|Genk, Belgium - The opening round of the 2011 Rotax Euro Challenge was hosted by the prominent Karting Genk circuit last weekend, where the level of the competition has undoubtedly lifted to yet another level from the season prior. The event was commended by so many of the drivers and teams as being the most competitive they’ve experienced in international Max racing. With more and more interest building in the RGMMC series, it was ideally a great start to the championship, ensuring the 207 competitors from more than 30 nations had the opportunity for some fantastic racing.|
BEN COOPER MAKES A VICTORIOUS COMEBACK IN SENIOR MAX
Former European and World number one Ben Cooper has made a successful return to the class at the first round at Genk after moving to KF2, where he won in 2009 as an official junior team driver. Now racing for the Birel team Kalman Motorsport, the British driver claimed the racing was much tougher than in previous years and he had to work hard to take the honours, although the weather eventually played a significant role. The runner-up at the event in Belgium was the 2010 Euro vice champ in seniors Edward Brand, who also dominated qualifying Friday to take pole position in the second session of the timed practice (55.153). The leading Strawberry Racing driver held a gap of 0.084 seconds over Cooper’s team-mate Tom Fawcett, who is the reigning British Max champion. Third quickest was the recent Rotax Winter Cup winner Ferenc Kancsár of Intrepid Force Rotax.
The majority of the 10 qualifying heats in seniors were won by UK drivers, including Brand who’d start on pole position for the pre-final, Fawcett and Ross Wylie with two wins a piece, while Lewis Plato had one 1st. French driver Alexandre Finkelstein claimed two races as well and Jiri Forman of Czechia the last race Saturday. Wylie’s team-mate Shaun Slavin was on equal points following the heats, but had the best results in the round-off to secure a front row start beside Brand. Plato was on P4, ahead of familiar Euro front-runners Mats van den Brand and James Greenway on row 3. With 90 drivers in the top-class field, the second chance decider was filled with good drivers who didn’t make the cut, so consequently the racing for the final six places was a competitive as the heats.
After a warm, sunny Saturday, the rain showered finals day and naturally changed the outcome. Dutch driver Mats van den Brand took the early lead and stretched the gap to around seven seconds over the 14-lap pre-final, setting the best time for much of the race. Cooper was also one of the pace-setters who favoured the wet conditions, moving into 2nd at the half-way mark from grid 17 ahead of Kasper Jensen, who had overpowered Brand and Slavin ending up in P5 and 6. 2010 Rotax International Open winner Jake Ball clocked the best laptime just one from the end to finish 4th. The racing was incredibly close and although Plato’s chances came to an end when he was out on lap 1, Harry Drysdale had an astonishing result to take 9th from ROF after being 5th in the repecharge.
The rain had stopped for the final as Cooper made no hesitation in jumping straight into the lead ahead of Ed Brand, who got into a dicing battle with Jensen for another five laps after the Danish driver got past Van den Brand. This allowed Cooper the advantage of getting a clear gap which Brand managed to narrow down as the laps unfolded. Van den Brand remained focused in 3rd to hold off a challenge from fellow Dutchman Ramon Rietveld, as an injured Babington finally showed his true colours to take 5th from Jensen on lap 10. The race stewards had shown an eager Tom Fawcett the driving standards flag, but he was now the one setting the pace and on the heels of Charlie Eastwood in the hunt for P5, which he took from Babington and then with two laps to go, Fawcett overtook Eastwood for a top 5 finish. Jiri Forman was impressive from the beginning of the racing and will definitely be one to watch this year, taking 8th at Genk in front of Euro newcomer Jensen and Jake Ball in P10, shadowed by Poland’s Karol Dabski across the line from start grid 30.
Ben Cooper - “I think the racing Gods were looking down on me with the rain today! It was a difficult week adapting my driving back to the Rotax-style. We were not too far off the pace this morning, but there’s still more testing to do before we head to the next round in Germany. I’m looking forward to Wackersdorf now and have to say a big thanks to Nigel at HRS for his help with the engines, Peter at Kalman Motorsport, Birel and my dad who came back to work for me as my mechanic.”
