|STORMY START TO THE EURO CHALLENGE DOESN’T DAMPEN THE COMPETITION|
Round 1 of the Rotax Euro Challenge for 2010 returned to the popular “drivers’” circuit of Sologne Karting, Salbris, France last weekend where the weather played a very significant role in the results, but failed to affect the spirit of the highly competitive racing.
At almost 1.5km in length, the rather technical track that’s been a selected venue for the series on a handful of occasions now played host once again for 180 competitors coming from five continents of the globe including several new nations being represented in 31.
Friday’s official timed practice was definitely determined by the ever-changing conditions that caught many drivers out. However, the heavy rain mixed with a little ice at one time didn’t stop the program going ahead. In both the Senior and Junior Max classes, the field was divided into several groups due to the large number of starters. Each session was run under varying track conditions which saw some drivers miss their qualifying chance when they failed to clear parc fermč in sufficient time while attempting to make some last minute changes.
Joey van Splunteren was an amazing 1.452 seconds ahead of his closest rival in the second senior qualifying session with a lap of 1:16.811. The Dutch driver took pole position amidst assorted results following the 101% rule being enforced because of the difference in laptimes due to the inclement weather. Second best lap of the category went to group 3 leader Niek Vos with senior rookie Aavo Talvar fastest in group 1, so this was the top 3 classification.
From the 22 qualifying heats run Saturday, ten were Senior Max races to accommodate the 84-kart field. Overall, six drivers took the honours, but it was Niek Vos who secured pole for the pre-final with three victories ahead of fellow countrymen Joey van Splunteren and Mats van den Brand with two a piece. The other winners were Tom Fawcett, Ross Wylie and Roy Curfs.
With light rain falling Sunday morning following the second chance race and Mojo Cup for the remainder of the non-qualified drivers, the pre-final saw the polesitter Niek Vos go off track in the opening lap after claiming the early lead, rejoining way back in P30. Although the fastest senior qualifier Joey van Splunteren snatched the first position, it was former European junior title holder Mats van den Brand who led the field from lap 2 for the duration of the race. Van Splunteren was unable to regain the lead and took 2nd in front of Van den Brand’s team mate Tom Fawcett. Another English driver Ross Wylie was 4th ahead of a fabulous battle for 5th won by race pace-setter Roy Curfs that intensified from the moment the lights went green.
The final in Senior Max was another close one, although Van den Brand kept a strong hold on the lead from the beginning. Behind him Fawcett came under pressure from Van Splunteren at half-race distance, until a slight error soon after from the polesitter almost saw Fawcett take over the lead on lap 9, but he stayed 2nd as the Strawberry Racing pairing appeared to share a mutual understanding going through turn 2. From then on, there was no change to the race order, although Fawcett kept his team mate honest. Wylie had an unsuccessful shot at 3rd in the latter stages, pushing van Splunteren to his limit right to the chequered flag, but it was all for nothing when Wylie was excluded from the results by the officials for shortcutting the track during the formation lap; a harsh blow for the young Brit.
A disappointed Rasmus Wendelboe retired with a mechanical problem 6 laps from the end after he’d earlier surrendered 5th to class rookie Ferenc Kancsar when the 15-year old came from row 7 passing Russia’s Artem Markelov for 6th by lap 3. A fantastic drive by Jeffrey van Bergeijk from P23 resulted in him eventually claiming 5th place from the Hungarian driver with 4 to go, almost outdone by Michael Cool who’d made up 21 spots to be 6th just two laps from the finish, while setting the best time of the race. Kancsar had to be content with 7th and a three-second gap to Jonathon Knevels and Morten Nomme, with Markelov 10th. With the late adjustment made to the final standings following the penalty given to Wylie, each of the place-getters from Van Bergeijk [now 4th] and onwards, moved up one position. Germany’s Steven Hees then finished up 10th. Roy Curfs unfortunately failed to get underway from the start grid, so his podium hopes diminished after his efforts to be 5th in the pre-final. It was Van den Brand’s day to lead the series from round 1.
Mats van den Brand – “The start was not so good, but thanks to my team mate Tom Fawcett pushing me over the start line, we ended up with a legendary ‘one-two’ finish. I made a little bit of a mistake down the straight so he could pass me there, but we didn’t do anything silly so that’s the important thing. We’re both from Strawberry Racing and I think we did a nice job. I scored the most points that I could for the championship and it’s really a good beginning to the year.”
