|The inaugural Rotax International Open invited a global challenge to some of the World’s best Max drivers last weekend in Spain when 28 nations participated in the latest event to hit the RGMMC calendar. With the newly crowned European champions and the majority of the highest placed drivers from the Rotax Junior, Senior, Masters and DD2 classes on the entry list, the racing was sensational, made even more interesting on the very fast and technical 1700 metre Zuera International Circuit when rain showers proceeded to add to the thrill of the competition. |
Ball bounces back to take the Senior title
In the lead-up to qualifying, two days of open practice became a game of tactics prompted primarily by the incredibly long Zuera home straight, where finding a good slipstream was the ultimate strategy. Amongst the field of 44 in Senior Max were some well-known front-runners at international and national level who struggled in the qualifying to find the tow they needed to clock a quick lap. A handful of the potential leaders were followed closely in the opening laps of the two group sessions by a swarm of karts waiting for them to begin their hot laps, but in the end it was smart driving and team work that prevailed. Eventually, Euro round 4 winner Sean Babington (1:03.470) showed that his international debut in seniors wasn’t a fluke in Genk last September, outpacing Frenchman Jules Cousin by 0.128 seconds to give FA Kart a 1-2 in Friday’s timed practice, with the in-form European vice-champ Ed Brand third fastest overall.
Babington said “I’m pleased to take pole. I thought after winning my first European race at Genk that I could do well and be in with a good chance here.” The polesitter looked almost certain to secure grid 1 for the pre-final Sunday, taking victory in the first two qualifying heats on Saturday until the rain changed the outcome. The Dan Holland Racing driver was left to start on P3, losing out to Brand, who had one win that was unaffected by a 10-second start penalty due to his 13-second lead, and two 2nd places to claim pole. Euro number 3 Mats van den Brand also had two wins plus a top 5 which meant he’d start on the outside of row 1, while Jake Ball took the honours in the remaining heat to be ranked 4th for a second row start beside Babington. The heats were a good indication of what was to come in the finals, with totally non-stop racing action to the flag in every class.
Rain overnight resulted in the warm-up run on a wet track Sunday. As the sun came out and the familiar Zuera wind picked up, the option was there to choose slicks as opposed to wet tyres; but it was a risk that all except a handful of karts on the pre-final grid didn’t take. The initial lead was assumed by Brand ahead of his Dutch Strawberry Racing team-mate Van den Brand and then Ball. Unfortunately for Babington, his top 5 position was short-lived after a few laps when senior rookie Jack Marshall made contact and the pair slid off the track. By lap 5, the decision for dry tyres appeared to have paid off for Karol Dabski and Ferenc Kancsár who were suddenly through to be 1 and 2. Two laps later, Antoine Barthon from row 4 was up to 3rd, until being passed by best lap-setter Luke Haynes, ahead of Kazuyoshi Nishino in 5th. A superb drive in the greasy conditions by the leading Master Christophe Adams saw the Belgian up to P6 on slicks, as he fended off the new European champ Joey van Splunteren; the first of the Max drivers using wets.
Up front, the first two had swapped places yet again, but a last moment attempt by Kancsár pulling out from behind Dabski down the straight saw the 15-year old launch himself at the finish line to take the provisional win by the narrowest margin. However, he was relegated to 3rd on receiving a penalty for leaving the formation grid corridor (tram lines) at the start which handed the win to the polish Birel driver. Rounding out the top 10 were Ball in 7th, Brand and Van den Brand, only able to watch the others pass and pull away as the laps unfolded. In contrast, Richard Faulkner, Urban Lah and Will Hunter all finished inside the first half of the field, having qualified through the second chance race that morning.
The conditions were clearly dry for the final, as Dabski held his lead for four laps until challenged by Van den Brand who succeeded after some dicing, with Kancsár making the most of the situation to take 2nd. By lap 6, Brand was into 2nd, but pace-man Ball squeezed past and the next lap led the field until just over half-race distance when he was sent back to P4 as the places changed yet again. With Brand in 1st, he was well aware Van den Brand was tucked in behind, glancing over his shoulder along the start-finish straight with three laps to go, as Ball stole 3rd from Kancsár, followed by Marshall setting the best lap.
