Rotax Max Euro Challenge Beats the Records at Genk
Thomas Preining takes his first Euro win in, Lennox Lam wins DD2 by only 0.018 seconds
From the 2nd to the 6th of April the ROTAX MAX Euro Challenge began its eleventh racing season, setting new benchmarks in every way. Over 210 drivers from 36 countries representing every continent entered the opening round on the 1.360 meters long circuit of Genk in Belgium. That meant another increase setting a new incredible record for the three categories of junior, senior and DD2 plus the special classification for the DD2 Masters. But not only did the drivers appreciate the professional surrounding of the Euro Challenge, which the organizing RGMMC Establishment is providing for years now. Even the manufacturers are attracted more and more. So Birel, CRG, ART GP, Sodikart, Tony Kart and Praga are only a few companies, which reinforced their official commitment to the international arena of ROTAX.
“For the past eight years the Euro has continued to gain momentum with each season seeing an increase in drivers with more countries than ever participating from around the world. This opening round saw yet again another record-breaking entry with both the junior and senior classes being over-subscribed. The feedback has been really encouraging and I am very proud of our achievement, which is based on advancement, development and progress” quotes Roland Geidel, RGMMC CEO who equally introduced some innovations to the Euro Challenge 2014: Alongside the state-of-the-art timing system X2 from MYLAPS, now directly run by RGMMC Timing, the race control system has been upgraded to 30 cameras, all being equipped with high definition. That did not only bring more fairness to the racing but provides thousands of fans and followers of the live TV-stream (www.rgmmcmedia.com) with more detailed action. And there was a great show to be watched: Two days of spectacular qualifying procedures filtered out the best 102 drivers for the final races which at last did not rank behind in excitement at all…
Junior Thomas Preining takes his first Euro win in
70 junior drivers competed at Genk, fighting for the first points of the season. Already setting the best time during the ROTAX Winter Cup at Campillos, Austria’s Thomas Preining (Team TKP) proved to be the quickest junior in the qualifying at Genk, too. By only a hundredth of a second he placed his FA Kart on pole position for the heats on Saturday. Dutchman Richard Verschoor completed a successful performance for the Team TKP as he drove the second best time right behind his teammate. Dave Wooder (Dan Holland Racing) from the UK asserted himself in third position ahead of his teammate Max Timmermans who seized his experience on home soil. The Turkish driver Berkay Besler (DNR Racing) rounded off the top five positions of the ROTAX youngsters.
In the heats Thomas Preining aimed to confirm his brilliant performance. He celebrated two wins and a fourth place, which in the end was not enough to defend his pole position. He had to be satisfied with place two, leaving the way to local hero Max Timmermans. Just like Preining, the Belgian gained two victories but finally finished third in on heat, which made him pole sitter for Sunday’s prefinal. Richard Verschoor took one heat win and consistently placed among the top five positions, thus establishing himself on third place of the heat ranking. UK driver Dean MacDonald (Strawberry Racing) and Frenchman Louis-Ferdinand Simmenauer (Jana Racing) completed the top five positions after six exciting qualifying heats. For the final day Thomas Preining was the one to be beaten. The Austrian was in best shape and finally took two wins, which were never really in danger. For him it was his first Euro win ever. “Yeah I am totally happy. I want to thank my sponsors and my team for that success. We worked pretty hard to achieve this success,” Preining said during the prize giving ceremony. Behind the double winner Dean MacDonald (Strawberry Racing) was the one who saw the chequered flag in second place in both races staying out of trouble and leaving the rest of the grid to its own quarrels. Especially pole-sitter Max Timmermans and Richard Verschoor were the ones who were fighting for the last podium place. While Timmermans took the third place in the prefinal ahead of Verschoor, the final was supposed to end in tragedy. In the very last corner they collided, leaving way to Rinus van Kalmthout (VF Racing) who luckily crossed the line in third place. But the Dutchman was penalized due to unfair driving which made him drop back to 24th place in the end. So after all it was Verschoor who in spite of all action managed the jump on the podium.
