This week, five extremely excited, yet understandably nervous young lads are in Spain preparing to undertake the most amazing experience of their young lives in chasing their dreams of GP glory.
The occasion is the world final shootout of the FIM MiniGP Series at Valencia where five Aussie hopefuls will pit their skills against the best youngsters from 16 other countries that take part in the 160 cc series, and seven nations in the 190 cc series.
The top two from the 160 cc class and the top three from the 190 cc class in Australia are invited to the other side of the world at the end of November to compete against rivals that topped the categories in their respetive nations. See below for the process direct from MotoGP.
160 cc Series – The top two riders in the FIM MiniGP Series from Alpe Adria, Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, the UK and the FIM MiniCUP USA comprise the 34 entrants for the 160cc series World Final.
190 cc Series – The top three riders in the FIM MiniGP Series from Alpe Adria, Australia, Austria, Italy, Malaysia and Spain, and from the FIM MiniCUP USA comprise the 21 entrants for the very first 190 cc World Final.
During the long flight to Spain there is no doubt they would reflect on the year and maybe think to themselves, “How did I get here?”
To earn their seat at Valencia they competed in the five round FIM MiniGP Australia series in two classes encompassing four states with a total of 10 races, for each class, to decide the fortunate few that would head to Spain.
For 2023 the concept to unearth more MotoGP talent was expanded to compliment the original 160 cc GP-0 class for 10-14-year-olds with the addition of the 190 cc Ohvale GP-2 class for 12-15-year-olds.
In the 160 cc class Australia will be represented by series victor Rikki Henry (SA) and Jake Paige (QLD), while in the 190 cc class, champion Cameron Dunker, (NSW) will be joined by Harrison Watts (QLD) and Levi Russo (NSW) – the trio all aiming to fly the flag at the top of the intensely contested podium.
The challenge of the task ahead is not lost on the five combatants that will pit their skill and talent against the best the rest of the world has to offer. They are under no illusions that they will have to lift to another level to be in with a chance of taking out the major prizes that include a supported ride in the 2024 Junior World Championship.
As one of Australia’s reps last year at the series final Harrison Watts is at a slight advantage as he knows how hot the fire will be.
The intensity of the competition here in Australia this year reflected the ups and downs of a thoroughly entertaining and enthralling five-round competition.
More impressive was the racecraft and how fast the riders learn and improve. Studying the lap times from last season’s 160 cc class for 10-14-year-olds it’s astonishing how much the lap times were lowered. Plus, the improvement in racecraft and off-track demeanour of so many, round-by-round, to close the gap to the regular combatants at the front was extremely impressive.
Lap records weren’t broken, they were smashed. And it wasn’t only those at the front. All improved theirs PBs at each outing, every young kid was a winner in his own personal way.
The level of competition, the intensity, the racecraft and respect shown between the competitors was astounding.
Off track for the most part they all look like sweet innocent butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth cherubs, but put a helmet on these young larrikins and the transformation is palpable. Conversely the emotion and disappointment from the youngsters when they give it their all and just miss out by a barest of margins can be gut wrenching.
The promoters of the Australian series, led by Wayne Maxwell, should be extremely proud of what the second year has produced. They have established a firm foundation to continue into the future as the second year of the series has been a stellar success.
The addition of the 190 cc class has added another dimension for kids to pursue big dreams as it allows the older teenagers to commence or continue on the path through the Ohvale competition of which last year’s 160 cc victor Harrison Watts – along with a few others – took advantage of in order to compete in the new class.
The final makeup of the quintet went down to the last round at Oakleigh in September, so it’s been a long anxious time for the lads as they have ticked away the seconds to head to Europe. Finally, they are there and what a week it will be.
The competition is over three days and will be conducted on the go-kart track adjacent to the amphitheatre of the Valencia GP track.
With the final GP of the year a few days later many of the riders of the MotoGP classes will be arriving “fresh” from their seven-week Asian sojourn and straight from the previous GP at Qatar.
Helping out the Aussie kids will be Jack Miller and Joel Kelso both of whom came through the junior ranks and are intimately aware of how important junior development is, so they will be extremely willing to pass on tips to assist the Australian representatives.
Also heading over to provide support will be Wayne Maxwell, one of the three men along with Nick Angelopoulos and Dimitrios Papaconstantinou that – along with a dedicated band of helpers – head the FIM MiniGP Australia series.
“After last year, we learnt that it is important to attend. It is a cauldron of young talent and wherever they hail from, every one of them has dreams of etching their name on the MotoGP trophy in years to come. Having a familiar face besides their parents will be of benefit, but having guys like Jack and Joel coming will add something special for the kids. Their input will be invaluable.”
FIM MiniGP Australia Season Recap
Port Melbourne – Round One
The long period of waiting is over. So how did they get here? It’s been a long season that commenced back in March at Port Melbourne with rounds in Newcastle (NSW), Ipswich (QLD) Monarto (SA) and Oakleigh (VIC).
