|The fourth and final round of the 2010 Rotax Max Euro Challenge turned out to be an absolute thriller at the Karting Genk circuit in Belgium last weekend, where all five of the Rotax class champions in the series were only decided on Sunday.|
In yet another epic conclusion to the international event that was the 30th edition on the RGMMC Rotax event calendar since the „Euro‟ began seven years ago, 28 countries were represented by the 157 competitors at Genk and as was the case in the previous season, the finals were not only great racing, but also saw the crowning of some new European title holders. In addition to this, 11 drivers from the championship were awarded a personal invitation to compete at the 2010 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in La Conca, Italy this November as part of their prizes in the overall standings.
This was the fifth time that the impressive Karting Genk complex has hosted the Rotax Euro Challenge, each time being the final round of the series and guaranteed to be nothing less than exciting! The 1,360 metre layout maintained its lasting reputation as one of Europe‟s best for challenging the drivers who are not so familiar with its long, fast straights and hard-braking or slightly extended corners that force a different driving line to what is often expected. With perfect weather for karting, the spectators came out to enjoy the sunshine, action-packed racing and welcoming hospitality on offer which was also enhanced by the new viewing grandstand at the front of the restaurant overlooking the entire track.
Once again for the second round in succession, it was the „Pole on pole‟ as Karol Dabski (54.614) of Uniq Racing topped the time sheets in the opening qualifying session in Senior Max. Now supported by the Hungarian Birel team, Kalman Motorsport, the 18-year old claimed they had overcome some chassis set-up hurdles in the practice days prior to find the perfect package when it came to Friday‟s official timed practice, edging out the Tonykart duo of Lewis Plato and Antoine Barthon also in the same group. There were some surprises however, as a number of the season frontrunners, including Tom Fawcett who suffered from electrical problems, failed to post a competitive lap.
Winning all three of his qualifying heats, former Euro Junior title holder Mats van den Brand claimed pole position for the pre-final Sunday ahead of Plato, who was lining up for his first 2010 Euro final having taken two victories in Saturday‟s racing. Shaun Slavin was another of the Brits who was quick and won the remaining heat, but his fellow countrymen would start closer to the front; Sean Babington had the better points to secure P3 in the 66-kart field for a row 2 grid in the pre-final alongside last year‟s Euro Challenge Junior vice champ Ed Brand. Fawcett, Niek Vos and Morten Nomme all running in the top 10 in the series, along with a list of high achievers in the Max category, found themselves facing the second chance eliminator the next morning. Unfortunately, only six would qualify through to the finals later in the day.
It was a fabulous pre-final that saw the lead shared between a handful of drivers after Van den Brand initially took charge, losing out to Babington on lap 3 and then gaining it back before Plato appeared to have it wrapped up, spoiled however by a last moment scuffle three turns from the chequered flag that promoted Ed Brand as the victor. Fastest lap went to Babington who crossed the line in 2nd while Plato and Van den Brand fought for 3rd and 4th close behind. 5th placed Morgan Riche renewed his hopes after setting the quickest time in the second of the Senior qualifying sessions, only to have a technical penalty enforced that sent him to the back of the heat races. Coming through from the second chance race, Fawcett and Nomme finished inside the first 10, although championship leader Joey van Splunteren had passed his closest rival Fawcett for P7 with 4 laps to go, which was enough to make the 2010 European title his own.
The new Max champion considered missing the last race on the program having won the series already, but the Dutch PDB driver racing for DFK of Belgium decided to race in any case. Within three laps of the final, Van Splunteren retired after an altercation with another kart. Barthon was forced wide in turn 2 and would be joined by Dabski before the race was over in being a couple of the unlucky guys over the weekend that were possibly victims of somewhat questionable driving. In the meantime, pacesetter Van den Brand stole Ed Brand‟s lead by lap 3 as the dicing for positions resumed.
It was the leader‟s team mate James Greenway who would join the battle for a podium finish with Brand, Babington, Plato and Dabski. Sometimes, three-wide down the back straight, it was non-stop pressure until the end while the racing further back also left no room for error, with very little separating the large group chasing the front-runners. The numerous overtaking opportunities at Genk were being exploited. It was the Dan Holland entry, Babington, leading the way from lap 6 as the intensity heightened, seeing Brand drop back to 5th as his team-mate Dabski made 2nd for a Strawberry Racing sandwich between them. Greenway slipped into 2nd soon after, but eventually with just one lap remaining, Van den Brand attempted a pass on Dabski that sent the Polish driver spinning off, rejoining downfield. The immediate benefit went to Brand moving up to 3rd together with the vice champion‟s title for 2010.
