Sport

Karting champion Rianna O’Meara-Hunt on being too young for a driver’s licence but travelling at speeds of up to 120km/h on the racetrack. By Richard Cooke.

À la kart: Rianna O’Meara-Hunt, 15, kart driver

I started karting when I was eight years old. I was brought up around the racetrack and that environment, and I always wanted to race. We found karting and we went up there to watch one day. I had a go on a kart and I was kind of hooked from there.

I started in the cadet class. That’s six to 10 years old, and I just did club days and travelled round the lower North Island of New Zealand, and we’d go from there, and then we moved up to the next class, called junior restricted at the time. And we got a driver trainer, his name is Arie Hutton. He’s been overseas before and raced quite a bit, he’s been quite successful, and he trained me for three years. And we got better and better and succeeded more. I started winning lower competitions and started proving myself.

We came over to Australia for the second round of the Pro Tour Series in Warwick, and that was my first time. The beginning of last year. We definitely got a shock. My eyes were definitely wider at that – amazing. 

There was talk of me not coming back. But Lorraine and Troy who run me over there believed in me, that I could fight with the top guys. That’s why I kept coming back. That last round we got that result with winning, which was really good.

I was expecting it to be harder. But I didn’t know quite how much harder it would be. The boys [in Australia] are definitely more aggressive and more talented than some people over here. Or not talented, but they have more experience.

They definitely made me realise what racing is like. My confidence just grew in myself, and in the kart, and in the team. From that point on we just focused on things that we needed to do. We didn’t focus on other people as much. We just worked on ourselves. And had done what we needed to do to improve. 

Sometimes you get the nervous butterflies on the grid before you go out. But once you’re in the race you’re kind of in the zone.

I’m not old enough to drive a car on the road yet. But for the karts, when I drove it, we just practise in the car park with a manual car, and practise doing the gears and getting myself used to it all. I think I was going about 180k’s down the back straight.

The fastest I’ve been? I’m not sure. It was a car with, I think, six gears, and yeah, I was just racing round there against my friend Thomas. A car is so much heavier than a kart, so much more weight to move around. 

I get up to maybe 120 in the go-kart, but mostly it stays around 100, 110. You don’t have any protection, it’s just your helmet and whatever else you have, like a neck brace and suit and stuff. You don’t have a roll cage or anything. If you flip, then you either hang on, or you fall out. 

Being a girl in the sport is always hard. It’s a male-dominated sport. But from my perspective, I don’t think it should be any different, you know. When you put on your helmet and get in your kart, no one can tell the difference if it’s a girl or a guy. You’re all the same when you’re out there, it’s just that a lot of the boys think that if they see a girl on the racetrack it’s an easy target, or we’re not as good as them. 

I always take it as confidence boosting if someone is talking about you. Saying, “Oh, I can beat her” or whatever. I always think, “You can try, but I’m not going to make it easy for you.”

Every kart driver either wants to go to F1 or V8. But it’s a long road till then. Obviously that would be my ultimate goal. But even if I’m just helping out other girl karters, or even guy karters in the future, I’d be happy. Getting to where they want to go, and just helping other people out while I’m trying to make my career go further.

I don’t look up to the big names in motorsport. I look up to Arie Hutton. He’s helped me for years and he is a great driver himself. He taught me lots, and I just respect that someone takes time out to help others and share their knowledge with younger people.

Inquiries contact [email protected]

 

This week’s highlights…

 

• AFL: Gold Coast Suns v Adelaide Crows

Saturday, 4.35pm (AEST), Metricon Stadium, Carrara, Queensland 

• Tennis: Fed Cup – Australia v Serbia

Saturday and Sunday, 9pm (AEST), Kristalna Dvorana Sports Hall, Zrenjanin, Serbia

• Netball: Giants Netball v Collingwood Magpies; NSW Swifts v Melbourne Vixens

Sunday, 1pm and 3pm (AEST), Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

• Motorsport: Phillip Island 500 – Supercars Championship, Race 6

Sunday, 1.50pm (AEST), Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Victoria

• Soccer: A-League elimination final – Melbourne City v Perth Glory

Sunday, 7pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne

• NRL: Sydney Roosters v St George Illawarra Dragons

Tuesday, 4pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 22, 2017 as "À la kart". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.

Friday, April 21, 2017

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