|ACTION-PACKED RACING AT THE EURO CHALLENGE IN AUSTRIA|
It was another exciting event when the Speedworld complex outside Vienna hosted the third round of the 2007 Rotax Mojo Max Euro Challenge July 25 - 29. With 172 entries, the international competition delivered as expected, more competitive racing as the summer heat wave and odd sprinkle of rain kept it all interesting. The final results saw the crowning of some new winners and growing success of alternate nations progressing to a new level in the sport through the championship.
Gusty winds helped keep the soaring temperatures bearable as the threat of showers challenged Friday’s timed practice sessions. Repeating his qualifying effort from the previous round in Germany, it was Ben Cooper of Great Britain who claimed pole position. He set an equal lap time of 44.158 with Hungary’s Imre Birizdo, who recently turned 15 and made the step up to Senior Max. However, Cooper’s next best lap was quicker than the younger driver and for the third year in a row, the Brit was the pace-setter at the Austrian circuit in his class at the Euro Challenge. The next best time for P3 went to Arnold Neveling of South Africa, clocking the fastest lap in his group.
As the mercury rose into the high 30s, Cooper remained consistent to form, winning all three of his qualifying heats as had also been the case in the past years. Neveling was still one of the fastest but could only secure one victory in Saturday’s races, as did both Michael Simpson and James Bean. Bean had taken the honours at round one in France and was quickest overall in the heats. Looking good for a top 3 grid position for Sunday’s pre-final, Birizdo lost places in the last of the heats and fell out of contention. Multiple Russian champ Mikhail Mitrokhin made the most of the wet conditions he favours as light rain showers fell in the afternoon and the Rotax World number 3 took 2nd place in one of the sessions. His team mate Alexey Karachev also excelled when he set the best lap of the concluding heat Saturday on the slippery circuit.
Lining up 1 & 2 for the 18 lap pre-final Sunday, British championship rivals Cooper and Simpson were both well aware of their chances in taking the series lead seeing the highest points scorers Mike Joossens and Ricardo Romkema were sitting outside the top 10. The polesitter grabbed the early lead and soon after posted the best lap of the race, before surrendering to Neveling who started directly behind him. In the latter stages of the race, Simpson stole 2nd from Cooper and pushed Neveling for the lead right to the end, lunging for the line as the pair approached the chequered flag. Neveling was too good taking the win and Simpson admitted afterwards that 3rd would have given him a better starting position for the final but the points were most important.
Further back Bean had passed Birizdo for 4th and pulled a gap as the Hungarian faced fierce competition to be overcome by another Englishman Michael Ryall and Romkema, who ended up 6th. David Griffiths was out when he dropped a chain and lost 8th position to Martin Pierce, who finished ahead of local pilot Dominik Kraihamer and Matthew Hodges in 10th. Joossens and Tamas Kiss Pal had a coming together with an eager Niek Vos earlier on, so they found themselves out of the 10.
The final was somewhat eventful, with eight karts going off the circuit following the start. Neveling only led the field briefly until Cooper took over, Simpson moving into 2nd on the next lap. As Bean pushed his way passed Neveling, the South African ran wide and lost another three positions in the process. The place-swapping continued as Ryall, Romkema, Hodges and Birizdo joined in the battle for the podium opportunity. Bean was sent spinning as Romkema and Pierce came together with him, both continuing but with damage to their chassis’ that would prevent any real advancement. In lap 10, Simpson finally passed Cooper for the lead but a red flag ended the race prematurely after an incident on the start/finish straight involving two other karts.
The restart gave Cooper back pole position as per the standings one lap prior to the stoppage. The chance for a win was basically over for Neveling getting edged-out and having to rejoin ROF. Simpson was again too fast for Cooper and resumed the lead once more to hold on for the win, while the 17 year-old just couldn’t get close enough to have a shot at regaining his place. The fight for 3rd was a nail-biter with Ryall, Birizdo and Hodges going head-to-head on the last lap through the chicane. Ryall managed to claim back his podium finish to give GKS 3rd place honours and Birizdo kept Hodges at bay in a terrific dice for the top 5 positions.
With the two shorter races combined for an aggregate time, the first five places remained the same; Simpson the winner over Cooper by a mere 0.017 seconds. Vos was 6th ahead of current Australian champion Hayden McBride then Griffiths who made up an incredible 24 places from his original starting grid. The last qualifier to narrowly get through to the final from the 2nd chance race was Swiss pilot Philipp Witzany, who drove an excellent final to finish 9th in front of Stephen Tyldesley. Euro Challenge high achievers Tiago Ribeiro and Damien Vuillaume in 11th and 13th were also repercharge qualifiers on the day having to race the extra 14 laps that morning. Round 2 winner Joossens was 12th, with World number 1 Romkema 14th and Neveling salvaging 15th.
