|With almost nothing separating the front-runners in the closing round of the 2009 Rotax Euro Challenge, the competition couldn’t have been much closer when it came to the final season episode of the championship at the Sologne Karting circuit in France last weekend. It was also the 25th race event since the ‘Euro’ began for organisers and promoters RGMMC Establishment, who are responsible for the continued success of the international series over the past 6 years on behalf of Rotax Max engines manufacturer BRP-Powertrain.|
More recently, the ever-popular Salbris circuit has played host to the opening round of the Euro Challenge coming out of the winter months, but in 2009 was moved to the end of the season. The weather was ideal for the racing, with some warm sunny days and a slight breeze to keep things comfortable for the 130 drivers who came from nearly 30 countries to compete for the coveted titles in all four of the Rotax engine classes. Well, there were both disappointments and surprises along the way, together with the obvious tension that accompanies such a close end to what has been a truly incredible year. The standard of the racing in Rotax doesn’t get much better than this and unfortunately there can only be one winner.
Ed Brand takes the round 4 win in JUNIORS but misses out on the championship by only 3 points
After securing his second pole position [1:02,199] in the 2009 series, Edward Brand (CRG) stamped his authority on the Junior Max field by claiming three wins from three in the qualifying heats, before also taking the pre-final Sunday morning and backing it up with victory in the following final. The British driver racing for HRS Motorsport clocked the best laptime in every session of the event, clearly the one to beat from the beginning of free practice the Wednesday before. However, achieving maximum points at the Salbris round failed to help Brand keep the title from being handed to championship leader Josh Webster (Tonykart), who had been consistent enough to edge out the fellow Englishman by a mere 3 points in the end.
The first four grid positions in the pre-final were the same order as qualifying, with Kay van Kemenade (Intrepid) taking two 2nd and one 3rd place in the heats to share the front row with the polesitter, with round 2 winner Aavo Talvar (Intrepid) on the second row next to the Sosnova round winner Matthew Parry (Kosmic) on P4. Apart from Webster who’d qualified 13th fastest and had one poor result outside the top 5 in the heat races, this line-up were also the ones fighting for the series podium together with Hungarian and Central European Zone champ Ferenc Kancsar (Birel) starting on grid 7.
Brand took the lead ahead of Van Kemenade, but the 13-year old soon lost 2nd place to Parry, although he was the quickest on the track until the leader outshone him in the last lap. Parry made an attempt on lap 4 to look for a way past Brand, but it wasn’t to be, so he had to settle for 2nd followed by the Dutch driver who held over a second gap to Talvar. Russia’s Artem Markelov (Kombikart) was closer to the front-runners early on, having lost valuable ground to finish out of the first 10 and handed a warning along with Petr Bezel (MS Kart) for their questionable driving standard. Van Kemenade’s TKP team-mate Dave Blom made up for some bad luck at the previous round to take 5th across the line ahead of Webster, having his first pre-final result outside the top 2 for the season.
It was a tough final for the juniors, as Brand got the jump to head the field by over a second by the lap 3 while the likes of Parry gave Van Kemenade a gentle nudge wide through turn 2 to be acknowledged by the officials. Webster slotted into 4th seeing Talvar drop to 7th, but the pace-setter by half way, before dicing for P5 with Blom which gave Webster a break in front of them. Markelov received another black & white for pushing Bezel again and not the only one to come under scrutiny, as Van Kemenade pressured Parry as the role reversed in the final stages and he forced the #24 wide to snatch back 2nd position he’d lost on lap 2.
A ten-second penalty was enforced, which saw the Intrepid driver relegated to 11th for his over-eagerness and Parry take 2nd to Brand, who was none-the-wiser about what transpired behind. Luckily, Van Kemenade still had the runs on the board to make the overall series podium for 3rd, while Parry trailed him by 4 points and collected the ‘Rookie of the Year’ honours, therefore joining the top 3 in the championship in being given a personal invitation to the Rotax Grand Finals this December in Egypt. 3rd place was enough to crown Webster the 2009 Junior Max European Champion, with 5th for the season taken by Talvar who was closely hunted by Blom in the race to the chequered flag, where they ended up in P4 and 5. There was a gap of two seconds to Kancsar ahead of Bezel, Markelov, Matija Jurkovic (Intrepid) and Bas De Laat (Maddox) in 10th.
