Home Featured The top karting stars of 2019

The top karting stars of 2019

by Elliot Wood

Karting is the training ground of most drivers before they race in single-seaters, and so it’s always useful to check up on what’s happening in the major championships to see what future talents may be eventually bursting onto the scene.

The CIK-FIA World and European championships are the main focus of the karting world, and champions are invited to the same prize giving gala as the winners of Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula E. That’s not to say that’s the only location of talent in the karting world though, with the WSK-organised events focused in Italy always providing a hotbed for top drivers, and several national championships are rivalling the continental series for talent, if not drama.

Lorenzo Travisanutto ITALY 20y/o
CIK-FIA World & European champion – OK, WSK Euro Series champion – OK, South Garda Winter Cup winner – OK

Photo: KSP Reportages

It may have been the fourth season in the OK class for Travisanutto, but he followed his Nico Rosberg-backed domination of 2018 with an even more convincing monopoly of trophies this year with the support of crack sportscar team HTP Motorsport.

Leaving Rosberg also meant departing the factory Kart Republic setup, although Travisanutto teamed up with CV Performance Group to continue racing its karts for 2019.

Travisanutto packed in practically every race in the category he could, starting with WSK’s Super Master Series. He won the first final at Adria from seventh on the grid, and was pipped to a second success by Dexter Patterson at Lonato, who was taking revenge after Travisanutto beat him in the South Garda Winter Cup. Sixth place finishes in the remaining two Super Master Series finals, after less than spectacular heat results, dropped him to third in the standings.

He matched that result in the lengthier German championship, losing the title there by prioritising the clashing CIK-FIA European season finale, where added a second continental crown to the WSK Euro Series one he secured the month before.

His biggest success was the CIK-FIA World Championship, won for the second time in a row. It was the ninth time karting’s biggest trophy has had a multiple-time winner, but it didn’t come easy. Juho Valtanen started from pole, and sprinted away in the first half of the final. Travisanutto tracked him down and muscled his way past, but was under pressure until the final few laps.

The end of the year brought another change of team for Travisanutto as he linked up with the famous Tony Kart brand, rounding out a podium lock-out with Pedro Hiltbrand and Joe Turney at the WSK Final Cup.

Marijn Kremers NETHERLANDS 21y/o
CIK-FIA World champion – KZ, 2nd in USA SuperNationals – KZ, 3rd in WSK Euro Series – KZ2

Photo: KSP Reportages

A successful but under the radar career in shifter karts blew up for Kremers in 2019, and ended with a graduation to British Formula 4 with Carlin in the Feed shootout organised by 1997 F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

The bedrock of his success was continuing a long relationship with Birel ART, which had a management restructuring pre-season and ran Kremer in junior categories as well as his three seasons in the top-level KZ karts. He warmed up for the big competitions by returning to KZ2s in the South Garda Winter Cup and WSK Super Master Series, both which he finished fourth in, and the WSK Euro Series, where he was third.

While he only managed eighth in the CIK-FIA European championship, he was in a grid packed with drivers who were either far older or even more experienced than he was, as shifter karts often attract ‘career’ karters. Birel team-mate Alex Irlando, who finished sixth, was the only other driver of similar experience fighting in the top 10 as frequently as Kremers was.

The single-event world championship was where Kremers moved into the spotlight. He was rapid in qualifying at Lonato, then took a second place and two wins in his heats. This put him on pole for the final, and he fended off an early challenge from Adrien Renaudin to comfortably lead the first quarter of 25-lap race.

Renaudin then got through, and opted for a defensive approach to keeping the lead. Kremers reclaimed the place with a late dive at the chicane, then used a gear change to cut across Renaudin to prevent him from coming back at him. Thereon he was untroubled, taking Birel’s first shifter world title since 2000 and a rare global triumph for a driver early in his career.

Thomas ten Brinke NETHERLANDS 14y/o
CIK-FIA World champion – OKJ, 2nd in WSK Euro Series – OKJ, 3rd in CIK-FIA European championship – OKJ

Photo: Gregory Lenormand / DPPI

In a feature on top karting team Ricky Flynn Motorsport earlier this year, Formula Scout pointed out ten Brinke as the star of the team’s potent six-strong line-up in the OK Junior class. The Dutch teenager, whose father Bernhard is one of Fernando Alonso’s Dakar Rally team-mates, won last year’s German Junior title and followed it with heat wins and third overall in the WSK Champions Cup.