The closing stages was when Van den Brand chose to make his move for the lead, Ball going with him and forcing Brand back to P3, as Marshall closed in and they bunched up through the infield. It was a sensational dash to the chequered flag with a mass of six karts fighting for a chance to take the title. Ball claimed the win over Van den Brand with Brand 3rd, then Marshall and Haynes, who’d overtaken Kancsár in the final moments. Dabski was right behind them in 7th just lacking a few tenths speed he needed, Barrie Pullinger was 8th ahead of Van Splunteren and Lewis Plato. Unfortunately, Babington and Barthon lost out on their podium hopes when they were victims of an over-eager Shaun Slavin, later penalised for the incident. Masters driver Adams was involved in a collision in the opening lap and consequently retired.
For Jake Ball, the victory appeared to be lost on several occasions during the final, but he fought back. “It was a good race, but I didn’t get a good start and was on the back foot for a while. Then I managed to get a good slipstream and took the lead, until both Ed [Brand] and Mats [van den Brand] were looking to pass me out of turn 1, so I ended up out a bit wide and had to catch them again. When Mats made the move on Ed I went through too. I think we were a little bit faster; maybe we had a different sprocket, but I was happy to have a dry final and I knew we could do it then. I’ve just finished 2nd in another Rotax series in England so this has been really good preparation for racing at the Grand Finals and it’s very good to win the first Rotax International Open. I’d like to thank Steve Armstrong of RL Racing who’s been a real big help this year, Steve Ogden for the engines and my dad for being a great mechanic – that’s important!”
Masters champ Adams adds RIO title to his honours list
Christophe Adams posted a time several tenths over his closest Rotax Masters rivals in qualifying, while racing within the Max category at the Spanish meeting. During the unofficial practice, Adams had been well on the pace of the other senior drivers before adding his regulation weight of 8 kg extra required for the Masters class. He qualified through to the finals without having to face the second chance eliminator, with the current World and European champion finishing 6th in Sunday’s pre-final when he decided to choose dry tyres and came through from P25. He wasn’t so lucky in the final that afternoon, having a coming-together with another driver and failing to complete one lap of the race. Fellow Masters top 3 drivers from the Euro Challenge, Mikko Laine and Florent Lambert, didn’t have the best of luck either in the racing, finding themselves having to face the battle of the repecharge. In the overall result, they missed the cut for the finals but were inside the top 10, with Lambert beating Laine by one-tenth across the line.
Christophe Adams raced in both the Max Masters and Rotax DD2 classes as he did the entire season at the Rotax Euro Challenge, again proving his dominance in Spain in the Masters to take yet another win. “It was very nice to qualify into the finals in the Senior Max class. I ran without the extra weight on my kart in the practice Wednesday to see how I compared to the Max drivers as a Master and I believe I could have been around the top 10. I was a second slower with the lead added. In the pre-final I went out on slicks and the gamble we took was a good one to be 6th. I was disappointed with the results in the end, but very happy to win the free entry to the Winter Cup and the prize for free entry for the entire Euro Challenge.”
Affolter confirms his 2010 Euro status as the Rotax Open Junior #1
Spain’s Junior Max entry was the one to beat in the qualifying at Zuera. Alexis Araujo (1:04.627) once again featured in Friday’s official timed practice, just as he had at the Rotax Winter Cup in Campillos, Spain last February as one of the pace-setters. This weekend, he claimed pole position for the Energy Premier Sport team over Cameron Twynham by 0.058 seconds while Portugal’s David Chaves set the 3rd best lap. Following the qualifying session, Araujo admitted he was confident of a good result, but surprised by the other drivers waiting so long. “I’m happy to have pole position today. I know the circuit quite well because I live in the south of Spain so we decided to race the Rotax International Open. We thought a top 3 could be possible. I couldn’t believe that 9 minutes went by then 9-and-a-half minutes and everyone was still there waiting for me to go out. I tried to be smart by getting a good lap in and it worked out well for me.”