Setting the best lap of the final, Simpson was pleased with his victory in Austria. “It was a very hard weekend and we were off the pace before qualifying. We worked with Birel’s Mike Wilson to get the kart right, which got better and better. Lining-up for the pre-final on the outside was a hard place to start but I managed to finish 2nd which was good for the series points. I had a good start in the final but again was back on 2 for the restart and overtook Ben [Cooper] as soon as I could. I didn’t even see the last lap sign then suddenly the race was over and my lead was even bigger than the race before. It’s a great result for Birel taking four of the first five places today.”
Just 0.004 seconds separated fastest qualifier Aavo Talvar of Estonia from this year’s winner of the first two rounds Jorrit Pex in Friday’s official timed practice. Talvar set the best time (44.522) in the initial group of the 67-kart field while Rotax World number 1 Jorrit Pex and 2006 Euro Rookie Kevin Korjus (also from Estonia), swapped several times for the quickest lap throughout the second of the 15 minute sessions. Korjus was still at the top of the screen when he came into the pits on lap 13, only to find that Pex had edged him out on that very same lap for the lead.
The juniors were summoned in the lunch break along with their entrants, after the first two of six qualifying heats Saturday to discuss their “over-anxious” approach that had resulted in some pile-ups. After getting on with the racing, Korjus ranked highest taking two wins and a 3rd place to start on pole for Sunday’s pre-final. His only race coming from grid 2 on the outside saw a brilliant move across into the lead before turn 1. Fastest lap time for the heats was set by Kazuki Hiramine from Japan who now studies full-time in England and he would start beside Korjus on the front row, taking a win and two 2nds in the races. Row 2 was an all-Estonian affair with Georg Vann and Talvar, who both had a victory each. During race 3, Kasper Jensen turned on some great driving to come from back in 21st as the light rain obviously worked to his advantage… even on slicks. The Danish driver overtook everyone in front of him for a comfortable win. Local favourite Daniel Schellnegger did well to get a start from row 5 in the pre-final following a disappointing qualifying, when his tyre became dislodged on the first corner, therefore having to start each heat from ROF.
Korjus got a dream start in the pre-final and maintained his lead over the 15 laps. Quick to cross over to the inside, Hiramine fought off an attack by Vann in the late stages of the race to hang onto 2nd. In 4th position, Talvar was able to stay in front of championship leader Mats Van den Brand, who just seemed to be lacking the extra pace over the weekend that he needed to improve on his grid 5 starting position. After a collision just two laps from the end of one of the heat races, Pex found himself starting the pre-final from 15th but worked his way through to 6th, also setting the quickest lap time. The nose-to-tail racing back in the field turned on some excellent action for the many spectators who came along to Speedworld to watch some of the World’s best Rotax racing, as the competition for the European titles definitely heats up.
It was an impressive start and race to follow in the Junior Max final that afternoon, as the kind of racing you hope to see at such an international level was displayed by the young drivers. Suffering from some sore muscles after Saturday’s heats, Korjus headed the field for just 2 laps until Hiramine passed him. Van den Brand and Vann swapped for 3rd before the Estonian relegated Korjus as well back another place in his chase for the leader. Phillip Haworth had exited the track not long after the start from P5 and was circulating ROF. Near the half-way mark, Pex made his move on Van den Brand, as the two running 1st and 2nd in the series gave it everything they had to beat the other. The race for 5th and beyond saw Max Hawkins, Danny Petiet, Steel Guiliana and Axcil Jefferies dicing non-stop, Talvar losing out amidst the battle as well to Indy Dontje, who had finished 3rd at the previous round in Germany. The Dutch driver suffered a major set-back in Saturday’s heats but made up for lost time to move up into the top 10 during the 18-lapper.
As the race drew towards the end, Pex wore done Korjus for 3rd leaving him in the sights of Van den Brand, who tried hard but couldn’t prevent Korjus from taking 4th. Former World number 3 in the class Hiramine covered his line well from pacesetter Vann and the final laps had everyone holding their breath in the dash for the line that was amazingly close. Hiramine threw his arms up in jubilation as he took the honours. Unfortunately the young Estonian was to be excluded from the race for a technical infringement so 2nd was then awarded to Pex, who was also then officially the quickest in the race and Korjus took 3rd with Van den Brand 4th. Next came Petiet and Guiliana who were practically still bumper-to-bumper at the finish, ahead of Hawkins holding out leading Rookie Jefferies to take 7th while Dontje was 9th and Talvar 10th.