Otherwise, his 2019 didn’t start in style. He was fifth fastest qualifier for the South Garda Winter Cup, and took three heat podiums to earn semi-final pole. Victory put him on the final front row, but an on-track dispute led to a spin and his kart being mounted.

Runner-up spot in the WSK Super Master Series standings was lost to an incident that prevented him making the final of the final round, but he was a convincing second place in the WSK Euro Series – nobody was going to beat Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

On the biggest stage of all, the CIK-FIA World Championship at Alaharma, it was ten Brinke who was the class of the field. He was put in the same qualifying group as Antonelli and beat him, then won five of his six heats. Second place in his fifth heat behind Nikita Bedrin was the lowest he ever placed, as he dominated the final from pole.

The events at Alahrama followed a dismal end to his CIK-FIA European campaign. Despite retiring from one of his heats, he was in second after round one of four, and moved into the lead in round two with some podium finishes. Qualifying wasn’t kind to ten Brinke, and charging performances in the penultimate round wasn’t enough to keep the lead. He pulled the short straw again in the Le Mans title decider, going ninth fastest and 63rd overall in qualifying. The top driver from his session was 39th.

From 21st on the grid, he breached the top 10 once with a podium, but was eighth in his final heat before overtaking under yellow flags got him penalised. It was his second offence, meaning he missed the final and ensured he wouldn’t win the title.

Emilien Denner FRANCE 17y/o
FIA Int. Super Cup winner – KZ2, Trofeo Andrea Margutti winner – KZ2, 2nd in CIK-FIA European Championship – KZ2

Photo: KSP Reportages

There is feverish expectation over what 17-year-old Denner could do on his car racing debut in the Toyota Racing Series next January, after just three seasons of competitive karting.

His 2017 ended with 13th in the WSK Final Cup’s KZ2 classification. One year later he was runner-up, after taking third in the CIK-FIA European Championship, where he was disqualified from the first round final but dominated the second.

It was clear something big was on the horizon going into 2019 as he remained in the category, although the winter events didn’t suggest too much, as the CPB Sport driver finished 11th in the South Garda Winter Cup and 12th in WSK Super Master Series.

Eight place in the WSK Euro Series against very experienced opposition was encouraging, and started a strong run of form. Denner was the benchmark man in April’s Trofeo Andrea Margutti, and took four podiums and an impressive fourth in the standings in the 10-race German shifter championship on a Sodi kart rarely used by top teams.

The quality of opposition was a little lower for the FIA International Super Cup, but that just gave Denner the excuse to wipe the floor. He topped the 120-strong qualifying classification, swept all six of his heats and dominated the final.

A CIK-FIA European title would’ve also been his were it not for one incident. In the final at Wackersdorf, a forceful move on Senna van Walstijn led to Denner receiving a 10-second penalty and meant his front fairing was out of place. Another penalty was due, and while he did win the final at Sarno, the points lost at Wackersdorf was the exact amount needed for the title.

Denner joined the KZ runners for the USA’s end-of-year SuperNationals, and finished fourth in the final with fastest lap.

Kajus Siksnelis LITHUANIA 14y/o
FIA Karting Academy Trophy winner, 3rd in CIK-FIA World Championship – OKJ, 10th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OKJ

Photo: KSP Reportages

FIA Formula Two race-winner Kazim Vasiliauskas stands out as Lithuania’s greatest F1 prospect so far, but the young Siksnelis may be changing that statement in the future as he makes quick progress up the karting ladder.

The reigning Lithuanian national champion was supported through 2019 by Simas Juodvirsis, the winner of the 2012 CIK-FIA European Championship in KZ2 karts. Siksnelis was racing primarily in the OK Junior category for Swedish team Ward Racing, and it took a while for his confidence to build on the international stage.

Siksnelis made it to 10th in the final of the first European round at Angerville, proof of his learning curve as his best heat result was sixth. At Genk he had a lowkey final from a low starting spot; a heat one retirement neutralising a win and last-lap defeat in two other heats. Third in the Kristianstad final came before a disastrous Le Mans finale, where he was 14th in his best heat.

