Home Featured The top karting stars of 2020

The top karting stars of 2020

by Elliot Wood

Photos: CIK-FIA / KSP Reportages

Karting is the training ground of most drivers before single-seaters, and it’s always useful to check what’s happening in the major championships to see what future talents may eventually burst onto the scene

The CIK-FIA World and European championships are the main focus of the karting world, with their champions 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, while several national championships are rivalling the continental series for talent, if not drama.

Delays caused by the global coronavirus pandemic this year meant some drivers were old enough to move up to more powerful karts and contest full seasons in those rather than switching machinery halfway through 2020, while others turned 15 in time to even go into Formula 4 before the bustle of end-of-year karting fixtures.

Some of the biggest events on the scene were called off, including the WSK Final Cup, Trofeo delle Industrie and the USA’s SuperNationals. Travel restrictions and academic calendars that were dotted all over the place denied many drivers the chance to compete internationally, and once schools did open again many became less lenient on taking time off for sport given the urgency to make sure students’ pulled in the learning deficit that had occurred during lockdown.

Then there was of course the disgraceful actions of Luca Corberi and his circuit-owning father at Lonato, where a clash with a rival launched the younger Corberi into the barriers during the race. He then took his bumper and tried throwing it at that same driver while racing action continued, and instigated a paddock brawl afterwards. Corberi elected to step away from kart racing for life, Italy’s national federation ACI suspended the licences of the family and their circuit, and the FIA launched an investigation under the eye of its karting president Felipe Massa, but so far there has been no public outcome.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli ITALY 14y/o
OK CIK-FIA European champion, WSK Euro Series champion   KA100 J & X30 Junior USA Winter Series champion

The Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 protege looked immediately at home in senior karting, after often looking unstoppable as a rookie in OK Junior karts in 2019, and massively impressed by winning four titles. It wasn’t an easy year on the kart though.

His OK debut came in January’s WSK Champions Cup, and he was straight on it. He took pole, and won his first heat with the fastest lap of the event. However, he missed the rest of the weekend, leaving him classified 43rd, after going down with a flu.

On his return a week later in WSK’s Super Master Series he took pole, added another heat win and finished 18th overall. Once back at peak physical condition he was at the top again, claiming pole and four preliminary race wins on the way to third in round two against experienced drivers, then in the back-to-back final two rounds during lockdown claiming another pole, four heat wins and victory in both pre-finals. He came second overall in round three, and needed fifth in round four to be champion. But an incident at the start of the title-deciding race dropped him to the back and cost him the title.

Antonelli’s year also ended on a low, as he broke his left leg and foot after crashing into Maya Weug’s kart in the wet final of the CIK-FIA World Championship, the biggest contest of them all. That had been one of the only competitions all year where Antonelli hadn’t looked like one of the overall favourites, although he did set the fastest lap of the Algarve event.

He was one of the four pacesetters in qualifying, split into groups for a 74-kart entry, and was second-best rookie in the heats. While he finished one heat down in 15th, he also won one against defending two-time champion Lorenzo Travisanutto, but was eventually classified 35th after his painful final crash.

The Italian also earned a first FIA title in the European championship. He was overall winner of two rounds, second place in the other, and a week after the finale also won the WSK Euro Series crown. In addition to third in the South Garda Winter Cup back in February, he also went on to come ninth in the Iberia-based Champions of the Future (CotF) series.

At the start of 2020 he made his final junior karting starts, winning two of the USA’s winter series with an unbeaten run in all eight of the event finals he contested.

Taylor Barnard BRITAIN 15y/o
OK WSK Champions & Open Cup winner, 2nd in CIK-FIA European Championship, 5th in CIK-FIA World Championship

While much of the media wrote that Nico Rosberg was making a first foray into team management when he announced in October he was entering Extreme E, his pre-existing karting team had been busy winning races with British protege Taylor Barnard. In 2019 he announced himself immediately in senior karting by winning the WSK Champions Cup, and won it again at the start of 2020 before heading to the USA for two rounds of its winter series, coming 22nd in the X30 Senior class.

