Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin was kept busy signing autographs and engaging with the thousands of motorsport fans who descended on KartSport Hamilton’s Porter Group Raceway to watch the 25-year-old return to his racing roots at the Porter Group KartSport NZ National Sprint Championship meeting over the Easter weekend.
It was the biggest crowd executives of the club and of the sport’s governing body, KartSport New Zealand, could remember at the club’s track opposite the city’s airport, and McLaughlin – who is Patron of both the club and the national body – made the trip ‘home’ worthwhile with a podium finish (2nd) in the 125cc Rotax Max Heavy class.
It’s not every day, obviously, that a driver of the calibre and profile of McLaughlin returns to where it all started. But after flying over to watch the annual championship meeting at Rotorua last Easter the Shell V-Power Ford Mustang driver said that there and then he decided he would try and put together a deal to actually drive at the 2019 meeting.
“It’s was awesome just to be racing,” he said as he was surrounded by well-wishers after finishing second to top Kiwi karter Ryan Urban in the 22-lap 125cc Rotax Max Heavy class Final on Sunday.
“It’s always hard being at a race meeting and not racing, so it was great this year to be both a guest – as the Patron – and a driver.”
McLaughlin quickly proved that he had not lost any of the skills behind the wheel of a kart either, qualifying second quickest in class on Friday, and after never finishing lower than 4th across the three heats and Pre-Final grabbed second place off the start in the Final and held the position to the chequered flag.
For race winner – and 2019 NZ#1 – Ryan Urban it was his 11th NZ title win, one obviously made sweeter, albeit tougher, by the presence of McLaughlin.
“He certainly made me work for it,” he said. “In my career I’ve obviously raced against some big names but never a guy who is currently the top dog in the Supercars.”
Urban, from Auckland, was one of eight 2019 New Zealand National Sprint champions crowned at a packed Porter Group Raceway on Sunday. The others were;
Matthew Payne, Auckland – KZ2
Ryan Wood, Wellington – Rotax DD2
Fynn Osborne, Hamilton – 125ccc Rotax Max Light
William Exton, Picton – 125cc Rotax Max Junior
Liam Sceats, Auckland – Vortex ROK DVS Junior
Louis Sharp, Christchurch – Vortex Mini ROK
Mitchell Corin, Tauranga – Cadet ROK
Adding the NZ#1 plate to the South Island one he earned at Labour Weekend last year was just one of the reasons young Christchurch driver Louis Sharp had a big smile on his face on the podium.
As well as the kudos that go with earning a #1NZ plate the winners of both the Vortex Mini ROK (Sharp) and new Vortex ROK DVS Junior class (Liam Sceats) titles also earned trips to and entries at this year’s ROK Cup Superfinal event in Italy in October.
This year’s National Sprint title meeting marked something of a changing of the guard with new names replacing familiar ones on the top step of the podium. The only repeat from the 2018 National Sprint title meeting at Rotorua, was in the fact that a Corin – this time Mitchell – again won the NZ Cadet ROK class title.
Last year it was Mitchell’s older brother Blake who earned the #1NZ plate, driving the very same kart!
Blake, meanwhile, made his presence felt in the Vortex Mini ROK class, finishing fourth overall in the Final behind Louis Sharp, runner-up Tom Bewley from Havelock North and Alex Crosbie from Invercargill.
The livestreaming of the event on Easter Saturday and Sunday ( at https://livestream.com/i-filmsport/KartSportNationalSprintChamps2019 and on the KartSport New Zealand Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/KartSportNZ/) proved exceptionally popular, particularly across the Tasman as Scott McLaughlin fans tuned in and stayed in to watch the event.