New Season and New Champions at the Rotax Winter Cup 2017
The 2017 Rotax Winter Cup got off to an exciting start for the new season at the Kartodromo Internationale Lucas Guerrero circuit at Valencia in Spain. Friday saw qualifying run under perfect sunny ‘wintery’ conditions with some surprises from the rookies in the field, as well as some extremely close laptimes from the very competitive line-up. As the weather turned and rain threatened Saturday’s racing, the last round of the heat races was run in the wet. However, Sunday afternoon saw the sun out again at times along with fantastic battles for the Winter Cup titles and 3 Rotax Grand Finals tickets.
With the introduction of the Rotax Mini Max class to the event, the tiniest of the competitors kicked-off the track action Friday. Following several changes to the timesheet in the final laps of the initial session, it was Diaraf Keinde (Tony Kart) from the United Arab Emirates who posted the best lap to take pole position in the final moments. The Persistence Motorsport team driver said he was not at all surprised to be on pole position and happy to be starting on P1 for Saturday’s races. Oli Pylka (Kosmic – UNIQ Racing) from Poland managed to reclaim the next best grid place in a last lap dash to the line ahead of Hungary’s Balazs Valint (Tony Kart – Hargitai Racing).
Taking a strong win in all three qualifying heats, Oli Pylka assured himself of pole position for the pre-final Sunday morning. Joining him on the grid for a front row start, Gianni Andrisani (Tony Kart – RS Competition) had finished twice 2nd plus a 3rd while Balazs Valint took 3rd in two races to be on grid 3.
The pre-final scramble for positions was a good dice at the beginning of the nine laps until Pylka and Valint finally got away from the leader’s UNIQ Racing Polish team-mates Victor Obarzanek and Jerzyk Spinkiewicz. During the last lap, Valint snatched the lead from Pylka who then passed the Hungarian back to regain it for a narrow victory from the race pace-setter.
With the beating Kibombo drums of the local Spanish drumming group setting the battle scene for the afternoon finals, the atmosphere was building for the last of the Rotax Winter Cup program to get underway. Oli Pylka led the way from pole position and never looked back. Behind him the race for places was not so easy, with an assault from Diaraf Keinde coming into play for the podium by mid-way through the 12-lapper. The UAE driver managed to secure P3, then also P2 from Obarzanek by lap 6, while setting the best lap of the race in the process. The leader kept his head down to take a deserving win almost three seconds ahead of Kiende. Valint finally broke free to pull a gap for 3rd as Andrisani tried to hold 4th just as the sun broke through the clouds. A last lunge from Obarzanek to pass him was over-ruled by a time penalty that gave the Danish driver back P4, while Spinkiewicz crossed the line in 6th.
Oli PYLKA – “I am really happy with my result today. We have done a lot of training here to be ready so I was 100% confident that I could win the event.”
The Rotax Junior Max category brings another new dimension to the Winter Cup this year with a long list of newcomers to the class on an international level. There was also the introduction of the AHD (Anti-Pushing Device) rear bumper system and the switch to the MOJO D2 tyre for the Junior Max. The honours in qualifying went to the youngest driver, Luca Leistra (Tony Kart – Bouvin Power) from Belgium, who claimed he was really surprised to be quickest, saying “It’s amazing!” Swiss junior Jasin Ferati (FA Kart – DHR) clocked second best time over Tijmen van der Helm (Exprit – JJ Racing).
Saturday’s heats went in favour of Leistra after an 8th in the opening race kept him from taking pole for the pre-final. It was Van der Helm with a win, 2nd and 3rd who claimed P1 Sunday beside the 11-year old, with row 2 made up of the two drivers who also had a 2nd place in the heats and two top 5 results each. This was Xavier Handsaeme (Tony Kart – Bouvin Power) and Mike van Vugt (Exprit – JJ Racing) with Jasin Ferati ranking 5th overall.
Van der Helm led the pre-final initially, but an incident in the early stages left Leistra mid-way down the field and Handsaeme took the opportunity to grab P1; only to be passed back by the Dutchman on lap 2 momentarily, before retaining his lead to take the win. By half-race distance, Ferati was unable to keep 3rd from Luka Nurmi (Birel ART – KMS Europe) who then pursued Van der Helm for a chance at 2nd. Van Vugt rounded out the top 5 to head an impressive drive from Ugo Gazil (Tony Kart – DADD) advancing 10 positions to 6th to be classified in front of Leistra, quickest on track in 7th.
