|With everything set to be a fantastic weekend’s racing at the second round of the Rotax Euro Challenge hosted by the ProKart Raceland circuit in Wackersdorf, Germany, the ideal conditions and facilities were overshadowed somewhat by those slightly over-eager competitors who tried to win the race in the first two corners. It was a case of the best bringing out the worst in some of the racing. The officials eventually took some blatant action to slow everything down for the finals. However, nothing could take away from the well-deserved results achieved by the winners, who overcame the fierce competition to take the spoils and add to their standings in the championship. |
Austria’s Kevin Reichard racing with the Intrepid Force Rotax team continued his early pace from open practice, clocking the best lap in qualifying (51.054) by an outstanding 0.248 seconds over round one pace-setter Chris Lock. Reichard went to the top of the timesheet on his first lap in the opening group session and just kept getting quicker. “We came here two weeks ago for testing, working out what was best with chassis’ and engines, so we only had to make minor adjustments at the event. The important thing now is the racing and staying focused to get the best results.”
When it came to Saturday’s qualifying heats, it was Lock who dominated the 78-kart field. He won all four of his races comfortably, to start on pole for the pre-final. Reichard was the quickest driver on the track and managed to take the honours in two races, to line-up on the front row as well. The remaining four heats each saw different drivers take the flag, with lots of action-packed racing.
The Pre-final claimed the hopes of several potential front-runners, after at least one-third of the field ended up strewn across turn two on the opening lap. Reichard and team-mate Josh Hart off row two were amongst the drivers scrambling to rejoin if possible. Round one winner from France, Mike Joossens, looked as if he might repeat his faultless performance from last year at Wackersdorf when he took advantage of the situation to chase Lock in the lead. It was the defending European champ Ben Cooper who ended Joossens chances, passing him for 2nd early on, but unable to bridge the gap of over three seconds that Lock eventually held as he crossed the line. Luke Varley made it a British trifecta to overcome Mike Simpson, in a three-way battle as well with Hannes Van Asseldonk. The Dutch driver secured 4th in the latter stages and Joossens split them to take 5th.
For the first time in the five year history of the Euro Challenge, the Senior Max final was started after the normal two formation laps with two additional laps under waving yellow flags, in single-file with the new “slow” board regulation (pace car) enforced. In the interest of safety, the officials opted for the variation to avoid any unnecessary carnage that was evident in the pre-final earlier in the day. This had an obvious effect on the closeness of the racing in the initial laps to follow.
Although pole-sitter Lock grabbed the lead, the RL Racing Team driver was quickly overpowered by Cooper off P2 and the pair swapped places in the fight, until lap 6 of the 18-lap decider. A disappointed Luke Varley, who triumphed in the heat races, was off the track after only a lap, parking his Gillard kart and forced to watch what could have been. Getting a jump at the start which he was later penalised 10 seconds for, Joossens in 3rd held Simpson at bay for three laps. But the British Birel driver had kept his new tyres for the last race and soon cruised passed. Cooper also fell victim to Simpson on lap 7, letting Lock stretch his lead in the process. It was a close battle between two of the strongest drivers the class has seen, but it ended in frustration at half-race distance when an optimistic move saw Cooper and Simpson collide. Cooper continued further down the order but his rival’s attempt to restart failed.
Van Asseldonk assumed 2nd, followed by Antoine Barthon and suddenly Reichard appeared in 5th, having carved-up the field from grid 17. With 6 laps to go, the Austrian was sitting in P2 and taking half a second off Lock’s lead as the laps wound-down. Race pace-setter Niek Vos led the next group in 6th and was clearly fast, with a spectacular drive to come through from starting back on row 13. Under instruction from his team manager, Lock circulated at a steady pace to maintain his lead over Reichard for the undisputed victory. Van Asseldonk and Barthon led Joossens, who was relegated to P15 by the stewards, therefore giving Vos a top 5. James Bean was 6th and Cooper salvaged 7th after he went back to mid-field following the incident with Simpson. Heat winner Yoann Aubergeon was 8th ahead of 15-year-old Imre Birizdo and New Zealand champ Josh Hart.
Chris Lock is now the new leader of the championship, but he admits it wasn’t the easiest result.