He came second in the opening Super Master Series (WSK SMS) round, had a bumper penalty demote him to 10th in the South Garda Winter Cup, then came fifth in the WSK SMS points once karting resumed after lockdown. He joined the WSK Euro Series opener at Sarno too, and a heat win and sixth in the final left him 15th overall as he skipped the other rounds.

While these results weren’t spectacular, Barnard was delivering in the more hotly-contested CIK-FIA events. In the first European championship round at Zuera, he took pole and won all of his heats – one of very few to do so in top-class karting in 2020 – which put him on pole for the final. Antonelli got by on lap one, and he could only hound him thereon.

Barnard claimed the points lead at Sarno with another perfect run to the final, and this time converted it into a lights-to-flag win. In the Wackersdorf finale he was fourth fastest in his qualifying group, but that didn’t cost him the title against Antonelli. Following a strong first two heats, a bumper penalty in heat three dropped him to 16th and he lined up eighth for the final. He was fifth by lap two, and was third before another bumper penalty left him sixth. As a result, Antonelli just outscored him.

New opposition was then found in shifter karting and F4. Barnard struggled with starts in the KZ2 karts on his debut in the Euro Series, and came 46th, but drove KZs in a UK championship cameo at Fulbeck and was sixth in the final. In Italian F4 he impressed even more, almost scoring on his debut and starting his last race on the front row.

His year in OK karts ended pretty finely too. The CIK-FIA World Championship began by Barnard beating the victory favourites in their first heat together, and wins in the next two put him on pole for the final. But in the rain he could only come fifth. He came sixth in CotF, then successfully defended his WSK Open Cup crown with victory in nearly every race.

Morgan Porter BRITAIN 19y/o
Rotax Senior Max Int. Trophy winner, British Champion, British Kartmasters GP winner  OK 4th in CIK-FIA World Championship

Photo: Rotax Int. Trophy

Morgan Porter is used to domestic success, having won the British Kartmasters Grand Prix and been a title frontrunner in many British series during his time in junior karts, and this year he not only found form in senior karts but also did it abroad.

Most of his success came on Rotax-engined equipment, and at home that included becoming British champion for the first time and winning the grand prix at PFI for British F4 and karting outfit Argenti Motorsport.

Using the equivalent IAME-built X30 engines he was ninth in the Winter Cup, seventh in the British championship – falling out of title contention after a crash – and then fifth in the International Games for Kart Republic.

Before the International Games he entered the CIK-FIA World Championship for OK karts, looking to improve on the seventh place he claimed on his debut in 2019. In qualifying he was second fastest in his group, and was in the top five in all of his heats against a grid of that year’s OK class stars and many of its established frontrunners from previous years.

The rain definitely mixed things up in the final, but Porter was mistake-free on the way to fourth place behind a dominant Tony Kart podium lockout. His only OK experience in the 12 months prior had been CotF’s circuit visit, and he was 33rd in that.

Porter also went to the Rotax Max International Trophy at Algarve in mid-December, where the grid was formed of many of his British rivals and some of the stars of other Rotax-powered series across the globe.

The student bricklayer was second fastest in his qualifying group, then was narrowly denied three heat wins out of three. After winning the pre-final, few were betting against him for overall victory. He did just that, but the route there wasn’t easy as he fell to third on lap one, then made it back into the lead before dropping back to fourth and then fifth. On the final lap he climbed from third to first to claim his biggest karting win yet.

Nikita Bedrin RUSSIA 14y/o
OK WSK Super Master Series champion, Champions of the Future champion, 4th in WSK Champions Cup & Euro SeriesWard Racing’s Russian would have been the star rookie of senior karting in 2020 were it not for Antonelli, but he did a similarly as exciting job and was fighting for wins in everything he raced in.