A change in the weather just in time for the second of three qualifying heats Saturday played a major part in the results for the Junior Max. Araujo took the honours in race 1, as did Euro Challenge front-runners Jack Barlow and Joel Affolter respectively in the other two races. Interesting, no individual was able to secure a triple ‘first five’ result in the testing conditions. It was an unusual outcome with no outstanding driver amongst a closely matched group where the points were often equal, although 2010 European champ Affolter showed his experience in the wet to top class and take P1 for the pre-final. Barlow was one of the pace-setters, as was Dutch hotshot Dave Blom and Russia’s Artem Korolev (racing for Canada). Araujo eventually ranked 2nd overall to line-up beside Affolter on the front row Sunday, while British Mini Max driver Rob Holland on his junior debut had the same total, but qualified for grid 3 next to Canada’s Jesse Lazare.
The pre-final was run under the Aragon sun although on a wet track from the overnight showers. A red flag signalled that race officials weren’t satisfied with the start after two formation laps, so when they finally got underway the next time around, Affolter kept the pace slow and led the pack. Soon after, Barlow was up to 3rd from grid 5 and shook off Araujo, who was also passed by Blom as well. By lap 4, Holland in the #108 Kosmic had passed the leader, as Barlow came under pressure from Blom, which was only for a short time until he showed his obvious speed to set the fastest lap of the race and hunt down Affolter for 2nd. Lazare may not have been one of the quickest, but the North American fans were sending their messages of encouragement throughout the weekend, so he didn’t disappoint them when he moved back into the top 5 ahead of Araujo. As the laps wound down, Barlow took 2nd from Affolter and was able to use his 4-tenth speed advantage to claim the lead from the Paul Carr Racing driver in the last lap. The final was set to be a close one with nothing much separating Holland from Affolter and Blom as they crossed the line.
By the afternoon, the circuit had dried completely, but the temperature began to drop. It was an inside row 1-3-5 start for the final, leaving Holland and Blom to slot across into P4 and 5 by the first corner. Barlow had the lead from the lights, but his team-mate Affolter was all over the back of him as Blom progressed up to 4th. An impressive drive from Alessandro Latif off grid 11 saw Holland back to 6th position on lap 3, as the battle for places further back also heated up. Lazare closed in on Affolter and the leader nearing the halfway point of the race, only to be pounced upon by Blom as the lead swapped up front. Before long, Blom on a mission had taken 3rd then 2nd from Barlow and topped it off with Affolter’s lead at the start of lap 9. Attempting to defend, the Intrepid driver ran wide and was passed back by the two Strawberry Racing karts, falling into the clutches of Lazare and Latif who collided when they got caught up on Blom in the intensity of the fight for a step on the podium. Latif maintained his momentum and set his best lap, but Blom lost 2 spots and for Lazare it was a disastrous end, left ROF and retired into the pits two laps later.
Not to be discounted, Blom regained his focus and chased Barlow to take 2nd, as Affolter pulled a gap in the lead which Blom kept to less than one second when he picked up the pace to be slower only to the quickest driver - Chaves. The Dutch rivalry that has become a familiar scenario at the end of this season saw Affolter prevail to take a well-deserved win; no doubt relieved when the laps ran out. A disappointed Barlow had to settle for P3, but it was a reassuring finish to a challenging weekend for the young Brit, with Protrain Racing’s Latif not too far behind ahead of a commendable 5th going to Rob Holland in his intro to European Junior Max racing. Araujo surrendered P6 when he wore a 10-second driving penalty, handing it to Latif’s Turkish team-mate, Kaan Onder, who bridged the gap to the bunch of karts making a mad dash for the line as they rounded the last corner. It was Josh White who savoured 7th having been just outside the front-runners all weekend, while Korolev found his earlier pace in the dry to come from the back of the grid for 8th ahead of Twynham and Chaves concluding the top 10.
Taking his third title this year, Joel Affolter was all smiles when he took his helmet off. “It was a good beginning to the final. Jack [Barlow] had a problem with his engine in the lead so after seven laps I passed him and two laps later [Dave] Blom passed me. But, he tried to defend his line and was a bit too late on the brakes so I got him back. From that moment I just drove to win. My laptimes weren’t so good really. Over the weekend, it was not so good in the dry, but in the wet it was Super! A big thank you to Strawberry Racing, Ogden Motorsport, my mechanic and my family. It’s very good for me to win the first ever Rotax International Open – and I’m the first winner!”
