The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series returns to action this week for the start of the 2019 double-points paying Playoffs, the American Fan Fest Semi Finals at the famed Hockenheimring. American Fan Fest Semi Finals first made an appearance in the Euro Series calendar in 2017 and became the part of the Playoffs starting from 2018.
In the Elite 1 class, 29 drivers are set to compete at Hockenheim. With many highly talented drivers such as Stienes Longin, Loris Hezemans, Nicolo Rocca, Alon Day, Ander Vilarino, Romain Iannetta, Alexander Graff, Frederic Gabillon, Jacques Villeneuve, and Thomas Ferrando all having a realistic shot to win a title this year, Hockenheim is shaping up to be the start of Euro Series’ most intense title race.
The PK Carsport duo of championship leader Stienes Longin and Nicolò Rocca will come to Hockenheim as perhaps the biggest favorites in the championship race. Both Stienes and Rocca has proven their speed and has the consistency to back it up, with both drivers only failing to finish in the Top 10 once during the previous 9 races. Even then, Stienes’ only non-Top 10 finish of the season was caused by a 30-second post-race time penalty at Venray, while a late-race tire issue at the Sunday race in Most would be the culprit of Rocca’s sole finish outside of the Top 10 in 2019.
Interestingly, Stienes hasn’t achieved a Top 5 finish in the previous four races held at Hockenheim, while Rocca has never raced at Hockenheim before. Despite this, PK Carsport has scored one victory at Hockenheim with Anthony Kumpen in 2017 and with Stienes still chasing for his first career Elite 1 victory and Rocca being in perhaps his best Euro Series season so far, PK Carsport should be one of the teams to watch for.
Loris Hezemans is also another driver that can be placed as the biggest championship favorite for this season. After he closed off the Euro Series “regular season” by winning the previous two races at Most and Venray, Hezemans made the trip to the United States to race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Driving for B. J. McLeod Motorsports at Road America, Hezemans raced from the back of the grid to 22nd place and had the pace to compete in the Top 15 in his debut Xfinity race.
Hezemans and Hockenheim had a good history before, as the first race at Hockenheim last year is the race where Hezemans scored his first career Euro Series victory. A second-place finish in the second race solidify Hezemans’ pace at Hockenheim and with Hendriks teammate Martin Doubek also proving to be fast at Hockenheim last year with a double 4th place finish for the Czech driver, Hendriks Motorsport could be the team to beat for this year’s event.
Just like last year, Alon Day will come to Hockenheim with the role of chasing the championship leader. Day started the year strongly with 3 wins, 5 podium finishes, and 6 Top 5 finishes in the first 6 races. However, Most went disastrously for him as he suffered a double DNF and he can only finish in 8th place at Venray, a track that is statistically known as Day’s worst performing track in the Euro Series.
Despite this, never count out Day in the Playoffs. Historically, Day has been at his best during the Playoffs: Barring 2016, Day always wins 3 out of the 4 double points-paying races that Euro Series had in its yearly Playoffs. If Day can achieve this form again this year, we could see Day secured his third title at the end of the season.
Day’s new teammate at CAAL, Thomas Ferrando, is hoping that they can replicate the success that the No. 27 team had achieved at Most. The change from Alex Caffi Motorsport to CAAL for the No. 27 team has proven to be beneficial for the performance of the team, and while the team received a setback with a DNF at Venray, Ferrando will be eager to chase his first Top 5 Elite 1 finish at a track where he swept the race week in his Elite 2 championship winning season in 2017.
For Ander Vilariño, he has had an up and down season in his return to the Euro Series after a three-year absence. While he started his year strong by sweeping the season opening races at his home track Valencia, the three-time champion never finished inside the podium in any of the following 7 races, although he did come close to it in Venray where he finished just 0.184 seconds behind 3rd place finisher Jacques Villeneuve.
One worrying factor for Vilariño is that historically, the double points-paying Playoff races aren’t his strongest suit in the Euro Series. In 14 double points-paying races that he participated so far, he only won two races and has finished outside of the Top 5 a total of four times. With points being so important in the Playoffs because of the double amount of points that the drivers will get, Vilariño will have a tough task in his hands if he wants to secure his fourth Euro Series title this year.
Vilariño’s teammate, Romain Iannetta is quietly having a consistent season so far. The French veteran driver has finished in the Top 10 six times this year, including scoring a podium finish in the Sunday race at Most. While his performance at Hockenheim last year proved to be underwhelming as he only managed a 12th place finish in Race 1 and had to retire from Race 2, with the pace and consistency that he has shown, expect Iannetta to be battling for the Top 10 positions at Hockenheim.
