This article was updated on May 7 to reflect Eric Filgueiras’ addition to the Entry List.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series returns this week for the second round of the 2019 season, the NASCAR GP of Italy at Autodromo di Franciacorta. The 2,5 km, 12-turn circuit has been the site of many exciting moments in its short history in NWES, such as the surprise win of Denny Zardo in Elite 2 in 2017 as well as the site of the first “encumbered” victory in Euro Series last year.
Ander Vilariño, arguably the greatest driver in Euro Series history, once again proved why he’s such a dominant force in the series when he pulled the sweep at Valencia. Having led in almost every session at Valencia, the Spaniard proved that he hasn’t lost his edge in this series despite being absent for three years.
With drivers such as Alon Day, Loris Hezemans, and Stienes Longin being able to run close to him at Valencia, however, it remains to be seen whether the Valencia sweep is a possible sign towards a Vilarino domination in 2019 or not.
For Alon Day, last year proved to be a week full of ups and downs for the defending champion at Franciacorta. He dominated the field in both races and initially looks set to come out of Franciacorta with 4 wins out of 4. Five days after the race, however, NASCAR announced that they have disqualified the Israeli from Race 2 after he failed post-race technical inspection, the first disqualification of a race winner in NASCAR since 1960. This year, Day looks to avenge his demons as he tries to score his first win of the 2019 season.
Loris Hezemans and Stienes Longin also had a up and down week at Franciacorta last year, with a solid finish on one race being countered by a DNF on the other race. Both drivers certainly had the pace to challenge Vilarino and with them hungry for getting a win this season, it should be interesting to see whether they can threaten Vilarino on the top of the food chain.
Other drivers to watch out are Nicolò Rocca, who scored a double top 5 finish at Valencia, and Marc Goossens. The Belgian last year had a very good pace, but a late restart incident in Race 1 that dropped him way down the order coupled with a last lap, last corner overtake by Lucas Lasserre in Race 2 that turned out to be the race win deciding move certainly left the Belgian hungry and wanting for more this time around.
Last year’s Race 2 winner, Lucas Lasserre, comes to Franciacorta hoping towards a better result after he was forced to retire from Race 2 at Valencia due to an engine failure. Having showed that the No. 33 Mishumotors Camaro had the pace to compete up in the front, the Frenchman can be a dark horse candidate for getting the win at Franciacorta.
RDV Competition are also looking towards a better weekend at Franciacorta. Last time out in Valencia, Frédéric Gabillon had a mostly lonely race in both races, while defending Elite 2 champion Ulysse Delsaux had a tough weekend, finishing only 16th in Race 1 and having a DNF in Race 2. It is undeniable that both drivers have the talent to compete up in the front, the question lies more on whether RDV can provide the cars that will let them compete for the win in Italy.
Go Fas driver and 1997 Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve is also one that looks towards a better weekend in Italy. Much like Lasserre, a mechanical failure forced him out of the contention from Race 2 at Valencia. The Canadian is hoping that he can score his first top 10 finish in the Euro Series, having come narrowly close to it at Race 1 in Valencia.
Gianmarco Ercoli, Alex Sedgwick, Romain Iannetta, and Christophe Bouchut are also looking to score better results at Franciacorta. Both Sedgwick and Iannetta had a DNF in one of the races in Valencia, Bouchut was forced to not start Race 2 at Valencia after the DF1 team was unable to repair the No. 66 Camaro in time after a brake failure sends the team’s Elite 2 driver Advait Deodhar hard to the wall in Elite 2’s Sunday race, while Ercoli had an absolute shocker of a weekend – a DNF in Race 1 and finishing only 21st in Race 2 is very much less than ideal for the Italian’s championship hopes.
There will be 3 driver changes for Franciacorta. Alex Caffi will return to the series as he is scheduled to replace defending Mexico Series champion Rubén García Jr. in his team’s No. 1 Mustang, while Eric Filgueiras will make his NASCAR debut as he is scheduled to replace 2000 Monster Energy Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte in the Mishumotors No. 70 SS.
In addition, Luigi Ferrara will also make his NASCAR debut for Franciacorta as he is scheduled to drive the No. 42 Mustang of 42 Racing by FS Motorsports. Two teams – Racing-Total JJCR and The Club Motorsport – did not have a driver listed yet on the entry list.
The green flag for this year’s edition of NASCAR GP of Italy will be waved at 1:30 PM CEST on Saturday for Race 1, and at 2:30 PM CEST on Sunday for Race 2.
Photos are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.