De Ruwe unbeatable in DD2 after a rollercoaster weekend
The 2-speed Rotax DD2 class provided some exhilarating racing across the meeting in Zuera, seeing some very experienced gearbox kart drivers take on several young guns to make the competition fantastic. Friday’s qualifying was an insight into things to come in the following days as 17-year old Xen De Ruwe (1:02.458) made another appearance on the RGMMC calendar of events after being the crowd-pleaser in his first showing at round 4 of the Euro Challenge in Genk a month ago. The former KF driver was looking for the fun and excitement of racing he’d been missing and recently decided to compete in the DD2 class. Not only was he competitive, but he almost upstaged one of the prominent new European drivers to hit the podium in 2010. It was no exception in Spain, as the Belgian challenged the likes of current French champion Damien Vuillaume who was 2nd fastest in the official timed practice, to take pole position by 0.084 seconds. The youngest in the category at 15 years was Meindert van Buuren who was 3rd fastest.
Again, it was a mixed bag of results when it came to Saturday’s heats, affected notably by the rain moving in on the Spanish venue where many were already unaccustomed to such a long track and finding the ultimate set-up for performance. Both De Ruwe and Vuillaume won a qualifying heat each, but also had one DNF, so they ended up together on row 3 of the pre-final grid. The third race was won by past Euro Max driver Kevin Ludi, who now competes in international KZ racing. The Spirit Karting Switzerland driver was the pace-setter in two of the races to combine a 3rd and 4th place for minimum points overall, which made him one of the favourites on pole for the pre-final. Van Buuren excelled with two 2nd places to join Ludi on the front row, with Christophe Adams running in the top 3 to 5 to be ranked 3rd overall. Not getting off to a positive start after setting the second best time, 2010 European champion Andreas Jensen had to start at the back of the grid for all three heats after he went underweight in qualifying. From his consistent results, he still equalled Adams’ points tally to start alongside him on grid 4 Sunday.
The initial DD2 final created some extra work for several drivers who were expecting to play a more significant part in the results in the preview to the final that afternoon. Polesitter Ludi had the lead immediately stolen after the start by van Buuren, until he repossessed it in turn 3 and powered on. The race was over for Adams after he was involved in an incident that sidelined him temporarily, but was then unable to continue after two laps. With De Ruwe suffering some damage from the collision, the axle was bent too much to allow him to be competitive, so he also found himself becoming a spectator from lap 4. This left Vuillaume with a good opportunity to gain vital places freed in front of him, until he slowly dropped down the race order when a leaking tyre prevented the CRG driver from making any advance. The battle for supremacy saw Jensen reign within several laps, fighting off the challenge from Ludi, who got into a close dice with one another former Euro competitor, Toms Bobrovskis, through from P8. The race honours went to Jensen on lap 12 with a gap of 7-tenths to the student lawyer from Latvia and Ludi pushing right behind him. Hoping to minimise the difference, Van Buuren was not able to build on 4th over the course of 12 laps, holding out South African Eugene Brittz in P5 who’s trusty technician Ralph Odendaal was the outstanding 2009 European Rotax DD2 title holder and winner of the Euro round in Zuera that season. Lothar Winzen flew the Swiss flag on his return to DD2 racing, setting the best lap of the pre-final.
Working on securing double titles in 2010, Jensen showed his determination to protect his lead in the final and soon held a comfortable gap that he stretched until the closing stages. The race turned into an action-packed nail-biter as it unfolded, giving the spectators a real Rotax Open to remember. Van Buuren was on the money in the dry, showing straight line speed and passing Ludi on lap 2, then the pair were swapping places every two laps until well into the second half of the 25.5km showdown. Bobrovskis in 4th came under pressure from Brittz and drove well to keep him behind for 5 laps. The UAE Champion Mohammed Al Dhaheri was running 6th following on from his good result in the pre-final, until a considerably quicker Vuillaume eased passed him. De Ruwe was on a mission for the podium, impatient in the opening minutes while chasing the Frenchman, only to receive a driving standards flag from the officials. The competition unfortunately ended for the driver from Abu Dhabi after 3 laps. Soon after, De Ruwe took his Topkart to 4th and Brittz gained a place for 6th at Bobrovskis’ expense.