Double Victory for Strawberry in senior category
A great show was expected in the senior category. Tremendous 90 drivers were heading for the victory, which made it the largest class within the Euro Challenge framework, lifting the competition to the most thrilling level ever. But the grid not only impressed by its quantity. The Drivers’ quality was extremely high too and represented the best, which international ROTAX racing has to offer. First in focus was Connor Jupp (Dan Holland Racing) from the UK who marked the best time in the qualifying by 54.946 seconds, thus being the only man breaking the magical barrier of 55 seconds. Close behind him local hero Glenn van Droogenbroeck (Daems Racing) followed with 55.04 seconds, being only slightly quicker than Dutchman Bas De Laat (PDB Racing Team), Oliver Myers (Coles Racing) from the UK, Austria’s Constantin Schoell (Dan Holland Racing) and Brett Ward (Strawberry Racing) from the UK. In the very end not less than 78 drivers were separated by a gap of one second – a fact that even the reigning junior champion Guan Yu Zhou (Strawberry Racing) had to accept, when he ended up on a developable 18th position with a gap of 0.248 seconds only.
With a total of ten heats the seniors had a lot of “race work” to do. Again the seniors proved their the level of competition by tough and close races, that came up with eight different winners in the afternoon. Sweden’s Victor Oberg (PDB Racing Team), Australia’s Pierce Lehane (Dan Holland Racing), Canada’s Claman Demelo (Intrepid Driver Program), Belgium’s Glenn van Droogenbroeck, Dutchman Dries Vanthoor (Team TKP) as well as the UK drivers Jai Nijjar (Strawberry Racing) and Connor Jupp belonged to the circle of winners, which in an outstanding way applied to Guan Yu Zhou. The latter was the only one, winning more than once – more precisely three times! Consequently Zhou established himself on pole position for the prefinal on Sunday. Alongside Connor Jupp took second place in the ranking, while Pierce Lehane and Victor Oberg rounded off the top positions. ROTAX Winter Cup winner Joseph Reilly (Strawberry Racing) kept in touch with the to too, although he ended up in seventh position of the ranking. “Actually I could have done better. Especially when I lost my heat win due to a time penalty. That was really a spanner in the works”, said Reilly before picking up the final races, which he was supposed to play a leading role in.
On Sunday Guan Yu Zhou and his teammate Joseph Reilly (Strawberry Racing) were the driving force. Already in the prefinal Zhou early asserted himself in first place while Reilly came up with a brilliant start, which boosted him from seventh rank up to second position. Once in front the duo had quite an easy job bringing home their top positions. Third place went to Edward Brand (Intrepid Driver Program) who drove a remarkable prefinal, which he had picked up from 13th position.The final quickly turned into a triple fight between Zhou, Reilly and Brand. Although the trio headed far away from the grid a yellow phase and a subsequent interruption of the race – due to an accident in the back of the grid – undid the advantage. Yet the trio was confident enough to repeat its performance after the race was re-started. For the most part of the remaining laps Zhou stayed in control. As the race approached the end Zhou had to give way to Reilly and Brand. While he finally was able to regain second place in the last lap, by pushing Brand back to third place, there was no way to bother Reilly anyway. The latter crossed the finish line first thus underlining his performance he already showed by his victory at the ROTAX Winter Cup in February.
Lennox Lamb wins DD2 by only 0.018 seconds
The DD2 category promised some very prominent and elitist action. Over 50 drivers made for a well-stocked grid, which consisted of the top drivers of ROTAX gearbox karting opposing the world’s best karting drivers. The men to be beaten certainly were titleholder Ben Cooper (KMS – Birel Motorsport) and Sean Babington, recently winner of the Winter Cup. Not to forget Sodikart’s Anthony Abbasse, who won the US Super Nationals or his teammate Henry Easthope who proved his skills in 2012 when he crowned himself U18 World champion. Competition was put onto another level by three more popular names: Paolo de Conto (KMS – Birel Motorsport), Jonathan Thonon (Praga Kart Racing) and Jordan Lennox Lamb (CRG SPA). Each of them look back on an impressive careers in the KZ category and belong to the most successful gearbox drivers of our time. While De Conto crowned himself two times European Champion and lately won the Winter Cup at Lonato, Thonon proved his exceptional talent by collecting not less than three World Cup titles since 2008, which Lennox Lamb was capable of in 2012, too.
The first pacemaker of the weekend was Sean Babington. The designated DD2 vice champion of the Euro Challenge 2013 did not leave any doubt and tied in with his latest success at Campillos. Yet his pole position was a close decision: Especially Sodi Kart factory driver Henry Easthope (UK) as well as Birel’s spearhead Paolo de Conto (IT) did a great job. Both drove equal lap times and in doing so shared positions two and three. Hungary’s Ferenc Kancsar (KMS – Birel Motorsport) took fourth place ahead of Dutchman Jordi van Moorsel and CRG factory driver Jordan Lennox Lamb.
