As we wait for the start of the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Playoffs at Hockenheim in September, we’re going to take a look at how the season have panned out for our 2019 Elite 1 Rookie of the Year contenders.
This will be the first part of a five-part Mid-Season Review series where we’re going to recap on how the season have transpired during the first 9 races of the 2019 season.
The first part of this series is going to be focusing on the “rookie” drivers in the Elite 1 class. Because there’s no official Rookie of the Year award in the Elite 1 class, we are going to use our own classification in order to be determine which drivers are considered as a “rookie” for this season.
For a driver to be deemed as eligible to compete in our Rookie of the Year contention this season, the driver must have qualified in less than six races (five for those first competing in 2012) in the Elite 1 class in any previous season, regardless of any previous experience in Elite 2 or any other racing categories. A driver will then be deemed eligible for this year’s award if they qualified in six or more races this season.
Based on the following criteria, five drivers are currently eligible for our 2019 Elite 1 Rookie of the Year award. The drivers are:
- Sebastiaan Bleekemolen – #69 Team Bleekemolen
- Simone Laureti – #19 Racers Motorsport
- Ellen Lohr – #99 Dexwet-DF1 Racing
- Henri Tuomaala – #23 Memphis Racing
- Jacques Villeneuve – #32 Go Fas Racing
Two other drivers will be deemed as a 2019 Elite 1 Rookie of the Year contender if they qualified in two more races this season. The two drivers are:
- Eric Filgueiras – #70 Mishumotors
- Ant Whorton-Eales – #46 Marko Stipp Motorsport AmD Tuning
The Rookie of the Year award points will follow the points received by the drivers’ in the Elite 1 championship standings. Whoever scored the most points at the end of the season will be declared as our Rookie of the Year.
Now that we have determine who we deem to be eligible for our Rookie of the Year award, here’s our recap for how the season have transpired for our Elite 1 “rookie” drivers.
- Position: 5th (26th overall) – 63 points
- Rating: D
The only eligible contender to not run all races this season so far, Simone Laureti has had a tough season in his first Elite 1 season. After mechanical gremlins kept the No. 19 Racers Mustang from starting both races at Valencia, he then retired from the first race at Franciacorta due to another mechanical issue before he brought the car home in 17th place in the Sunday race, albeit finished multiple laps down from the race winner Alon Day and as the last car still running in an attrition-filled race. Finishes outside the Top 20 at Brands Hatch would follow before he opted to withdraw from Most and raced in Elite 2 with the No. 9 Racers team at Venray.
To be honest, there’s not much to write about Laureti’s chances in our Rookie of the Year contention. With Racers losing Vittorio Ghirelli to PK Carsport mid-season, it would seem likely that Laureti will be returning to Elite 2 for the rest of the season.
- Position: 4th (20th overall) – 148 points
- Rating: C
Returning to racing for the first time since her retirement in 2016, Ellen Lohr’s season started with a literal bang after she crashed heavily with Mauro Trione at the start of the second race at Valencia. Thankfully, both drivers were uninjured and was able to take part at Franciacorta, where Lohr survived the attrition in the second race to finish in 14th position, her first Top 15 finish of the season. Another double Top 15 finishes at Most would follow before she closed the regular season with a retirement at Venray with a puncture on the front-right tire of her No. 99 Camaro.
With 64 points separating Lohr and “rookie” leader Jacques Villeneuve in the championship, Lohr’s chance to win our Rookie of the Year award right now is very slim at best. However, with her currently sitting in third place in the Challenger Trophy classifications, it will be interesting to see if Lohr can close out her first season in the Euro Series in a high note in the Challenger Trophy.
- Position: 3rd (16th overall) – 185 points
- Rating: B
Tuomaala started the season with two Top 20 finishes at Valencia before he came out on top in an 8-car battle in the mid-pack at the first race in Franciacorta to finish in 12th position. After he had his only DNF of the season so far in the second race at Franciacorta, Tuomaala won the Challenger Trophy honors in the next 5 races that would follow. This also includes an impressive week at Most where he had the pace to compete in the Top 10 all-week long.
With only 8 points separating Tuomaala and Bleekemolen in the championship, Tuomaala does have a chance to steal second place in our rookie classification. However, considering Bleekemolen’s recent strong form, the chances that Tuomaala will beat Bleekemolen in our Rookie of the Year classifications are slim at best, although the double points that will be given in the playoff rounds can give Tuomaala the edge he needed if he wants to beat Bleekemolen in the rookie classification.
- Position: 2nd (15th overall) – 193 points
- Rating: B-
One of the only four drivers to finish every race in the season so far, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen had a decent start to his Euro Series career with 5 Top 20 finishes in the first six races before he picked up steam at Most. After making the Superpole for the first time in his career, Bleekemolen took advantage of the incidents in front of him to score his first Top 5 finish of the season in the Saturday race before he capped off the week with a 10th place finish in the Sunday race. He probably would have scored another Top 10 finish at Venray too, had he did not earn a drive-through penalty for jumping out of the restart line too early in the final restart.
Considering his recent form, Bleekemolen is looking very likely to finish second in our Rookie classification. While there’s only 19 points separating him and Villeneuve in championship, he’s also only 8 points ahead of Henri Tuomaala and with double points awarded at Hockenheim and Zolder, mistakes will prove costlier than ever and it could give Bleekemolen either the edge to win or the disadvantage that would made him finish behind Tuomaala in our Rookie classification depending on how the races will go for him.
- Position: 1st (9th overall) – 212 points
- Rating: A-
Being a former CART and Formula One champion and with experience of competing in Cup, Xfinity, Trucks, and Pinty’s before, Jacques Villeneuve might be the least rookie-like contender out of the 5 currently eligible contenders, but in his return to full-time competition after a three-year hiatus, he has showed that he still got what it takes to compete with the best drivers in the Euro Series.
Villeneuve just missed out on a Top 10 finish in his first Euro Series race at Valencia Race 1 before he was forced to retire in Race 2 due to a mechanical issue. Then at Franciacorta, he had one of his best weekends in a long time as he scored a double podium finish to score his first Top 3 finish in any series since 2013.
Brands Hatch proved to be a rather troublesome week for him after he ran wide and having to fight back to the Top 15 in Race 1 before he accidentally took Mauro Trione out of the race in Race 2. The next race week at Most also proved to be a disappointing one as he had a double DNF through no fault of his own despite having the pace to compete in the Top 5 throughout the week.
Then at Venray, Villeneuve was arguably the driver to beat as he grabbed the pole and led the majority of the race before handling issues late in the race would saw him fall down the running order, although he still did enough to grab his third podium of the season with a 3rd place finish at Venray.
Villeneuve currently leads our Rookie classification by 19 points, but the lead can be bigger had he did not get into incidents at Most that forced him to retire from both races at the Czech Republic or had he won the race at Venray. With the pace that he has shown throughout the season, he is by far the likeliest contender to win our Elite 1 Rookie of the Year award, but he could still lose out to Bleekemolen and/or Tuomaala if he ran into problems in the Playoffs, especially with double points awarded in the following four races of the season.
Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.