In official timed practice Friday, it was Joel Affolter who posted a 1:18.685 for his first pole while making his Euro debut to follow in the footsteps of his Senior Max countryman. The current Dutch junior champ was 2-tenths ahead of team mate Henry Hunter while third quickest Kevin Gubbels topped the timesheets in the second group of juniors. The first session was luckier than the following one, as the rain continued to make conditions more difficult.
The 2009 Junior Max World number one Ukyo Sasahara sealed the win in two of his qualifying heats Saturday and set the fastest lap in all three. Hunter also won two of the qualifiers, being quickest in one while Gubbels had a victory plus the best lap in two races. The other heat of six was Jack Barlow’s for the taking, recently 2nd to Sasahara at the Rotax Winter Cup in Spain.
It was Henry Hunter on pole for the pre-final Sunday lining up in the wet beside the 13-year old Japanese driver, with Gubbels and Affolter making up row 2. The lead was assumed by Gubbels chased by Affolter and Tristan Vildas from P5. Sasahara slipped to 7th and found himself spinning out of contention before the end of lap 1, then rejoining towards the back of the field. German RMC winner Mike Halder kept his momentum to slot into 5th and narrow the gap to Hunter, who was overtaken by pace-setter Vildas for 3rd. It was an action-packed race, as is normally the case in the junior finals, with very little separating so many drivers. However, the results reflected an anxious start that relegated Gubbels from 1st to 2nd place and Hunter from P4 to 5th after they were handed a three second penalty for leaving the start-straight corridor before the race began. Affolter claimed the win amidst the decision.
The junior final went terribly wrong for Gubbels off the front row, falling to the back on the opening lap as did Barlow from the top 10. This left Affolter unleashed while the battle began for minor placings behind him between Jack Aitken who’d jumped straight into 2nd, Hunter losing out for 3rd on lap 2 to the pace-man once again Vildas and Petr Bezel finding 6 positions to hold 5th. It was to Affolter’s advantage that the fight for 2nd allowed his lead to strengthen, as Hunter made a comeback for P3 and diced with Vildas for several laps before being shown the driving standards flag by the officials halfway through the race.
With 3 laps to go, Vildas was on a mission and fastest on the circuit as he claimed P2, which led to a brilliant fight for the podium unfolding between Hunter and Aitken as they were cheered on. In the closing moments, Vildas pounced on Affolter and stole the lead, only for him to hit back for a showdown coming out of the final corner. Vildas rounded him up on the outside and crossed the beam for the honours in his debut European event. It was perfect! Affolter’s team mate took 3rd behind him, closely followed by Aitken, Nathan Harrison and Petr Bezel. 7th went to a relieved James Singleton with a big effort having come through the second chance race to start on the last row for the pre-final. From the middle order grids, Dave Blom was 8th then Fazio Franssen and Barlow salvaging 10th. Although he’d finished 8th, Sasahara lost 5 seconds with a driving penalty that put him back to 11th.
Tristan Vildas – “I never thought about winning, but came to the Euro Challenge for the first time aiming for a trophy so just gave 101% and did my best. When we came out of the corner side by side after I’d passed Joel [Affolter], I thought I’d lost it… but I managed to hang on for the win. I raced at the Rotax Winter Cup in Campillos and know now that the racing is very different from at home in Estonia; it’s much harder. At the Euro the racing’s great; it’s a good competition. Thanks go to my father, my team ‘Aix Racing’ plus my mechanics and everyone else in Estonia supporting me.”
Former Euro polesitter Mikko Laine repeated his past performance to take the limelight from the 2010 Rotax Winter Cup Max Masters Champ Florent Lambert with a time of 1:18.884 in the final lap of the 15-minute qualifying session. The 28-year old was just over 0.3 seconds faster than the English (French-born) driver who looked pretty-much certain to be on grid 1 for the heats, who spun off-track momentarily as the clock wound down. However, Lambert still upstaged local Frederic Ostier with the third best time.
The polesitter failed to clinch a single qualifying heat, even though he was the fastest in the first race Saturday. Instead, it was Rui Vieira, Lambert and Ostier who took the race victories. The Finish driver proved to be too consistent however, with two 2nd places and a 3rd handing Laine pole position for Sunday’s pre-final alongside Lambert. Ostier and Christophe Adams made up row 2 for a very wet race in somewhat slippery conditions before lunch.