In his first Senior Max race, Babington had an extremely satisfying win at his Euro Challenge debut while Greenway in 2nd ended up 5th in the championship, only 3 points behind Van den Brand in P4, who was 3rd overall in the series. A great drive from grid 16 also contesting his first Euro final saw Danish driver Kasper Jensen take 5th at Genk just in front of Plato and Riche. Luke Haynes and Ryan Singleton rounded out the six British drivers in the first ten, taking 8th and 9th, while David Agerstig of Sweden made up the top 10 ahead of Dabski. Jordy Koullen looked good for a top 10 finish coming up from row 13 in the final, but a start penalty of 3 seconds left him back in 15th behind Alexandre Finkelstein. Fawcett‟s p16 ahead of Vos was insufficient by a mere one point to match Van den Brand, resulting in a disappointing 4th in the championship after he was tipped as the one to take Van Splunteren‟s glory, if anyone was able to at the last round.
Sean Babington – “We came out here hoping for a top 10. I was quick in practice, had a good qualifying for 4th with some tough heat racing… there’s loads of good drivers out there! The pre-final was a hard start, but I kept on the inside for 2nd on the first lap and then led most of the way to finish 2nd after almost losing a place. For my first senior race and first time at the Euro – I’m very happy! Thanks to my dad, Ogden Motorsport for doing some good engines for me and Dan Holland Racing Team for their help. Now, we’re already looking for a budget for the Euro Challenge next season.”
The quickest junior in the 47-driver line-up at the Belgium round was Joel Affolter (55.262) who finally secured P1 in qualifying Friday after clocking the best lap of the follow-on session that was shared amongst a few others in the early stages. It was the second pole position of the 2010 Euro Challenge season for last year‟s Dutch Junior Max Champion, who was looking to outdrive his nearest opponent Dave Blom, fast from the beginning of unofficial practice and had recently snatched another title off Affolter by just a point at the very same circuit. Round 3 polesitter Jack Aitken was 3rd fastest, while the first group was headed by Matthew Solomon all the way from Hong Kong, (classified P8 overall on combined times) noticeably assisted over the weekend by a local well known former karting champ Carlo Van Dam.
Well, it was the pocket rocket from the Netherlands, Dave Blom, who won two of his qualifying heats to be on pole for the pre-final and on equal points with Aitken who had one win and two better race results Saturday. He started alongside Blom while Affolter with one victory as well was on grid 3 alongside Erik Johansson. Reigning world number Ukyo Sasahara also took the honours in his third heat, but a start penalty meant he was ranked P5 next to round 1 winner Tristan Viidas. Series leader Jack Barlow was 1st as well in one heat, let down by one poor finish that saw him 12th overall.
Blom took the early pre-final lead as five karts tangled on T2, then Johansson was shown the driving standards flag as top 10 driver Kevin Gubbels found himself sidelined on lap 2. Petr Bezel who was amongst the top point-scorers coming into the event retired as well in the opening stages, having qualified through the second chance race. Appearing to slow at the start, James Singleton who was also in with a chance of making the championship podium fell further down the order after receiving a 3-second penalty for leaving the grid corridor. At the front the first six drivers pulled a slight gap, with Affolter assuming the lead on lap 3 followed closely by Sasahara, Nathan Harrison, Blom and Stefan Locsmandi. Aitken in 6th picked off the minor places to reach 3rd as the laps unfolded, fighting with the race pace-setter Johansson while the group that had grown to nine proceeded to swap places until the very last lap. It was Affolter by 0.4 seconds across the line ahead of Blom. Harrison was 4th and Sasahara 5th. Solomon had fallen outside the top 10, which Alexander Weiss claimed and Philip Morin from the repecharge was in fact faster than the leaders, to finish well in P12.
The final was definitely non-stop action for the race fans, as the field shuffled incredibly over the course of 14 laps. A spin in the warm-up lap saw Blom pushing through the grid to regain his front row position, Affolter holding the lead until Blom overtook him on the next lap, followed by a challenge from Aitken to take 1st, which left Blom 4th behind Harrison. Coming from row 5, Jordi van Moorsel joined in the battle for P6 with Viidas and Barlow, just ahead of Pedro Faria and Locsmandi, as the first 10 stayed close together. Sasahara looked for a pass on Blom through the right-hander coming onto the back straight, unable to get by and losing some ground. Then with only four laps of 14 remaining, the Japanese driver tried once more, making a somewhat anxious move in his frustration which ended Blom‟s race and left the #56 kart with a 10-second penalty for his over eager attempt therefore dropping from 3rd to 6th overall in the 2010 series.