LOCAL DOMINIC DUPARCQ STEALS THE SHOW IN MAX MASTERS
Making his debut at the opening round, Belgium’s Dominic Duparcq of NRS Motorsport upstaged the competition in the Max Masters to make his first Euro Challenge event a memorable one. It was the current World number one Christophe Adams, however, who looked like a certain chance to take the honours for local team Sport Karting Competition after sealing pole position Friday (57.030) ahead of 2010 vice Champion Mikko Laine, also racing with a Belgian team; Formula K.
Notably one of the most experienced drivers on the Genk circuit, Adams showed his confidence winning all three of the qualifying heats Saturday, but admitted the competition was closing in on him as the day progressed and he expected some likely challengers when it came to the finals showdown. Duparcq had the next best results to start on P2 following the heats, while Rotax Winter Cup champ Igor Mukhin flew the Russian flag to start on the second row beside well-know French Master Alexandre Compere. Laine and Dutch driver Jan Vos ranked 5th and 6th overall for a row 3 start Sunday.
The pre-final was run in slippery conditions with the expected rain falling at Genk, which resulted in the polesitter dropping to 5th in the early stages of the race and unable to regain any positions. Laine took the provisional lead and was the clearly the quickest in the class, but was overcome by Duparcq who led the race until lap 8 of the 14-lapper, when the Finnish driver reclaimed 1st. Laine had lost traction at one stage and ran wide, as did several others, but maintaining his concentration went on to take the win a comfortable three seconds ahead of Duparcq, who had a decent gap over Compere. Mukhin took 4th ahead of Adams, with little separating the remaining drivers over the line.
Still battling the drenching rain, the Rotax Masters final got underway and Duparcq appeared to have the best start, followed by Compere from the inside on row 2 and Adams directly behind him. Within moments, Laine had overtaken the Euro champion and they continued to dice for P3 until he also passed Compere in the #422 kart and it became more of a three-way battle. Adams attempted to take P3 as well, almost succeeding after Compere got sideways on a slippery curb and lost momentum, but eventually made his move stick on lap 4. In the meantime, Laine was setting the pace and closed in on the leader, yet lost ground on Duparcq through the back chicane. As the end approached, Duparcq was pretty much equal to Laine’s speed and took the chequered flag just under two seconds ahead of him to lead the championship points going into round 2, with Adams 3rd. One of the three Russian drivers in the Max Masters line-up Georgii Efrossinin was 4th after having a close battle with Compere during the latter part of the race. Maxim Shaposhnikov took 6th, then Hungarian Energy duo Gyorgy Gabor and Viragh Attila. Two Sodi team-mates Jos Sleegers and Jan Vos didn’t have the best of finals to round out the first 10.
Dominic Duparcq - “This is the first time I have competed at the Euro Challenge and it has been very good racing this weekend. Normally I am not driving on the MOJO tyres here in Belgium so I had to adapt to this, but it’s been good and I’m pleased with the result. At the moment I’m not sure if I can race at the next round at Wackersdorf, but I hope so. Thanks to my mechanic and NRS Motorsport.”
JAPAN'S HOPE UKYO SASAHARA UNBEATABLE IN JUNIOR MAX
Driving his heart out for Japan and making his nation proud, Ukyo Sasahara has achieved his one wish in racing at Genk to win for his country at a time when their morale and hopes need to be lifted. Nobody could match the 14-year old on track the entire weekend from when he took pole in qualifying (56.020) and made a whitewash of the races to follow. Second in the ranking of 70 entries and at the top of the timesheet in the next junior session was Team TKP driver Janneau Esmeijer, 0.274 off Sasahara’s best lap, and 3rd the pole-sitter’s Paul Carr Racing team-mate Philip Morin.
Taking victory in three from three heats, Sasahara sealed his grid 1 start for the pre-final, although the best laps were set throughout the qualifying races by a number of different drivers who weren’t necessarily at the front of the field. Esmeijer also took line honours in one heat and together with a 2nd and 3rd place, guaranteed himself a front row start alongside the number 6 kart. Row 2 saw the current Junior Max world title holder Jordi van Moorsel and fellow Strawberry Racing team member Nathan Harrison alongside each other with three top 5 results. Making it six Dutch drivers in the first six, Stefano van Galen and Rotax Winter Cup winner Finn Kooijmann completed the third row. Unfortunately, Moran had one poor finish in the heats and dropped to grid 8 in the rankings, as did Alexis Araujo who had a DNF which took him from a certain prime position in the pre-final start.
