Pete Fink helped Philipp Lietz to his 2015 Venray double victory
Philipp Lietz won both races at Venray Raceway in 2015 – Pete Fink had a hand in the success
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series (NWES) visited the 0.5-mile short track in Ysselsteyn, the Netherlands, for rounds three and four of the 2015 season. Raceway Venray is considered the fastest half-mile oval in Europe and provided EuroNASCAR with a worthy home on the oval at the time. In the middle of it all: Austrian Philipp Lietz, who was to experience one of his best NASCAR race weekends ever.
Lietz started for GDL Racing in the #67 car at that time and competed in both the ELITE 1 (now EuroNASCAR PRO) and ELITE 2 (now EuroNASCAR 2) championships. His focus, however, was on the second EuroNASCAR championship. After promising Free Practice sessions and a Pole Position in Qualifying, Lietz had the 60-lap race on Venray’s 25-degree banking ahead of him.
With no experience on the oval, the Austrian was grateful for any tips – and that’s where NASCAR commentator Pete Fink came in. In his book ‘Das Phänomen NASCAR 3’ the Munich native, who was a first-time guest at Venray, described the situation as follows: “Was there anything left to do in terms of tuning? ‘I wouldn’t change anything,’ I said to him. ‘It’s best to leave everything as it is. You’re by far the fastest.” In particular, Lietz mastered turn 4 better than the competition, which visibly had problems.
Race strategy worked out together
Pole position was the just reward for the Austrian’s performance, but he now had to fine-tune his race strategy. According to Fink, a “kind of basic trust” had formed between the two at this point, because Lietz already came to the Munich native after the training and he even wanted to have him as a spotter. Lietz asked the NASCAR commentator if he should start “in or outside” as the pole sitter was allowed to pick the line at the start.
“At Venray, it’s always the outside line,” wrote Fink, who immediately recognized that the outside lane on the short track is the ideal line. “‘For God’s sake, just stay on top,’ I told him. ‘You stay up at the start, and you stay up at every single restart, too. Other than that, please don’t change anything. It’s 60 laps, there are no pit stops. If you always stay nice on the top line, then nobody can crack you around the bottom.'”
Small anecdote: ‘Leadlap.net’ photographer Michael Großgarten observed the whole scene and listened to the conversation between Fink and Lietz. He said: “I remember very clearly how Pete kept telling Philipp to stay on top. The two of them philosophized about strategy and it ultimately worked! But Philipp had further support: Erich Glavitza, who was used as a stunt double in Bond films and in the Le Mans movie. By the way, Florian Renauer also asked Pete for advice.”
No sooner said than done: Lietz followed Fink’s instructions and immediately took the lead at the start. Although Gianmarco Ercoli was pushing hard behind the Austrian, the Italian could not get past Lietz. There were several crashes and therefore the expected restarts, all of which Lietz mastered on the outer line. Also shortly before the end, when Gabriela Prado crashed her car into the wall.
The first victory on the oval
This time it was Frenchman Thomas Ferrando who put on the pressure, but Lietz kept his cool and secured his first victory at Raceway Venray. “All of a sudden I was no longer an observing journalist. Suddenly I was crew chief or chief strategist,” said Fink, who actually wanted to leave early because he had some 700 kilometers of track ahead of him to Munich and had to commentate on a NASCAR race on Sunday.
He was even about to leave the facility early when Lietz thundered to a start-finish victory. “There’s your Austrian racing buddy winning his first oval race and you’re heading home,” Fink wrote in his book. “You can’t have something like that.” Fink went back onto the layout to turn directly into Victory Lane. “Then the absolute greatest: the punch from the bubbly,” said Fink, who thankfully turned back once again to taste the winning champagne for the first and only time in his life.
While the man from Munich, who had watched the race from the standing-room grandstand in turns 3 and 4 – near the exit – now made his way home after all, Lietz didn’t have much time to celebrate because the second ELITE 2 race on the short track was already on the agenda the following day. So there could be no extensive party, because the team had to be fit the following day to confirm the performance on Saturday. And the team managed to do that with flying colors!
Second victory in a row
Lietz also started from pole position on Sunday and – how could it be otherwise – started the 60-lap race from the outside line. Ercoli tried to take the lead on the inside line and so the two drove side by side until turn 4. Lietz pulled away at the front after a little contact between Ercoli and Guillaume Deflandre.
The Austrian had an immediate lead of two to three car lengths and thus comfortably completed his laps at the head of the ELITE 2 field. While the midfield was busy, Lietz experienced a lonely race in first place as Ercoli and Florian Renauer battled for second place and thus lost touch with the Austrian.
Francesca Linossi crashed into the wall towards the end of the race, triggering a caution period, but Lietz still drove to his second oval win at Raceway Venray in the Netherlands without much trouble after a good restart. He defeated Ferrando and Ercoli, who completed the top 3. For Lietz – but also Fink – it was certainly a race weekend, as both will not forget so quickly.
For Lietz, however, it was not the first victory in the official European NASCAR series. In 2014, the Austrian had already celebrated his debut victory in the ELITE-2 championship on the circuit in Magione, Italy. After the season, it was the end of the road for Lietz in EuroNASCAR: With three victories – two of them at Venray Raceway – he left the series to devote himself to other projects.