EuroNASCAR Brands Hatch: Two new winners in Victory Lane
Alon Day sets Vilarino’s record – Alexander Graff and Liam Hezemans celebrate their debut wins
Four different winners in four races: This is the result of the second weekend of the season of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series (NWES), which this time visited Brands Hatch in Great Britain for the ninth edition of the American SpeedFest.
The weekend kicked off with the first race in the EuroNASCAR PRO category. CAAL Racing’s Nicolo Rocca secured pole position and started ahead of his team-mate Gianmarco Ercoli and Alon Day, who competes for the Belgian team PK Carsport.
After the green flag fell, this order did not change at first. Rocca won the start, Ercoli and Day took second and third place in the 38-lap long race.
After 26 laps Day passed Ercoli in the Druids and then started to chase Rocca. On lap 31, the Israeli made the decisive attack. It was Day’s 29th career win, the second in a row in the early 2022 season, and his fifth victory at the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit, giving him as many wins at the track as former champion Ander Vilarino.
“It was a nervous race, I knew the CAAL guys were fast but I also knew Fred Gabillon was behind me and he’s also a tough competitor from previous years, so I had to choose between defending against Fred and attacking Ercoli. I managed to overtake Ercoli, then things got a bit crazy because of the traffic! Nicolo lost a lot of time slowing down behind the lapped cars and I was just lucky to close the gap,” said Day in Victory Lane, who also secured pole position for Sunday’s race with the fastest lap.
Day also thanked his team PK Carsport for their preparations: “I want to thank everyone at PK Carsport. Anthony [Kumpen, team owner of PK Carsport] and everyone else put in so much effort all weekend, even this morning when we were third in qualifying. They did an incredible job trying to find every tenth on this race track and they did it. They deserved this win,” said the Israeli, pleased with PK Carsport’s performance.
Meanwhile, Rocca recorded the most lead laps in the race for himself, but had to settle for second place in the end, relegating his team-mate Ercoli to third.
Fourth place went to Hendriks driver Martin Doubek ahead of Race Art Technology’s Giorgio Maggi. For Doubek, this was also victory in the Challenger Trophy, while Maggi celebrated the win in the Junior Trophy with his fifth place overall. Second in the Challenger Trophy was The Club driver Fabrizio Armetta ahead of Henri Tuomaala, who takes the wheel for Team Bleekemolen.
Jonne Rautjarvi, also a Bleekemolen driver, finished second in the Junior Trophy, and Aliyyah Koloc (Buggyra ZM – MFT Racing) took third place.
Alberto Naska celebrates second career win
Initially, in the second race of the day, the first round in the EuroNASCAR 2 category, it looked like a safe victory for polesitter Vladimiros Tziortzis in the Academy Caffi car. The Cypriot took the lead after the start and held off both 2018 EuroNASCAR-2 champion, the young Frenchman Ulysse Delsaux, and CAAL Racing’s Alberto Naska.
Naska’s first attack on Delsaux came in the very first corner, the famous Paddock Hill Bend, but Delsaux fended off all atttacks and subsequently put a lot of pressure on the Italian YouTube star. Due to the battles for the further positions, Tziortzis extended his lead at the front, but a late safety car period not only brought the field back together, but led to an overtime – an extension of two more laps so that the race could be finished under green flag.
It was precisely in this overtime that Naska attacked his rival, grabbed the lead and crossed the finish line ahead of Tziortzis.
Liam Hezemans was the one who secured the last free place on the podium. The young Dutchman relegated both defending champion Doubek and Melvin De Groot to fourth and fifth place. The big loser of this restart was Delsaux, who let his competitors pass and had to settle for sixth place.
Naska was very emotional in Victory Lane : “I don’t know, I really don’t know, I just switched off my brain, switched on my instinct and I did it. I think it was all the experience from the years of racing, both in the simulator and in real life, that made me aware of the situation, that made me understand that I don’t have to give up right at the beginning and fight until the last lap. And this is … this is my victory!”
With this overall victory, Naska also became the winner in the Rookie classification – ahead of Hezemans and Tuomas Pontinen. Victory in the Legend Trophy was secured by De Groot, ahead of Marko-Stipp Motorsport driver Miguel Gomes and Roberto Benedetti of The Club Motorsport.
There was also an intense battle in the Lady Trophy. Here, Luli Del Castello for CAAL Racing took her second victory, relegating Alina Loibnegger in the Racingfuel car to second place. Third place on the podium went to Aliyyah Koloc who, like the experienced Arianna Casoli, had to retire early and did not finish the race.
Alexander Graff celebrates his debut victory
Sunday started with the third round of the season in the EuroNASCAR PRO category. After an exciting race, it was the Swede Alexander Graff who was allowed to sign the winners’ list as the 24th driver in the history of EuroNASCAR PRO. Not only for him this was the debut victory, but also his team Speedhouse was a guest in Victory Lane for the first time.