The downpour arrived in time for Saturday’s junior final, but in the interest of the competitors, every driver finished the 11-lap race. Sasahara was the fastest in the very wet track where he led from P1 with a gap of almost 6 seconds by the chequered flag. Harrison passed Esmeijer within the first lap on the grandstand corner as the next group shuffled places in the early laps, with several of the front-runners sliding down the order. Eric Johansson off grid 11 found his way up to 3rd by lap 4, but was overpowered in the final stages by the slightly quicker Morin. A start penalty for front row starter Esmeijer added three seconds to his overall time, which dropped him from 5th to 7th giving Van Moorsel the advantage to move up. With many of the international drivers racing within some of the most competitive English teams this season, they consequently occupied the first 5 places. Coming from the back, Charles Leclerc and Guust Specken made up for disappointing heat results after qualifying through the second chance race to start the pre-final on rows 8 and 9 respectively.
As the track began to dry out Harrison made a successful shot at taking the lead, but it was short-lived as pole-sitter Sasahara squeezed back past him through the back chicane soon after. Dave Blom got off to a great start from P6 and was into 3rd to lead the Dutch assault, as the first three pulled a narrow gap from the pack chasing. Kooijmann ran wide and lost 4th to Johansson on lap 2, who was then under pressure from Morin and Jasper de Brouwer, with an amazing effort from P23. Harrison left the Japanese driver no breathing space in the first half of the race, but towards the end it was the former World number 1 who set the best lap once again and strengthened his round one victory to an outstanding 5 seconds. 3rd was secured by Blom, with Johansson 4th to sit on equal points with 5th-placed Morin as P3 and 4 now in the championship ahead of Blom. De Brouwer took a well-earned 6th to hold out Van Moorsel, Kooijmann and Araujo in 9th. Driving on a British licence, Raoul Hyman from South Africa was delighted with his Euro debut by completing the top 10. Mid-field was where all the action was, as several driving standards flags were shown and the non-stop dicing continued for the entire 14-laps; giving the many spectators what they’d come to see.
Ukyo Sasahara - “I’m very happy with my good results here, but I must think about all the people who have suffered in Japan and dedicate this win to them. It was not so easy in the slippery conditions, but I still won the pre-final. Then I made a mistake at the beginning of the final, but was able to get back in the lead and win. Thank you to my sponsors, my family, my mechanic and my team Paul Carr Racing.”
JUODVIRSIS STACKS UP THE WINS IN ROTAX DD2 IN 2011
Simas Juodvirsis has claimed his second victory on the RGMMC international racing calendar this season by following-up his Winter Cup win in Spain to take the first round honours at Genk in the Rotax DD2 2-speed class. The Lithuanian won both finals after staring on pole position Sunday to now lead the series by 6 points going in to the next event in Germany. It was 2010 European champ Andreas Jensen who sealed pole in Friday’s qualifying (54.388) with local driver Xen de Ruwe of Slangen Karting 2nd by 0.058 seconds ahead of arch rival from DFK Racing, Juodvirsis. These two drivers have had some fantastic battles, especially at this circuit for the final round last September.
In an unlikely outcome, the three winners of the qualifying heats failed to rank inside the first 5 starters for the pre-final, due to the fact that they all had one DNF Saturday. Jensen was the best placed on P6 after having a win and a 2nd place, while Dennis Ladefoged had one win and a 4th and De Ruwe two spots behind him in the points. With a 2nd as his best result, the more consistent Juodvirsis would line-up on the front row alongside his new team-mate Jim Ringelberg and on row 2 Kevin Ludi and Jules Szymkowiak. 2010 DD2 vice champ Patrick Pearce would start beside Jensen. The 36-kart field was recognised as one of the most competitive to-date in the Euro Challenge.
The pre-final was run in the rain and immediately a mixed order as Juodvirsis lost the lead temporarily to Pearce, but soon pulled a gap to be the quickest circulating on track, as Jensen assumed P3 from Viidas and Raymakers. By lap 5 Pearce had been overtaken by Jensen giving Juodvirsis a chance to stretch the lead even more. Raymakers also relegated Pearce another place back to take 3rd with 4 laps remaining, as the Brit soon dropped another place to 5th. However, a 10 –second penalty would see him classified on P11 by the end of the race. In the meantime, it was Georg Vann up from row 7 to tail Ringelberg in 4th, as Donny Verschueren followed him through from grid 15 to split the Estonian duo of Vann and Tristan Viidas in P7. By the time the 14 laps were over, Juodvirsis crossed the line more than 12 seconds in front of Jensen and Raymakers. It was a tough race for many of the other possible winners racing in the DD2 class, but the final was yet to come.