By turn 2, Lambert had taken the pre-final lead from Laine as the pressure was on for supremacy. Vieira from grid 5 spun on the first lap, which left Ostier chasing the frontrunners. There was a gap to Adams in 4th until he picked up the pace in an attempt to take P3 and circulating quickest. As the laps got away, Laine made his move for the lead and succeeded. Soon after Lambert in 2nd lost control through the fast chicane where he had done also while leading a heat the day before. With two laps to go, it was Ostier who grabbed the lead, only to find he had a fight on his hands with Laine to the end of the final lap. Ostier took the chequered flag just ahead of Laine shadowed by Adams, then Lambert and Pascal Bielatowicz in 5th.
What was a blinder of a start promoted Vieira into first after the lights changed, short-lived though as Laine made the race his own and remained unchallenged for the entire 15 laps. Lambert then led Ostier before Adams overtook for P4. Following a three-second start penalty, disaster struck for Vieira sitting in 2nd by lap 3 as he fell to the back of the field after briefly leaving the circuit, retiring into the pits a few laps later. Lambert moved up to replace the Portuguese driver and as the track dried, Laine extended his lead while Adams closed the gap in 3rd.
Three laps remaining and Lambert loses P2 to the current World Masters champ as they swapped places in what became a heated battle until the arch rivals went neck-to-neck into the last corner. Adams was unable to hold his race line as the pair made contact leaving Lambert to come out in front, only to be shown the driving standards flag on the next lap. The benefit belonged to Laine as he won comfortably by 8.5 seconds following a 5-second penalty that dropped Lambert to 3rd and gave Adams the runner’s up points. Ostier had to settle for 4th ahead of Bielatowicz, Alain Guesdon and Italian Masters’ competitor Georges Popoff of Italy. David Le Manach was the 4th French driver home taking P8 to Maxim Shaposhnikov and Anton Chupinin rounding out the top 10.
Mikko Laine – “Well, it certainly wasn’t easy at all to stay faster than the other quick drivers. I think there was a lot more water in the track in the pre-final and it was more difficult to follow then. In the final, I was quite lucky to stay ahead of them so it was much easier to see. We tried a few things in the heats Saturday and managed to make a set-up in the end for the final which worked really well for the Parolin chassis, so I’m happy for the result. I actually didn’t even know how big the gap was to the group behind me, so I tried to concentrate on what I was doing and drive as fast as I could.”
Raivo Luhse with a 1:16.827 flew the Latvian flag high when he edged out seasoned Masters’ driver Christophe Adams in a shuffled DD2 qualifying session where some surprising results had many of the expected front-runners wondering what went wrong. Third fastest was 18-year old Danish Senior Max champion Andreas Jenson racing his first ever Rotax DD2 meeting.
With two wins from three of the qualifying heats Saturday, the 2-speed newcomer sealed pole position for the full pre-final grid. Jensen was joined by Adams on the front row who finished 3rd in each race, with former British DD2 champ Tiffany Chittenden continuing her strong showing amongst the men to rank 3rd after the heats sharing row 2 with Tobias Widmer. The third race for the DD2 category was won by Luhse, who also had a 2nd place, but an ordinary result after his side-pod became dislodged while starting on pole changed it all.
Once again, the rain played havoc as the pre-final got underway with several karts spinning at the start and losing valuable places, while others struggled to stay on track. Adams dominated the duration of the race hunted by Jensen narrowing the gap towards the end, while one of last season’s podium place-getters at Salbris, Patrick Pearce, made an impression on his return to the Euro cruising from grid 11 to 3rd with one of the fastest laptimes of the race. It was at the mercy of an “in form” Dennis Kroes that the Englishman claimed a top 3, although the experienced Master came under fire as well from Luhse to give up 4th as they approached the finish line.
The Rotax DD2 was the last of the finals to bring the round 1 race program to another exciting end to a great week’s racing. With the sunshine peaking through the clouds, Patrick Pearce launched his attack on Adams from the moment the race begun, blocking out Jensen starting on the outside row. By lap 4, Adams was relegated to 3rd by Jensen, who ran wide allowing the Belgian to be reinstated into 2nd place. The Dutch double of Kroes and Barten had their own private dice that saw Kroes wave Barten through at the beginning of Lap 5 as they continued to dice. A small mistake by Pearce, conscious of revealing the race lines, lost his lead to Jensen and gave Adams 2nd going into lap 7, before trying to regain P2 later.
