Wins give talented Kiwi karter chance to compete in Italy
Little did top Auckland karter Josh Richmond’s parents Nigel and Shelley realise what they were getting themselves into when – while on a family holiday on Australia’s Gold Coast – their then 11-year-old son had a go in a rental kart.
“It was my idea, and I absolutely loved it,” remembers Josh, “so, when we got home we headed over to Mt Wellington for one of the club’s “Have A Go’ days and it just sort of went from there!”
Which is something of an understatement given that in the past year the self-effacing 16-year-old Year 11 Westlake Boys High School student from Brown’s Bay on Auckland’s North Shore has been the dominant force in the new Vortex ROK DVS Junior class.
In January he won the class final at the CIK Trophy of New Zealand meeting at Hamilton, earning himself an entry to engine manufacturer Vortex’s annual ROK Cup Superfinal meeting in Italy in October.
He backed that up at Easter when he qualified quickest and went on to win the Final and with it the inaugural New Zealand Vortex ROK DVS Junior class title at the Porter Group KartSport NZ National Sprint championship meeting – again at Hamilton.
Then in Italy in October in only his second race meeting outside Australia and New Zealand, he finished 7th in the Bridgestone Trophy ‘B’ Final at this year’s ROK Cup Superfinal meeting.
Josh wears his success lightly but is definitely driven by a desire to succeed. He has also - for instance - enjoyed similar success in the 125cc Rotax Max Junior class, winning the Top Half Series’ title in 2018 and qualifying quickest and finishing second in class at the National Sprint title meeting over the Easter weekend.
He had his eye on the main prize (the trip to Italy to compete at the ROK Cup Superfinal meeting) at least a year before his breakthrough class win at the CIK Trophy of NZ meeting in January as well.
As he explains;
“I was fortunate enough to get to drive and showcase the first ROK DVS Junior kart that the importer, Maurice Frost of Supreme Kart Supplies, had brought in, during the lunch break at the City Of Sails meeting at the Auckland track in 2018.
“Knowing that I could win the trip to Italy was a big reason why I raced the DVS at the CIK Trophy meeting in January this year because I knew it would be a very good experience.”
He wasn’t the only karter thinking along these lines, of course, as a race report from the meeting makes clear.
“Top South Island Junior William Exton from Blenheim set the quickest qualifying time and won all three heats as well as the Pre-Final. He also led the first six laps of the Final, before being passed by both Richmond and fellow Aucklander Liam Sceats.
“Exton got one of those places back on lap 20, displacing Richmond while Sceats remained in the lead. However Richmond was able to catch and pass both on the last lap to take the race and CIK Trophy (for the class) from Sceats, Nathan Crang from Auckland and Jacob Douglas from Christchurch.
Or, as Josh himself remembers it;
“The CIK Trophy meeting was very close with nothing between the top three. I was fully focused on winning the trip, though, and knew I just had to be there on the last lap.”
He approached the annual National Sprint Championships meeting at Easter at the same track (Hamilton) the same way and came away with the #1NZ plate – albeit after some delay pending a protest outcome.
“ I wanted to back up the win at the CIK Trophy meeting and prove I was the number one driver in the Vortex ROK DVS Junior class in the country. It was actually quite a good weekend as I managed to qualify 1st for both Rotax and the DVS Junior classes, then hold my own from thereafter also starting both Finals from pole position.
“I liked the longer races at Hamilton too. I love the track and the longer races definitely made things more interesting, so I enjoyed it a lot.”
With ticks in both those
boxes, and entry for as well as a subsidised trip to this
year’s ROK Cup Superfinal meeting at the South Garda
Karting complex at Lonato in northern Italy in October, his,
Josh devoted himself to preparing for it the best way he
knew how – by slipping behind the steering wheel of a kart
every opportunity he got.
“Yes,” he says. “While I definitely kept up my usual activities to keep fit, a whole lot of extra karting was my main preparation, to the point where I spent nearly every weekend in the kart racing to prepare, including a lot of testing with Dan Connor and Ryan Urban as well as testing on the tyre they use at the Superfinal and with the motor.
“This also included racing at Rotax Protour rounds and the City of Melbourne State Championship in Australia with the Tom Williamson Motorsport team.”
Like the rest of the Kiwi squad Josh (with his Mum, Dad and sister) flew to Italy early to do the final Trofeo d’Autunno (Autumn Trophy) round at the South Garda track the weekend before the big ROK Cup Superfinal meeting.
Before they left home they had signed on with a local team, SC Performance, one which Josh gelled with straight away.
“I was lucky to be their only driver, meaning I had two mechanics and a driver trainer fully focused on me. They were amazing and were a big part of my learning experiences in Italy.”
Josh, who has raced a Tony Kart at home for a couple of years now, was also right at home with the Tony Kart chassis he used at the two meetings in Italy, though the engine was slightly different and the tyre was a lot softer so he had to adjust to that.
“We had a fair bit of testing time,” he says, “so I was able to get comfortable with the kart before the ROK Cup weekend
Fast forward to Finals day at the ROK Cup meeting and Josh ended up 4th best out of the seven young Kiwis who qualified to compete at the meeting with a hard-won 7th in the Junior ROK class Bridgestone Trophy ‘B’ Final, won by compatriot Jacob Douglas.
Not quite what Josh had in mind when he was putting in all the hard yards at home but not bad when you take into consideration the competition – the Superfinal event attracted over 400 nationally-ranked ROK Cup drivers from 35 different countries around the globe – and the vagaries of the qualifying process.
“ My qualifying was good (8th) in our group, but the group I was in (first on the track) was mostly a lot slower as it had rained the night before and the track was still drying out. But because they took the fastest times over all three groups, “ Josh explains, “ I didn’t qualify very well (35th) overall.
“I had good pace in my heats, like in the first one I drove from 13th to 4th and then made a mistake when passing a driver for 3rd. And I was still looking good to make the A final (which was my main goal heading into the heats races) until I was driven over top of in one of the remaining heats resulting in a DNF which – long story short - put me off 8th for the B final.
“Because there were a lot of guys like me who deserved to be in the A Final but were unlucky not to make the cut, the B was actually a pretty tough race too. I’m not super happy with the result (Josh finished 7th) but I definitely learnt a lot about driving and the kart over the trip.”
Now that he is back home Josh has wasted no time putting a suitably ambitious programme in place for 2020, a year in which he will make his Senior debut.
“That’s right,” he said in the lead-up to Christmas. “I did go through the BMW E30 Drivers’ Scholarship programme this year but my plan at the moment is to stay in karts for now and run in 125cc Rotax Max Light here and the IAME X30 class in the Australian Karting Championship. Also, obviously, if the opportunity presents itself maybe do some more racing in Europe or the USA.”
As an 11-year-old, Josh Richmond was attracted to karts and kart racing because it was fun.
Now, at the grand old age of 16 he says the thing he most likes about karts and the racing thereof is that when he is behind the wheel it gives him the rare opportunity to truly live life ‘in the moment.’
“For me, “ he says, “the best part is that when you are racing the race is the only thing going on in your head at that moment. No matter what is happening on the outside you are fully focused on the race. Nothing else matters”