Motorsport Games: Mathilda Paatz almost in the top-10 in Karting Junior finale
German rising star Mathilda Paatz narrowly missed out on a top-10 in the Motorsport Games Karting Junior final, after putting on a charge following an unfortunate qualifying.
At the second edition of the FIA Motorsport Games, karting took centre stage, as it expanded from the sole Karting Slalom to four different disciplines in 2022: Karting Endurance, Karting Slalom and - welcoming the sprint format for the first time - Karting Jr and Karting Sr.
The entry lists of the Karting Sprint Jr and Sr were arguably some of the most interesting and competitive of the whole Motorsport Games, with 62 young talents representing their nations in the two categories. Among the 31 junior entries, aged between 11 and 14, we found one female driver: Germany's Mathilda Paatz.
Paatz is one of the most promising female karting prospects in Europe and was a few months ago part of the FIA Girls On Track - Rising Stars selections at the same venue of Circuit Paul Ricard. Having made the cut for the next stage, she will be one of the four finalists competing in Maranello for a spot in the Ferrari Driver Academy later this year.
One of the youngest athletes in the Motorsport Games, Paatz quickly moved up the ranks of the German karting scene in the Mini category to race internationally in the OK-J classes in 2021 and 2022, when she also entered the uber competitive WSK events.
Her weekend was off to an exciting start in the opening ceremony, when Mathilda joined former F1 driver and President of the FIA Driver's Commission Felipe Massa on stage for the athlete's pledge.
It was then time to hit the track on the very technical and physically demanding 964m track located within the Paul Ricard Circuit complex - and Paatz was soon in the top 10 in the first practice session. Unfortunately, the young karter had a difficult qualifying, as she was pushed out two times and couldn't find a clean enough lap. She would slot in P24 overall.
"We are trying to fight back tomorrow even though it’s tough to overtake here because the track has not so much space." - she commented.
Home hero Jules Caranta took victory in the first qualifying heat from third on the grid, overtaking pole-sitter Yam Pinto (Israel) at the restart from a Full Course Yellow caused by a crash on the first lap. Mathilda Paatz had an outstanding start and was able to move up 9 positions, grabbing P15 before the race was neutralized.
With Caranta trying to stretch his lead, Brazil's Gabriel Koenigkan had to defend his second place from Thibaut Ramaekers (Belgium), as Pinto dropped to fifth.
Mathilda Paatz gained a few more positions in the closing stages of the 11-lap race to finish P13.
Brazilian hopeful Gabriel Koenigkan took a clean win in the second qualifying heat, having cleared Yam Pinto on the first lap and then enduring pressure from Andres Cardenas. The driver from Peru climbed from fourth to second and preceded Denmark's Mikkel Gaarde Pedersen - who was out on the first lap in Heat 1.
Mathilda Paatz moved up from P21 to P18.
The final 11-lap qualifying heat saw Israel's Pinto finally converting pole position into a race win, as he defended from Caranta and Koenigkan from lights to flag. The leading trio pulled away from Pedersen (Denmark), Cardenas (Peru) and Dubnitski (Estonia) - but it would be in the final two laps that the race heated up: Jules Caranta made his move for the lead but, after a side-by-side battle, the Frenchman saw Gabriel Koenigkan taking advantage for second.
Caranta fought back soon after and positions were restored across the finish line, with Israel leading France and Brazil.
Mathilda Paatz had to put on a fight once again to recover positions and was able again to recover 8 places, finishing P16, ahead of the 25km final where she would start from the 17th grid slot.
The two main contenders - Brazil and France - shared the front row of the grid: Gabriel Koenigkan had a great getaway, as Jules Caranta dropped to third, promoting Peru's Andres Cardenas. Paatz received a few hits into turn 1, but held on and recovered to P15 on the first lap.
Caranta was on the move and soon overtook Cardenas to catch back up with Koenigkan in the lead with a series of fastest laps.
The battle intensified and the top two made contact under braking at Turn 1: the Frenchman found a way past, with his rival dropping to fourth on lap 18.
Israel and Sweden also collided in the final laps, as drivers attempted last-minute dives.
Jules Caranta crossed the finish line first - but would later receive a 5-second time penalty for the contact that dropped the home racer to fourth. In a historic moment for Peru, Andreas Cardenas secured his country's first gold medal at its first participation in the Motorsport Games, preceding Gabriel Koenigkan of Brazil and Mikkel Gaarde Pedersen for Denmark, who went on to score bronze.
With another solid performance, Mathilda Paatz battled her way up the field in the extraordinary competitive grid and was P13 at the chequered flag - just missing out on a top-10 in the final.
"The weekend was amazing", Paatz told us after the race. "A great event."
"It was a big honor for me to have the chance to participate and represent my country, Germany. It was a learning and fascinating journey."
Her racing season, though, is far from over: she will compete in the WSK Final, before the final stage of the FIA Girls On Track - Rising Stars selections in November.