Like Antonelli, Bedrin’s debut came in the Champions Cup and they were just a tenth of a second apart in qualifying. He was then just 0.273s from winning his first ever heat race, losing out to reigning World Junior champion and Spanish F4-bound Thomas ten Brinke, and crossed the line first in his second heat but was denied victory by a bumper penalty. The same occurred in the pre-final, and Bedrin then had a crazy run to fourth in the final after falling as low as 11th place.

That first win didn’t come in the WSK SMS opener either, despite taking pole, as he often slipped down the order from top grid spots. In among his up-and-down start he came fifth in the South Garda Winter Cup, taking his first heat win in the process.

On the return from lockdown Bedrin looked a much improved karter, and he went totally unbeaten in the next two WSK SMS rounds to win the title. That put him on a high going into the CIK-FIA European Championship.

He was a heat winner at Zuera, then led the early laps of the final before finishing third, and at Sarno he also took a heat win. A bad result in one of the other heats left him needing to charge up the order in the final, and he made it up to fourth. At Wackersdorf a 10s penalty for undertaking under yellow flags in one heat and a 10s penalty for a move the stewards looked unfavourably upon in another left him on the final’s 10th row, and his climb to 12th place earned him fourth in the points.

It was all part of the learning curve for Bedrin, whose WSK Euro Series campaign also included several heat wins and final podiums that again resulted in a top-four place in the standings despite missing the first round. His scoring rate was second only to the title-winning Antonelli, and his race pace usually exceeded his results.

Finishing lower than he started also hurt him in the world championship, ending up 29th, and he showed his pace at Algarve not only that weekend but the one before too, when he claimed the CotF title by finishing 15th from pole in the final.

Callum Bradshaw BRITAIN 19y/o
OK CIK-FIA World champion, 22nd in Champions of the Future, 34th in WSK Euro Series   X30 Senior 22nd in IAME Euro Series

Since winning the Andrea Margutti Trophy as a OK rookie in 2017, there hasn’t been a huge number of big event results for Bradshaw as he has focused on the cheaper championships using X30 engines.

His first crack at karting’s official world championship resulted in 11th place, and he improved to sixth on his second attempt. In 2019 he didn’t compete, but was second in the IAME Euro Series and was a finalist for the Volant Winfield.

He returned to the biggest stage in karting as a factory Tony Kart driver this year, warming up for it with part-time campaigns in multiple OK and X30 competitions.

Bradshaw’s OK efforts included 34th in the WSK Euro Series, making the final in both of the rounds he contested, and reaching the final in the CIK-FIA European Championship finale too. Lastly came the CotF warm-up at Algarve, where Bradshaw laid down his world champion credentials by charging up to fifth in the final.

In X30s he was even more impressive, finishing first and second in the opening two rounds of the British championship (but dropping to 37th in the points after skipping the rest of the season), and winning the sole IAME Euro Series round he entered. The equivalent of a black-and-orange flag got him disqualified from the final of the IAME Winter Cup, where he had been a frontrunner throughout and had led the final before picking up damage that led to him being classified 36th.

It was the world championship where he was against his toughest opposition, who he beat in his qualifying group to take pole. Two seconds places, a win and a fourth in the heats put him on the front row for the final alongside Barnard, and once the rain arrived the status of world champion was all basically secured within the first two minutes.

It took just over a lap to take the lead, but in the remaining 19 he stretched out a lead of over nine seconds before throttling back and having it reduced to 8.780s at the finish. Fastest lap unsurprisingly went to Bradshaw too.

Mathilda Olsson SWEDEN 19y/o
Rotax Senior Euro Trophy champion, 3rd in Swedish championship, 5th in Winter Cup   X30 Senior 16th in IAME Winter Cup

Photo: Prins Carl Philips Racing Pokal

Olsson now has two Rotax Max Euro Trophy titles to her name, but once again her lack of involvement in OK competition leaves question marks over how the Strawberry Racing driver checks up against the fastest in the open-engine formula.

