Home Featured The top karting stars of 2021

The top karting stars of 2021

by Ida Wood

Photos: FIA Karting/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 which future talents may eventually burst onto the scene

The biggest names in karting this year have already started their car racing paths, most notably Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli who already has four Formula 4 podiums to his name. Others have signed contracts with F1 teams, major manufacturers or other motorsport entities and management groups that have taken drivers to the top in cars.

After a controversy and pandemic-hit 2020, karting as a whole bounced back in style this year with events that didn’t get to run last year returning with capacity grids and the CIK-FIA World and European championships going fight-free.

Off-track violence was the shadow that loomed over top-level karting and its president Felipe Massa until June when a 15-year competition ban was handed to Luca Corberi for his and his father’s infamous 2020 scrap at Lonato. The champions of that year mostly went on to more success in 2021, although some still had their programmes disrupted by COVID-19 and others simply chose the wrong team for the next step in their careers.

There was less cross-pollination between drivers contesting the WSK-organised karting events in Italy and the USA’s equivalents, partly due to pandemic uncertainty, but there were still some who tested their skills against the best in other categories and smaller championships away from the CIK-FIA and WSK contests. In fact, the national championships across the world looked particularly well-contested in 2021.

Possibly the biggest story of the year was the location of the OK and OK-Junior world championships, as Brazil has originally been chosen to host the biggest event of the year. Italian teams pressured for it to relocated, and in September it was announced the event that had been scheduled for December was off. It was then announced it would relocate to Spain, and be brought forward to the end of October. At least one place outside of Europe did get to host a major international event, as the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals were held in Bahrain just a week ago.

Freddie Slater BRITAIN 14y/o
OKJ CIK-FIA European champion, Champions of the Future champion, South Garda Winter Cup winner, 2nd in CIK-FIA World Championship, 3rd in WSK Euro Series, 3rd in WSK Open Cup, 4th in WSK Super Master Series, 8th in WSK Champions Cup

Photo: The RaceBox/CotF /lrnphoto

The next Ricky Flynn Motorsport superstar didn’t quite repeat his 2020 feat of winning the CIK-FIA World championship, but he was first to meet the chequered flag in the damp final. A five-second bumper penalty meant he instead was classified second, just 0.256 seconds off a second successive title, but it still made him the top performer on the global stage.

He had charged up the order early in the final with some daring and aggressive moves, but the damage had already been done to his front fairing and therefore the job was to win by 5s and the penalty was already coming. On lap six he rapidly closed in on leader Tomass Stolcermanis and dived down the inside of him to take over up front, then flew away from the field in the remaining 10 laps on a drying track but didn’t quite get far enough away.

Slater had only been 13th on the grid for the final after retiring from one of his heats, but in the four others had won three and finished second to David Walther in the remaining one. It was a weekend where he was bound to win and perhaps a little more patience in his final charge would have earned him the title.

Earlier in the year he had won the European title though, coming out on top in two of the four rounds, finishing second to Harley Keeble at Sarno and 10th at Aunay-Les-Bois in France. But that was 10th with an asterisk.

This time he had topped qualifying, won all of his heats and led the final from start to finish to achieve a rare feat in FIA karting of leading every single lap contested in a race weekend. However long after the final and the podium he was penalised 10s for accelerating away before the track was under green flag conditions on an early restart.

It wasn’t necessarily a more trouble-free run to success in the Champions of the Future series, where he was less dominant. He pipped Keeble to round one victory, then in round two had to come through the Second Chance Heat (not seen in many competitions) on his path to the final and ninth place. He retired from one heat and was disqualified from another for being underweight, but the fortune of still being able to progress to the final meant he only dropped to second in the standings.

He had another tight squeeze in round three where going 10th fastest in qualifying left him with a lot of work to do in the heats, and a retirement in those meant he was the 30th and last driver to automatically qualify for the pre-final. From there he rose to 15th with fastest lap, and then in the final he climbed to seventh which was enough to be champion by seven points.

Slater rounded off his year with a far smoother route to South Garda Winter Cup victory, before starting testing in OK karts.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli ITALY 15y/o
OK CIK-FIA European champion, 2nd in WSK SMS, 2nd in WSK Champions Cup, 7th in WSK Euro, 8th in CotF   KZ 15th in CIK-FIA World Championship, NC in CIK-FIA European Championship   KZ2 46th in WSK Euro

The headline statistic of Antonelli’s year is the four podiums from his 10 races in F4, but he also had a stunning year in OK and then shifter karts.