In the 160 class at the first round Paige claimed the two wins from Rikki Henry and ever improving Isaac Ayad, who both scored second and third placings. Absent from the first round was Judd “Rocket Ronny” Plaisted who was recovering from serious injuries suffered in a massive off-season training crash.
Plaisted was expected to be a threat for overall honours, but the incident and ensuring rehabilitation was a major setback in his aspirations. After finishing fourth overall last year and with the top three moving on, the diminutive South Australian went into the season as a favourite for a trip to Spain.
In the 190 cc class Dunker and Watts set the scene for the year as they shared the honours with 1-2 placings with some thoroughly entertaining duels. Watts won the opening race by a couple of bike lengths then Dunker reversed the result by just 0.115 sec from Watts with Hudson Thompson a distant third in both legs.
Newcastle – Round Two
Next stop was a new venue at the undulating and challenging Cameron Park Go-Kart track in Newcastle in May.
In the 160 cc class, Plaisted made his eagerly awaited return to the series, but it didn’t get off to the best start crashing out of the lead, and the race, in a massive highside in leg one.
Rikki Henry claimed the first of a double from Hunter Corney on two seconds, Paige taking a brace of thirds. A battered and bruised Plaisted finally scored some points with fifth place in the second race.
In the 190s Dunker took off in the first race to a lead of seven seconds from the elder Paige, Bodie, and Watts, who were locked together. With a couple of laps to go Dunker crashed out of a comfortable lead, as Paige did a similar feat, with Watts jumping on the chance to take the win by 13 seconds from Josh Newman and Marcus Hamod.
Dunker made up for his indiscretion, in leg two he took the win although he had to fight all the way with Levi Russo – who came into form after stepping up from the 160s – claiming second, while Thompson scored another third place.
Ipswich – Round Three
Next stop was Ipswich in July. It may have been winter but the Kart track next to Queensland Raceway was blessed with sunshine and warm temperatures all weekend.
Toowoomba-local Corney used his local knowledge to crack his first win in the opening race by three seconds from Plaisted, claiming his first podium of the year, Paige maintaining consistency with another third.
In leg two, Plaisted went one better to claim his first victory in the class after a race long duel with Henry, Corney and Paige.
Plaisted’s 1-2 gave him the round win as his charge up the points-table gained momentum. Corney was four points adrift in second, Henry third overall on the weekend.
The top three of the series were now taking shape as Henry extended his series lead over Paige to eight points with Corney a further four points off in third. Plaisted’s first and second places saw him leapfrog from 14th to sixth in the points.
The 190 cc class had drama from the opening lap. Russo had recently returned from his first outing in the Asia Talen Cup, and he used that experience to push Dunker all weekend.
After being just 0.035 seconds off Dunker’s pole time in qualifying, it went south on the first lap of the first race when he crashed. He remounted but a gearbox problem saw him with a DNF, Dunker taking an easy win of nearly eight seconds over Watts, Paige a further 10 seconds away.
Leg two was a different story but a similar result for Dunker. The kid from Kurri Kurri looked as though he might repeat his first race disappearing act, but Russo had other ideas. Dunker led Paige by three seconds after four laps and Russo could see Dunker increase his lead.
He knew what he had to do and soon passed Paige to give chase but ran out of laps closing to within half a second at the flag, Paige still 13 seconds behind holding off Watts by just two-tenths.
After his perfect weekend and with three spots up for grabs to head to Spain, Dunker returned to Kurri Kurri with thoughts of an overseas trip in his mind. He held a 21-point lead over Watts with third-placed Newman a further 33 points away.
Monarto – Round Four
A month later it was the second last round at another new track for the series – Monarto near Murray Bridge in South Australia.
In the 160 class there was a Wild Card in Archie Schmidt from nearby Mt Barker, and he made everyone sit up and take notice. He was second fastest in qualifying behind Plaisted with J Paige third fastest, and in race one hit the front from the start from Ayad Paige and Plaisted. However near the end of the fourth lap despite holding an impressive lead of nearly two seconds, he high-sided in over-exuberance, handing the lead to Ayad.
Ayad led Plaisted and Paige, but Paige crashed at half race distance while Ayad led until unto the last lap when he succumbed to Plaisted to finish second. His joy didn’t last long however, as along with 11-year-old Jackson Macdonald who crossed the line third for his first top three finish, both were penalised 15 seconds, as per the rules, because their tyres weren’t marked.
It didn’t detract from the improvement in racecraft and speed that they are attaining – along with many others. Their teams’ misdemeanour meant that Ethan Johnson would nab his breakthrough second place with Henry promoted to third.
The second race was the race of the year to date with four bikes sling-shotting each other the entire race. Plaisted grabbed another win to make it three on the trot and the round win as Paige finished second from Henry and Schmidt with the four half a second apart at the line.
