|The close competition lived up to its expectation at Karting Genk, Belgium over the weekend where the final round of the Rotax Euro Challenge turned on some fantastic racing in the battle for the 2008 titles. With three classes still undecided going into the event, it came down to Sunday’s finals for the winners to be made clear, but Genk is known to have a habit of being full of surprises at the last round. However, the weather was ideal and the spectators came out to watch some of the best Rotax racing in the World. Karting Genk and the organisers welcomed the 166 competitors and their supporters with a Red Bull barbeque after qualifying Friday and at the end of proceedings, the drivers’ lottery included some great giveaways from the event sponsors, including a brand new 125 Max engine from BRP-Rotax. |
Championship leaders Chris Lock and Ben Cooper were outpaced in the official timed practice by Dutch Energy driver Joey van Splunteren (53.443). The 16-year old showed the speed and confidence he had at the same event last year when he was on pole for the final and finished 3rd on the podium.
With ten qualifying heats Saturday for the 72-kart field, the victories were spread amongst 5 different drivers. The polesitter claimed two of his four races, while defending title holder Cooper had three wins, as did the 2007 Junior Max Euro champion Mats van den Brand. He’d qualified 10th quickest from Friday’s timed session but following his results during the heats, would start on pole for the pre-final the next day. Nelson Van der Pol had also been down the order at the beginning of the meeting on P24, but came through to take a 1st and 2nd place in the races Saturday, while James Greenway claimed a win as well.
The second chance heat Sunday morning saw a number of drivers racing that had been on the Euro podium in the past, including last year’s senior vice champion Mike Joossens. Although he started on the front row, he was pushed wide and failed to finish the race, as he had in two of the qualifying heats. This meant Joossens running 3rd in the series would therefore fall out of contention for a top 3 result in ’08.
It was a first-time front row for the pre-final where the previous season’s Junior and Senior Euro winners lined-up alongside each other. However, van den Brand recalled that he had started behind Cooper in each of the heat races at Genk in Junior Max three years before and looked up to him as one of the best drivers on the grid. Now they were going head-to-head. In only his first Euro round at Genk, it was a contrast for Lock starting on grid 3, hoping to secure the 2008 title by the end of the 15 laps while sharing the second row with van Splunteren.
When the lights changed, Lock held P2 behind van den Brand, but lost four more places immediately after being overtaken by Cooper on the next lap. New Zealander Josh Hart (now racing for Austria) joined in the fight with Cooper to take 2nd but fell back to 3rd on lap 5, while the leader held a clear gap as the chasing frontrunners shuffled for positions. A successful but questionable [by the race officials] challenge for 3rd came from Karol Dabski just before the halfway mark, with the tiny Polish driver adding to his already impressive weekend, having qualified 5th quickest and starting on row 3 for the first of the finals. Hart was relegated back to 7th, with Lock moving into 4th ahead of van Splunteren and Daniel Cammish, both of which were in the small group capable of making the podium in the overall standings.
With 6 laps remaining, Cooper had caught van den Brand and passed him to assume the lead, only for the 17-year old to snatch it back several laps later. It was nail-biting stuff as Cooper surged through once again in the closing lap and kept his place to take the chequered flag only hundredths of a second between himself and van den Brand. Dabski had tagged-on and was with them as they crossed the line, with Lock just behind. In finishing 4th, the British Tonykart driver had sealed his victory for the championship. Yoann Aubergeon had an excellent drive up to 5th from starting on row 12 and not surprisingly, clocked the fastest lap of the race.
The final was jaded a little by the absence of Lock on the second row. He had withdrawn from the race knowing that he had already won the series but was also suffering from a sudden dose of the flu Sunday. The battle of the titans continued however, as a determined van den Brand insisted on matching Cooper in the first corner for speed, failing to back off as the race began. They connected as Cooper tried to hold the tight inside line, resulting in him going back to 7th. Aubergeon trailed the leader and at one stage looked for a way past, while Dabski and Hart led van Splunteren. By lap 4, Hart was 3rd and the first five karts close.
As he extended his lead, van den Brand was over a second ahead of Aubergeon without the likelihood of Cooper getting anywhere near him. Lock’s team mate Cammish retired around half-race distance and three laps from the end, disaster struck van Splunteren’s campaign for 3rd in the championship, as he was collected going into the first corner by Greenway. This resulted in the British driver being excluded. So, it was an elated van den Brand who took the honours for round 4 with a comfortable win. In 2nd was Aubergeon followed by Hart, who had shifted from originally being 8th in the championship to 3rd overall as the drama of the race unfolded. 4th belonged to Dabski, then the new Euro Challenge vice champion Cooper, narrowly missing out on retaining his title from last year ahead of Michael Andersson and Niek Vos. Joseph Reilly was the pace-setter for the final race, coming from P32 to 8th position, as second chance qualifiers Stephen Tyldesley (who won the event in 2007) and Indy Dontje completed the top 10.
