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A1GP call-up a boost for NZ KartSport


New Zealand's KartSport community is enjoying the international profile currently being generated by A1GP test team drivers Wade Cunningham, Jonny Reid and Chris Vander Drift.

The trio are currently at Silverstone in the English Midlands, testing Team New Zealand's A1GP car under the watchful eye of new running team SuperNova.

New Zealand has a rich heritage of success at the very top level of world motorsport courtesy the country's original 'Trio At The Top,' Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon, but up until recently the country has never had more than one or at the most two drivers regularly making headlines on the world stage.

The first intimation that that state of affairs might finally be about to change came in 2000 when Scott Dixon, who got his competition start in a kart at Auckland's KartSport Mt Wellington kart track in Mt Wellignton, won the Indy Lights Series in the United States.

Since then the trickle has become a flood.

In 2003 Dixon won the Indy Racing League championship in the United States and fellow KartSport Mt Wellington alumni Wade Cunningham won the World Karting Championship in Italy.

Cunningham's win marked another breakthrough because it was only the second genuine FIA World Championship title won by a New Zealander, the first being Denny Hulme's World Formula 1 Championship title way back in 1967.

Having won the World kart title Cunningham immediately turned his attention to cars, where he enjoyed similar success, winning the Indy Pro Series in the United States last year and this year looking to move up to the Indy Racing League where Dixon is still a front-runner and championship prospect.

On his way up through the ranks in KartSport here in New Zealand, Cunningham's sparring partner was Jonny Reid, and the pair were at the forefront of a move, in the late 1990s to introduce international kart racing categories and professionalism to the New Zealand scene.

Both won multiple New Zealand and Island titles and both enjoyed success across the Tasman but their paths split when Cunningham chose to follow the kart path to Europe whereas Reid followed Dixon's example and moved to Formula Ford then Formula Holden here and across the Tasman.

With yet another Auckland-based kart-turned-car driver, Matt Halliday, Reid - a race winner in both the Superfund F3000 championship in Europe in 2004 and the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship in 2005 - was one of two drivers chosen to drive New Zealand's entry, dubbed Black Beauty, in the inaugural A1GP series last year.

He returns to the team for this season's second series and in Halliday's absence - the latter is in Australia preparing for the Sandown 500 V8 Supercar race - is heading the test team at Silverstone.

He will also be helping Cunningham and the third member of the Kiwi squad, Chris Vander Drift, get used to Black Beauty.

Vander Drift, 20, is the youngest member of team but like Cunningham and Reid has a competition CV which stretches back over 10 years.

Currently leading the Formula Renault Eurocup Championship points standings, Vander Drift is being touted as a prospect for the sub-F1 GP2 category in Europe next year.

Many in Europe think he is from The Netherlands, but in fact he was born and brought up in Hamilton, though for the past three years he has been based in Holland, where the Vander Drift family are originally from.

Of the three he is the one with the most New Zealand Karting titles to his name, having won six New Zealand Sprint Kart championship titles, six North Island Sprint Kart titles plus the Junior ICA class title at the 2001 CIK Trophy of New Zealand meeting.

All three continue to kart where they can, with Reid recently competing in a charity event across the Tasman, and both Cunningham and Vander Drift competing at the 2006 CIK Trophy of New Zealand presented by Karcher in Hamilton in January this year.

They haven't lost their touch either. Cunningham fought off a classy field of drivers from here and across the Tasman to add the 2006 CIK Trophy of New Zealand title to his CV at the Karcher meeting!

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