Her year began in Rotax’s Euro Winter Cup at Campillos in Spain, going second in qualifying and making the podium in all of her heats to line up on the front row for the first final. She came third in that, 0.448s from victory, and 11th in final two.

The main season got going at Genk in Belgium, and Olsson kicked off proceedings with pole position, followed by victory and fastest lap in her opening heat. It was the same story in her second heat, and she was 0.669s off victory in the heat after that. From pole in the wet first final she finished a distant sixth though, and was third in final two to leave fourth in the points.

Qualifying didn’t go to plan in round two at Wackersdorft, but that didn’t stop her from winning all her heats and bagging pole for final one. She looked set for victory in that until an error on some dirt brought onto the track put her off and down to 10th. Olsson charged back up to fourth, a result she repeated in the second points-scoring final to take the series lead.

Adria hosted the season finale, as the second Genk trip was cancelled, and Olsson had a tricky time. She qualified and finish seventh for her first heat, albeit with fastest lap, and was pipped to victory by Zsombor Kovacs next time before winning her final heat. In a photo finish, Olsson edged Juho Valtanen to win the first final, then did it again in the final race of the season to become a two-time champion by some margin.

The European title, combined with wins in the Swedish championship, meant Olsson headed to the International Trophy at the end of the year. It wasn’t a great weekend, and she ended up a lap down in 33rd place in the final.

The equivalent contest for X30 Senior – the IAME International Games – ended even more sourly in 35th as she was out on lap two, after being fourth in the pre-final. In the IAME Winter Cup, her final was ruined by a bumper penalty. There were other reasons to smile in 2020, including a GT4 test with Prince Carl Philip after winning the karting race bestowed with his name.

Freddie Slater BRITAIN 13y/o
OKJ CIK-FIA World champion, WSK Open Cup champion, 2nd in South Garda Winter Cup, 3rd in Champions of the FutureA busy first full year in junior karting was also a very productive one for Slater as he became world champion.

Last year he gained mileage in X30 Junior, and stayed in the class for 2020’s IAME Winter Cup. After being denied group pole by 0.092s, he won his first heat by 0.084s. He was second in the pre-final and final before penalties, eventually coming fourth.

Slater’s OKJ debut in the Champions Cup was mostly for learning, but he was in the top five in all of his heats and was second in the pre-final. He was a penalised 14th in the final – his early form littered with racecraft errors and a qualifying deficit.

The South Garda Winter Cup was next, and he was runner-up from 10th on the grid. In WSK SMS he didn’t make it to the first two finals, but post-lockdown seemed a much improved racer; fifth and seventh in the next two rounds lifted him to eighth in the points. That was matched in WSK’s Euro Series with lowly qualifying results but strong pre-final performances.

Qualifying was his bugbear at the start of the CIK-FIA European Championship too, but by round two it looked improved as he was fifth in his group. Making his usual race gains from a higher grid spot, he took a heat win and two seconds. Retiring from his last one meant he started ninth for the final, but rose up the order and passed three drivers on the final lap to steal second. He couldn’t keep counting on overtaking for good results, and qualifying 10th for the Wackersdorf finale put him on the back foot. While he made the final, he was mired in the pack and was out after two laps, dropping him to seventh in the points.

The warm-up CotF events went better as Slater took group pole at Zuera. This time he was dropping places in heats instead, and came second in the final. At Algarve he started further back, finished fifth and actually came quite close to the title.

His Algarve return for the world championship started dramatically, as track limits abuse cost him his three best qualifying laps. He still came fifth in his group. Then by finishing no lower than fourth in the heats he ended up third on the grid for the final. Overtake two cars early on and he had victory sorted, right?