Levi Russo continued his improvement in form in the 190 cc class as he used his opportunity of international competition in the ATC to aid in his domestic aims. The intense learning curve of the ATC has seen Russo rise rapidly to another level as he took the double win from Dunker who, with B Paige, shared second and third places.
Russo won the first race by nearly three seconds from Paige, Dunker third, after the trio had all taken many turns in the lead for the first half of the race, before Russo broke away.
In leg two it was a tighter affair between Russo and Dunker, who put on a spirited display of close racing as they cleared away from Paige in third.
His perfect score saw Russo jump in front of Paige for third overall, two points ahead with one round remaining. Watts had a little stumble that weekend as he finished fourth in both races somewhat off the lead, although his second place overall remained secure.
The fight for the last place on the plane was tightening up as Newman and Thompson were within striking distance should Russo’s charge unravel at the final round.
Oakleigh – Round Five
The final round was at the Oakleigh Go Kart track in Melbourne’s southeast. It is a brilliant little track and is the home track of the FIM MiniGP Australia series with weekly “Moto Tuesday” ride nights. A trackside boarding states that it is the home track of F1 star, Oscar Piastri.
Heading into the final 160 cc round Henry had an 11-point lead over Paige with Corney a further 11 points away in third, so no spots to Spain were guaranteed. Plaisted now sat in fourth and 33 points off Paige so even missing a round and crashing in a race he was still in with a very slim chance of claiming a seat to Spain.
Corney was fully aware of what was at stake and as such took the lead from the start in the first race and no matter what Rikki Henry threw at him, Corney didn’t fold under pressure, going on to take the win and so leap into second overall as Paige and Plaisted fought all race for third position.
Plaisted grabbed the spot on the last lap leaving Paige a dejected figure as he saw second overall slip from his grasp. Even with his second-place finish, Plaisted was now 30 points behind, so his slim chance had evaporated completely.
With an 18-point lead Henry was all but assured a trip to Spain but it was on for second between Corney and Paige, a solitary point separating them. A classic contest as whoever led across the line would be heading to Spain with Henry. If Henry didn’t have a whoopsie and not finish the final race.
To make his chance a certainty, Henry led from the start as he attempted to break away to leave the rest to fight it out. Corney and Paige were all over each other, and Henry wasn’t able to make much of a break.
Just over halfway through the race, while in second, Corney made a mistake and dropped to fourth behind Paige and Plaisted, only for Plaisted to crashed out soon after. Paige tried his hardest to haul in Henry, as Corney made up over a second on the leaders but it was not enough to get in front of Paige, who took second and claimed a seat to Spain.
It was fitting that the finishing order in the final race was the way they finished the series but try telling that to Corney. He was one shattered young man when it was all over, but soon regrouped to put it all behind him and learn from the experience.
If there was any mathematical chance that Dunker may miss a trip to Spain, he buried it by the end of the opening few laps of leg one of the final round as he set up a three second lead over Russo, Paige and Watts to take the flag in a canter by five seconds. Russo who held off Paige in their tussle for the final spot for Spain.
Russo gained a few points to a 15-point buffer over Paige with the final race of the year looming. It would be a big ask for Bodie to pull back that many points and join his younger brother, Jake, in the racing adventure.
If anyone thought Dunker would back it off a little, they weren’t saying so, as he was out in the lead by over two seconds after five laps. Paige fought to hold off the attentions of Russo and Watts, but on the ninth lap Dunker erred, nearly highsiding, and handing Paige the lead as the series pace-setter dropped to fourth behind Russo and Watts.
Russo shook off Watts by nearly two seconds and hunted down Paige, who knew that Russo would have to be further back, as if Russo was second, he would still grab that spot to Spain.
However, in a typical daring move that is part of racing on a go-kart track Russo grabbed the lead with five laps to go and although Paige tried everything to make a clean pass or force Russo into a mistake he was denied as Russo won another entertaining race.
Watts held off Dunker for a handful of laps, but the championship victor was determined to finish the year off with another podium and grabbed second with six laps to go.
Russo’s stellar second half of the year produced three wins and a duo of second places to finish second overall and relegate Watts to third as the ex-OJC and 160 cc Ohvale champ finished the year with five fourth-place finishes in a row. Definitely not the way it commenced.
The racing of the final round was a mirror image of everything that went before. The racing is first rate and the learning platform of a small bikes on go kart tracks is a brilliant learning tool, as well as a thoroughly entertaining spectacle for spectators as all points of the track are generally visible from the paddock or surrounds.
After two years there is a solid foundation due to the hard work and dedication of those at the coal face as well as behind the series and the volunteer official combined with the commitment of parents to allow their offspring to chase an unusual dream that isn’t cheap with many days of travel throughout the year required.
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