As the bad weather cleared a little, the track was still relatively wet and the lap times not all that much different to the earlier pre-final. It was Ringelberg on the outside who claimed the lead after the start from Juodvirsis in what became an incredibly close battle for positions. 2009 World Senior Max vice champ Mario Vendla became a spectator, drastically disappointed after he’d been faster than Juodvirsis mid-way through the race before. On lap 2, the Lithuanian model commanded the race again and repeated the speed he has shown a number of times now in the rain. Ringelberg had been locked in a close battle with Raymakers and Vann until one-third race distance when driver error took away his best chance at a podium position and he fell to 6th. Pearce put in a great drive to grab 2nd ahead of the intense fight for 3rd that now included Jensen. They kept swapping, until Jensen finally snatched P3 with 2 laps to go, letting Vann and Raymakers push each other around.
Directly beyond this, the two former World and Euro Masters Dennis Kroes and Christophe Adams had come into the picture in the race for the DD2 Masters trophy. Kroes was a lap done at the end of the pre-final, but he was impressive to be 7th from grid 30 and threatening Adams as they completed the last lap, but the current Max Masters number 1 was able to hang on for the Masters class win with Kroes 2nd in P8. Szymkowiak was just off the pace to finish 9th from Mike Hansen. The next group was very close, with German youngsters Mike Halder and Maximilian Fleischmann holding on to beat local driver Mathias Detige home, who had not started the pre-final and came from P33. Taking the win by 13.353 seconds, Juodvirsis had managed to outshine the competition once again.
Simas Juodvirsis - “It’s a very good result because there are some very good drivers racing in the DD2 class this year at the Euro Challenge. After the heat racing I didn’t know if I could win, but I am very happy now. We changed chassis and the Gillard kart was really good. I’d like to thank the boss of RKV Racing for his support and DFK Racing Team from Belgium.”
ADAMS HAS HIS SIGHTS SET ON THE DD2 MASTERS TITLE
Christophe Adams - “It was a good result and it’s a good start to the championship because this year I want to win the Rotax DD2 European title and try for another World title at the Grand Finals in November. It was very close at the end of the race with Dennis, but in the end I won so I’m happy. I only wish I could race in the Max Masters after the DD2 race, seeing that I am doing both classes again this year! I have to say thank you to the team for doing a good job and to my family for their support.”
All race results can be found online at www.rgmmc.com by following the link to 2011 RESULTS.
Check out KARTWORLD.TV to see the videos of the EURO highlights, interviews and all the podiums
ENTRIES CLOSE on April 22nd for the second round of the 2011 Rotax Euro Challenge to be hosted by ProKart Raceland Wackersdorf, Germany from May 25th to 29th. More information about the championship including news and entry forms is on the official homepage - www.rgmmc.com
OFFICIAL RACE RESULTS
1. Ben Cooper (GBR) - Birel/Kalman Motorsport
2. Edward Brand (GBR) - Tonykart/Strawberry Racing
3. Mats van den Brand (NED) - Intrepid/Intrepid Force Rotax
1. Ukyo Sasahara (JAP) - Kosmic/Paul Carr Racing
2. Nathan Harrison (GBR) - Tonykart/Strawberry Racing
3. Dave Blom (NED) - Parolin/Formula K Holland
1. Dominic Duparcq (BEL) - Tonykart/NRS Motorsport
2. Mikko Laine (FIN) - Parolin/Formula K Belgium
3. Christophe Adams (BEL) - Kosmic/Sporting Kart Competition
1. Simas Juodvirsis [LTU] - Gillard/RKV Racing & DFK Racing
2. Patrick Pearce (GBR) - Maddox/VZ Racing
3. Andreas Jensen [DEN] - FirstKart/FirstKart s.r.l racing
ROTAX DD2 MASTERS
1. Christophe Adams [BEL] - Topkart/Sport Karting Competition
2. Dennis Kroes (NED) - Tonykart/Team Kroes
3. Florent Lambert (GBR) - Haase/Tatum Racing