That’s kind of what happened, as Slater led every lap, but had to fight hard on the last one. Later that month he played the same trick in the WSK Open Cup, consistently rising up the order in the heats at Adria to set up a round and title win.

Connor Zilisch USA 14y/o
OKJ FIA Karting Academy Trophy winner, 25th in WSK Euro Series   Junior ROK & 100cc Junior Florida Winter Tour champion

Run in parallel to the world championship for junior drivers is the nation-focused, single-make FIA Karting Academy Trophy. This year Connor Zilisch of the USA won it, and he also starred on home soil.

His 2020 began in the Florida Winter Tour, and the destination of the 100cc Junior title looked decided after the first round as Zilisch absolutely dominated. He was beaten in two heats in round two, but still took the overall win again. It was a similar story in the final round, as he built a huge points margin over the likes of rising stars Westni Workman and Chloe Chambers.

He did the Junior ROK tour alongside, winning every race of round one, dominating the final of round two and beating Mercedes F1 junior Alex Powell to land the title in round three. The racing in Europe after would be the big test for Zilisch, but he knew what to expect as it was his second full year in juniors.

The first round of the Academy Trophy at Adria didn’t take place until August due to the pandemic, and Zilisch won two heats to put himself on pole for the final. From the front he took a crushing 4.810s win to begin another title run.

Like Slater there wasn’t many great qualifying results, but the race results kept landing and Zilich was on the podium in all of his heats in round two at Genk. He then won the final again, opening up another ominous championship lead.

Turning around his qualifying form for the Lonato finale propelled Zilisch to two more heat wins, but a collision with a rival led to him retiring early in the final. Such was his dominance, it had no impact on the 28-point advantage he won the title with.

Zilisch was always fighting for results from lower down the grid in his other races, entering two WSK Euro Series rounds, two European championship rounds (not making the final in either on the way to 49th), coming 44th from a WSK SMS cameo and looking quick in the world championship, despite a stall in one heat – before another opening lap final clash left him 27th.

Tuukka Taponen FINLAND 14y/o
OK 4th in WSK Open Cup   OKJ 2nd in CIK-FIA World championship, 3rd in CIK-FIA European Championship

Taponen’s third year in junior karting was by far his best, and he even made a splash when he made his OK debut in 2020.

The reigning Finnish Junior champion’s two main focuses arriving into the year were the CIK-FIA World and European championships, and were the two competitions he saved his best performances for.

He was the points leader after the first European round, taking pole, a heat win and then the final win from ninth on the grid. The Tony Kart driver took another heat win in round two, and was passed for third on the final lap of the final. Despite scoring no points in round three, he was still third best in Europe.

In the world championship he as ninth after the heats, although did well to recover from an opening lap plunge down the order in one to pull back a good result. His rise up to third in the final was also impressive in the wet, and that became second when Arvid Lindblad was given a bumper penalty.

Taponen also did the WSK Euro Series alongside the European championship, and that got off to a sublime start with three heat wins, the pre-final win and third in the final at Sarno. The Lonato rounds didn’t have the same peaks, but it was good enough for fifth in the points – a marked improvement on his 13th in WSK SMS.

Before his graduation to senior karts he also did CotF, which showed off the strong pace he carried into the CIK-FIA meeting despite coming 22nd in the two-round series.

Taponen was fourth fastest in qualifying for his OK debut in the WSK Open Cup, but found the racing far more difficult as he crashed in his first two heats and final. Knowing what to expect when he returned to track for round two, he was much better in races and an overall podium bagged him fourth in the cup.

Arvid Lindblad BRITAIN/SWEDEN 13y/o
OKJ WSK Super Master Series champion, Champions of the Future champion, 2nd in CIK-FIA European Championship

Photo: WSK / Mario Perrucca

Oliver Rowland’s Anglo-Swedish protege picked up a lot of silverware in his second season of junior karting, which he spent primarily with the factory Kart Republic team of Dino Chiesa.