The total failure in France proved a blessing for Siksnelis, who had the CIK-FIA World Championship and FIA Karting Academy Trophy finale up next. Big results were up for grabs in both, and there was Lithuanian interest because of it.

He was sixth fastest in his world championship qualifying session, which was where he finished his heats when the track was dry. Wet weather at Alaharma threw a curveball in that Siksnelis struggled with, and he started 16th for the final. Within a lap he’d made it to 10th, and picked off drivers lap-by-lap to reach fourth. Keeping a cool head earned him third on the final tour.

That confidence boost helped Siksnelis win the Academy Trophy. Penalties and changing weather at Wackersdorf put him on the back foot, but he upped his game at Sarno, and second place in the Lonato finale took him from fifth to first in the standings. He ended the year with 14th in the FIA Motorsport Games Karting Slalom, and will move up to OK karts in 2020.

Christian Ho SINGAPORE 13y/o
2nd in FIA Karting Academy Trophy, 2nd in German Junior championship, 11th in CIK-FIA World Championship – OKJ

Ho was one of the youngest in OK Junior karts this year, and he got a great 13th birthday present in October by becoming a Sauber junior. He’d already set some age-related records in the year, as well as setting landmark results for Asian karters.

At the end of 2018, Ho made his OKJ debut and found it physically tough, but his pace was clear to see and he was snapped up by RFM for the end of the season – immediately being thrown into the deep end in cold and wet conditions (which Ho admits to always struggling in) and having to borrow some of Zane Maloney’s old kit.

The results were promising, but it did look like the physicality of the more powerful karts was counting against Ho as 2019 began. When he returned to the wet for WSK Super Masters Series he looked far more comfortable, performing well in his heat but repeated mistakes or lack of pace in qualifying meant he was never able to feature at the front if he made it to the finals.

When qualifying did improve, Ho was nervous from starting at the front, and there were many mistakes early on. More track experience – and warmer temperatures – helped Ho, and he came into his own in the German Junior championship. He was on the podium in every final race, three of which he won, and was second in the points despite missing a fifth of the season.

The pressure was low there, but when high it seemed to get to Ho in the CIK-FIA European Championship. In the FIA Academy Trophy it didn’t, and after a topsy-turvy first weekend he went on a winning run to become runner-up. His world championship weekend also had errors, but Ho was one of the fastest in changing conditions and 11th place was a good result.

Ho joined Sauber days before the WSK Open Cup but instantly gelled with his new team, setting pole and racing to fifth in the final. Tyre struggles meant he didn’t match that result in round two, but gathered more valuable experience ahead of 2020.

Mathilda Olsson SWEDEN 18y/o
Rotax Max Euro Trophy champion – Senior, 9th in Rotax Max International Trophy – Senior, 13th in IAME Euro Series – X30 Senior

Few international karting events are won as convincingly as Mathilda Olsson’s Rotax Euro Trophy crown this year, in the spec-engined rival category to OK, and while it wasn’t a result she repeated in higher calibre events, it was undeniably impressive.

Olsson finished third in the 2018 Euro Trophy for Strawberry Racing, and knew where she needed to improve to be champion. She began her season in the Rotax Euro Open at Genk, where she was consistently on the pace but heat results of third and 12th left her ninth on the grid for the first final. She charged through to second in that, then repeated the result in race two.

The season began proper at Adria, where she was fastest in pre-event testing, free practice and qualifying. The split-session format meant she didn’t start from pole, but she won her heats anyway then dominated the two points-paying final races.

Kristianstad was much of the same, but against some additional adversity. A shocker of a qualifying session on home soil left her 21st fastest, but she charged through to sixth in both of her heats. That made her job in the finals a little easier, and she flew past the field to win the first race. The second was a challenge from the front, as she had Axel Saarniala literally rubbing her wheels throughout. At the very final corner he found a way through, denying Olsson a perfect score by 0.173 seconds.

The Wackersdorf season finale also began with qualifying trouble; she set half the number of laps as her rivals and qualified 14th. Admittedly she was only one second off pole and had already won the title, but it was a frustration all the same. Olsson was up to second two-thirds into heat one and missed out on victory by 0.117s, ending up sixth on the grid for the final.