There was naturally mixed emotions for Ed Brand, proving to be unbeatable with a dream run in France, yet so close to earning the 2009 title. “I have to firstly say thank you to HRS and my sponsors Vogel & Noot for all their support this year. We’ve been really fast all week including the heats and found a set-up to win, so I’m pretty happy. It was good racing, although the first heat was tough, but actually the only trouble that I’ve had all weekend. I’m a little disappointed about only being 2nd in the championship, but had a bit of bad luck early in the series… and that’s racing I suppose!”
A Strawberry flavoured 1-2 for the French final as Varley claims the 2009 SENIOR MAX title
It was champagne and strawberries on the Senior Max podium in Salbris, as the UK-based Tonykart team that has been dominant in many ways this season took the honours for the 4th round as well as the European title and runners’-up trophy. The Strawberry Racing duo of Joseph Reilly and Luke Varley crossed the finish line in that order in the final to secure Varley’s championship win and guarantee his team-mate 2nd overall. At least 6 other drivers were still in the running for the chance to have a shot at the title and possibly make the top 3, but as the weekend unfolded the eliminations gave the ‘green’ team the advantage.
In official timed practice Friday, the New Zealander racing for Austria - Josh Hart (Intrepid), made Euro history by becoming the first senior competitor in the 6 years since it began to take three pole positions [1:01,430] in the one season of the championship. However, the Intrepid Force Rotax driver failed to repeat his strong performance from round 3, having to settle for P2 on the pre-final grid following the qualifying heats. Taking pole was the Sosnova edition winner Tom Fawcett (Tonykart), who like Hart, had two wins in the racing Saturday, but a 2nd place as opposed to the NZ driver’s 3rd. Reilly shared the second row with another series podium hopeful Joey van Splunteren (Gillard), shadowed by the Strawberry pairing of James Greenway and Varley; the latter wearing a 10-second start penalty which dropped him back. Absent from the grid were Karol Dabski who was in equal 3rd in points before the event, who failed to come through the second chance race together with Martin Pierce and Jeffrey van Bergeijk, each top 10 drivers without luck.
A somewhat disastrous start to the Senior Max pre-final saw Hart appear cautious going into turn 2, losing a lot of ground and getting caught up with several others who went off the circuit. He retired into the pits, while Mats van den Brand (Intrepid) and Greenway watched their championship hopes disappearing as well. Fawcett’s lead was short-lived, as the RL Racing driver surrendered to Varley and Reilly early in lap 3, but the battle for minor places behind got all the attention between Sandro Lukovic (PCR) who was 2nd to Fawcett at the previous round, David Agerstag (Energy) from start grid 21, Ross Wylie (Alonso) and Van Splunteren. Former Euro Junior Alexandre Bessac (Kosmic) made a comeback for his local round, constantly mixing it with the top 10.
On his new MOJO D2 tyres, Varley had a clear lead of two seconds ahead of his team-mate going into the late stages of the 12-lapper, but race pace-setter Van Splunteren was closing on Fawcett in P3 as the last lap board came out and made his move to pass with just half a lap remaining. With only a few corners left in the race, the English driver forced his way up the inside to resume 3rd; Van Splunteren however fell back to 6th. Fawcett was later penalised and sent back to 18th for unsporting behaviour. So it was Varley 1st then Reilly, Lukovic holding off Agerstag closely followed by Van Splunteren and Wylie, then Bessac. Round 3 stars Guillaume Chaumont (Tonykart) was 8th, with an impressive drive from Australian national champ David Sera (Arrow) who qualified through the repecharge for 9th in front of Swede John Friberg (Intrepid).