“I was quick but it was really, really close between a few of us and the track changed so much with each session. I don’t think the start format helped me in the final; it made it easier for everyone to stay close. I was struggling to get my tyres up to temperature in the first laps when I was in the battle with Cooper and Simpson, but when they crashed I was able to get a break. After two rounds, I think we’re in a position to win the title now and want to thank everyone for their support: RL Racing, manager Steve Armstrong, Ogden Engines, Tillett Seats, Strawberry Racing for the Tony Karts, my dad and family.”
Following some bad luck at the opening round of the series in France last March, Japanese driver Ryuuya Fujie made no mistakes when it came to the official timed practice at Wackersdorf, to take pole position in Junior Max (52.359). He was fast for the past two days in the free practice and did his best time Friday in qualifying. With the track conditions always changing here and the level of grip increasing, Fujie claims it suits his driving style. “More grip to drive on is my favourite! I was hoping to get a top 5 in qualifying, so I am very happy.” His mechanic and technician changed very little from their testing the day before. The gap to Parolin’s Simone Favaro of Italy was 0.035 sec’s.
With 42 entries, six heat races were contested and Fujie sealed the win for HRS Motorsport in all three he started. Polesitter from round one in Salbris Kevin Korjus won two heats and winner from the Salbris event Axcil Jefferies, took a first as well. The World number 2 and number 1, Fujie and Korjus, were set to make up the front row for the pre-final, while Jefferies suffered the fate of being pushed out from P2 during one race, so would have to start back on grid 19.
A pile-up of 11 karts on turn 4 after the pre-final began, brought the “slow” board and waving yellow flags out. Unfortunately, one of the drivers with the potential to win the race on P6 - Toni Alarcon, had a technical problem that prevented him from continuing. Rookie driver Peter Hoevenaars led the crawling train of drivers around the Raceland circuit until the green flag was shown. It was Fujie into 1st on the restart, while Korjus slotted in for 2nd ahead of his two TKP team-mates Ramon Rietveld and Hoevenaars, dicing for 3rd place. Rietveld then challenged for 2nd but Korjus was able to hang on to it, as they drove nose-to-tail for some time. Hoevenaars lost three positions, however fought back to finish 4th ahead of round one runner-up Josh Webster.
Well, based on the unfavourable start in the preceding race, the junior final was another case of starting after the formation laps with two laps in single-file under the yellow “slow” board, as instigated by the race officials as a preventative safety measure. The Japanese driver surrendered to Korjus, as he snatched the lead being chased by Rietveld. Within four laps, the 14-year-old CRG pilot was back in front for keeps and went on to take the win with the fastest lap of the final. Nikita Tetyukhin overtook Korjus at half-race distance on lap 7 to give Russia its first appearance on the podium at the European Rotax championship. Not too far back, the majority of the field was bunched-up together, as the intensity of the race for positions showed.
Korjus faced a challenge from Hoevenaars as the race end closed-in, running a fraction off the tar and helpless to stop the young Dutch driver claim his second 3rd place in as many rounds. With a gap of over two seconds to 5th, Danish Swiss Hutless team-mates Christian Sorenson and Mads Thomsen had their own little battle happening, with Alarcon giving it everything to be up to 7th from P34 at the chequered flag. Olivier Calkoen and Thomas Jager followed, ahead of Artem Markelov of Russia rounding-out the top 10. After starting on grid 3, Rietveld dropped back to 11th and out of contention, while Webster who fell to 13th, was given the ‘driving standards’ flag.
The quiet, unassuming winner of the class who generally shows little expression, was overwhelmed by his success in Germany. After calling home to tell his father the great news, Ryuuya Fujie was extremely happy and proud of his result. “The Euro Challenge has very competitive racing with the Estonian and Dutch drivers, in teams like TKP, who are good.” Fujie also thanked everyone who has helped to make this win possible: the HRS Motorsport Team, his mechanics and his father.
Rotax Max Masters
One of only two drivers competing in two classes in the championship, former World and European Max number one Cristiano Morgado cemented pole for the qualifying heats, when he clocked the best lap in timed practice Friday (52.125). On his return to racing Karts, although he is still driving in the Formula VW class in South Africa, Morgado is enjoying the competition at the Euro. “The Masters is a small class but it has some good drivers. It’s the first time for me at this track; I like it but it’s quite tight and grippy, where I personally prefer more fast and flowing. I think the set-up was right for qualifying but I’m sure there are a few more bits we can do to the kart to be better.”