Young Italian karter Simone Favaro established his place during Friday’s timed practice, with the Parolin Motorsport driver setting the quickest lap (54.911) of the 53 entries in total in his class. Also currently competing in the KF3 class, the 15-year old was just outside the first ten in the Euro championship points before the final round and looked as if he could be hard to beat at Genk. Local driver Dylan LeHaye was 0.019 off his time in the second session as well, with Macaulay Walsh of Great Britain 3rd fastest.
Qualifying heats were again won as they were in Senior Max by five individual drivers, with the World number one and last year’s round 4 winner Kevin Korjus the only driver to claim two wins out of the six races Saturday. Josh Webster was sitting right behind Korjus as the championship leader after three rounds and he also took victory, together with the junior champion from the last event in Sosnova Toni Alarcon. Another race went to LeHaye who’d had a DNF with a lap to go in his first heat, while fellow countryman Vincent Jewell took the final qualifier and would be the one to start the pre-final on pole.
RL Race Team’s Edward Brand had accumulated some good points to join Jewell at the front for the pre-final Sunday, with his team mate Webster on the next row beside Kevin Grubbels of the Netherlands. The start went with Jewell, then Webster on his bumper and Brand slotting in front of Korjus from the outside. They diced for a couple of laps until Korjus urged his way to chase for the lead. Unfortunately Brand had a coming-together with round 1 winner Axcil Jefferies on lap 3, seeing him lose places and the South African cop a 10-second penalty for the incident.
By lap 5, Korjus was running the show and not looking back. Another Estonian Aavo Talvar appeared in 2nd by half way, as Jewell behind him came under pressure from LeHaye, who’d started on grid 15. Webster in 5th got a nudge from Favaro, on T1, sending him wide momentarily. At this point the officials were also kept busy with the driving standards flag, as the youngsters got a little overenthusiastic as the laps unfolded. It became an incredible battle at the front of the field, with the Columbian lady driver fresh from her success in the US JICA championship joining in with the first five and also getting a warning to keep it clean. Korjus took advantage of the close competition and pulled a gap of 1.5 seconds, but the dash for the line on lap 12 was where the action was. LeHaye snatched 2nd, then Talvar and Favaro, but he wore a penalty following that sent him back to 13th. Jewell was 4th ahead of Calderon.
The final was no exception when it came to spectacular racing and just continued where the previous race left off. The polesitter had no intention of losing this round, having secured his Junior European title after winning the pre-final earlier in the afternoon. He led from start to finish unchallenged in the final. However, the remainder of the field changed positions non-stop for the entire 14-lapper. Talvar stole 2nd from LeHaye in the early stages until he fell down the order when Brand from P8 and Calderon pounced. Suddenly from row 12, the ’07 Junior Rotax runner up from the Grand Finals Ryuuya Fujie was pushing his way through, already one spot out of the top 5 by the fifth lap. Brand and LeHaye rubbed wheels down the home straight, neither giving the other an inch of track as the Japanese driver closed-in.
It was difficult to know where to look, as the race split into two main groups with countless moves in every lap, especially in the first dozen. Alarcon came into the picture for 4th ahead of Fujie, soon trailed by Favaro. With only several laps to go, Alarcon was 3rd and dicing with LeHaye but lost 3 places giving Favaro the chance to advance. It was an easy victory for Korjus, who even admitted it when he got out of his kart. Talvar also flew the Intrepid flag for 2nd and Favaro succeeded in hanging onto 3rd from race pace-setter LeHaye. Taking the vice champions trophy for the series was Fujie in 5th, after having a shocking weekend until the final, then 6th was Alarcon who would also stand on the 2008 junior podium for 3rd place overall. Calderon in her first European assault did well to finish 7th. The drive of the race probably belongs to Shaun Pirie who came in 8th, after the Protrain Racing driver disappeared from row 3 in the pre-final to start on grid 31 in the last race. Brand and Jewell were unlucky to take 9th and 10th after their superb effort to have been on the front row in the first of the finals on the day.
The meeting was not the best for Webster, eager to have made the podium but finishing a well-earned 4th overall meant he would still be part of the Euro qualifying team for the Rotax Grand Finals in Italy, as Korjus’ invitation as the defending champ would go to him. [He also won the Max engine in the lottery.] Keeping this in mind, 5th place was 13-year old Peter Hoevenaars, who accepted the Rookie of the Year invitation to join them. In a class filled with so many new young drivers this year, all but one of the first five was a rookie driver – which was Korjus and he was actually the winner of the title two years ago.