The final was packed with anticipation with everything at stake for the potential podium-chasers. Varley managed to lead from the lights until lap 6, when he came under pressure from Reilly who passed him soon after. Lukovic went from 2nd to 8th by lap 5, exiting the circuit when his brakes were failing, so he joined Van den Brand, out after sustaining damage in the opening laps. In a turnaround, Sera found himself back in P25 and second-quickest qualifier Eduardo Moreira (Intrepid) suddenly showed-up in the first 10, with round 1 place-getter Antoine Barthon (Tonykart) on his bumper.
At the half-way point, Wylie grabbed 3rd from Van Splunteren ahead of Bessac, while Hart made his presence felt when he clocked the quickest lap carving up the field in P12 from last on the grid. He got faster and caught Fawcett in 9th, as Varley glanced over his shoulder chasing Reilly across the line for the last time. The ’09 series was in the bag for the 18-year old with a 10-point advantage, Reilly securing the vice champion’s title as he took the chequered flag for the win with a gap to Wylie 3rd and Van Splunteren 4th, who would edge out Hart by four points for 3rd in the championship. One-tenth separated Bessac from Agerstag in 6th to Chaumont, Moreira, Fawcett and Hart 10th. Greenway and Barthon finished just behind Hart but were on equal points for the series, with the Frenchman taking 5th on a count back.
It was Reilly’s second win for the season at the Euro and having won the Rotax Winter Cup back in February, he’s hoping to add yet another title to his list of credentials. “The weekend was great! I came into this round 2nd in the championship to Luke hoping to just qualify for the Grand Finals in Egypt and didn’t really expect to be standing on the top step today. Luke’s done a great job and it’s been good driving with him this year. It’s great to see him win and also Josh Webster in Juniors, and I’m sorry about the other guys in the team who didn’t have the so much success. I especially have to thank the team at Strawberry – Scaff, Dodge, Warwick and Dave for all their help this year, my mum and dad for supporting me, Pacha London for their sponsorship and help, plus Ogden Motorsport. I’ve enjoyed racing this year at the Euro – it’s been good!”
Victory realised for local hero Jerome Bourquard in ROTAX MAX MASTERS at Sologne Karting
The petite Frenchman who has also been the Rotax Grand Finals vice champ in recent years, secured his Masters win convincingly for 2009 in the pre-final Sunday, when he strategically ran with his new tyres to guarantee maximum points that he desperately needed. There was no doubt at all that Jerome Bourquard (Tonykart) was on a mission, as he also outdrove his personal qualifying time which took pole, to set the best lap [1:02,308] of the class for the weekend in the race and fend off a healthy challenge from Colin Davis (Redspeed), the ’08 Euro runner-up and former World number 1 who beat him to the coveted title.
Taking two wins to Bourquard’s single one in the qualifying heats, Davis was the pace-setter overall Saturday and started on P1 for the pre-final next to the #402 kart. Row two consisted of Goncalo Gaivao (CRG) alongside Georges Popoff (Tonykart) with Christophe Adams (Birel) and Rotax winter Cup winner Rui Vieira (Intrepid). This was Davis’ only race at the Euro this year, but he wasn’t by any means out of form considering. The Briton led from the start, followed by Gaivao initially, until Bourquard moved through for 2nd and then pounced on his old sparring partner in the lead. They swapped places several times as the spectators were treated to a great battle for the win. In the meantime, Gaivao and Adams were having their own race, but the Portuguese driver was too good and held Adams out for 3rd across the line.
