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 Junior Trophy contenders.
This will be the second 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, which covers the 2019 Elite 1 Rookie contenders, can be seen via the link here.
Junior Trophy, along with the Challenger Trophy, is one of the two “sub-championships” that the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series had in the Elite 1 class. For a driver to be able to compete in the Junior Trophy, the driver must be aged 25 years old or younger at the start of the season. The driver who wins the Junior Trophy will be the driver that scored the most championship points at the end of the season.
As usual, this year’s Junior Trophy had no shortage of young talents, with 12 promising young drivers that took part this season so far being eligible to run for the Junior Trophy honors. Defending Mexico Series champion Rubén García Jr. (aged 23) made his first Euro Series appearance in Valencia, with former USF2000 National class champion Eric Filgueiras (aged 25) also making his Euro Series debut this year after he became the replacement driver for NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte in the Mishumotors No. 70 team.
Ant Whorton-Eales (aged 24 at the start of the season) scored a fantastic Top 10 finishing result in his home race week at Brands Hatch, while Elite 2 standout Lasse Sørensen (aged 22) made an amazing comeback from last to the Top 10 in his Elite 1 debut on the same race week.
Alex Sedgwick (aged 20) and Martin Doubek (aged 25) had a season that was plagued with unreliability issues (and injury for Doubek), but they always showed the potential to finish in the Top 10 whenever they raced.
In the end though, there will be six drivers that will have a shot to win the Junior Trophy classification. Here’s our recap on how the season have transpired for these six Junior Trophy contenders.
- Position: 6th (13th overall) – 194 points
- Rank: B-
Gianmarco Ercoli, the 25-year old driver from Rome and the 2015 Elite 2 champion, has had a tough season this year as reliability issues plagued his campaign so far, with Ercoli having 3 DNFs due to mechanical issues in his No. 9 Vexatec/Jeikey Ford Mustang. While he does have four 7th place finishes so far, mechanical issues took him out from a possible Top 5 finish at his home race in Franciacorta and getting a drive-through penalty for jumping out of the line too early during the final restart at Venray meant that he ended up finishing outside of the Top 10 after running just outside of the Top 5 throughout the only oval race of the year.
Ercoli had showed that he had the pace to compete in the front, as shown by his victory at Brands Hatch last year. However, unless Racers Motorsport can sort out the mechanical issues that have plagued the entire team for this season, the chances for Ercoli to win the Junior Trophy this season are slim at best, although the double points rewarded in the Playoffs can still put Ercoli in the contention at the end of the year.
SALVADOR TINEO ARROYO
- Position: 5th (12th overall) – 197 points
- Rank: B
A quietly consistent season would sum up Salvador Tineo Arroyo’s return to full-time competition in the Euro Series so far. One of the 5 drivers who have made it to the checkered flag in all 9 races so far this season, Tineo began his year driving for Lucas Lasserre’s Speedhouse 64 team, where he scored an impressive 8th place finish at his home race in Valencia. A string of Top 20 finishes would follow before he moved teams to Mishumotors’ No. 70 team at Most, where he scored another Top 10 finish at the Czech Republic before he scored his third Top 10 finish of the season at Venray for Marko Stipp Motorsport.
With Speedhouse 64 scheduled to return at the Playoffs and the likeliness of the 25-year old Spaniard returning to the team at Hockenheim and Zolder, Tineo’s chances to win the Junior Trophy are slim at best. However, with mistakes going to be costlier than ever thanks to the double points rewarded to everyone in the Playoffs, if he had strong performances like he did at Valencia with his rivals getting into trouble, there is still an opportunity for Tineo to possibly finish in third or better in the Junior Trophy at the season’s end in Zolder.
- Position: 4th (11th overall) – 204 points
- Rank: B
After becoming the Elite 2 champion last year, 22-year old Frenchman Ulysse Delsaux felt that this year will be the right time to return to the Elite 1 class for his first Elite 1 campaign since 2016. The start of the season proved to be a tough one for him as RDV Competition struggled to adapt to the General Tire tires, with Delsaux failing to score a Top 10 finish during the first three race weeks of the season.
At Most however, Delsaux would pick up the pace after he finished in 5th during Practice and despite a poor qualifying hampering his progress in the Saturday race, he managed to score his first ever Top 5 finish in the Elite 1 class on the Sunday race before finishing the regular season with a 7th place finish at Venray and claiming the bonus championship points for the most positions gained during the race.