Belgium’s 2008 Rotax DD2 champion dominated the second of the qualifying sessions in the DD2 class to take pole for each of the heat races Saturday. Maik Barten (52.901) put the Zanardi kart in a prime position with the fastest lap of the meeting ahead of his 2-speed rival Dominik Kraihamer, who was in the opening group for timed practice, where both drivers actually broke the current lap record. Without the already decided DD2 champ Leeroy Poulter racing at round 4, it would be a close race between this pair, as Kraihamer had beaten Barten at two Dutch events this season, the most recent being at Genk. Running 2nd in the series, Denis Thum was only a fraction off the Austrian’s pace to take P3.
Well, the Dutch driver was unbeatable in all three of his qualifying heats and the only one to win multiple races. Kraihamer would line-up beside Barten to head the field for the pre-final, having won his second race and finishing in the first three in the others. It would be Holland only on row 2, as Danny Brand was consistently in the top 3, while 15-year old Roy Bakker’s victory was enough to give him P4. Thum also took the honours in one race and would start on the third row with Latvia’s Raivo Luhse. It was disappointing end to the championship hopes for Seweryn Szczepanik, who was well-positioned with the possibility of making the 2008 podium prior to the last round. The Polish driver suffered some mechanical problems during Saturday’s program that jeopardised his chances of being able to compete, so withdrew.
A first corner collision of a small group mid-field changed the race order after the start, leaving last year’s Euro number three Dennis Ladefoged stranded, together with Patrick Pearce soon after. Barten was the initial leader until lap 2, when Brand passed him and progressively got away. Within minutes, Kraihamer from P4 had caught Barten and was chasing Brand, as Thum also looked for a way to overtake Barten. Eventually Kraihamer hunted down the Master driver and was leading the race, while Bakker as the quickest on the track was up into 4th.
There were some brilliant passing moves at every opportunity for vital positions throughout the race, as Bakker also diced with Brand and fought hard to keep 3rd. As the two frontrunners lengthened the gap, Thum got into 4th in front of Brand. Local driver Carl Cleirbaut had made up almost 10 positions to be in 6th, ahead of Luhse and the only lady driver in the class Tamsin Germain. [Her sister Tiffany Chittenden competed in the DD2 in 2007 becoming the first female driver on the Euro podium, which was at the Genk round.] With two laps to go, Barten got into the lead, only to have Kraihamer take it back a lap later. In a breathtaking showdown to the flag, it was Barten who claimed the win and Bakker a close 3rd.
The inside line was definitely the best option for the start of the final, as Barten, Bakker, Brand and Kroes soon made it a ‘Dutch only’ race for the podium. On equal championship points for 2nd following the results of the pre-final, Kraihamer and Thum on the outside grids had no success squeezing into the nose-to-tail kart train, finding themselves shuffled back to P9 and 10. Thum lost even more ground again when there was a little contact on T1 in the next laps that caused him to go wide. Supported this round his Kalman Motorsport/Birel team mate and mentor Leeroy Poulter as his mechanic, Ian Young was really pushing to the limit and up to 3rd from p11 in no time. Kraihamer was right behind him by lap 8, as the South African took Bakker for 2nd.
It became a three-way fight between Kraihamer, Brand and Bakker for 3rd after Kroes had slipped out of the first five. He was also overtaken by Christophe Adams, who was his closest opponent for the DD2 Masters title in the series, which Kroes won last year. Barten was the only driver who kept his new set of MOJO tyres until the final and had no real risk of losing his lead unless he made an unforced mistake in the closing stages, therefore going on to take a well-deserved win at the last round. It was an encouraging end to the season for Young in his first year racing the Rotax DD2 to finish 2nd and Kraihamer in 3rd became the vice champion for the 2008 Euro Challenge. Bakker had shaken off the leading Masters driver Brand for a comfortable 4th, while Germain was 6th and the next of the over 32-years competitors to cross the line. Coming form the back row, Pearce drove his Wildkart into 7th ahead of Robert Gilmour and Ladefoged, who also started ROF. Christophe Adams was 10th and took 3rd on the Masters podium for the category, but Dennis Kroes still retained his Championship DD2 Masters title.
Celebrating his 27th birthday over the weekend in Genk, Mikko Laine (54.436) had the best present of all when he topped the timed practice Friday to edge out former Rotax Euro and World number one Cristiano Morgado. The Energy driver from Finland later admitted it was his goal at Genk to reach the podium against experienced competitors like Morgado, Adams, Davis and Bourquard. So, to be on pole was a great start. Having a home track advantage this round, Christophe Adams was the third quickest.