As Bourquard took his place on the start grid for the Max Masters final, he admitted he was very happy that the championship was realistically his, but was looking forward to the last race to enjoy what’s been a competitive season, even as the smallest class in the series. Davis, however, was not prepared to hand the Salbris event over to the new champ so easily. He assumed the race lead on lap 2 before having to cover his line to protect himself from Gaivao, who was up to 2nd the next lap. Vieira lost P4 to Nuno Santos (CRG) and immediately began to drop out of play due to damage from contact with Loures on lap 1. Pretty soon Gaivao came under fire from Bourquard on a charge and overtook the Sportkart driver, also passed the same lap by his team-mate Santos. The two diced for 3rd on lap 4 as Gaivao snatched it back and the Kart Data live timing showed him as the fastest on the circuit, matching Bourquard’s best lap in the race so far. Regaining his composure from an outside row start, Adams shuffled up to 5th then 4th before they reached the mid-way point in the 14-lapper. Shortly after, Bourquard took the lead only for Davis to take it back the following lap, although he was challenged.
The first five were literally glued together as the race unfolded. With 4 laps remaining, Bourquard made it stick, leading the pack for the downhill run as Gaivao then moved into 2nd. With just two to go, Adams tried to take Davis from the podium equation but he held a tight line through the right-left section at the restaurant end of the Sologne track to maintain P3. At the finish, Bourquard took a comfortable win from Gaivao, who was unhappy to find he would be excluded after scrutineering due to technical non-conformity. 3rd over the line was Davis, who suffered a 3 second penalty for crossing the white line at the start therefore leaving him 4th behind Santos, so Adams was awarded 2nd and as a result of Gaivao’s disqualification, was then the Masters vice champion. 5th on the day went to Popoff, then Malvin Francis (Kosmic), David Le Manac H (Tonykart), Bonze Billings (Kosmic) and Russian Maksim Shaposhnikov (Tonykart). Not a good end to the series for Vieira or Loures who ended up 10th and 11th respectively, but Loures also replaced his fellow countryman who’d been excluded, to be presented with the Rotax ticket to the Grand Finals for finishing 3rd in the championship. He and Santos had the same points, with Vieira just one point in arrears for 5th overall.
Always playing a game of strategy, Jerome Bourquard finally secured his first European Masters title and couldn’t be happier! “I’m very happy because I was able to win the championship after I had a good pre-final, which was all that I needed for the points. I used my new tyres to have the best chance and then was very lucky to win the pre-final as well. I was under no stress in the final knowing that I had already won the championship and just wanted to enjoy the racing. At the Grand Finals in Egypt, my goal will be to qualify if I can for the final [in the Max class].”
Yet another South African claims the ROTAX DD2 Euro title as Ralph Odendaal makes it his own
Following in the footsteps of the 2008 World and European number 1 in the Rotax DD2 class, Leroy Poulter, (who coincidentally presented the trophies at the prizegiving), Ralph Odendaal (Intrepid) kept the South African flag flying in the 2-speed gearbox class to take the series win. It was an interesting battle in the DD2 for the title though with former French national champion Damien Vuillaume (CRG) setting the pace from open practice through to qualifying and proving he was practically untouchable in every race over the weekend. Odendaal was the fastest on the track in the qualifying heats and both finals, but neither of these drivers actually won the Salbris round. Maik Barten (Maddox) was the championship leader, yet ended up on equal points with Denis Thum (Wildkart) to take 3rd overall. A controversial end to the amazingly close competition didn’t in effect change the series result, with several points determining the eventual winner.
Vuillaume topped the time sheets in qualifying by 0.015 seconds to Odendaal ahead of Thum and Barten. Apart from the polesitter winning all three of the heat races, the rest of Saturday’s results were a mixed bag with Barten strengthening his chances of sealing the title by ranking P2 for the pre-final. Setting a quicker lap in the first heat than the best recorded in qualifying, Odendaal was looking confident and joined Tiago Ribeiro (Intrepid) on row 2, while Daniele Maccini (VRK) who’d featured on the podium at round 1 in Spain, made up the third row with Slovenia’s Matic Gorisek (Intrepid).