Proving to be too difficult to beat, Morgado overcame the challenges at the start of heats one and two, winning both by a significant margin. Following an accident he was involved in at the start of the Rotax DD2 race Saturday afternoon, the polesitter decided to miss the last qualifying heat to ensure he was 100% race-fit. Also running both classes, current World DD2 Masters number one Christophe Adams had the benefit of Morgado’s absence from the Max class and won heat three.
The pre-final was a close race amongst the top three, with Morgado not taking the grid for the same reason that prevented him from racing the final event on the program the day before. Winner of the Max Masters class at the Rotax Grand Finals in the UAE last November, Colin Davis did not appear to have the pace he needed this round to be so competitive. The ’07 Euro Champ was 2nd at the start of the 16-lap race until last year’s Wackersdorf winner Jerome Bourquard soon got past. Adams lost his lead not long before half way to the French driver as well, although they diced for positions in the laps to follow. Davis was between them but unable to stay up there, eventually dropping back to settle for 3rd. It was Bourquard who won from Adams in the end. In 4th and 5th John Van Wyk and Radim Feber were trying to outsmart each other, until Van Wyk got the edge.
With visions of the round two final from 2008, Bourquard was confident of making it a double. He increased his lead, making the most of Davis and Adams dicing behind him, while they also came under attack from Van Wyk. The South African got into 2nd at one stage within the first laps but couldn’t keep Adams from reclaiming 2nd place. The racing between Van Wyk and Davis kept the spectators glued to the track action, as the two fought it out lap-by-lap, each with their own special parts of the circuit for passing the other back. Radim Feber then had the chance to catch up, ideally placed to capitalise on any opportunity.
In the meantime, Adams reeled Bourquard in and took the lead on lap 14 of 18. Just at the same time, the duo some way back had come to grief, leaving the way for Feber to go through. Davis ran wide onto the grass and Van Wyk pulled a gap, only to see the ‘driving standards’ flag shown for his supposedly unsporting behaviour. The lead swapped yet again and an unsuccessful attempt to regain it by Adams, gave Bourquard the victory. The Team BRK driver maintained his smooth style to out-drive the Belgian. After the race, Adams was in fact excluded from the results by the officials on a technical infringement, so 2nd went to Feber of the Czech Republic, with Van Wyk posting the best lap in 3rd. Davis was 4th, closely followed by Georges Popoff and Mark Thompson.
Saying he preferred to have Morgado there to race against in the Masters, Jerome Bourquard also admitted he believed he was in with a better chance to win without him on the grid. “In the end it was very close in the final. I was waiting for Adams to overtake me but once I got him back, I knew I could keep the lead for the last two laps before the end. I’m very happy now, though yesterday I was a bit lost because I was slow. Today I had the right combination, so it was good.”
Just short of a full grid, the 2-speed DD2 class is noticeably getting more competitive with some former World, European and current national champions in the field. The best qualifying lap set by Leeroy Poulter (50.499) in the first group session was over a second faster than that of Wesleigh Orr’s pole position time from last year. As with all the senior classes this season, the new MOJO D2 tyre has contributed to the quickest laps being at least one second faster than the previous year’s.
Maik Barten topped the next session and fractionally missed taking grid one by 0.004 of a second.
From Wednesday onwards, Poulter revealed they were well aware they were the one’s to beat. “We could see during the practice that we were ahead of everyone else, so I was confident that we could do well today. The kart’s been great from the first day and just got better the longer I was out there. I think we could have done better but got held up a little, which was a shame.”
Due to the class entries originally being oversubscribed, the program allowed for six heat races. Poulter was the winner in two, losing the lead in the third when he and fellow countryman Orr tangled early on. Orr was excluded from the remainder of the race. Local driver Denis Thum began an impressive weekend with two wins as well. In the late afternoon, Cristiano Morgado and Robert Gilmour were not able to continue in their final race, following an incident after the start that caused some major damage to the equipment, not to mention giving Cristiano a slight headache.