The Junior Max Final got off to a flying start for Tijmen Van der Helm, but his efforts to lead the race from lap 3 to 10 were jeopardised by an over-eager jump start, resulting in a time penalty following. A collision on lap 1 had a damaging affect on a handful of the potential pace-getters, including Ferati. From grid #1, Xavier Handsaeme began well and later continued to out-drive the rest to fight back for the win in the last two laps, while really close racing throughout the field made the 12-lap competition a nail-biter. Luka Nurmi kept his podium hopes alive as the runner-up, with Mike van Vugt setting the pace to finish 3rd. Making up the first 5 across the line were the Dutch duo JJ Racing team-mates Tijmen Van der Helm and Papijn Kraaueveld.
Xavier HANDSAEME – “It was a tricky weekend, but I worked hard for a win this week. The pre-final was a great race for me. To win this title is my best result so far and now we’re hopeful for the Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal.”
In Rotax Senior Max, Axel Charpentier (EKR – EKR Racing Team) looked good for pole in the incredibly close full field of seniors until his glory was stolen on the closing lap. It was another rookie, Hungarian Zsombor Kovacs (Birel ART – KMS Europe) who set best lap in the final moments of the session by 0.05 seconds to count out Felix Warge (OTK – Tys Racing) and senior first-timer Lauri Leppa (Tony Kart – VRT) third fastest. The pole-sitter said he was “speechless” in this his maiden senior race, “It’s unbelievable!”
Consistency over the course of the qualifying heats confirmed Lauri Leppa’s number 1 status at the end of Saturday’s racing, finishing with three 3rd places and securing pole for the pre-final. There were three different race winners; Jonathan Hoggard (Kosmic – KR Sport) who looked certain for pole until a time penalty dropped him back to P3 in the ranking, then Felix Warge on equal points with the Brit, who qualified better to start on the front row Sunday, and Tamino Bergmeier (Exprit – JJ Racing) ranked 5. Spain’s Luc Ibanez (Kosmic – Binakart) slotted in between on grid 4.
The pre-final start gave Leppa a chance to stretch his lead while the scramble for places took place behind him. Hoggard was up to P2 and under fire from Jordan Brown-Nutley (FA Kart – DHR) plus the likes of Bergmeier, Warge and Clayton Ravenscroft (Kosmic – KR Sport) up from P13 in the opening laps. Setting the best sector times in lap 4, Hoggard caught and passed Leppa to take P1, keeping focused under pressure from the Finnish driver. The gap increased by the chequered flag as Brown-Nutley shadowed Leppa for 3rd place. Warge took 4th ahead of Porsche Junior Team driver Tommy Preining (Birel ART – KMS Europe) with a stunning performance; up 19 spots. Fastest was Juho Parviainen (Tony Kart – VRT) from last to P13.
With experience definitely being the key in the first race of the day in Senior Max, it was without any doubt going to be a deciding factor in the final. The racing became as exciting as it could get from one lap to the next! It was Hoggard who took the lead from the lights, soon overtaken by Brown-Nutley before Preining made his move for P1 on the next lap. The action got serious from there as the shuffle for the lead picked up momentum with the long train of karts pushing hard. Hoggard dominated the time spent at the front until half-race distance in a constant dice with Brown-Nutley, Warge and Preining followed closely by the next pack hunting the podium. Finally, Brown-Nutley found his way to 1st as a move from Preining left Hoggard off-line. Kovacs through from P12 grabbed 3rd until Hoggard regained his feet.
On lap 10, Warge took over and tried hard to keep his lead from Brown-Nutley all over his bumper, losing the battle with two laps remaining. He swapped places back and forth with Hoggard as the last lap board came out, but the KR Sport driver hit a curb in P3, allowing Kovacs to relegate him to 4th. The race to the line went to Brown-Nutley in a photo finish with Warge to end an incredibly close final with some brilliant driving. Axel Charpentier racing with his new Spanish team at EKR climbed 16 places to take 5th ahead of pace-setter Alessandro Trombelli (Kosmic – KR Sport) also up 10 positions for 6th in another close result of 0.016 seconds to team-mate Joe Phillips 7th.
Jordan BROWN-NUTLEY – “We struggled a bit in the heats, but managed to get there for the final. The pre-final was quite good and just got us in the position to be at the front. It was hard at the time even just to lead the final. This is a great result for us to win here at the Winter Cup and I’m very happy to take the ticket already at the start of the season ticket for the Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal. A big thanks to DHR and everyone supporting me.”
The Spanish showdown in the Rotax DD2 category began during official timed practice between Jorge Pescador (Praga IPK – Praga Racing Team) and multiple national champion Oriol Dalmau (CRG – MDC Racing), which would continue until the final flag was waved. Pescador pushed to the limit in the last lap of qualifying to seal his place on P1 for Saturday’s qualifying heats 0.03 seconds alongside fellow Spaniard with DD2 rookie Glenn van Parijs (Tony Kart – Bouvin Power) on P3. The pole-sitter said, “I’m very happy to be starting on P1 because it is important for the racing tomorrow.”