It was a battle of the titans once the flag dropped in the pre-final, with Vuillaume and Odendaal leaving the field in their wake to fight it out for positions. Barten lost 3rd to Thum on lap 2 and slid to 7th by lap 7 of 12. The leaders stretched the gap to almost three seconds, as Odendaal’s laptimes continued to improve until he nearly broke the one-minute mark, clocking what would be the best time of the meeting [1:00,124] with just two laps to go. Thum also pushed the limit to extend his position in 3rd to be 2.6 seconds over Ribeiro who was dicing for 4th with Gorisek, managing to keep Dennis Ladefoged (Spirit) and Barten behind in the process. Prior to the last lap being signalled, Vuillaume checked the distance his rival had made up and drove a faultless lap to ensure Odendaal had no opportunity to pass him before the chequered flag.
A sunshine-drenched DD2 final kept the action coming, as the class maintained its reputation for delivering some of the best racing this season at the Euro Challenge. With Thum on the inside, he slotted into P2 behind Vuillaume who got the jump at the start. It was an absolute shocker for series leader Barten as he found himself practically rear of field with Ribeiro also way down in 20th. Falling to 5th, Odendaal was able to make up another two spots within a lap. Ian Young (Birel) came into the picture soon after overtaking Christophe Adams (Birel) for 4th and followed directly after by Gorisek, as Patrick Pearce (PCR) set the best lap joining the group of 7 karts nose-to-tail who were hunting the leading three. The Dane Ladefoged stole P5 while Barten on new tyres set the pace to already be up to 12th at half-race distance.
Lap 10 and Thum took the lead before Odendaal overtook him and relegated Vuillaume to 3rd. As they approached the second corner once more, Thum made his move up the inside for 1st with Vuillaume on his bumper and momentarily too close, which caused the Wildkart to drive wide and drop to 3rd. Odendaal tried to regain his lead unsuccessfully, while Young closes on Thum a few kart lengths behind. One lap to go and Odendaal was the fastest on the circuit, but unable to beat Vuillaume for the win ahead of a frustrated Thum. The officials slapped a penalty of 10 seconds on the Frenchman for his error in not giving Thum more space on lap 11, so he was therefore classified 9th, while Odendaal won the championship battle but got a starting infringement which left him 11th in the race.
The win went to Thum, who finished on equal points with Barten, but was crowned the vice champ on better results. 4th overall for 2009 was a disappointed Vuillaume, who lost on the day but retained his place on the points table, which was well-deserved after having an unfortunate year. Young was surprised to find himself 2nd on the podium amidst all the drama, as was Pearce in 3rd, then Ladefoged ended up 4th and rounded out the top 5 for the series. With an impressive drive to 5th in the final, Barten led DD2 Masters winner for the Salbris round Adams, ahead of former Hungarian Max champion Imre Birizdo (Birel) in 7th and the first of the only two sisters competing at the Euro, Tiff Chittenden. She was one of the quickest in the race, but had to work her way through from down the order after a challenging beginning to the weekend. In 10th, a speechless Danny Brand (Maddox) clinched the 2009 DD2 Masters title and the invitation to compete at the Rotax Grand Finals in Sharm el Sheikh in December.
One step higher than 2008, Denis Thum has been fast since the year began. “At the beginning it was hard and after four laps the chassis began to come on. I ran wide when Damien Vuillaume gave me a push going through turn 2 trying to pass Ralph, but I was still happy to be so fast. This is my first win at the Euro and it has given me 2nd place in the championship. Last week I won the German DD2 Championship so this is another great result for me. I need to thank Wildkart Germany, my dad and my fans who support me.”
ROTAX DD2 Masters
Christophe Adams had an excellent end to his season to finish one place outside the top 5 in the DD2 class at the French round and 2nd overall in the championship for the DD2 Masters. “It was a good surprise! I’m very lucky because I wasn’t fast enough to begin with. I finished 6th overall in the final which is very good for me and the team to win the DD2 Masters class today. It wasn’t by chance, but by being fast on the Birel chassis. The choice we made for the new tyres for the final was perfect. A top 10 is very good. Thank you to GKS and the Lemmens family for my new improved engine which is improved and very good.” The Belgian was the only driver racing in two classes at Salbris, also making both podiums in the Max Masters category.