Three to go and De Ruwe had secured 2nd for Slangen Karting and was out to get Jensen’s lead. It was an amazing contest for P3 as the clash between Ludi and Van Buuren raged on. Vuillaume did his best time as he took advantage of the dispute, but it was only a brief encounter until Van Buuren hit back, leading Brittz this time from Ludi and Adams. With his sights set clearly on winning, De Ruwe gave Jensen an ultimatum he couldn’t match in the last moments that left him in shock as he watched his title disappear at the chequered flag. Van Buuren took 3rd closely shadowed by a frustrated Ludi and Brittz in P5, while Vuillaume urged his kart over the line to beat Adams to 6th. This saw Bobrovskis finish 8th to Chrysohou Saaves of Cyprus and Winzen in P10. Max Masters runner-up Florent Lambert had retired after 6 laps.
Xen De Ruwe had admitted after taking pole that he was not normally a good qualifier, but more of a racer. He posted the fastest lap of the DD2 final with an inspiring drive to be awarded the Rotax International Open trophy. “I enjoyed racing at the Euro Challenge in Genk and I’ve only been racing in the DD2 for about 3 months now, so it is very good to be on pole position. I started the final from last place and it wasn’t a great start. I tried to follow [Damien] Vuillaume then after 2 laps I was behind [Kevin] Ludi and Meindert [van Buuren] who were way in front, but they were dicing with each other and struggling. I didn’t think I’d catch Jensen in the lead but on the last lap I did. After the crash in the pre-final, it was good to come back and win. It’s the best win of my life! I’d like to thank my dad – he’s the one that’s doing the mechanics, who supports me when it goes good and bad... so he does it all.”
The winners didn’t take it all – when more than €30,000 worth of great prizes were given away!
As part of the enormous prize pool up for grabs at the first ever Rotax International Open, RGMMC Establishment as the organisers and promoters of the event awarded all the drivers who finished on the podium in Zuera *free entry for the 2011 Rotax Winter Cup in February at the popular Karting Campillos circuit in Spain which included (track fees, 4 sets of race tyres - wet & dry plus entry fees).
In addition to the personal invitations to compete at the season icebreaker in Spain, one competitor in every class had the fantastic chance to win *free entry for the entire series of the 2011 Rotax Max Euro Challenge. (*valued at €4,900).
And the winners are...
Junior Max: Ryo Hirooka (JAP)
Senior Max: Berry Torenvliet (NED)
Rotax DD2: Damien Vuillaume (FRA)
Max Masters: Christophe Adams (BEL)
*2010 ROTAX INTERNATIONAL OPEN*
RESULTS – Zuera, SPAIN (October 27- 31)
ROTAX SENIOR MAX
1 – Jake Ball Great Britain - Tonykart - RL Racing Dept Ltd
2 – Mats van den Brand Netherlands - Tonykart - Strawberry Racing
3 – Ed Brand Great Britain - Tonykart - Strawberry Racing
ROTAX JUNIOR MAX
1 – Joel Affolter Netherlands - Tonykart - Strawberry Racing
2 – Dave Blom Netherlands - Intrepid - Team TKP
3 – Jack Barlow Great Britain - Tonykart - Strawberry Racing
ROTAX MAX MASTERS
1 – Christophe Adams Belgium - Tonykart - Sporting Kart Competition
2 – Florent Lambert Great Britain - Tonykart - Tatum Racing
3 – Mikko Laine Finland - Parolin - mKart Team
1 – Xen De Ruwe Belgium - Topkart - Slangen Karting
2 – Andreas Jensen Denmark - FirstKart - FirstKart s.r.lacing
3 – Meindert van Buuren Netherlands - Topkart - Papagayo Motorsport
For complete results from all the track action from the Rotax International Open in Zuera beginning with Friday's official timed practice, follow the LIVE TIMING link on the homepage at www.rgmmc.com