With the chequered flag in sight, the first six drivers got into a typical “all or nothing” dice with less than half a lap to go. In a nail-biting finish, Aitken managed to take the win and the vice champion‟s title for Protrain Racing with Harrison just 0.059 seconds behind, then Viidas and Van Moorsel 4th. Strawberry Racing team mates Affolter and Barlow had a small coming together amidst the showdown, with Affolter 5th to become the new junior Euro champion, while Barlow took 6th across the line to miss out on 2nd in the series by seven points. Only four points then separated Harrison, Viidas and Sasahara for the next three places. Having an unbelievable finish on the day, Gubbels came from P32 to take a brilliant 7th in the final, as Locsmandi took 8th from Faria and Morin. James Singleton was just outside the top 10, also working his way from the back of the field, but unable to finish higher than 7th in the championship after a challenging season.
Jack Aitken – “Fantastic!!! The Gillard kart felt perfect thanks massively to the Protrain Racing team for tweaking it and thanks also to my mechanic Scott and my parents for their support. I got a decent start although it was difficult in the final from the outside row. I went in knowing that I had to finish in a certain place, but I knew Joel Affolter was behind me and would probably play it safe, so I just figured I wouldn’t have to worry. It’s my first year in the Euro and last year in Juniors, and I have a chance to go the Grand Finals to win the world title now. It’s great!”
Home town hero Christophe Adams (55.773) was unbeatable at Genk from start to finish, taking pole position by half a second ahead of his closest competitor Mikko Laine, who successfully retained his 2nd place in the championship only 7 points behind the defending World number 1. 3rd quickest in official timed practice was Melvin Francis of Dadson Motorsport, making a tribute to his absent team boss. Adams, who changed to the Sporting Kart Competition team during the season, was also competing over the weekend in the Rotax DD2 class as the only driver to do so during 2010.
All three of the qualifying heats were won by Adams to take his place on pole for the pre-final, although he admittedly remained skeptical about taking the Max Masters title until the very end of the event, having been close to securing the trophy previously and had to watch it slip away. Round one winner Mikko Laine took 2nd in each of the races to join him on the front row, shadowed by the 2010 Rotax Winter Cup champion Florent Lambert and Alain Guesdon of France off row 2. Francis was not as consistent during the heats so he ranked 5th, but was quicker than the Finn on grid 2 in the morning warm-up, so it appeared he might be more competitive Sunday, starting on the inside behind Lambert.
Adams got the jump once again in Sunday‟s pre-final, unchallenged by Laine who was a fraction faster than Lambert sitting in P3 throughout the 14-lapper. Several karts tried to take turn 2 simultaneously, resulting in a minor collision, but all rejoined the race and finished. Although Francis and Jan Vos running in P5 and 6 posted laps in the 56-seconds timeframe, they weren‟t able to make up the difference to Laine and Lambert who held a comfortable gap for the top 3. Unfortunately for Guesdon, he would have to settle for 7th after losing out earlier in the race.
Immediately following his 17-lap stint in the Rotax DD2 final, Adams led the Masters around for a slow start to their last race for the Euro this year. As the race got underway, Laine was soon bidding to take 2nd from Lambert off grid 3, but couldn‟t get by in the far back corner. Lambert managed to hold him out until the next lap, as Laine had just enough of a buffer to keep 2nd with nothing much between them. Andreas Peter left the track momentarily, rejoining in 6th and was then dicing for positions with Vos, as Francis moved through to P4. Guesdon gained 2 places to take a top 5 finish.
Victory in the final saw Adams claim his third win from four rounds in the series and to his delight be crowned the European Masters champion after some years of trying to win the title. To take the honours at his home circuit was also a special moment. Earlier in the week, he‟d missed a briefing because he had to take his little girls to school – which is perhaps not so unusual for a local Max Master to have such commitments. No doubt regarded as the ultimate class for the true “gentlemen” drivers; although from only 24 years of age it allows for some of the younger gentlemen to enjoy some competitive international racing and have no concerns about not making Sunday‟s finals. Vice champion Laine was hoping to have won the Euro after sealing the opening round in France, but was still classified 2nd only to the World champ. Lambert was 3rd ahead of the Ukraine and Russian contingent of Anton Chupinin and Maxim Shaposhnikov.
Christophe Adams – “Winning the European Championship for the first time means a lot to; it’s just a shame that there aren’t more drivers in the Masters. Here in Genk I’m very fast – or the others are slower! I’m used to driving with the younger drivers, so I think it helps me be more competitive. I won, so I’m happy with the result and want to say thanks to my new team Sporting Kart Competition. Now, I hope to win again at the Rotax Grand Finals to take my third world title.”
The towering Lithuanian Simas Juodvirsis (53.441) successfully upset the plans of local Rotax DD2 driver Xen De Ruwe in Friday‟s official timed practice session, when the young male model set an untouchable lap to take his maiden Euro pole position. The 18-year old totally dominated round 2 of the series at the Wackersdorf circuit back in May this year and was 2nd in the pre-final at round 3 in Austria, so he was determined to end his impressive season until now on a high. The gap to De Ruwe was 0.026 followed by Maik Barten, where the majority of the 35-kart field were within a second of pole.