Race pace wise, Delsaux certainly is capable of competing in the Top 10, but one-lap pace has proved to be a major weak point for Delsaux this season: During race weeks where he had shown promising pace during practice, he often would fail to translate it into a good starting position for the race. With an average starting grid position of 14.44, improving his one-lap pace will be something that Delsaux will look to improve upon as he looks forward to compete in what is shaping to be a tight battle for third place in the Junior Trophy.
- Position: 3rd (10th overall) – 205 points
- Rank: B
Thomas Ferrando, the 22-year old from Pertuise and the 2017 Elite 2 champion, opened a new chapter in his Euro Series career this year when he moved to Alex Caffi Motorsport after Knauf Racing folded its operations in the off-season. Having started his season in the worst possible way by becoming the first retirement in the first race of the season on the Saturday race at Valencia, he would bounce back in the Sunday race to finish in 9th place after starting from last on the grid.
Several Top 15 finishes would follow before Alex Caffi Motorsport opted to transfer the No. 27 entry to CAAL Racing at Most. With considerably stronger team and equipment in his hands, Ferrando’s first week with CAAL proved to be a fantastic one, as he scored a double Top 5 finish at Most, including his first podium finish since 2016 in the Saturday race. He also ran strongly in the Top 10 at Venray before mechanical issues would force him to retire late in the race.
The move to CAAL Racing has certainly paid dividends for Ferrando as proven with his double Top 5 finish at Most. With the support of the team that has won the Euro Series title for two years in a row, Ferrando stands the biggest chance for becoming the third-placed driver in the Junior Trophy and with double points being awarded in the Playoffs, there might be a chance that he can pose a strong challenge to Loris Hezemans and Nicolò Rocca to claim one of the top 2 spots in the Junior Trophy this year.
- Position: 2nd (3rd overall) – 264 points
- Rank: A+
Nicolò Rocca’s return to the full-time competition this year has been nothing but stellar. Having moved teams to championship rival PK Carsport to take over the seat left by Anthony Kumpen, Rocca started his season by quietly finishing in the Top 5 in the season opener at Valencia. He racked up solid finishes throughout the year, eventually culminating when he scored his first win in 3 years at the Saturday race in Most after he inherited the lead late in the race after Hezemans’ engine blew.
One win, two pole positions, two fastest laps, three total podiums, Top 10 finishes in all but one race, and having made it to the checkered flag in all 9 races proved that Rocca hasn’t lost his edge in the series, and with Rocca sitting in third in the championship with only 8 points behind teammate and championship leader Stienes Longin – and just one point behind fellow Junior Trophy rival Loris Hezemans – the season is still far from over for the 25-year old Italian.
- Position: 1st (2nd overall) – 265 points
- Rank: A+
Defending Junior Trophy winner Loris Hezemans has proved that he is hungrier than ever in his second season in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Having started his year by making huge impressions in Mike Skinner’s Pro Late Model team at New Smyrna, Hezemans quickly established himself as one of the championship protagonists this season.
One of the fastest drivers this season in his No. 50 Hendriks Motorsport Ford Mustang, it has been a dramatic and successful season for the 22-year old Dutchman with stories such as his battles with Jacques Villeneuve at Franciacorta and Venray, heartbreaks such as the spectacular engine failure after dominating the Saturday race at Most, and the dramatic victory in front of his home crowd at Venray.
Two wins, two fastest laps, and a total of four podium finishes and seven Top 10 finishes in 9 races meant that Hezemans currently sits in second in the championship with just 7 points separating him from championship leader Stienes Longin. He could have probably finished inside the Top 10 in all 9 races had he did not have the Most engine failure or the drive-through penalty for jumping the restart in the Sunday race at Brands Hatch.
Hezemans will have a strong chance to not just defend his Junior Trophy title, but also potentially becoming the Euro Series champion at the end of the year. With the series reaching its climax with the Playoffs in Hockenheim and Zolder, any unforced error or misfortunes like what he had in Brands Hatch and Most would prove to be very costly for Hezemans, as proven by him being effectively eliminated from the championship hunt last year after his retirement from the first race at Zolder last year.
With how close Rocca is to Hezemans in both the Junior Trophy and the championship, the race to become this year’s Junior Trophy winner is far from over and depending on how the Playoff would go for them, we might see one of them put their name in the history book as the champion of the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season.
Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.