His worst result was 14th in the IAME Winter Cup in X30 Senior, but he was actually fifth on track before a bumper penalty.

The results rolled in on OK karts, with fifth in the WSK Champions Cup being followed by third in the South Garda Winter Cup. In WSK SMS he won the title by a massive 138 points, always qualifying in the top two in his group, taking 12 heat wins, three pre-final wins and two of the four finals in the series.

Set-up issues held him back in qualifying and the heats for the WSK Euro Series opener, but he ended up sixth in the final. Before the rest of the Euro Series season was Zuera’s CotF warm-up, which he won, and its CIK-FIA European Championship round, in which he swept to four heat wins but was only fifth in the final.

He set the fastest lap at Sarno, but was third in the final, and was a stronger driver at Wackersdorf to win the final but he wasn’t to be European champion. In the Euro Series finale, he won the heats, pre-final and final to jump to fourth in the points.

The second CotF round preceded the CIK-FIA World Championship, and an easy run to pole and four heat wins suggested Lindblad may well be unbeatable in the final. He wasn’t, falling to ninth in the closing laps, but he did become champion.

He “didn’t make things easy” with 33rd in world championship qualifying, yet won his first heat and made it to sixth on the final grid. In the race he fought his way onto Slater’s tail in soaking conditions, and passed him on the final lap. A bumper tap copped a penalty, and Slater banged wheels to reclaim first – sending Christian Ho into the mud as he made it three-wide. With two corners to go Lindblad made an aggressive pass, but a corner later Slater did the same to finish 0.075s ahead.

The penalty dropped Lindblad to fifth, and to compound things he then finished second again to Slater in WSK Open Cup.

10 more to watch…

Photo: Matthew Higgins

Joe Turney returned to karting as a factory Tony Kart driver after last year’s half-season in British F4, and utilised his experience well to win the South Garda Winter Cup, finish second in the CIK-FIA World Championship and Champions of the Future, third in the European Championship and WSK Euro Series and fourth in WSK SMS.

Although her year made headlines for her crash with Antonelli, Maya Weug still impressed and made the final four of the FIA’s new Ferrari Driver Academy-affiliated Girls on Track Rising Stars programme.

Sauber juniors Christian Ho and Ugo Ugochukwu starred in OKJ, with Ho finishing fourth in the world championship after his off and third in the WSK Champions Cup at the start of the year. Team-mate Ugochukwu was European champion, second in CotF and fifth in WSK SMS.

Potentially the next Carlos Sainz Jr is Matthew Higgins, who is son of 10-time US rally champion David Higgins. The Manx-Welsh teenager raced primarily in Rotax Junior karts this year, and won the British championship and the Rotax Festival. He also came fifth in the Kartmasters GP, and was 11th in Britain’s X30 Junior championship too.

His occasional rival in Britain was Daniel Guinchard, who came in at the end of the Rotax Junior season and finished 35th. He had a lot of success abroad in those karts, coming third in Benelux’s first Kick Off competition, second in the Euro Winter Cup and then winning the end-of-year International Trophy.

Guinchard’s form in X30 Junior wasn’t bad either, and he came fourth in the final of the IAME Euro Series round he entered. He then raced OKJ in Germany too, finsihing fifth in the national championship and winning the parallel ADAC Kart Masters title.

Photo: South Garda Karting

Lauritz Sachse was a breakout from Denmark this year, coming eighth in Sweden’s highly competitive OKJ championship and winning the equivalent title in the Swedish Kart League, while Emirati Rashid Al Dhaheri ended his Mini karting career with victory in the South Garda Winter Cup and third in the Champions Cup before stepping up to OKJ and improving massively over the year. He ended 2020 with 13th in the CIK-FIA World Championship and 14th in the Open Cup.

The stars he left behind in Mini karting included Rene Lammers, who won the WSK Euro Series title, and Open Cup champion Maciej Gladysz.

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