He began 2021 still recovering from the broken leg he picked up in the previous year’s World Championship final, but was able to handle a kart fine and on his comeback only missed out on glory in WSK’s Champions Cup by 0.178 seconds.

The return to winning form in finals came in WSK’s Super Master Series, in which he was title runner-up over the three rounds after a tricky opener. The physical challenge of then starting his F4 test programme seemed to push up the karting results, and he came seventh in the WSK Euro Series despite only contesting the final round and in CotF he starred in the first two rounds then skipped the finale which dropped him to eighth in the standings.

Of most importance was the CIK-FIA competitions, and after a slow start at Genk where he had a few troublesome heats he then got into his recognisably dominant gear – after many battles with Rafael Camara – and won the remaining three rounds to canter to the title.

With that success in the bag, the preparations for not only F4 but shifter karts ramped up, and the slight Antonelli became a star of that scene too. After a KZ2 cameo in the Euro Series, Antonelli made the CIK-FIA European championship finale his KZ debut and he was immediately the pacesetter. Pole was converted into two heat podiums, and from sixth on the grid he finished ninth in the final. The Italian wasn’t registered for points, but would have come 13th in the championship if he had.

The world championship followed a similar path, with Antonelli beating everyone in qualifying but tending to lose places in the the races and he ended the weekend – his last in karts – in 15th.

Arvid Lindblad BRITAIN/SWEDEN 14y/o
OK WSK Euro champion, WSK Final Cup winner, 2nd in CotF, 3rd in CIK-FIA World and European championships, 3rd in WSK SMS & Open Cup, 3rd in WSK Champions Cup

Photo: Sportinphoto.com

Red Bull rates him, Oliver Rowland rates him, and Formula Scout’s karting consultant and paddock driver coach has some glowing words too.

He’s a good one. I really rate him. I really, really f***ing rate him. Lindblad and Slater I think are the two next F1-style guys.

Unlike many others on this list, there wasn’t an event or series where Lindblad had results not go his way, and he ended up in the top three of everything he competed in. It was similar to his win-filled 2020, except this year it was in senior karts.

His first OK appearance was the Champions Cup, and he finished behind only behind Antonelli and Camara.

As a rookie he basically crushed the opposition in the WSK Euro Series, with admittedly few high-profile full-time rivals, but title runner-up was F1 junior and Kart Republic team-mate Ugo Ugochukwu who scored 47.8% of the points he did.

In round one he had one heat where he finished third, was totally undefeated in round two and then came first, second and third in the heats for round three but an illegal pass docked him 10s and dropped him from second to 11th in his second heat. That put him further down the grid for the pre-final, which he finished second in, and then he won the final.

Qualifying wasn’t always Lindblad’s strength, but he was still very quick, and his wheel-to-wheel skills were usually what earned him top results. The world championship was one event where Ugochukwu had the advantage over the first two days courtesy of qualifying higher up the order, but Lindblad came to the fore on Sunday and took the final podium spot in the final ahead of him despite a bumper penalty that cost him the runner-up spot.

Before then he had been masterful in another two continental series, although not been the winner in finals again until it came to the end-of-year WSK Final Cup where he topped his qualifying session and won two of his heats but had a first lap retirement in the other. His racecraft would come to the fore again though, and he won the final.

Next year he progresses to KZ2 shifter karts with the team of Max Verstappen’s friend Stan Pex, and is expected to become a full Red Bull junior too.

Tuukka Taponen FINLAND 15y/o
OK CIK-FIA World champion, WSK Open Cup champion/winner, 4th in WSK SMS, 4th in WSK Champions Cup, 4th in CotF, 6th in WSK Euro, 9th in CIK-FIA European championship

Taponen’s winning margin to become world champion of OK karts was the biggest since 2006 (when disqualifications led to a big gap between first and second), and therefore the largest of the current era of 125cc two-stroke karts as the top class.

It was also his rookie season in OK karts, although he did do last year’s WSK Open Cup to prepare for 2021, and he won that two-round series up on his return to it despite his only race win in it being a pre-final.