Memphis Racing’s Alexander Graff can be a surprise victory pick for Hockenheim. Perhaps the biggest underdog pick out of the drivers currently sitting in the Top 10 in the Championship, Graff has been competing at or near the Top 10 throughout the season, and he also had the consistency to back it up as he’s one of the only five drivers to have finished all 9 races so far this season.
Last year, Graff had a solid run at Hockenheim as he scored a 9th and 13th place finishes in his Hockenheim debut. Memphis has proved that they had the capabilities of bringing a race-winning car to Hockenheim, as shown by Graff’s Elite 2 teammate last season, Guillaume Deflandre, who went on to win one of the Elite 2 races at Hockenheim. This, in addition with Memphis’ overall pace improvement this year, should be enough for Graff to be able to compete in the Top 10 for Hockenheim.
RDV Competition has had a tough season so far, as difficulties with adapting to the General Tire tires has left RDV several steps behind when compared to last year. However, they had shown pace improvement throughout Most and Venray, and Frédéric Gabillon and Ulysse Delsaux is hoping that this pace improvement is going to continue this weekend.
Gabillon, currently sitting in 8th in the championship, is likely going to have a tough time once more as Hockenheim has proved to be a track that Gabillon struggles with as he had no Top 5 finishes in his previous 4 starts at Hockenheim. The situation contrasts with his teammate Delsaux, as he won the first Elite 2 race at Hockenheim last year and would have swept the weekend had he did not have a tire failure on the last lap of the second Elite 2 race. Finishes in the Top 5 will be tough, but not impossible, for the defending Teams Champion this weekend.
Jacques Villeneuve will be returning to the track where he took part in his final Formula One race in 2006. While Villeneuve, who raced in both the old and new layout of Hockenheim in Formula One, has admitted that he never liked the modern version of the track, he would come to Hockenheim as perhaps the driver with the most experience racing at Hockenheim, given that he has raced there ten times in Formula One from 1996 to 2006.
With 3 podiums and 1 pole position this year, Villeneuve certainly has shown that he hasn’t lost his speed in the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Chevrolet Camaro, and with Hockenheim being the only track this season where Villeneuve had experience of competing in the past, expect the 1997 Formula One World Champion to be running at the top as he chases for a shot at the title in the Playoffs.
There will be plenty of changes in the field this week, ranging from driver changes to new entries. PK Carsport will be expanding for the Playoffs as they will field a third car, the No. 98 Ford Mustang, to facilitate Dylan Derdaele’s return to the series. Derdaele will be racing in the Euro Series for the first time since his debut appearance in last year’s season finale round at Zolder and with PK Carsport team manager Anthony Kumpen planning to expand the team’s operations in the series, expect Derdaele’s appearances in the 2019 Playoffs to not be his last in the series.
Marko Stipp Motorsport and Dexwet-DF1 Racing will be working together to field the second new entry, the No. 22 Chevrolet Camaro for 318ti Cup owner-driver and VLN driver Ioannis Smyrlis, while CAAL Racing will be bringing back the famous No. 56 team for their Mini Challenge Italia driver Marco Santamaria. Both Smyrlis and Santamaria will be making their debut in the series this weekend.
Daniel Keilwitz, a highly successful driver in the ADAC GT Masters, will be receiving the opportunity to make his Euro Series debut with Mishumotors this week, while Slovakian racing driver Michaela Dorcikova is also scheduled to be making her Euro Series debut in Alex Caffi Motorsport’s No. 1 Ford Mustang this week – the fifth driver for the No. 1 team this season.
Scott Jeffs will move up to the Elite 1 class as he has announced that he will be driving for Braxx Racing in the No. 90 Ford Mustang for Hockenheim. Guillaume Deflandre also moves up to Elite 1, as he will become the Elite 1 partner of Lasse Sørensen in the No. 66 Dexwet-DF1 Racing team for the Playoff races this year.
Francesco Sini and Lucas Lasserre will be returning after missing the previous round at Venray as Salvador Tineo Arroyo returns to Speedhouse 64 following a two-race absence for the French-based team. Marc Goossens was initially announced to be returning this week as well, but ThreeWide’s Marco Schlimper would later report that Braxx is withdrawing the No. 78 entry this week, leaving only Jeffs and No. 90 team as the only Braxx Racing representative for Hockenheim.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will hit the track for Round 10 and Round 11 of the 2019 season on 21 September and 22 September respectively. The green flag for this year’s edition of American Fan Fest Semi Finals will be waved at 13:30 CEST on Saturday for Race 1, and at 14:15 CEST on Sunday for Race 2.
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.
Disclaimer: Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.