After the start, it was previous day’s winner Day at the wheel of the #88 PK Carsport Chevrolet who took the lead. He was followed by Ercoli and Graff. On the seventh lap Koloc crashed and the safety car had to come out. In lap 17 the race was restarted and this restart proved to be a key factor for the rest of the race.
In the Druids section, Ercoli took the lead from Day after a terrific restart – but the Israeli refused to admit defeat and crashed his rival’s car so violently before the Graham Hill Bend that the Italian fell far back due to the damage to his car. But that was not enough: Ercoli collided with Thomas Krasonis and triggered the second safety car phase. He ended up in a disappointing 26th place.
Day took the lead again after the second restart, but only a few laps later he had to serve a drive-through penalty for his action against Ercoli. As a result, Day had to settle for 16th place at the end of the race.
Graff, meanwhile, defended his lead against all attacks by Giorgio Maggi in the Race Art Toyota, who exerted a lot of pressure. In the end, the Swede celebrated his first victory in the NWES at the end of the day.
“A was a nice day’s work! My first win for Speedhouse. I want to thank all the girls and guys in the team who did a great job and put me in first place! It’s also a historic day, I got the first Swedish win in EuroNASCAR PRO, that’s nice, finally!” Graff happily admits in Victory Lane.
“I thought I had a good chance when Alon and Ercoli were fighting, but I didn’t know where it was going to push them, so I held back a bit. On the restart you just try to survive when you’re on the outside because you don’t know what’s going to happen and what to expect. Maggi did a great job behind me trying to pass me, he put me under pressure,” the Swede continued.
Hendriks driver Doubek rounded off the podium, with Rocca and EuroNASCAR veteran Frederic Gabillon of RDV Competition in fourth and fifth. Due to the bad finishes of his competitors, Rocca now heads into the next race as the leader of the standings.
With his second place overall, Maggi secured victory in the Junior Trophy ahead of Hezemans and Italian Leonardo Colavita of Racers Motorsport.
It was Doubek who claimed the Challenger Trophy, with Davide Dallara in the Not-Only Motorsport racer second, while The Club driver Fabrizio Armetta completed the podium.
Hezemans in Victory Lane for the first time
To round off the Brands Hatch weekend, the second race of the EuroNASCAR 2 category was on the agenda late on Sunday afternoon. This turned out to be a real thriller, which in the end was won by Hezemans at the wheel of the number 50 Ford Mustang from Team Hendriks Motorsport.
Side note: Hezemans competed in both EuroNASCAR 2 and EuroNASCAR PRO this weekend. In the PRO category, he was filling in for Tobias Dauenhauer, who was unable to compete due to a Covid 19 illness.
Tziortzis immediately converted his pole position after the start into the race lead. He was followed by CAAL Racing’s Naska, but the safety car had to be deployed as Francesco Garisto had to stop his car due to a puncture. After the restart, Naska passed Tziortzis with an impressive overtaking manoeuvre and took the lead.
He did not relinquish the lead even after another yellow period, but on lap 27, shortly before the end of the race, Paolo Valeri spun and caused another yellow period. So the race went into overtime – and it was to be a dramatic one: Hezemans got off to a perfect start and overtook Tziortzis first.
But that was not enough: on the last lap, the young Dutchman also squeezed past Naska, crossed the finish line in first place and slowed down his pace, while quite a few of his competitors continued at race speed and overtook him, as no chequered flag was waved.
“It was crazy! I’m incredibly happy, it really was a fantastic weekend,” said Hezemans after the race, who also won the Rookie Trophy classification. “We just heard over the radio that Mark told me we were going into overtime, so there were two more laps! I just went for it and it worked. I am so insanely happy!
I have to thank my whole team, that’s for sure! They did an incredible job after I had an accident on Friday, and I have the best coaches in my dad and Loris, the two-time NASCAR champion! I’m speechless!”
Second, both overall and in the Rookie Trophy, was Naska, with Tziortzis completing the overall podium. Third in the Rookie classification was Claudio Remigio Cappelli in the service of Race Art Technology – who also won the Legend Trophy at the same time.
Joining him on the Legends Trophy podium were the two Marko Stipp Motorsport drivers Miguel Gomes and Yevgen Sokolovskiy in second and third place. Koloc secured victory in the Lady Trophy ahead of Castello and Loibnegger.
Naska remains the leader of the standings with 150 points ahead of Hezemans (139 points) and Tziortzis (135 points). Later, NWES issued a statement on the problem with the chequered flag. This reads as follows:
“The NWES organisation has noted the communication problems with the flagman during Sunday’s race, which resulted in problems with the chequered flag being displayed. The events did not affect the sporting results of the races. The NWES organisation will investigate to determine the reasons for this miscommunication and develop a new process with its track partners to prevent such a situation from happening again.”
The next NWES races will take place on 9 and 10 July 2022 in Vallelunga, Italy.