|The opening round of the Rotax event has been given a chilly, wet welcome back to the magnificent 1495m Sologne Karting Circuit at Salbris, France over the weekend with rain no doubt changing the possible outcome of the first meeting of the championship. However, it didn’t stop almost 190 very keen competitors coming from more than 30 nations to contest the ever-popular Euro Challenge, now beginning its fifth year as the most competitive international Rotax series in the World. |
With 90 entries filling the Senior Max class, official timed practice on Friday saw championship newcomer Chris Lock of Great Britain steal the show, having the definite advantage of being in the third group to go out on a drying track. The regulations in such a situation fairly distribute the fastest to the slowest drivers in each session per class, taking into account that the circuit is both wet and dry during qualifying.
Lock has been racing in Great Britain for 8 years and was runner-up to the 2007 British champion Benjy Russell, who went on to win the Rotax Grand Finals in the UAE. The young Tony Kart driver of RL Race Team Ltd had also raced at the finals event last year in the Rotax DD2 class and says he’s happy with the start to the series in France, looking to consistently gain good points. “We came to the Euro Challenge for the prestige of the European Rotax Championship, the high quality of the drivers in the competition and because it’s also a good championship to have on your CV.” From the beginning of Wednesday’s practice through to qualifying Friday afternoon, Lock was one of the pacesetters.
With 25 races over four categories being contested on Saturday’s program, defending Max Champ Ben Cooper racing for HRS Motorsport was the only driver to win all four of his 10-lap qualifying heats in seniors. This was the only day of competition without rain and notably the warmest. Race 20 will be remembered as probably the best of the French event, with the front-runners turning-on some of the most impressive, closest racing from start to finish. Cooper took the honours but it was not unchallenged and he had much of the field close behind.
Following the morning warm-up Sunday, the second chance race and the recently introduced MOJO Cup were run, giving every driver in the Max class the opportunity to race on Finals day for the first time. The German manufacturers of the Rotax tyre - Heidenau, presented the podium winners with an impressive trophy and set of the new regulation D2 tyre.
The Senior Max pre-final was bordering on being a wet track from the rain showers that had moved across Salbris, although it appeared to be drying out. Additional time was given for drivers to swap tyres or make adjustments prior to the race. With only minutes remaining, around one-third of the field opted for wets, including last year’s Euro vice champion Mike Joossens. “My team wanted me to run slicks but I took the chance as I really thought it was going to rain.”
Cooper led the opening stages from pole but within three laps, he was being passed by some of the karts fitted with wet tyres, as the rain began to fall. Joossens came through from 8th and the Dutch Kombikart driver eventually overtook basically everyone who wasn’t equipped for the wet conditions, taking the flag for the win by nearly 13 seconds. Slovenia’s Urban Stare was 2nd ahead of last year’s final Euro round winner Britain’s Stephen Tyldesley. Team TKP team-mates Bart Van Os and Jack Swinkels who qualified through the repecharge, also gambled on wets to finish 7th and 9th from the back of the grid.
The rain continued and got heavier for the final, so Joossens had the best visibility when the lights changed, pulling a good lead as he set the fastest lap of the race and never looking back. He claimed afterwards that it’s time to make the championship his, after twice coming 2nd in the past. “The final was great! It’s a good win for me and it was a good choice to go for wets in the pre-final.”
All was not so easy for the others battling for places, as Chris Lock fought his way up to take 2nd from P8 with Cooper closing in for a close 3rd from just over half-race distance. Lock’s team partner Harry Tinknell held his position for 4th, unable to be beaten by Wildkart factory driver Martin Pierce. Joey van Splunteren had featured well in the early stages of the event but lost out against Pierce, also copping the driving standards flag then dropping down the order. In 10th, Stare was the only one in the top 10 not to be from either the Netherlands or the UK.
Junior Max had more than half of the 42-kart field racing for the first time at the Euro Challenge, many of the youngsters making the shift from Rotax Mini Max. In his session for timed practice, the winner of the 2007 Rotax Grand Finals and Euro Challenge vice champion Kevin Korjus, was quick enough to seal the overall best lap in Juniors. The talented Estonian was the ’06 Euro ‘Rookie of the Year’ and this was his first ever pole position in the championship. “The other group had a slightly slower track ’cause of the rain earlier and I think they could have been faster if they didn’t have the lack of grip. It was good for me though.”
The qualifying heats again saw the new Intrepid driver top the sheets, as Korjus drove well to win all three races. The competition was still tough, as several of the other junior hot-shots, including some unfamiliar names to the series, drove hard vying for the lead throughout the 7-lap races.
