The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series returns to action this week for the series’ only oval race meet of the season, the 2019 American Car Fest at Raceway Venray. This will mark Venray’s return to the calendar after being absent in 2018 as well as the first Euro Series race meet in history where only one race is scheduled for both classes.
In the Elite 1 class, 24 drivers are set to compete at Venray, many of which have previous experience driving in ovals before. With the biggest field in Venray’s Euro Series history and increased stakes as this race will become the final race of the season before the double-points Playoffs at Hockenheim and Zolder, the 100-lap Elite 1 race on July 14 is shaping up to become one of Europe’s greatest oval showdown.
PK Carsport driver Stienes Longin will come to Venray as the Championship leader for the first time in his Elite 1 career thanks to his impressive consistency in finishes results. While he hasn’t scored a race victory so far this year, he has scored six second-place finishes and is the only full-time driver this season in Elite 1 to never finished outside of the Top 10.
Stienes has a very good history with Venray in the past, as he swept the Venray weekend in his Elite 2 championship season in 2016 and has never finished outside of the Top 10 in his previous six starts at Venray. With a 17-points lead over teammate Nicolo Rocca in the Championship, Stienes is hoping that he can have a trouble-free weekend to claim the honors of becoming the Championship leader before coming to the Playoffs.
Nicolò Rocca also has a very good history with Venray in the past, as it was in Race 1 at Venray back in 2015 that Rocca scored his first career Euro Series victory. Fresh off from scoring his first win since returning to full-time competition at Most, Rocca will be looking to secure another victory to solidify his place as one of the Championship favorites coming to the Playoffs.
The defending champion Alon Day will come to Venray hoping to bounce back and forgot the very disappointing weekend that he has at Most. A double DNF, coupled with a 10-points penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Jacques Villeneuve at Most, meant that Day went from being the leader of the Championship to currently sitting in third with a 29-points deficit to Stienes Longin.
While Day has plenty of experience of competing in oval tracks in United States and Europe, Venray is some sort of a bogey track for Day – he finished outside of the Top 10 in both Venray races in 2016 and with an average finish of 9.5 at Venray, statistically Venray is Day’s worst track in the Euro Series. While the championship dream is certainly not over for Day, it will be interesting to see if Day can overcome his usual struggles in Venray to put himself in a good position for the start of the Playoffs.
Frédéric Gabillon, currently the driver with the most oval wins in the Euro Series with 6, is also hoping that he can bounce back from another disappointing weekend in Most. Gabillon’s 2019 campaign is certainly the toughest so far, as he and RDV has struggled with adapting to the General Tire tires and while he has scored a victory at Brands Hatch last month, he admitted that his win at Brands Hatch is a rather lucky one.
Despite this, never count out Gabillon just yet as he is very consistent at oval tracks in the Euro Series. In his previous six starts at Venray, he has scored a victory back in 2016 and has never finished outside of the Top 5. In addition, he has only finished outside of the Top 5 in an oval once – at Tours Race 2 last year and even then, he barely missed out on the Top 5 as he finished sixth in said race.
For home driver Loris Hezemans, he will be hoping that his experience with competing at New Smyrna for Mike Skinner’s team in February will allow him to secure his first oval victory in the Euro Series. Hezemans certainly impressed in his US oval debut, as he scored six Top 10 finishes in 7 races to finish in 3rd overall out of 42 drivers in the Pro Late Model category of the New Smyrna Speedweeks. Thus, it will come as no surprise if Hezemans was able to use his New Smyrna experience to help propel himself to the Victory Lane in his home race.
Jacques Villeneuve is a driver that can potentially pull off a surprise this weekend. Villeneuve has plenty of experience in ovals thanks to his previous experience of competing in Champ Car and NASCAR and while his oval results in NASCAR has been less than stellar, he has one notable oval victory in his name – the 1995 Indy 500.
After being involved in collisions that are no fault of his own that forced him to retire in both races at Most, Villeneuve will be eager to bounce back and perform well in his first oval race since the 2014 Indy 500, as well as his first oval race in a NASCAR car since the 2010 Brickyard 400.
Thomas Ferrando is another driver that can potentially pull off a surprise this weekend. After the No. 27 team opted to switch from Alex Caffi Motorsport to CAAL Racing at Most, Ferrando instantly scored success as he was able to take advantage of Loris Hezemans’ spectacular engine failure to finish in the podium for the first time since 2016 at Race 1 in Most. The podium finish, coupled with a fourth place finish in Race 2, meant that Ferrando was able to leap to Top 10 in the overall Championship coming to Venray.
Ferrando is certainly a no stranger to the world of oval racing. After all, he made his racing debut in a Modified car at the famed Bowman Gray Stadium in 2012. In addition, his previous two podium finishes in the Elite 1 class is achieved in an oval track, namely a double podium finish at Tours in 2016. Now with the No. 27 team being part of one of the strongest teams in the grid right now, expect Ferrando to be able to challenge for the podium spot or even the victory this weekend.
For Henri Tuomaala, the previous round at Most proved to be a successful one as he became the first Challenger Trophy driver to finish inside the Top 10 this season at Race 1 in Most as well as securing a double Challenger Trophy victory to further extend his lead in the Challenger Trophy. He will, however, face a considerable disadvantage at Venray as he’s one of the very few drivers in the 24-driver grid that are scheduled to compete in Venray to have never driven in an oval before.
For the likes of Mauro Trione and Kenko Miura, the round at Venray can be an opportunity for them to break Tuomaala’s streak of 4 consecutive wins in the Challenger Trophy. Trione and Miura has scored a Top 10 finish in an oval before and they will be hoping that they can use their previous experience in the ovals to gain an extra edge to beat Tuomaala and close the gap to the Finn in the Challenger Trophy.
There will be six drivers that are scheduled to make their oval debuts in Venray: Tuomaala, Martin Doubek, Francesco Sini, Mirco Schultis, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen and Ellen Lohr. Sini previously had taken part at Tours last year, but he had to withdraw after a crash in practice (see picture above) wrote off the No. 12 Solaris Camaro for the rest of the weekend.
For Venray, there has been a minimal amount of driver changes in the Entry List. Marc Goossens will return after Braxx Racing decided to skip Most, while Mirco Schultis is scheduled to make his return to the Elite 1 class as he is scheduled to do the double duty in the No. 70 team for this weekend.
Salvador Tineo Arroyo, who drove for the No. 70 team at Most, will switch teams once again as he is scheduled to drive for Marko Stipp Motorsport’s No. 46 team for Venray.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will hit the track for Round 9 of the 2019 season on 13 and 14 July, with the 100-lap Elite 1 race is scheduled to go green at 15:30 CEST on 14 July. All races for this season are going to be aired live on FansChoice.tv, Motorsport.tv, and the official Facebook page and YouTube channel of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.