Barten was safe in 4th as Chittenden got involved in the well-matched dual for 5th that went down to the wire between Kroes and Luhse, but she wore the driving standards flag for putting Luhse in his place with 4 laps to go. Jensen out in front kept nearly one second as a buffer to Adams who set the best laptime of the final, then came Pearce on P3 with a clear gap to 4th. Kroes won his way into the top 5 followed by Chittenden, Luhse and fellow Latvian Martins Lapins. Position 9 belonged to 16-year old Maxi Fleischmann in his second season of DD2 leading the recent Rotax Winter Cup winner Damien Vuillaume for the closing laps until Giel Bronder made 10th place his own.
Andreas Jensen – “It was difficult at the start of the final because of the conditions. The track was almost dry in some of the corners and I don’t think my tyres were as warm as Patrick Pearce in the lead, but we had a good strategy and the kart was working perfectly. Behind me I knew that Christophe Adams was fast and very consistent, but I just pushed on. I have to admit that I didn’t expect to come into the championship and take first place… but I was hoping to!”
The ROTAX DD2 MASTERS category running within the 2-speed Euro class was won by the man of the moment Christophe Adams, making his third appearance on the podium for the weekend in France. 2nd place went to former World number one in the DD2 Masters Dennis Kroes, with one of the 2009 championship leading drivers Carl Cleirbaut in 3rd.
Christophe Adams – “Well, I’m very happy about the results to be on the podium to collect three trophies this weekend. I very much enjoyed the racing here at Salbris where it really was not so hard driving two classes because of the rain today. My goal for this season is to race at the Rotax Grand Finals and be part of the event, so hopefully I can win my third World title.”
Mr. Roland Geidel of RGMMC Establishment, as organizers and promoters, took the opportunity following the prizegiving ceremony to thank all the drivers and teams who competed at the opening round of the 2010 ‘Euro’ making it yet another successful international event on the RGMMC calendar. The ProKart Raceland circuit at Wackersdorf in Germany is now looking forward to welcoming back the Rotax series from May 26-30.
Race results can be found on the official RGMMC homepage at www.rgmmc.com by following the link to RGMMC Live Timing and then “Download Results”.
The Championship points standings following the first round are also at www.rgmmc.com - “2010 Race 1- Rotax Euro Challenge (F)”.
Why not check out some great interviews from the Euro Challenge online plus highlights from the qualifying and racing at RGMMC-TV!
RESULTS RMEC Round 1 – Sologne Karting, Salbris, FRANCE
Rotax Senior Max
1 – Mats van den Brand The Netherlands Tonykart Strawberry Racing
2 – Tom Fawcett Great Britain Tonykart Strawberry Racing
3 – Joey van Splunteren The Netherlands Gillard DFK
Rotax Junior Max
1 – Tristan Vildas Estonia Kosmic Aix Racing
2 – Joel Affolter The Netherlands Tonykart Strawberry Racing
3 – Henry Hunter Great Britain Tonykart Strawberry Racing
Rotax Max Masters
1 – Mikko Laine Finland Parolin M Kart Team
2 – Christophe Adams Belgium Birel GKS
3 – Florent Lambert Great Britain Tonykart Tatum Racing
1 – Andreas Jensen Denmark FirstKart FirstKart s.r.l.
2 – Christophe Adams Belgium Birel GKS
3 – Patrick Pearce Great Britain Maddox VZ Racing
Rotax DD2 Masters
1 – Christophe Adams Belgium Birel GKS
2 – Dennis Kroes The Netherlands Tonykart Team Kroes
3 – Carl Cleirbaut Belgium Maddox VZ Racing
RGMMC 2010 RACE CALENDAR
2010 ROTAX Euro Challenge*
May 26 – 30 Wackersdorf, GERMANY
July 14 – 18 Pachfurth, AUSTRIA
September 1 – 5 Genk, BELGIUM
2010 ROTAX INTERNATIONAL OPEN*
October 27 – 31 Zuera International Circuit - Zuera, SPAIN
* The above dates include the days allocated for free practice, official timed practice, qualifying heats and finals.
More information regarding any of the RGMMC events is available at www.rgmmc.com