Despite his world championship dominance by 11.889s after Lindblad’s penalty, the European championship just would not go Taponen’s way. A lack of qualifying pace was the start of his issues in the first two rounds, and in round three he had several race-ending incidents but still made it to the final only for a front fairing change to get him disqualified. In the final round he wasn’t faster in qualifying but did get to battle Antonelli through the heats, and then a distant second place in the final lifted him all the way to ninth in the standings.

The ups and downs picked up from his WSK campaigns, and he could have been title runner-up in the Euro Series had he not skipped a round.

In the summer break he made a winning F4 debut in Formula Academy Finland, then a few weeks before his world championship triumph made it into the Ferrari Driver Academy’s Scouting World Final through his Tony Kart team. While he didn’t land an FDA place for 2022, Taponen will be observed through next year as he stays in OK karts for another season.

Daniel Guinchard BRITAIN 15y/o
Rotax Junior British champion, Ultimate Karting champion, British Kartmsasters GP winner   X30 Jnr British champion

Photo: British Karting Championship

To win the same title in two different karts in the same year is some feat by Guinchard, who caught Formula Scout’s attention last year in junior karting by winning the ADAC Kart Masters title in OK-J and the Rotax Max International Trophy.

He stayed at that level this year, primarily at home but once again picking up success abroad and as a factory Argenti Motorsport driver is now looking increasingly likely to move into its British F4 line-up for 2022.

Simultaneously attacking the British Karting Championship’s Rotax Junior and X30 Junior was an inspired move, and resulted in an unprecedented double title win.

In Rotax he won three rounds out of six, including a near-perfect final round, and it would have been four wins were it not for a penalty in one of the finals. The X30 Junior title was wrapped up a week before and had two overall wins out of seven, but his margin of victory there was far larger when it came to the points table.

The Ultimate Karting Championship (UKC), which provides for the same karts and races around England, was another place where Guinchard attempted a double programme and once again he was a champion. This time the Rotax title was earned with such ease that he could skip the final round after wining four of the first five, then his busy schedule meant he only got in one round in the X30s and finished the event in sixth place and 24th in the championship standings.

During summer there was even more domestic Rotax succes, as he won the British Kartmasters Grand Prix by just 0.07s.

Callum Bradshaw BRITAIN 20y/o
OK 17th in WSK Champions Cup, 43rd in WSK SMS   X30 Senior IAME Int. Games winner, IAME Euro Series champion, 3rd in IAME Warriors Final   Rotax Senior Euro Trophy champion, 6th in BNL, 7th in Max Grand Finals

Bradshaw has been around senior karting for quite a while now, and last year he made this list based purely on winning the CIK-FIA world championship title for OK karts.

Returning his focus to cheaper machinery he had a season to remember, being the driver to beat in Europe much of the time. He won the continental title with both IAME’s X30 and Rotax’s engines at the senior level, and off the back of that first success got invited to the International Games event which went almost perfectly bar coming third in his qualifying session.

The Strawberry Racing driver also got to contest the new IAME Warriors Final, and that had a “bittersweet ending” of third place “after pole in qualifying and five our of five heat wins”. There was one more end-of-year event after his IAME commitments ended, as Bradshaw got to race in the Rotax Max Chalenge Grand Finals.

A cameo in Rotax Senior karts earlier in the year, in a Benelux series round at Genk in which he was just pipped to overall victory, was his preparation for Bahrain December and it seemed to work as he finished the event second before a 10s driving standards penalty was applied and threw him down to seventh.

Kean Nakamura Berta JAPAN/SLOVAKIA 14y/o
OK South Garda Winter Cup winner, 14th in WSK Final Cup   OK-J CIK-FIA World champion, 2nd in WSK Champions Cup, 7th in WSK SMS, 17th in CotF, 25th in WSK Open Cup, 37th in CIK-FIA European championship

Born to Japanese and Slovakian parents, and primarily raised in Britain, Nakamura Berta was catapulted into the spotlight like Bradshaw last year with victory in the biggest race of them all.

The youngster’s triumph came in OK-J karts, and it wasn’t a huge surprise for the Forza Racing driver. He’d moved up from Mini karts in which he was WSK Super Master Series and Euro Series runner-up in 2020, and kicked off his time in junior karting this year by coming a close second in the Champions Cup.

That was followed up by seventh in WSK SMS, which included an overall podium in the final round, and then there was part-time campaigns in the Europe-wide series with limited satisfaction in terms of results.