Rhys Hunter pushed the limits of defending to try to deny Olsson victory but failed. It was the reverse in race two, with Olsson’s defensive work falling just short. Title success brought her a Rotax Grand Finals ticket, in which she classified 22nd.

Dexter Patterson BRITAIN 16y/o
WSK Super Master Series winner – OK, 3rd in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK, 6th in CIK-FIA World Championship – OK

Photo: KSP Reportages

The last Scot to race for Sauber was a descendant of Robert the Bruce, and Patterson has been using the same fighting spirit to star on karting’s world stage in his second year at the OK level, even if his results haven’t told the full story.

On paper, Patterson’s season peaked at its beginning with the WSK Super Masters Series title. He was comfortably best in the wet at Adria, outwitted Travisanutto to win at Lonato, shook off an awful first lap to finish second at La Conca, and won everything at Sarno.

His rivalry with Travisanutto went in the latter’s favour in the South Garda Winter Cup and the WSK Euro Series, which was generally a messy time on-track for Patterson (especially in heat races) but still resulted in third in the standings.

It was the CIK-FIA competitions that Sauber wanted Patterson to focus on, and when the time came he did just that. He was unlucky not be on pole for the first European round at Angerville, but still led every single lap of four of his five heats and was unchallenged in the final. The heat where he fumbled just happened to be the one where he was up against Travisanutto. Sauber – and the Kart Republic team it emblazons – praised Patterson’s performance on the demanding French circuit.

Travisanutto thrashed everyone at Genk, and a new-tyre run by Patterson netted him a distant second place. Two brilliant heat wins were compounded by the type of clashes that yardstick driver Travisanutto was avoiding, and while he left Kristianstad in the lead thanks to fourth in the final, it was a case of ‘what if’ having fallen from pole to seventh on lap after bumping his rival.

By the time of the Le Mans finale he had conceded his lead, and then the title after a failed move on Kobe Pauwels put him out on the spot. The world championship six weeks later didn’t serve justice, as Patterson struggled in qualifying then opted for caution as he rose through to finish sixth. There were few trophies, but Patterson raced hard against the very best.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli ITALY 13y/o
WSK Super Master Series, Euro Series, Italian, Final Cup & Open Cup winner – OKJ, 2nd in USA SuperNationals – KA100 Jr

Photo: KSP Reportages

Mercedes F1 and Rosberg protege Antonelli sometimes looked unstoppable in the OK Junior arena this year, and kicked off 2019 with three major trophies in a row: the South Garda Winter Cup, and WSK’s Super Master Series and Euro Series.

To warm up for those events he entered the WSK Champions Cup, where he was favourite to win but got shuffled to fourth.

The WSK Super Master Series title came despite failing to make the final in the Sarno title decider when he clashed dramatically with rival Thomas ten Brinke, and an underwhelming start to the Euro Series somehow ended up in him also winning the Italian title.

This was all, for reminder, completed as a rookie to the class as 13-year-old Antonelli was a star of Mini karts last year.

Most drivers concentrate on the big CIK-FIA titles, and this was where Antonelli’s more experienced rivals made their mark over the diminutive Italian. Marcus Amand was the surprise driver who beat Antonelli to the European title, with the latter’s early no-scores counting against him despite a late podium run.

The world championship was arguably a stronger performance from Antonelli, despite finishing several places lower in fifth, as he put together a more complete weekend under higher pressure. He won three of his heats after qualifying fifth out of 100 cars, just 0.165s off what would have been a headline-grabbing pole position, and raced confidently throughout.

He ended his year with more WSK competitions, winning the Final and Open Cup, and was pipped at the finish line to success in America in the USA SuperNationals’ KA100 Junior category.

Gabriele Mini ITALY 14y/o
2nd in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK, 2nd in WSK Champions Cup – OK, 4th in WSK Euro Series – OK

Photo: KSP Reportages

Nicolas Todt’s latest protege didn’t have the headline results he enjoyed in 2018, but it was still a stellar rookie season.

Mini stepped up to OK karts with the Parolin Racing Kart team, and immediately made an impact by finishing second in the WSK Champions Cup. At first it wasn’t clear what that impact was, as Mini was slowest of all in qualifying.