Thum was on pole for the pre-final and slowed the pace for the start. He kept the lead ahead of Poulter on the outside and Barten, who was looking to pass on the next laps. Coming from row 6, Orr had made up 8 places by lap 3 and attempted to take 3rd from Barten, who claims he didn’t see him there going into turn 2. It was deemed as being too aggressive on Orr’s behalf and he was given the black flag, also ending his finals racing for Sunday. So with no direct pressure then, Poulter focused on catching Thum out in front, overtaking him for the lead with 11 laps to go. Barten kept his momentum and moved up on Thum in 3rd, trying as well but was unable to make the pass. In only his third DD2 race, Dominik Kraihamer had regained some ground lost at the start, to take 4th place in front of Poland’s Seweryn Szczepanik.
The final was a nail-biter, as the lead continually changed after Poulter led the race from Barten, only to have Thum in up to 1st within the opening lap. As the leaders alternated, the battle for places raged on not far behind them. Gilmour was pushing hard from P10 in a close race with current Euro vice champ Dennis Kroes and Bela Szilagyi, who was later squeezed out by Christophe Adams, then forced to retire. Wearing down the leader, Poulter made his move on Thum on lap 6 as Barten also narrowed the gap. As they bunched-up, Kraihamer 4th was consistently posting the quickest lap, while the lead changed yet again and once more. Before Thum could counteract Poulter’s move, Barten split them to take 2nd. For Poulter, this was perfect.
It was non-stop action as every chance saw the top order positions changing, allowing Poulter to get away. Kraihamer finally clinched 2nd for good and left the other two to fight it out with around 7 laps left. Within minutes of the race finish, Barten tried to pass Thum on the tight right-hander leading onto the back straight and tapped his rear bumper. As Barten accelerated to have another shot at taking 3rd, they made contact side-by-side, spinning to opposite sides of the track. Thum rejoined but Barten had hit the tyre barrier and his race was over. The final podium place was then handed to Szczepanik right behind them and Gilmour savoured 4th, with Kroes 5th as the first of the Masters drivers home in the DD2 class. Patrick Pearce overcame an unlucky start to the racing to take 6th from a disappointed Denis Thum; Arthur D Huy was 8th then Adams and Tamsin Germain.
As he did in 2007, Leeroy Poulter made it two rounds from two, to top the Euro Challenge points tally yet again. This year, he’s committed to doing all four events with the hope of taking the title. He was almost unbeaten in every session and in the end, was the quickest in the final race as well. “I think Denis [Thum] was pretty competitive at the beginning, but I also knew I was fast. It’s been a really good weekend for us – good for Birel and for the championship. Once we got ahead, we were good to stay there, being around 2-tenths in front of everyone else. I’d like to thank the Kalman Motorsport team for a great job and my mechanic Neil Curtis who’s back with me for the first time this year, plus Ronni Sala from Birel for supporting me now as an official team driver.”
ADAC Formula Masters test drive
As part of the prizes for the Wackersdorf round, RGMMC, together with Team Norbert Brückner and the Team KUG Gewinnus, gave two young drivers an invitation to test drive the new Formula Masters ADAC cars “powered by Volkswagen” at the Hockenheimring in Germany in October.
This is a new Formula series that has been introduced on the German Motorsport scene in 2008 to give aspiring young drivers a new platform to pursue their first Formula racing experience.
The lucky winners were Kevin Reichard in Senior Max and Seweryn Szczepanik in the ROTAX DD2.
The prizegiving included special guests and management of ‘BRP-Rotax’ who awarded the trophies, assisted by Gunther Prokoph of Heidenau and RGMMC’s Roland Geidel as the event organiser and promoter. The drivers had the chance to pick-up some Rotax goodies from the awards ceremony Sunday, by simply visiting the ROTAX info and merchandise stand on the weekend at Wackersdorf.
The championship points table as well as information regarding all future rounds, is available at the RGMMC homepage at www.rgmmc.com, as well as links to complete race results at Kart Data Live Timing www.kart-data.com and Sunday’s finals action online at RaceWorld TV www.raceworld.tv.
The third round of the 2008 Rotax Euro Challenge will go to a new location for the championship –‘Racing Arena’ Autodrom Ceská Lípa at Sosnova, in the Czech Republic from 23 – 27 July, 2008. Click here for more information!