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Academy Patron Wade Cunningham

Academy Patron, 2003 World Karting
Champion Wade Cunningham
Photo: Fast Company/IPS
Wade Cunningham needs little introduction having blazed a trail through KartSport here, in Australia and then Japan before heading to Europe where after just two years driving for the works CRG team in Italy he won the World Karting Championship in 2003.

Having achieved what he set out to do in karts he then moved to cars, choosing the US FF2000 Championship in 2004. There he qualified on pole position for his first ever race in a car and went on to finish fifth overall in the championship and win the Rising Star award. That led to a invitation to move up to the Indycar Series-supporting Infiniti Pro Series which he won at his first attempt.

He is now regarded as one of the best emerging drivers on the US Indycar scene and is expected to move up to the main Indycar Series in the near future.

Wade has been racing competitively for over 10 years and he is a strong supporter of KartSport New Zealand's Driver Development Academy initiative.

Excerpts from Wade Cunningham’s Kartsport Academy Launch Speech: 23 Oct 07

"I am honoured to have been appointed the Patron of the newly created Kartsport Academy. Karting is a sport that I am passionate about. Forging a career in North America the last couple of years I have not been as involved as I would like, now, with this formal position I am able to put something back into the sport that I love, and help provide the backbone of what is sure to become a successful endeavour”

Tonight I was asked to talk about what foundation karting has provided – but it would probably be easier to ask me what foundation karting hasn’t provided me as the list would be much shorter!

  • It has helped make me take responsibility for my own decisions
  • Strengthened my decision making processes
  • Enhanced technical feedback skills, learning to make changes based on seat of the pants, trusting this over data logging which happens to fail at the wrong time. This is a key differentiation between good and excellent drivers
Interestingly I only ever wanted to be the best karter, but the World Championship gave me the ability to further prove myself, which prompted me to move to open wheelers from there. After my win I felt that I owed it to myself to continue…

The Academy is an awesome concept because:
  • Karting is sport, but needs to be learnt. As such it must be taught
  • As a sport it is extremely complex, very tough to learn
  • By providing formal training, the ACADEMY will give new drivers the tools necessary to improve, and to stay involved in karting longer.
  • My father has no background in motorsport but I was lucky to have Brendan Smith to guide me from an early age, now anyone will have the same kind of opportunities.
The Academy will soon create an internal ladder inside the karting system. Providing all drivers with something to strive for without the need for them to feel that they have to progress from karting to other forms of motorsport. In addition the Academy will provide funding for talented drivers that would not otherwise get the chance to race internationally.

Niki Irwin is the ideal candidate to bring this to fruition. He was a successful competitor in motocross internationally, a multi-time national champion and has gone on to become arguably an even more successful coach. He developed the formal plan for Motorcycling New Zealand, which he applied privately to other disciplines (i.e. Downhill Mountain Biking).

After a career ending injury he moved to karting competing at national level in New Zealand. Niki has the motivational and communication skills to help people improve themselves, and is the most qualified person to help establish the Academy and develop the infrastructure required. All our coaches have excellent pedigree and are NZ Champions for example
  • Karl Wilson, raced for over ten years, my fondest memories starting in the Pro Series in 1998 in JICA, hard battles not only in New Zealand but also in Australia at the Oceania Championships.
  • Another great example is the Hart Family. I raced against the Hart brothers since I started karting in 1995, always looked up to Raymond as someone with years of domestic and international experience who would give an honest opinion. For years they have consistently given back to the karting community and the Academy have made the right decisions to involve them and many others.
In closing it is an honour to have been invited to be a part of the Kartsport Academy and I am looking forward to putting back into a sport that has given so much, not just to myself, but also my family over the last 13 years.

Karting is not just something that I look back on, it is a part of my life that I will continue to look forward to and I hope to stay involved for many more years. With Niki and Graeme’s hard work I know this will provide a foundation for which Karting’s members will take full advantage.

KartSport New Zealand