Very unfortunate was the heat’s course of events for Friday’s fastest Sean Babington. After finishing two heats on first and second place he had to retire the last race due to a mechanical problem. A not properly fixed engine made him lose all chances for a good position in the ranking making him only listed 18th in the end. His hardest opponent was Paolo De Conto. The multiple KZ champion was the only one winning two heats, boosting himself onto the pole position. Right behind him, Jordan Lennox Lamb was successful too. A heat win and some consistent top results put the former World Cup winner on place two, while Xen de Ruwe stepped up to third place in the ranking, thus improving his ninth place from Friday’s qualifying impressively. A remarkable job did youngster Rasmus Markkanen (MPT Racing). The flying Finn celebrated a heat victory and furthermore collected a sixth and a third place, which granted him the fourth place in the overall classification, just one position ahead of the title defender Ben Cooper.
In the prefinal Paolo De Conto and Jordan Lennox Lamb proved to be the protagonists, although both of them had to deal with Jonathan Thonon (Praga Racing Team). The Belgian had a great start and set the leaders under pressure. But this was only a flash in the pan. As fighting got tougher he slightly struggled with Xen de Ruwe who consequently had to retire from the race, while Thonon finally had to be satisfied with fifth place. The leaders kept unimpressed and dedicated themselves to their own battle. Unfortunately this ended quite dramatically. In the last but one corner De Conto aimed for a last minute manoeuvre against Lennox Lamb. As a result both got off the track. Lennox Lamb rescued 13th position, while De Conto shortcut the track and got excluded – even worse he had no permission for the final either. The lucky guy who inherited the win was Denmark’s Mads Thomsen (HL Kart Racing). Second place went to Ben Cooper ahead of Sean Babington who had started the race from place 18.
The final began with a small rain shower which was not suppose to bother the grid any further since the track quickly dried during the warm up laps. After the start it was Cooper establishing himself in the lead. But his opponents breathed down his neck. Almost 15 drivers kept in his slipstream and started to fight for positions. Here Babington got involved in a collision that made him drop back to the end of the grid. At the race’s halftime Lennox Lamb and Thonon were the ones taking over the leading role, pushing Cooper back in third place. Even Frenchman Damien Vuillaume (Flandria Competition Kart) found a way to pass Cooper if there would not have been a time penalty for unfair driving which finally made him drop back to 25th position. On the top Lennox Lamb and Thonon showed an impressive duel. Several times the lead changed until a photo finish had to identify the winner: By only 0.018 seconds Lennox Lamb was crowned winner of the opening round ahead of Thonon and Cooper.
As for the DD2 Masters Cristiano Morgado (Dan Holland Racing), a real icon of ROTAX karting exhibiting four wins of the ROTAX Grand Finals, set the fist benchmark. He was the quickest Masters drivers in the qualifying, but was without fortune in the heats. A time penalty and a retirement put him in a chanceless position. On the other hand Florent Lambert (Tatum Racing) seized his chance. He managed place 34 in the overall grid and took the leading role in the Masters category only one place ahead of his chasers Tamsin Germain (DG Racing) and Martin Pierce (Praga Racing Team). As none of the Masters drivers directly qualified for the finals, the second chance heat was supposed to bring a preliminary decision: Here the favourites Florent Lambert and Martin Pierce struggled right after the start being involved in slighter collisions. That was when Frenchman Guillaume Berteaux (Kartagene) took the lead of the Masters until Cristiano Morgado recovered from his unlucky starting position at the end of the grid. The man from South Africa crossed the finish line in seventh place of the overall grid, closely missing the qualification for the finals. Yet he did a convincing job, winning the Masters classification ahead of Guillaume Berteaux and lady driver Tamsin Germain.
All told the ROTAX MAX Euro Challenge experienced an awesome opening round at Genk which promises a most exciting season. After unveiling the first pacemakers of the year everyone is already looking out for the second stop of the year: The Italian track “7 Laghi” in Castelletto (IT) will host the next event from 26th May to 1st of June. So stay tuned on www.rotaxmaxeurochallenge.com or follow the event live on www.rgmmcmedia.com.