the basis of a cheaper but heavier alternative to OK and OK-J karting, with the FIA intending to have more national championships take on ‘OK’ karts with the new OK-N ruleset.
OK-Junior final (17 laps)
1 Lewis Wherrell Forza Racing [Exprit] 14m00.654s
2 Niklas Schaufler DPK Racing [KR] +2.292s
3 Taym Saleh Sauber Academy [KR] +5.082s
4 Luna Fluxa Kart Republic [KR] +5.362s
5 Filippo Sala Sodikart [Sodikart] +5.503s
6 Stepan Antonov Kart Republic [KR] +6.805s
7 Sasha Bondarev Kart Republic [KR] +7.042s
8 Iacopo Martinese Kart Republic [KR] +7.267s
9 Dries van Langendonck Energy Corse [Energy Corse] +8.458s
10 Simon Rechenmacher TB Racing [KR] +8.603s
Fastest lap: Sala, 48.658s
X30 Junior final (17 laps)
1 Riccardo Ferrari Zanchi Motorsport [Tony Kart] 14m21.995s
2 Tiziano Kuzhnini Team Driver [Tony Kart] +0.049s
3 Lorenzo Campos Team Drive [Tony Kart] +2.062s
4 Rocco Coronel Victory Lane [Redspeed] +2.671s
5 Clovis Nougueyrede Victory Lane [Redspeed] +3.551s
6 Sacha van’t Pad Bosch Victory Lane [Redspeed] +5.114s
7 Christian Romeo Giovanni Romeo [Tony Kart] +5.203s
8 Fabio Reale LA Motorsport [Falcon] +5.278s
9 Alberto Fulgori Jr [Kosmic] +12.042s
10 Paolo Tizzano DK Racing [IPK] +16.570s
FL: Coronel, 49.800s