Korjus looked like he had the lead from the start of the pre-final, but in the wet he was forced wide on the outside as Ryuya Fujie surged through on turn 2. This left Axcil Jefferies in a prime position to take advantage of the scuffle behind, but was soon overcome by Grand Finals vice champ Fujie. Josh Webster from grid 14 joined in the exciting battle for places with Korjus and Jefferies, as did Mads Thomsen who started just behind him. Spanish driver Toni Alarcon was clearly too fast for his rivals in his Euro debut, assuming the lead and setting the pace for the wet session. Fujie dropped a chain on lap 7, so he was out of contention. The win went to Alarcon by more than 6 seconds, followed by an extremely close dice for 2nd won by Jefferies from Webster across the line.
The final was run in some drenching rain as Alcaron led out of pole position. 13-year-old South African Jefferies managed to squeeze his way past, as Alarcon ran off-track through the muddy puddles and Webster saw the chance to steal the lead on the inside. The Spaniard unfortunately dropped back appearing to have a problem, as Jefferies and Webster diced at the front. Tiny Dutch driver Peter Hoevenaars slotted up to 3rd and fought off a challenge from Vera Paauw, who tailed him closely for the remainder of the race.
With 4 laps to go out of 12, Jefferies finally secured the lead, passing Webster who was hitting the curbs hard and lifting the wheels. It was Jefferies’ first ever victory in the championship, taking the chequered flag 2 seconds ahead of Webster then Hoevenaars 3rd. Paauw became the best-placed lady driver in the history of the Junior Max at the Euro Challenge finishing 4th and Korjus reclaimed 5 positions over the race duration to end up 5th. The round 1 winner was pleasantly surprised by the result; “In the dry I was quick but wasn’t so good in the rain during practice. A top 3 for the pre-final was my plan and I had a good start in the final then got caught up with Josh Webster. I was able to get a break once I overtook him, so it’s a great start to the season for me to win. I hope to do the same at the next round in Wackersdorf.”
The Rotax Max Masters is the smallest of the four classes on the program, which may change as a result of the entry age limit being dropped to 26 years in 2008. Current World number 1 and defending European champ Colin Davis clocked the best lap of the official timed practice Friday, just edging out his closest rival Christophe Adams. They were the only two drivers to break 1 minute 17. It was the first time Davis had driven the Sodi Kart and he was happy with the times. “The kart was great in the wet and just got better and better. Tomorrow we’ll see who’s fast in the racing and how I compare, as we didn’t have a good chance to go out on new tyres in the dry.”
Saturday’s qualifying heats on a dry track gave former Grand Finals Max winner Cristiano Morgado ideal conditions to run away with three wins on his Euro return after three years racing Formula cars. Pole position was where the Korridas Intrepid driver wanted to be going into the finals Sunday.
As the temperature dropped and the clouds closed-in, Morgado held onto first place from Rui Viera of Portugal, who raced the DD2 class last year. Davis drove wide and was back in 6th, followed by Jerome Bourquard out of P4 who ended up in the gravel on turn 1. Nobody could catch the South African pacesetter leading, as he stretched the gap to over 12 seconds by the end of the 13 laps. Just 1 lap remaining and Viera underestimated the sprinkle of rain mid-track, braking too late and hitting the tyre barrier. He rejoined but could only salvage 12th and lost his front row grid as a result for the pre-final. Colin Davis came through for 3rd.
Morgado led Adams following him on the inside at the start, then came Davis, Bourquard and Czech driver Radim Feber as the 15-lap final got underway. On lap 3, Adams relegated the leader back a place only to see Bourquard pass momentarily and Davis also join in the fantastic 3-way dice for the minor podium positions, giving Adams a clear run ahead. Davis claimed 2nd with 4 laps remaining but Morgado posting the quickest lap next time around passed him to chase the leader. Adams held on for a clear win just under 2 seconds to Morgado and Davis. Bourquard ran off at turn 2 so he lost ground in the late stages but saved 4th from fellow Frenchman Georges Popoff.
Adams who is also driving in the DD2 category and won the 2-speed gearbox class at the ’07 Rotax Grand Finals, was happy with the win in Max Masters. “We found some pace that I was missing in the heats, which made the difference. It’s a good beginning for the year to be on top in the championship. I only race to win and knew I could be fast here in Salbris.”
38 drivers gave the Rotax DD2 class its biggest field to-date with some new names and some past champions in the line-up. Danish driver Dennis Ladefoged was 3rd in 2007 and returned to be the fastest qualifier in France at round 1. “I didn’t expect to be fastest after being 3/10th off Orr and Poulter at the front in the practice. I think I had the advantage of being in the last group when the track was drying so it’s good for me for the racing now.”
