Motorsport Games: Belgium's Sita Vanmeert wins gold in first Karting Endurance
Sita Vanmeert and Belgian teammates won the first ever gold medal in the Karting Endurance competition, followed by experienced touring car racer Alba Cano from Spain and the Czech team that included Soňa Ptáčková.
The second edition of the FIA Motorsport Games saw the launch of a new specialty: Karting Endurance - which gave the chance to 16 countries to battle for glory in a 4 hour karting race around the very technical karting track at Circuit Paul Ricard.
An interesting feature of this competition was the female participation, as every team had to line up at least one female racer on its 4-driver crew.
Among very competitive up-and-coming talents, racing both nationally and internationally in karting, Spain lined up touring car ace Alba Cano Ramirez, arguably one of the most well known of the entry list.
An experienced driver in endurance racing - albeit in TCR machinery - Cano is a multiple race winner in the 24H Series, as well as in TCR Spain, which she contested in 2021 collecting 1 win, 5 podiums and 1 pole position.
There were plenty of exciting names also in the other teams, with two women in the Georgian team - Mariam Vavitidze, Mariam Tsiklauri - as well as the first ever fully-female team in the FIA Motorsport Games: Portugal.
The Portuguese team saw Sofia Correia, Mariana Machado, Rita Teixeira, Anastácia Khomyn sharing the wheel of the IPK/Tillotson karts, in a highly promising team that included experienced karters such as Machado - previously part of the FIA Girls on Track program, and now stepped up to rallying.
Belgian Sita Vanmeert - a driver with international experience of competitions such as the IAME Euro Series - soon showed great pace together with teammates Maxime Dron, Jeremy Peclers and Antoine Morlet, as they ended practice on top of the time sheets, followed closely by Team UK and Poland.
In qualifying, it was the Spanish squad to shine: Alba Cano, Alvaro Bajo Robles, Jose Manuel Perez Aicart, and Ivan Velasco claimed pole position, ahead of Czech Republic and UK. Malta and Peru were also competitive - while Belgium would get away from seventh on the grid, just ahead of the all-female Portuguese team.
Belgium made an outstanding recovery in the opening stints to climb the order and battled with Spain until into the third hour of the race, when the Belgian team managed to pull away.
After over 100 laps of intense, close racing, the Belgian and Spanish drivers were separated by tenths of a second and traded the lead, often using lapped karts to find the opportunity to overtake.
Sita Vanmeert was behind the wheel soon into the race, while Alba Cano Ramirez took over the Spanish #13 kart for the second stint, while she still held first place. In a very clean race with only a short yellow flag over the course of four hours, teams stuck to their strategies, with Belgium and Spain putting a lap to the closest pursuer in third - an impressive team Georgia.
In the second half of the race, the British team (Jack O’Neil, Mike Philippou, Owen Jenman, and Rhianna Kay Purcocks) made up ground after being slowed by an early stop and go penalty for a pit stop infringement; in the final hour, Purcocks was on a charge and had managed to temporarily climb into second place - when she was showed the black-and-orange flag due to an exhaust failure.
The young British lady pitted and the team performed a final driver and kart change; they could rejoin the race, albeit one lap down, in fourth. The Czech drivers - who had meanwhile passed the Georgian squad - found themselves in contention for a podium spot with 20 minutes to go.
In a last lap move, Georgia could snatch fourth from team UK, crossing the line 0.097 of a second ahead after 238 laps.
Sita Vanmeert, Maxime Dron, Jeremy Peclers, and Antoine Morlet won the first ever gold in Karting Endurance after a flawless drive; Alba Cano Ramirez, Alvaro Bajo Robles, Jose Manuel Perez Aicart and Ivan Velasco took Silver medal, while Soňa Ptáčková, Ondřej Kočka Aleš Burger and Ošťádal Zdeněk grabbed bronze.
The all-female Portuguese team had a very strong race and finished in eighth place, having held position from the start.
All teams completed over 200 laps and could cross the finish line; it was a special moment for Ramando Hudson, Christopher Bain, Jashai Burrows, and Giselle Liriano of Bahamas, who contested their first ever race on a purpose-built kart circuit. Bahamas was also the third team to line up more than one female driver.
The 4-hour Karting Endurance final was a fitting example of great racing action in some of the most affordable motorsport equipment in the whole Motorsport Games format; mixing professional racers with up-and-coming karters, the event truly proved how the sport can be approachable.