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NZ's Newest World Champion Returns Home

World Of Motor Racing Beckons For New Zealand's Newest World Champion

The world of professional motor racing beckons for New Zealand's newest World Champion, Aucklander Wade Cunningham.

Cunningham, 19, won the 2003 World Karting Championship title at Sarno in Italy on Sunday and speaking at Auckland International Airport this afternoon he said that moving up to a class like Formula Renualt or Formula 3 was the next logical step.

"The winner of the World title in 2001, Vitantonio Liuzzi, went straight to Formula 3 and now he is competing in the Formula 3000 class. You don't have to win the title to get noticed but it certainly helps."

Cunningham put some feelers out when he went back to Italy at the beginning of the year and even before he won the World title on Sunday he had been offered tests by a couple of teams.

Interestingly, one of them was in the United States. While KartSport doesn't enjoy the profile there that it does in Europe Cunningham believes that he has a better chance of obtaining sponsorship support there than he does in Europe.

"Look at Formula 1. How many seats are there? Maybe 20. With Scott Dixon looking like he is going there in 2005 what are the chances of there being room for another New Zealander in the next few years? Not that great. Whereas in American there are maybe 50 good drives going in Champ Cars and the Indy Racing League. That's why I'm looking over there."

That said, Cunningham is not quite finished with KartSport yet. This Sunday he will return to the place it all started, the Mount Wellington Kart Club's KartSport track in suburban Panmure.

He will then have a couple of weeks of much needed rest and recreation before getting back on a plane - this time to Japan to compete at the Asia-Pacific Championships.

Two years ago the then 17-year-old announced his arrival on the international scene by winning the Asia-Pacific Intercontinental A (ICA) title. That win prompted top Italian Kart manufacturer CRG to offer him a drive in its works team based in Italy and the rest, as they say, is history.

Attributing his historic win in this year's World Championships to a harder edge on the track and a more focused approach off it, Cunningham is full of praise for the work put in behind-the-scenes by former World Champion Terry Fullerton.

One of only two Kart drivers to earn the respect of the late, great Ayrton Senna, multi-time World Karting Champion Fullerton (who beat Senna to the World Karting Championship on at least two occasions) was drafted into the CRG team to act as a go-between between the Italian-speaking management and crew and its English-speaking drivers.

Cunningham and Fullerton quickly developed an empathy and without him, the young Kiwi says, there might not have been a world championship.

" I have probably grown more as a driver in Europe this year than in all the other years combined. Terry taught me to look at myself, to look at my driving and to look at the other drivers in a completely different light. There were things he taught be about the physical act of driving, but that was probably only about 30% of it. The rest - 70 % - was mental."

Cunningham says he would also like to acknowledge the vision of local man Julian Tordoff, who helped get a CIK-based Pro Series off the ground in this country.

That series gave drivers like Cunningham the chance to try International spec engines and tyres for the first time. Had that opportunity not existed Cunningham says he might never have left New Zealand

Tributes from around the World have been pouring into KartSport New Zealand's Auckland office since word of Cunningham's emphatic win arrived here at 4.30 am on Labour Day Monday morning.

The New Zealand media was quick to recognise the significance of Cunningham's achievement, with both TV1 and TV3 closing their bulletins on Monday with the news and all the major metro newspapers carrying the story the next morning.

Speaking of behalf of KartSport New Zealand, the organisation's President Chris Fraser said;

" Wade Cunningham's Karting World Championship win at Sarno in Italy is excellent news for New Zealand motorsport and far more than KartSport New Zealand could have dreamed of achieving so soon. We all knew Wade was a champion, but he has demonstrated beyond doubt with this win that he has a great future in motorsport, either in karting or, like Greg Murphy and Scott Dixon, in other areas of the sport. Wade is one of many young motorsport enthusiasts learning their race craft on kart tracks around New Zealand."

Motorsport New Zealand President Stephen Kennedy expressed similar sentiments, saying;

" Please pass on MotorSport New Zealand's congratulations to Wade and his family. It is a truly remarkable performance and continues to re-enforce the might of Kiwis in world sport."

The role that New Zealander KartSport racers like Cunningham and younger brother Mitch play in Australia was also raised by one of the men behind the Dunlop Australian CIK Championship, Matt Payne.

"In a message to KartSport New Zealand he said;

"Please pass on my congratulations in relation to Wade Cunningham's victory overnight. I guess that the victory by Wade in Sarno really vindicates what you have been putting into place over the last year or so.

" I would think that this is one of the most important achievements in NZ Motorsport for some time, I guess that I may even rate it higher than even Scott Dixon's victory in the IRL, given the quality and strength of the field Wade was up against.

" The win is not just good for NZ karting, as many in Australia have seen him race over the years and played a hand in his development. There is a great deal of excitement running around here at the moment as well."

Though he was not one of the pre-race favourites going into the World Championship meeting the odds changed dramatically when Cunningham had a trouble-free run through the qualifying heats then recovered from a shunt at the start of the Pre-Final to cross the line in sixth place, giving him sixth spot on the grid for the Final.

In that race he quickly worked his way into second place then inherited a lead he would never lose when pole-sitter and early leader Manual Renaudie's engine seized.

On his way to the chequered flag Cunningham not only beat recently crowned European Karting Champion Bas Lammers and runner-up (not to mention two-time former World Champion Davide Fore), he also beat 2001 World Champion Vitantonio Liuzzi, who this year has been racing for the Red Bull team in the Formula 1 support category, Formula 3000.

Incredibly, Cunningham is now the second World-ranked driver to come out of Auckland's Mt Wellington Kart Club. The other is Scott Dixon, the 22-year-old who has just won the Indy Racing League championship in the United States at the beginning of the month.

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