Laine won the first of the heats from Morgado and Bourquard, but the remaining two races Saturday went in favour of Adams. He’d had a non-finish in the opening race so Laine would start on pole position for the pre-final alongside him. Morgado and John van Wyk had been the quickest before qualifying and expected to be prominent come race day, but along with some of the other likely winners – including round 3 hero Radim Feber, found themselves involved in on track altercations that held them back. It was Bourquard who survived to make row 2 behind Laine for Sunday’s first final and Katsuhisa Ikuta P4.
The pre-final saw Laine and Bourquard in 1st and 2nd positions from the start, with van Wyk in 3rd until he lost up to 5 places in the early stages and was replaced by Davis, with Ludovic Breton, Adams and Ikuta tagging on. Feber was sent back to almost last after a collision, hampering his chances to improve on p6 where he started on the grid, as Breton’s race ended on lap 3. It didn’t go all the polesitter’s way, with the French Sodi driver Bourquard in his shadow until he grabbed the lead briefly in lap 6. Setting what would be the best lap of the Masters class this round (54.406), Morgado found his way up from 11th to 6th ahead of van Wyk with 9 laps gone, while Adams soon after passed Davis for 3rd.
The dual between Ikuta and Morgado 2 laps later resulted in the South African eventually moving through for 5th, only to add Davis then Adams as well to his prey. All five of the potential series leaders were bunched together in the battle for places as the 15-lap distance approached. It was Laine once more across the line as the winner, with Bourquard 2nd and a gap of four seconds to Morgado. Adams appeared to slow along the straight, glancing behind to check how far Davis was in arrears. Any attempt to drop a place to 5th for an inside start for the final was dismissed by the current world number one, who was directly behind him. At the start of the meeting there was just half a point separating Feber and Davis at the top of the championship table, so the race wasn’t so good for the Czech driver but 10th place was a good recovery from running practically ROF in the initial laps.
Now that Morgado had the prime position of P3 to keep Laine firmly in his sights for the final, it took him exactly one lap to take over the race lead which he never surrendered. A first corner incident brought Adams back into the race further down the order, while Laine was still the 2nd quickest and continually stretched the difference he had on Bourquard in 3rd over the 17 laps. Mark Thompson was the first competitor to become a spectator, although Feber joined him a short time later after receiving a black flag for poorly judged contact with another kart. As the racing became more intense, Davis in 4th closed in on Bourquard with Ikuta and Breton from the back row fighting for a place in the top 5.
It was lap 12 when Adams made his move on van Wyk to take 5th, as a small group of karts diced for the next positions. Morgado who was setting the best laptimes at this point in the race, led the Finn who was still within a second of him and a comfortable way from Bourquard. Visions of two years ago at the same event were brought to mind as Davis slowed to a halt on the back straight of the final lap. He would again watch as his title was handed to someone else after being so near and leading the championship. It was Morgado’s glory and his second Euro Challenge class victory. Laine was ecstatic with 2nd while Bourquard’s 3rd gave him the vice champion’s trophy for 2008. 4th was Adams ahead of van Wyk, Breton and Georges Popoff in 7th. Three English drivers made up the final positions in the top 10, with Ikuta leading home Milan Mach and Francis Melvin. Davis was classified 15th but took 3rd place overall.
Rotax Grand Finals tickets awarded for 2008 winners.
As part of the prizegiving ceremony for the 2008 championship podium winners in each of the four classes, together with the Junior Rookie of the Year and DD2 Master, the Euro Challenge owners BRP-Rotax once again awarded each of the 14 lucky drivers what’s generally considered the most sort-after prize. Helmut Voglsam of BRP-Rotax presented a personal invitation to race at the prestigious 9th Rotax Grand Finals to be hosted by the famous La Conca circuit in Italy this November, where more than 50 nations from around the World will compete. If the previous years are any indication to go by, the event is something not to be missed and always brings the Olympic spirit to Karting. It’s a well-known fact that the Euro Challenge qualifiers are renowned for putting up a very strong and successful Finals campaign.
The Chassis Make Trophy was also presented at the final round in Genk to the leading manufacturer in each of the Rotax classes. This is calculated on all four events throughout the season to give the best performing chassis make recognition for the outstanding results achieved in the series. Intrepid Kart Technology claimed two classes – Junior Max and Max Masters, while Tonykart won the Senior Max trophy and Birel Motorsport the Rotax DD2 category. Team managers from the relevant race teams prominent in the championship received the prizes on behalf of the winning manufacturers.
The complete championship points table will be available on the official homepage of the Euro Challenge at www.rgmmc.com under “Round 4 – Genk” then go to “Results”. Follow the “Kart Data Timing Live” link to see the on-track results from every session of the event beginning from Friday’s practice.