Following his triumph in the UK a week ago, Hiramine was elated with his victory at the European event. “I had been very consistent and just kept pushing. Korjus went a bit wide through the chicane so I was able to overtake him. In the last lap I tried to keep driving on the race line but also knew I had to defend the hairpin so Vann could not take the lead. I didn’t think for once he was going to pass me. Gary [Chapman] always tells me to relax and keep pushing, so I have to thank him for his good advice, also ProTrain and my mechanic Dave plus my dad. Without them I couldn’t have done this.”
This year some of the Masters drivers have made the switch to the DD2 class while the 32years+ grid has been lacking the numbers it had late in 2006. However, it never fails to provide some close racing between the competitors all vying for a place on the podium. A visitor to the Austrian round as part of his summer holidays was Yukio Tsukamoto, who topped the time sheets Friday with the fastest qualifying lap (45.291). Having race Formula Super A some years back, the Japanese driver set the best three laps recorded in the session. British Rotax 177 champ Stephen Cobb was 2nd quickest and Patrick Vasterman racing in both the Masters and DD2 classes was 3rd.
The polesitter was also fastest in the heats although he wasn’t dominant in the greasy, wet track conditions in the Masters’ second race. Dave Wooder took the honours in that session starting from grid 6, clearly showing his speed as he was unstoppable in passing the frontrunners. Starting from the outside on the first row by no means favoured Cobb, who was shut out on all accounts by the inside row of karts as they pushed forward to gain places. Both Vasterman and Davis had their turn at the lead during the heats, as did Bourquard who also had a ROF finish in the last race Saturday.
Tsukamoto began on pole for the Pre-final and immediately took the lead from when the lights changed ahead of Holland’s Vasterman with the British line-up of Davis and Wooder behind them. Bourquard raised his hand going out of the first corner to signal he’d lost power. He stopped and refitted the drive chain before continuing once more as he did in the heat race at the back of the entire field. This was not where the French driver wanted to be while running 2nd in the series. Davis moved into P2 and Vasterman lost another position to Wooder on lap 2, to be relegated back to 4th. Cobb joined the dual sitting in 5th as the trio shuffled positions with little between them.
The series leader moved within lengths of Tsukamoto at the front, taking a good look at passing. Just over the so-called “motocross jump” at the bottom of the circuit, Davis slowed to a halt and parked the kart while he became a spectator near the grandstand for the remainder of the race. As they passed Davis sidelined, Wooder claimed 2nd from Vasterman as the dicing went on but the places stayed the same for the finish. Tsukamoto took the win by five seconds with Cobb 4th and Florient Lambert 5th. Several retirements gave Bourquard some relief to take 6th along with another point over Davis, who clocked the best lap of the meeting in Masters just before his failure Sunday.
In the heat of the afternoon, the pressure was on and Tsukamoto appeared to be the man everyone was out to beat with 22 laps to do it. He settled into the lead once more with Vasterman and Lambert close behind at the start. Cobb was squeezed out on turn 1 and had to work hard to make it up. On the next lap Lambert ran wide letting Davis through for 3rd before sneaking up on Vasterman within minutes to take 2nd as well. Wooder and Bourquard also caught him and battled for 3rd soon after, as the Davis lessened the gap to the leader in the meantime. Checking the distance between them over his shoulder, Tsukamoto was obviously concerned and made a mistake going slightly offline losing time before getting back on track. The damage was done and race pacesetter Davis went on to extend the gap for the lead to the chequered flag for an easy win. Passing a lapped driver, Bourquard also made his move on the Japanese driver with Wooder following him through to complete the round 3 podium. Tsukamoto had to settle for 4th ahead of Vasterman, Lambert and Cobb in 7th. Slovenia’s Boris Oven took 8th from John Van Wyk who had some bad luck in the pre-final and Dejan Srimsek also of Slovenia, made up the ten.
The quietly confident Davis was pleased with the results to stay at the top of the points table going into the final round for 2007 in Belgium. He admitted though that he’d reflected on his experience last year when he was in the same position and lost the championship when it all went wrong. “In the pre-final today we changed to a softer axle and I just think it flexed too much so I dropped the chain which ended my race. We knew we were quick enough in the final but it was just a matter of getting through the traffic. I had a good start and then for some reason, the leader seemed to continuously look around. It’s a good result and now I just need a good pre-final in Genk.”
28 karts gave the Rotax DD2 class some exciting competition to keep the drivers and supporters enthusiastic over the weekend. Championship leader Leroy Poulter again flew the flag for South Africa setting the best lap to qualify on pole (43.858) with a gap of 0.034 seconds to Denmark’s Max & DD2 champion Dennis Ladefoged. Pieter Scheefhals of the Netherlands was 3rd fastest. Poulter said prior to the meeting that it was a shame defending champ Wesleigh Orr was unable to be there for the event after he’d enjoyed racing against him in the DD2 in Germany.