He turned that into eighth place in his first ever race, and followed that up with a fourth. The inexperience was still clear to see, with Mini ending the first lap of the next race 19 places down and having to recover his way up to 15th. His progress in the pre-final took him to fifth, and he beat some big names to take second in the Cup itself.

The first wins came in the heats of the South Garda Winter Cup, and Mini’s name was already being considered for title contention in the competitions he entered afterwards. He was behind four highly-rated returning drivers in WSK Super Master Series, roughly the maximum he would have been expected to achieve. In WSK’s Euro Series he went one better, but yielded a slow start before dominating the Adria season finale, something rookies rarely manage.

Momentum was starting to build as Mini got more comfortable with OK karts, consistently being among the small group of names winning races. He wasn’t quite a title threat in the CIK-FIA European Championship, mostly because he didn’t collect points from the heats, but was still second in the standings thanks to coming strong in the finals.

He was bang on the pace in the important part of the competition in the world championship too, and he really could have been a victory contender if he managed to bed himself into weekends quicker and ensure better starting spots.

With his 15th birthday looming next March, Mini has already topped a Formula 4 test with Prema and has been assessed by the Ferrari Driver Academy.

10 more to watch…

Harry Thompson was being groomed by Red Bull for a junior single-seater future until last month, when the Briton unexpectedly left the F1 team’s ranks to join up with Kart Republic for a season in KZ karts next year. The 15-year-old was third in this year’s OK world championship with RFM, and won the German title for the second year in a row.

Another with significant patronage is Kirill Smal, who is SMP Racing’s latest wonderkid. He finished just behind Thompson in the world championship this year as an OK rookie, a highlight of an otherwise under-the-radar season with Ward.

The driver who sat between them and the dominant Travisanutto on the biggest stage was Nico Rosberg’s protege Taylor Barnard. His results were more consistently impressive, winning the WSK Champions and Open Cups, finishing second in the Super Master Series and fourth in the CIK-FIA European Championship. He also starred on X30 Senior karts in his free time.

Swede Dino Beganovic was another making swift progress in OK karts. He won his national title and was sixth in CIK-FIA European in his rookie season, as well as finishing runner-up in the equivalent WSK-organised series. His Travisanutto-rivalling pace in the latter won him the Italian title and, like Mini, he’s been testing F4 cars with Prema and the Ferrari Driver Academy.

British teenager Guy Cunnington stepped up to Rotax Max Senior karts this year, the cheaper equivalent of OK, and starred at home and abroad. He won his home title, and came from ninth on the grid to briefly win the prestigious Grand Final at Sarno by 0.003s in one of the most dramatic finishes to a karting event in history.

Cunnington had overtaken Saarniala for the lead on the final lap, but the Finn came back at him at the last corner, deliberately going wide to carry more speed. The pair crossed the finish line side-by-side, with the timing beam declaring Cunnington winner. There was no photographic evidence to tally up with the timing though, and so the result was decided on the drivers’ fastest laps instead. The win was handed to Saarniala.

Emil Skaras applied his KZ2 experience better than ever this year, winning the CIK-FIA European title, coming home as runner-up in the Swedish championship, and finishing behind Denner and Campos Racing recruit David Vidales in the International Super Cup. He also cameoed in F4 South East Asia, where he took a pole and a win.

French-Finnish driver Marcus Amand – another with an esteemed F1 manager in Didier Coton – beat Antonelli to the CIK-FIA European title in OKJ kart. He was inconsistent elsewhere and sixth place in WSK Super Masters Series was his next best result.

A heavy schedule led to success for Emirati Jamie Day, who won the French Cup title against a full international field and was a frontrunner in every continental competition in Europe. He was sixth in both of the key CIK-FIA contests, and his partnership with Lennox Racing Team has led to a tie-up with Charles Leclerc’s new karting brand for 2020.

Day’s countryman Rashid Al Dhaheri, 11, was the star of Mini karts this year against the likes of Mercedes-backed Jamaican Alex Powell, convincingly winning the WSK Super Master Series and Euro Series titles for Parolin, and the Macau International Kart Grand Prix.

Similarly consistent in fighting with the best in OKJ contests was another SMP junior, Nikita Bedrin. The Tony Kart driver’s second season included second place in the WSK Final Cup, third in the WSK Euro Series and fifth in the CIK-FIA European Championship.