It began to look like a repeat of the German round, only in the dry, as Juodvirsis conquered his competition in every qualifying heat to start from pole as well in the pre-final. De Ruwe suffered from one bad result so the two 2nd places ranked him 7th overall on the grid Sunday morning. Barten had three 3rds to take a front row position, with round 1 winner Andreas Jensen on the second row with championship leader Patrick Pearce. Hot off the podium at the last round was Maxi Fleischmann on P5 and Dutch driver Roy Geerts beside him. The first of the DD2 Masters was Carl Cleirbaut off P8.
A dramatic start to the pre-final meant another formation lap, as former French champ Damien Vuillaume spun on the approach to the start/finish line and Maik Barten limped into the repair lane. The pole man assumed the lead from Jensen who was relieved of his 2nd place by Pearce on lap 4, while Geerts, De Ruwe and Fleischmann fought for 4th. By half race distance, Meindert van Buuren was up to 6th from P21 as De Ruwe claimed 3rd and found himself dealing with Jensen fighting back. The Belgian narrowed the gap to Pearce and looked for a chance to take 2nd with two laps to go, as Juodvirsis stretched his victory for a “no-stress” victory and Pearce beat De Ruwe over the line. Jensen was 4th for some vital points that he needed to keep his chances good for the title win. Barten had returned to the track and was classified one lap down in 28th, but his local team mate Christof Huibers had a great race to finish 5th ahead of Van Buuren and Fleischmann in a dash to the flag. Germany‟s Dominik Hummer struggled in the heats, but climbed from P33 up to 11th.
It was a fabulous atmosphere at Karting Genk with the grandstand full and the fences around the circuit lined with spectators, as stage was set for the 2-speed final showdown. The points were close for the championship still up for grabs, while the race for the round 4 honours saw some new names added to the top of the DD2 results sheets. The crowd cheered as the race began and the two Belgian drivers hunted Juodvirsis right on his bumper. It was a clean start with all karts coming through the initial corners without any obvious issues. Pearce on the outside from grid 2 kept his foot into it to sit 4th as Tomasz Krzeminski made an appearance from P10 into the top 5 ahead of Van Buuren, however, by lap 6 the Dutchman had retired. Huibers and De Ruwe swapped positions for 2nd more than once as Pearce took advantage until he was involved in a collision with Christophe Raymakers, dropping to 7th. As the laps wound down with just three left, De Ruwe looked like he might take the lead as the nerve-wracking battle for 1st saw Juodvirsis keep his cool, but cover his line without faltering. Further down the field, Barten had passed Vuillaume in P10, so the way it stood 3rd in the series would go to Barten. Vuillaume made a decisive move into T1with just two laps to go; Barten ran wide as they touched.
It was an emotional finish as an excited Juodvirsis celebrated his feat across the line, a mere 0.076 seconds in front of De Ruwe, also very worthy of the win. 3rd place went to Huibers who led the nose-to-tail pack of Fleischmann, Jensen and Krzeminski to the end. Pearce couldn‟t round up Luhse, so he was 8th on the day and only 5 points in arrears of Jensen for the European DD2 title. The Dane racing for his first year in the gearbox class had won the 2010 championship! P9 and 10 went to Raymakers and Barten, after Vuillaume was excluded on a technical non-conformity relating to the rear bumper. Barten was therefore awarded 3rd in the series as a result, with Fleischmann 4th one point ahead of Juodvirsis, 5th overall. The first lady of the class was Tiffany Chittenden, taking 11th in the final and posting one of the best laps, with 7th in the championship behind Dennis Kroes.
Simas Juodvirsis – “I’m very happy to win at Genk! I like the track, it’s very nice to drive. I thought I could be quick this week because I had raced here once before, but this weekend was really the best racing. The last five laps of the final were very hard due to the Belgian driver being so fast. Our team worked very hard all weekend for a good set-up and I must thank everyone at RKV Racing including my mechanic and the team boss Gudzenko Vitalijus for this.”
ROTAX DD2 MASTERS
The 2010 title in the DD2 Masters was won by Kroes for the third time in 4 years, 14th overall in the final to take 1st at round 4 in Genk, just one position ahead of Carl Cleirbaut in a photo finish with 3rd on the day going to Tamsin Germain. She had a good result for 4th in the series behind Cleirbaut, while the vice champion‟s trophy went to Christophe Adams.
Dennis Kroes – “I want to thank my mechanic Chris Groen and all the other members of Team Kroes. It’s my third time winning the European Championship at Genk and I hope to do well in La Conca at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals because I won the world title there in 2008. It’s a special feeling to be driving in the Haase chassis as well in the new DD2 Masters class seeing that I won me previous European titles on the Haase kart.”