All three qualifying heats Saturday went Poulter’s way, although Scheefhals outshone him time-wise in the wet in the second race. The polesitter later admitted that it was really slippery on the new wet tyres with all the rubber down from the three hot days leading up to it. The Dutch driver would take his place on the front row next to Poulter for the pre-final after having three 2nd place finishes, while Ladefoged would start on P3 alongside former DD2 Euro Challenge entry Toms Bobrovskis of Latvia. He has also been competing this year in the new KZ2 class. It was a frustrating day’s results for Dennis Kroes with two DNFs in the heat races after having some problems that may well jeopardise his current 2nd place in the series, only 18 points behind Poulter. The best placed Master in the DD2 class at round 2 Patrick Vasterman also failed to complete two races on the day. Swiss pilot Kevin Ludi had challenged Orr for the lead during one of the heats last May in Germany but in Austria he was well off the pace and came in underweight in one race this weekend after his fuel line came off, which would see his start position for the pre-final drop to 24.
A rather assertive move by Scheefhals to cross to the inside behind Poulter at the start of Sunday’s pre-final was enough to send the polesitter spinning into turn 1 and as his brake disc was damaged in the process, made it impossible for Poulter to continue. Deemed as a racing incident and by no means intentional, Poulter’s hopes of taking the championship win at the third round disappeared. Tiffany Chittenden showed why she’s leading her national DD2 championship by quickly slotting into 2nd ahead of Ladefoged. The group chasing some lengths back was led by Spain’s Alvaro Lopez de Diego making his debut in the series with fellow Karting Club Valencia team-mate Francisco Rodriguez and Wildkart supported entry Patrick Pearce on his heels. Frenchman Morgan Riche moved into the picture, taking 6th away from Pearce soon after.
Within six laps of the 18 over, Chittenden had clocked the fastest time for the race and decreased the gap to Scheefhals. She forced her way passed to take the lead but it was short-lived, as the packed grandstand cheered them on, with a great view of the action in front of them. The tiny blonde driver gave it another shot on the next lap and succeeded, only to give it up eventually when she changed gears going into turn 2 but it didn’t engage. She ran just offline giving Scheefhals the perfect chance to take back the lead and secure the win. Ladefoged crossed the line for 3rd not too far behind but six seconds ahead of the Spanish duo followed by Riche in 6th, then Pearce and Lothar Winzen. Bobrovskis had dropped back to 9th and Kroes was 10th after making his way through the field, still determined to be spraying the champagne later on the podium.
The question in the DD2 final was “where to look?” as Poulter was coming from the back row, Scheefhals was having to fend off Chittenden and Ladefoged while the likes of Bobrovskis, Kroes and others mid-field were going to make this one interesting. Scheefhals assumed the lead and Ladefoged kept Chittenden from cutting in on his inside run. She was hassled first by Lopez de Diego then Bobrovskis, who passed the lady driver within laps. Pearce retired on lap 3 when he had problems with his throttle cable while Denis Thum and Winzen ended up racing ROF. Poulter was carefully making his way through the pack as he moved amongst the battle just outside the top 10 which was pretty intense. Between Kroes, Herndlhofer, Ludi and Viera, the competition was thrilling. It was Adams who waved Poulter passed for 9th, recognising he was quicker and a ten second penalty for cutting the track would see Adams have to lose time in any case.
Chittenden was literally sandwiched between the Spanish drivers as she pushed up to 4th. Bobrovskis took advantage of coming up to a lapped driver and passed Ladefoged at the same time to take 2nd. The well-deserved win went to Scheefhals, with visions of last year when he was on the podium in the Max class at the Speedworld circuit. A disappointed Chittenden relinquished 4th with a jump start penalty enforced, to round out the top 10. Rodriguez moved up a place as did Lopez de Diego, who was the first of the Masters’ drivers home in the class. A close 6th therefore went to Poulter who drove a fantastic race for his points, with Riche 7th ahead of Vasterman and Kroes. Adams had to forego 10th with the penalty to finish 17th. Irishman James Tumulty failed to repeat his ’05 podium success again in Austria but was joined by Remon Hannink and youngster Kristaps Gasparovics as they tagged onto Herndlhofer’s freight train across the line. It was fantastic racing!
Pieter Scheefhals said he had been lucky this round to have had his Kombikart factory mechanic at the event who normally works with him at the Dutch Championship. “The weekend went pretty good thanks to Marcel my mechanic who came with me. He knows everything…! In the pre-final I used the tyres I had on since the qualifying but the set-up was not as good as it was for the final. The kart was very consistent in the final so I was able to stay in front and had enough distance from Toms [Bobrovskis] in the last five laps to hold an easy pace. It’s thanks to Kombikart and Marcel that I have achieved this result.”