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 2 class, 26 drivers are set to compete at Hockenheim. With double points being awarded for Hockenheim and the Elite 2 class’ reputation as a class that produces unpredictable action and surprising results, the challenge that the championship contenders had to face at Hockenheim and the upcoming season finale round at Zolder is going to push the drivers to be on the top of their game all the way to the end.
Giorgio Maggi will come to Hockenheim as the Championship leader coming to the Playoffs. With 2 victories, 3 pole positions, 5 podium finishes, and 8 Top 10 finishes, Maggi has proved himself to be one of the talents to watch this season. In between the rounds at Venray and Hockenheim, he went on to win the 24 Hours of Zolder in his first attempt to further prove the speed and the talent that he already showcased this season.
Unlike most of his Elite 2 compatriots, Maggi does have some experience racing at Hockenheim as he was racing at Hockenheim in ADAC GT Masters last year. While his ADAC GT Masters outing at Hockenheim was a disappointing one with a DNF and a 23rd place finish, Maggi will hope that the experience that he previously gained in ADAC GT Masters will help him to solidify his position as the championship leader and bring Hendriks Motorsport one step closer to claim the Teams Championship title this year.
Vittorio Ghirelli, second in the Championship, closed the regular season with his first Euro Series career victory at the half-mile oval of Venray. Ghirelli, the ex-Auto GP champion, has scored 1 victory, 3 podiums, and 9 Top 10 finishes this season. The results above proved that he had no problems with transitioning from open wheel to stock car racing.
Ghirelli also have some previous experience of racing at Hockenheim, as he raced there in GP3 in the inaugural GP3 season in 2010. With only 9 points separating Ghirelli and Maggi in the championship, the 25-year old driver from Fasano is going to be looking to score more victories in the upcoming next few races to stay in the championship hunt.
Lasse Sørensen, despite lacking any past Hockenheim racing experience, remains one of the clear favorites to win at Hockenheim. While his run of podiums ended in the previous race at Venray with a 7th place finish at the half-mile oval, Sørensen still have a 100% podium finish rate at the road courses and with the pace that he showed before, it wouldn’t be surprising if Sørensen swept the weekend at Hockenheim to further improve the chances for him to become the champion this year.
Sorensen’s teammate, Justin Kunz, is hoping that he will have a strong home race after a disappointing race in Venray saw him finishing a lap down in 11th place. Kunz, who visited Hockenheim’s annual NitrOlympX drag racing competition last month for a seat swap with Liam Jones to help promote the American Fan Fest Semi Finals, will be looking to improve upon a double Top 10 finish that he achieved last year to both impress the home crowd and to gain as many points as possible to stay in the chase for the championship.
The two American drivers in the field, Myatt Snider and Andre Castro, are still chasing the opportunity to earn their first career Euro Series victory at Hockenheim. Snider came close to it at Venray as he ran out of laps to try pass Vittorio Ghirelli at the end, while Castro has had one too many misfortunes that prevented him from standing on the top of the podium this season. After Venray went strong for them with a 2nd and 4th place finishes respectively for Snider and Castro, it remains to be seen if they will have the pace to compete at the top this week.
India’s Advait Deodhar returns to the track at Hockenheim after missing the previous round at Venray due to funding issues. While funding issues has certainly made things uncertain for the Indian driver at times, he has shown that he has no problems with being fast despite having to change teams twice this season as his results would show.
While other drivers in the field have previous experience of racing at Hockenheim before, Deodhar’s one of the few who had raced a EuroNASCAR car here before – He raced at Hockenheim in the Elite 2 class last year and had a strong performance where he finished in 13th place in second race. With the support of CAAL Racing behind him, Deodhar will be hoping that his previous experience of racing at Hockenheim can give him the edge he needed to score his first victory of the season.
Nicholas Risitano is also one of the few drivers scheduled to participate this year that have a previous experience of racing a EuroNASCAR car at Hockenheim. While his previous outing at Hockenheim did not go as well as he had hoped with a 17th and 9th place finishes last year, Risitano will be hoping that he can continue his Top 10 finishing streak to maintain enough gap to the championship leaders as the “Nikstar” chases for an opportunity to score his second victory of the season.
In the Legend Trophy, 13 points are separating the three main contenders: Michael Bleekemolen, Ian Eric Wadén, and Mirco Schultis. For Bleekemolen, given the many races held at Hockenheim that he had participated before in categories such as the Renault Clio Cup and Porsche Supercup, he is arguably the most experienced driver in the field when it comes to racing at Hockenheim – even more than Elite 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, who had 10 Hockenheim Formula 1 races under his belt. Bleekemolen would need every single bit of experience that he have to maintain his status as the Legend Trophy leader coming to the final race week of the season at Zolder.
As for Wadén and Schultis, they would have the advantage of having raced the Euro Series cars at Hockenheim before. Wadén made his debut in this series at last year’s edition of the American Fan Fest Semi Finals, ironically driving for Schultis’ Mishumotors team. With Memphis Racing having won at Hockenheim before with Guillaume Deflandre, Wadén will be hoping that Memphis will give him a car that will enable him to both won the Legend Trophy classification and improve upon the best finishing result of 16th place that he achieved last year.
Schultis didn’t raced at Hockenheim last year, but he did take part in the inaugural Euro Series race at Hockenheim in 2017. Schultis made impressions on that year, as he brought home a Top 10 finish after starting from 19th on the grid in Race 1 before finishing in 12th place in Race 2. Schultis will be hoping that he can repeat this performance once again to take the lead in the Legend Trophy for his home race this weekend.
Just like in Elite 1, there will be plenty of changes in the field this week. Drivers who missed the previous round at Venray due to one reason or another – Deodhar, Schultis, Naveh Talor, Thomas Krasonis, Alessandro Brigatti, Ben Creanor, Arianna Casoli, and Eric Clement – are all going to return in their respective full-time rides for Hockenheim.
PK Carsport and CAAL Racing will be expanding their efforts for Hockenheim, as PK will field the No. 98 Ford Mustang for Quatra’s Commercial Director Pol van Pollaert – who is scheduled to make his Euro Series debut this week after did not starting both Hockenheim races last year – while CAAL Racing will be bringing back the No. 56 team for former NASKART champion Moreno di Silvestre, who is returning after a 3-round absence.
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, who will do the double duty in his debut this week, as Memphis Racing will be having a driver change, as Espoo-native and V8 Thunder Cars veteran Janne Koikkalainen is scheduled to be making his Euro Series debut by replacing Freddie Hemborg in the No. 77 team. The reason for Hemborg’s absence is currently unknown.
Another driver that is scheduled to return this week is Max Lanza and Matthias Hauer. Lanza, who recently stars in his own YouTube series “Driver Lifestyle” that chronicles his journey in the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season, will be returning to compete in the Euro Series for the first time since Franciacorta while Hauer will be returning to Speedhouse 64 for his home race this weekend.
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 17:05 CEST on Saturday for Race 1, and at 10:50 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.