After the summer break that was spent mostly recovering from rib injuries his pace picked up again, and in the CIK-FIA world championship he was three tenths off pole but that put him down in 25th overall in qualifying (seven places behind Forza team-mate Maciej Gladysz) while Slater was second. Two podiums in heats, and one sixth that was an on-the-road second before a penalty, put him ninth on the grid for the final.

While he wasn’t as spectacular early on as Slater – despite making up five places on lap one – he roughly mirrored his progress up the order even after his rival passed him. There was however a gap of over four seconds to the leader by the time Nakamura Berta got into second, and he wasn’t able to close it down. Slater’s penalty however earned him the win.

Understandably there were still some questions over just how good Nakamura Berta was, but a seamless adaption to OK after that removed more doubters. He won the South Garda Winter Cup, then was 14th in the more hotly contested WSK Final Cup.

Rafael Camara BRAZIL 16y/o
OK CotF champion, WSK SMS champion, WSK Champions Cup winner, 2nd in CIK-FIA European championship, 4th in WSK Final Cup, 18th in WSK Euro Series, 35th in CIK-FIA World championship

Even before the FDA’s Scouting World Final, those in the know realised Camara was soon to be on Ferrari’s books and on his way to an F4 race seat in 2022.

He has been in OK karts since 2019, and didn’t set the world alight with Forza. A move to karting’s leading team Kart Republic, as Antonelli’s team-mate, equipped him with a motor he was bound to win with and he did just that.

His partnership with the team began in the WSK Champions Cup, where he won two heats, was pipped by Antonelli in the pre-final and then struck back to win the final. Next up was SMS, in which he came first, second, fourth and second in the four rounds to romp to the title. Only Antonelli and Lindblad managed to reach even half of his points tally.

Camara was another of the Euro Series part-timers, and he had the pace to win in his one appearance. However two disastrous heats stopped him from being at the front and he was one of many to get a bumper penalty in the final.

Comparatively, the other two European series he did went far better. He edged Lindblad to the CotF title, and edged him again on countback to be CIK-FIA European championship runner-up. A similar result was on the cards in the world championship, starting fourth for the damp final and finding the grippier lines to overtake on as it started to rain during lap one to take the lead.

Once Taponen had got to second and closed in on Camara, there wasn’t a strong defence and the lead changed hands. He then lost more places, eventually falling to outside the top 15 before pitting and ending his race prematurely.

Nikola Tsolov BULGARIA 15y/o
OK 2nd in WSK Final Cup, 3rd in CotF, 4th in CIK-FIA European championship, 4th in WSK Euro, 4th in South Garda Winter Cup, 5th in CIK-FIA World Championship, 5th in WSK Open Cup, 6th in Italian championship, 8th in WSK SMS, 8th in WSK Champions Cup   X30 Snr 2nd in Italian championship   Rental: Dubai Kartdome Endurance Championship

Photo: The RaceBox/CotF

Driving one of Kart Republic’s machines for DPK Racing adorned in the colours of Fernando Alonso’s FA Racing outfit, Tsolov was one of the breakout stars this year having gone from Mini to OK-J to OK in successive years.

He won the WSK Open Cup in 60 Mini karts in 2019, came seventh in the junior world championship last year and then was absolutely on it at the senior level in 2021.

His results improved as his rookie campaign went on, beginning with eighth in WSK’s Champions Cup and SMS, then sixth sixth in the single-event Italian championship. He was fourth in both CIK-FIA and WSK’s European series, and was even more competitive in CotF. He won the final round in that series and came third overall.

The year ended with top-five results in the WSK Final and Open Cups, second in the Italian championship for X30 Senior karts and then a starring appearance in the Dubai Kartdrome’s Endurance Championship.

The Bulgarian champion will likely spend a third year in Alonso’s colours, and is already looking at F4 as well as karts.

Hannah Greenemeier USA 19y/o
X30 Snr USA ProTour champion, 6th in US Pro Kart Series, Ret in USA SuperNationals final   KA100 Snr 3rd in USA Winter Series   ROK Shifter 17th in ROK Vegas

Photo: eKartingNews/USA ProTour

Greenemeier made history on the American scene this year, winning the USA ProTour (the country’s equivalent of a national championship) and coming sixth in the lesser established US Pro Kart Series equivalent in X30 Senior karts.

