Eight of New Zealand's top Rotax category karters have crossed the Tasman this week to contest Australia's annual Rotax National Championships meeting, this year being held in Dubbo in inland New South Wales.

Heading the lineup are defending Rotax Max Challenge of New Zealand class winners Daniel Kinsman (125cc Rotax Max Light) and Aarron Cunningham (125cc Rotax Max Heavy) from Auckland.

Joining them are 2011 New Zealand 125cc Rotax Max Light class champion Daniel Connor from Helensville, 2011 North Island 125cc Rotax Max Heavy class champion Zach Zaloum from the Hawke's Bay, regular Senior class front-runners Fraser and Brendon Hart, and current Arai Formula Junior star Josh Drysdale, from Palmerston North, and 2010 New Zealand Challenge Masters class runner-up and Rotax Max Grand Final representative Niki Urwin from Tauranga.

Also making the trip is former New Zealand champion Tony Chambers from New Zealand Rotax importer Right Karts. But rather than driving, he will be working with top Australian driver David Sera who is trying to win his sixth consecutive 125cc Rotax Max Light class title.

More than 160 entries have been received for this weekend’s event with practice beginning today (Thursday) ahead of qualifying and the heat races on Saturday with Pre-Finals and Finals on Sunday. 

The Kiwi who has perhaps created the most interest on the other side of the Tasman in the lead-up to this year's Rotax Nationals event is Niki Urwin, the former pro motocrosser from Tauranga left paralysed from the chest down after an accident at a round of the Australian Gen-iRMCAckldHeaviesNikiUrw.gifMX championship in 2002.

Less than a year after his career-ending accident Urwin applied for a KartSport NZ competition licence so that he could race a kart equipped with hand controls and since then he has competed at a national level here in New Zealand and earned the right - over a field of able-bodied drivers - to represent New Zealand at the Rotax Max category's annual Grand Final in Italy in 2010.

Urwin took a year away from the sport last year but returned this year to try and qualify for a second Grand Final. Various problems at the first two rounds of the local Challenge series convinced him he had missed his opportunity though, so he cast his eye across the Tasman for a new opportunity, entering the Jason Richards Memorial meeting at Albury in June.

"I just phoned up the Rotax importer who I knew from the Grand Final at La Conca in 2010 and asked them," says Urwin," if I brought over my special steering wheel (created by Rotax for Urwin when he earned the right to compete at the Grand Final) could they sort me out a kart?"

The answer was yes and despite not having raced one of the distinctive two-speed/direct drive DD2 model karts since his Grand Final appearance at the end of 2010 (the class is not run in New Zealand) Urwin was immediately competitive, setting the sixth quickest DD2 Masters class lap time in qualifying, before winning the first heat and finishing third in the other two to start the class Pre-Final from pole.

Second in that race put him second on the grid for the Final only for a cable in this kart's gearchange mechanism to break.

His heat and Pre-Final performances certainly got the Aussies talking, however, with the Australian distributor of Italian marque Formula K quick to offer Urwin karts to race here and a fully sponsored drive in the DD2 class at this weekend's Rotax Nationals meeting.

Though a big crash in practice at the most recent round of Australia's Rotax Pro Tour at Warwick in Queensland (which he attended to prepare for this weekend's Nationals meeting) meant he couldn't repeat his Albury success there, Urwin has high hopes for Dubbo.

"We finished second in the Heavy class at Auckland (at the penultimate round of the 2012 Gen-i KartStars Rotax Max Challenge of New Zealand) last weekend. So I'd like to shoot for another podium this weekend," he said.

Tauranga paraplegic Niki Urwin, one of eight Kiwi karters contesting the annual Australian Rotax National Championship meeting at Dubbo in inland New South Wales this weekend. Photo credit: Fast Company/Graham Hughes

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