The start of Elite 2 Race 1 race of the 2018 NASCAR GP of Italy

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 the Alex Caffi Motorsport car in 2017 as well as the site the first “encumbered” victory in Euro Series last year.

With the “power vacuum” that the Elite 2 class have this season, there are a lot of drivers that are hungry to score their first win in the series. Giorgio Maggi and Nicholas Risitano both scored their first race wins in Valencia, and with plenty of drivers still waiting for their chance to get their first win, Franciacorta is shaping up to bring a lot of exciting battles as the drivers are going to push themselves to the absolute limit in order to score their first win in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.

Hendriks celebrates a double podium finish at Elite 2's Race 1 of Valencia.

Hendriks Motorsport arrived in Franciacorta as the current favorite for the championship. Giorgio Maggi has certainly showed that he had no problems with transitioning from sports car racing to stock car racing, as Maggi snatched an unlikely race win on his very first NASCAR race thanks to Andre Castro and Myatt Snider’s last lap, last corner collision. The win, combined with a 7th place finish in Race 2, ultimately led the Swiss driver to the top of the championship, and he is hoping that he can retain his championship lead at Franciacorta.

As for Martin Doubek, his experience in this series has paid dividends in Valencia as he also took advantage of the Castro-Snider collision to sneak his way to a third place finish in Race 1 to score his first podium in the series since 2016. The Czech driver, who is doing the Double Duty for all races in the No. 7 Mustang, came out from Valencia with a double top 5 finish and is hoping to retain this form if he wants to have a shot for the championship.

Nicholas Risitano celebrates his first Euro Series race win after Sunday's Elite 2 race Valencia.

Racers Motorsport is also a team that looks to be one of the early favorites for the championships. Nicholas Risitano in the No. 8 Mustang scored his first win after a very tight battle for the win at Race 2 in Valencia, while the double podium finishes scored by 2013 Auto GP champion Vittorio Ghirelli in the No. 9 Mustang help propelled him to second place in the championship, just one point behind Maggi in the No. 50 Hendriks Mustang.

The 18-year old Alessandro Brigatti also showed impressive pace at Valencia in the No. 19 Mustang, but after continuous mechanical gremlins throughout Saturday and Sunday ultimately led to a double DNF, the young Italian from Lissone is left wanting for a lot more this time around.

Snider (#48) and Castro (#24) before the start of Sunday's Elite 2 race at Valencia.

Speaking of wanting for a lot more, Myatt Snider and Andre Castro are also looking for a much better result in Italy. Snider was arguably the fastest driver throughout the Valencia weekend, but driver mistakes – including that painful last lap, last corner collision – ultimately left him winless and way down the order in the championship. As for Castro, his second-place finish in Race 2 was compromised by Snider’s “torpedo” move in Race 1, which ultimately led him with a 22-point deficit from Maggi in the championship.

However, it is very much certain that both Snider and Castro will be the favorites for the win once again at Franciacorta as they looked forward to possibly become the first American driver to win a Euro Series championship race in any class – current NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series General Manager Ben Kennedy had previously won an Elite 1 Euro Series race in 2012 at Tours, but that particular Tours race week is held as a non-championship race week.

Florian Venturi, driver of the No. 32 HD Muz Mustang, waits in the pit lane before the start of Sunday's Elite 2 activity at Valencia

As for pre-season championship favorites Florian Venturi, to say that the Frenchman had a horrible weekend at Valencia would be an understatement. First, he got a 30-second time penalty on Race 1 after spinning Bert Longin out at Doohan on the last lap that dropped him from fourth to 21st, then a multitude of incidents in Race 2 – from jumping the restart to spinning Eric De Doncker out in the final laps of the race – eventually led NASCAR to strip him from the points that he scored in Race 2.

Because of all the shenanigans listed above, Venturi is pretty much in dead last in the championship coming to Franciacorta. – he’s only ahead of Jennifer Jo Cobb on countback, as he had a non-scoring 18th place finish in comparison to JJC’s DNS. It is undeniable that Venturi and Go Fas had the pace to compete for the championship, but the question will be on whether Venturi can avoid making unnecessary mistakes that’ll hurt his championship hopes even more at Franciacorta.

Drivers such as Pierluigi Veronesi, Max Lanza, Advait Deodhar, and Freddie Hemborg will come to this race as possible underdog candidates. Veronesi was quietly impressive in the No. 27 Alex Caffi Mustang at Valencia as a double top 10 finish saw him currently sitting in fourth in the championship, while Lanza, Deodhar, and Hemborg came very close to the podium at Valencia. If the top drivers continued to trip each other at Franciacorta, it’s possible that they might steal a podium finish result or even an unlikely race win if the circumstances are going to be helpful for them.

Young talents such as Euro Series’ first Greek driver Thomas Krasonis, Solaris Motorsport’s young Israeli driver Naveh Talor, and the youngest ever Euro Series driver Ben Creanor are also looking towards a better performance at Franciacorta. All three of them came very close to a top 10 finishing position at Valencia, and given how tight and unpredictable the Elite 2 class is, it wouldn’t be surprising if any of the three will score their first Top 10 finish at Franciacorta.

Schultis, De Weerdt, and Bleekemolen celebrates their Legend Trophy podium finish at Valencia.

Another battle to look forward in Franciacorta is the battle for the Legend Trophy. Mirco Schultis, three-time and defending Legend Trophy winner Jerry de Weerdt, and Michael Bleekemolen all had a considerably impressive performance last time out at Valencia. Each of them scored a top 10 finish in one of the races, and with many drivers having incidents throughout the Valencia race week, this left Schultis, de Weerdt, and Bleekemolen with a fifth, sixth, and seventh place in the overall standings thanks to a relatively trouble-free weekend for them. With only 7 points separating them in the overall standings, it remains to be seen whether the gap will remain this tight or whether one of them will pull away in the battle of the veterans.

There will be 4 driver changes for Franciacorta. Lasse Sørensen, the 2014 French F4 champion, will replace Advait Deodhar in the No. 66 Dexwet DF1 Camaro, while Deodhar himself will temporarily move to Speedhouse 64 to replace Eric Quintal in the No. 64 SS.

Both VW Fun Cup driver Claudio Remigio Cappelli and sports car veteran Eric Clément will make their NASCAR debut with the No. 42 Mustang of 42 Racing by FS Motorsports and the No. 88 Mustang of Racing Engineering respectively, while three teams – Racing-Total JJCR and both RDV Competition cars – did not have a driver listed on the entry list.

The green flag for this year’s edition of NASCAR GP of Italy in the Elite 2 class will be waved at 5:00 PM CEST on Saturday for Race 1 and at 11:00 AM CEST on Sunday for Race 2.

Photos are courtesy of Dutch NASCAR Fans and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.

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