It was the first time a woman has won the biggest karting series in North America at that level, and Greenemeier was on course to follow it up with a strong result in the end-of-year SuperNationals event too but retired in the final.

In the US PKS there were eight three-race rounds, and Greenemeier missed the opening two but got two second places and won the final race to propel herself up the championship standings.

In KA100 Senior karts she came third in the national winter series, and was also handy in a shifter kart through the year too. Those results helped her in becoming a finalist in Mazda’s MX-5 Shootout at Sebring, and she was eKartingNews’ driver of the month in May.

Eight more to watch…

He’s already starred in British F4 and is looking for a way back into single-seaters, and Joe Turney remains one of the best OK karters in the world right now. In 2021 he came sixth in the WSK Open Cup and Champions of the Future, seventh in the CIK-FIA world championship and WSK Champions Cup and SMS, eighth in WSK SMS.

Similarly, Marijn Kremers and Emilien Denner are awaiting more single-seater chances after their brief F4 sojourns and is starring are shifter karts.

In 2021, Kremers won WSK SMS and the South Garda Winter Cup on a KZ2, and was USA SuperNationals runner-up in the ProShifter (KZ) class. Denner, already a Toyota Racing Series race-winner and still in his teens, was fourth in the European KZ2 championship and fifth in the WSK Euro Series.

Emirati Rashid Al Dhaheri made a successful transition to OK-J karts during 2020 and picked up where he left off, winning the Champions Cup and SMS, coming fifth in the Euro Series and then fourth in the Open Cup. He came 13th in CotF too despite missing the final round.

A rival on the junior scene was Ward Racing’s Maximilian Popov, who was second in the Italian championship, third in CotF and fourth in the Champions Cup and Final Cup in his first full season at that level.

Over in the US, Jeremy Fletcher starred. He won the SuperNationals in X30 Junior and KA100 Junior, was title runner-up in the national winter series and third in the ProTour in X30s, and third on a ROK Junior kart in the Florida Winter Tour.

Further down the ladder in Micro karts, NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick’s nine-year-old son Keelan Harvick won the USA Winter Series, SuperNationals and ROK Vegas, and came fifth in the USA ProTour.

He’s already raced in British GT4 and Porsche Carrera Cup GB, but Mark Kimber remains hot property in karting. In Rotax Senior he won the Grand Finals and was second in the Euro Trophy, and in X30 Senior he was second in the IAME Winter Cup and Warriors Final as well as third in the Euro Series.

Two rising karting clans…

In what was a classic year for British karters at home and abroad, one of the standout combinations were the Hunter brothers, whose father owns the Karting North East track in England.

They primarily competed on Rotax Senior karts, with Rhys winning the Euro Golden Trophy at Genk and beating brother Kai to the British title and the Rotax Max International Trophy, while Kai was also runner-up in the Grand Finals and third in UKC.

Photo: Rotax Czech Republic

The Czech Republic meanwhile had the three Babickova sisters (pictured above) starring in Europe, and they raced in different areas of senior karting. On OK karts it was Eliska who got the top result, coming ninth in the Italian championship, while in Rotax Senior it was only Tereza who competed and she came 16th in the Benelux series and then an impressive fourth in the Grand Finals.

X30 Senior was where the Babickova sisters were seen most frequently, often racing against each other, and Tereza came ninth in the IAME Euro Series and 14th in the Warriors Final. Perta, the third sister, was 24th in IAME’s International Games.

Other major karting champions

Class Title
KZ2 Senna van Walstijn (German & Trofeo Andrea Margutti)
OK Niels Troger (German), Luca Griggs (ADAC Kart Masters, Oscar Pedersson (Swedish), Daiki Sasaki (Japanese), Frank van Noort (NKH – Netherlands)
KA3 Snr Jace Matthews (Australian)
X30 Snr Danny Carenini (Italian & Trofeo delle Industrie), Ryan Norberg (US PKS & SuperNationals), Daniel Nogales (Spanish)
ROK Snr Takuyi Okamato (Japanese Cup), Nolan Bower (KartStars Canada), Leo Marcelli (Brazilian Cup)
Senior Nolan Lemeray (French Cup)
Nationale Antoine Broggio (National Series Karting)
OK-J Maciej Gladysz (FIA Karting Academy Trophy), Augustin Bernier (French)
X30 Jr Lucas Fluxa (Spanish)

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