The level of the competition in the 2-speed class was considerably high due to the number of experienced entries participating at the Rotax Winter Cup. Saturday’s heats concluded with rain in the afternoon session, which mixed the results for the pre-final grid the following day. Praga IPK official driver Jorge Pescador was victorious in the two dry races driving almost faultless laps. However, it was the reigning European Rotax DD2 champion Kevin Ludi (Kosmic – Spirit Racing) who stormed home in the wet to win the last race, adding to his 2nd and 4th places to join the Spanish driver on the front row. Oriol Dalmau had a 2nd and was twice 4th to take grid position 3 next to Kacper Bielecki (Kosmic – Inter Cars Karting Team) with two 3rd places. Ranked 5 was last year’s Rotax Euro Challenge vice champion Constantine Schoell (Tony Kart – Daems Racing Team).
The Valencia circuit had been drying more with each of the pre-finals, so the conditions were improving to be within 2 seconds per lap of official times practice. Dalmau off grid 3 had a good start to follow Pescador closely in the early stages with Ludi in their wake. By lap 3, Dalmau showed why he has been the world #3 and Spanish champ, posting the fastest time and holding Pescador at bay for the remaining 9 laps. Bielecki, almost as quick as the leader, got into 3rd to set himself up in a good starting position for the final. 4th place was another of the drivers from Finland Ville Viiliainen (Tony Kart – VRT) with Van Parijs making the transition nicely to the gearbox class in 5th.
The finale of the finals was no disappointment to the fans watching trackside at the Lucas Guerrero venue or glued to live Telemundi Media coverage, where the victory was a sweet one for local driver Oriol Dalmau. Having lost the Winter Cup title after a great pre-final last year, the Spaniard admitted he was concerned that history may repeat itself. However, he led from the start and savoured every lap out in front. Following closely, Bielecki held P2 for a short time before Schoell with a superb run from grid 7 passed the Polish driver. Van Parijs then overtook Schoell to chase down Dalmau.
Pescador was on a mission – soon up to 3rd, as Haralds Garkaklis (Flandria) took a place from Barrie Pullinger (FA Kart – DHR) for P5 and Ludi closed in. With 5 laps to go, Pescador claimed 2nd from Van Parijs and covered his line well to the race end. While the battle raged on mid-field, the Belgian still searched for a way past, giving Bielecki the chance to catch up again. In the closing moments of the last lap, the final step of the podium slipped away from Van Parijs. Garkaklis took 5th over Ludi, then nothing separated Pullinger, Cosimo Durante (Parolin) and Viiliainen as they hit the line ahead of Ludi’s team-mate Philipp Seewer (Kosmic – Spirit Racing) in 10th.
Oriol DALMAU – “The testing was up and down due to the weather, but the qualifying was good. I’m very happy with the work of the team at MDC Racing and in the end the final was great to win. Winning the ticket to represent Spain again for the fifth time at the Grand Finals is fantastic and I’m busy with my team this year, so I can focus on supporting them. I have also enjoyed racing with Jorge Pescador here at the Rotax Winter Cup too.”
The ‘more seasoned’ of the Rotax DD2 Masters, Christophe Adams (Birel ART) posted the best laptime for the category during Friday’s qualifying and commented afterwards that he was pleased to know he was “still the fastest of the older drivers”. The former World and European #1 was within the top 5 fastest individual laptimes of all DD2 drivers in the wet heat race Saturday and secured his place as the highest ranked Master within DD2.
When it came to the finals, it was the well-known Polish champion Slawomir Muranski (Tony Kart – Wyrzykowski Motorsport) who led the DD2 Masters to the flag to take the honours for the Rotax Winter Cup title. The runner-up for 2017 was Jonathan Pieterse (Sodi), who has also represented South Africa at the Grand Finals and Christophe Adams 3rd by only o.3 seconds.
With the beginning of the new season, there were several new things introduced to the successful event in Valencia which included updated regulations, products, systems and improved aspects of the live coverage that RGMMC believe will continue to aim to deliver one of the best karting events worldwide – for all the competitors, their supporters and race fans.
All results and media from the Rotax Winter Cup 2017 can be found online at www.rotaxmaxeurochallenge.com
Entries are now open for the ROTAX Max Euro Challenge 2017 4-round series with the first edition at Genk Karting, Belgium from March 29 – April 2.
More information is available at www.rotaxmaxeurochallenge.com