Former twice Rotax DD2 Champion along with Euro Max and DD2 winner Wesleigh Orr won two heats Saturday, together with countryman Leeroy Poulter. Some on-track issues between the pair resulted in Poulter being disqualified from the final qualifying race, leaving Orr to take pole position for the pre-final.
However, it made little difference to Poulter coming from grid 11, as he miraculously overtook race leader Maik Barten within a short time after the pre-final began. The Kalman Motorsport driver appeared from nowhere and took control immediately. Morgado started on row 2 but struggled to stay there, while Dennis Thum challenged Barten as well for a top 3 place. Dutch driver Danny Brand drove hard for a comfortable 2nd place, as last year’s vice champion/Masters winner in the Euro DD2 Dennis Kroes also from the Netherlands, made his way through from P13, eventually taking 3rd across the finish line by a narrow margin to Thum. Pacesetter Barten was 5th and Orr continually fell down the order just inside the first 10. Poulter won the 13-lap race by 6 seconds.
The final race of the first 2008 round was held in the worst conditions, as the rain persisted. Poulter was the early leader and remained at the front, although without the dominance he had in the previous race. Bad luck for podium hopefuls Ladefoged and local driver Damien Vuillaume who only saw 2 laps of the race before they retired. It was Kroes into 2nd chased by Brand, who ran wide in the early laps and found himself behind in 9th. Barten and Thum also disappeared into the spray further back in the field. Morgado was then 3rd until Orr passed him, obviously having made some changes to be more competitive this race.
As the laps unfolded, Poulter was watching over his shoulder as Kroes and Orr came past a backmarker, still keeping the leader in sight. The racing was close in the next pack, with positions changing many times as drivers pushed their karts to the limit amidst the soaking rain. Taking an alternative race line, Orr passed Kroes, who instantly made an unsuccessful attempt to regain the position with only 2 laps to go. Morgado was no threat, now quite a way back in 4th with a gap to Christophe Adams. Poulter took the DD2 honours by one second and in good sporting spirit, shook hands with Orr as they rounded turn 2 following.
As winner of round 1 at Salbris two years running, Poulter was all smiles when he took off his helmet. “The final worked out well from the beginning and you know we’re not really used to this much rain in South Africa. Throughout the week we were quite strong and even in the rain, it worked out okay. My plan wasn’t what I’d expected, as I was aiming for at least a 5th in the pre-final starting back in the order… but I won! It’s also a good win for the team.”
Special guests and management from the owners of the event ‘BRP-Rotax’ awarded the trophies at the prizegiving ceremony, assisted by Gunther Prokoph of Heidenau and RGMMC’s Roland Geidel as the organisers and promoters. Due to the weather, the presentation was made inside the Sologne Karting restaurant. Rotax had an information and merchandise stand for the competitors and spectators to visit over the weekend, which seemed to be very popular. The drivers also had the chance to pick-up some Rotax goodies from the lottery held at the awards ceremony Sunday.
Round two of the Rotax Euro Challenge will be hosted by the ProKart Raceland complex at Wackersdorf, Germany from May 28 – June 1, 2008.
Complete race results can be found at Kart Data Live Timing www.kart-data.com
Finals action with streaming videos is NOW online at RaceWorld TV www.raceworld.tv.
The championship points table as well as future rounds information will be available at the RGMMC homepage at www.rgmmc.com.
Results – Round 1: Salbris, France
Rotax Senior Max
1 – Mike Joossens The Netherlands Kombikart Hug Motorsport
2 – Christopher Lock Great Britain Tonykart RL Race Team Ltd
3 – Ben Cooper Great Britain CRG HRS Motorsport
Rotax Junior Max
1 – Axcil Jefferies South Africa Birel Kalman Motorsport
2 – Josh Webster Great Britain Tonykart RL Race Team Ltd
3 – Peter Hoevenaars The Netherlands Intrepid Team TKP
Rotax Max Masters
1 – Christophe Adams Belgium Birel Gem Sport
2 – Cristiano Morgado South Africa Intrepid Korridas
3 – Colin Davis Great Britain Sodikart Mira Motorsport
1 – Leeroy Poulter South Africa Birel Kalman Motorsport
2 – Wesleigh Orr South Africa PCR Wesleigh Orr Racing
3 – Dennis Kroes The Netherlands Haase Euro Indoor Kart RT
2008 ROTAX EURO CHALLENGE
May 28 – June 1 Wackersdorf, Germany
July 23 – 27 Sosnova, Czech Republic
September 24 – 28 Genk, Belgium* (*subject to FIA agreement)