NASCAR Whelen Euro Series returns this week for the seventh and final round of the 2019 season, the American Festival NASCAR Finals at Circuit Zolder. Zolder has been the site of Euro Series’ season finale ever since the circuit first debuted in the calendar in 2015 and for the fifth year in a row, Zolder is going to set the stage for the championship showdown to decide who is going to be crowned the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Champion.
In the Elite 1 class, 28 drivers are set to compete for the final two races of the season. While the storyline for Zolder is going to be focused on the championship showdown, there’s still going to be a lot of action as the drivers hit the track to battle for the last time this season.
The championship showdown for 2019 is going to be contested mainly by Hendriks Motorsport’s Loris Hezemans and PK Carsport’s Nicolò Rocca. Hezemans currently holds the advantage as he comes to Zolder with a 21-point advantage and carries a streak of four race victories in a row after he swept the weekend at Hockenheim.
Hezemans started his Playoffs run in the best way possible as the sweep at Hockenheim gave him both the lead in the championship and a considerable advantage over Rocca in the title race. With Hezemans already impressing in both his Late Model debut at New Smyrna and his Xfinity Series debut at Road America earlier in the year, clinching his first Euro Series championship title at Zolder will cap off what has proved to be a stellar year for the 22-year old Dutchman.
Hezemans will, however, be wary that a retirement in any of the races at Zolder can prove costly for his championship aspirations as a mechanical problem in the first race at Zolder last year effectively ended his championship challenge in 2018.
For Nicolò Rocca, his comeback to full-time competition with PK Carsport this year has proved to be a very successful one as the Italian scored 1 victory, two pole positions, and Top 10 finishes in all but one race so far. While he does have a 21-point deficit in the standings, the double points given in the Playoffs meant that he is still very much in the title race for the final two races of the season.
Rocca, however, had one major problem: Zolder is his worst performing track in Euro Series. In six previous races at Zolder, Rocca finished outside of the Top 10 three times and he even failed to make the start once. Avoiding yet another problem here will be the priority for Rocca if he wants to claim his first Euro Series title this year.
While Hezemans and Rocca will be competing as the primary championship contenders, do not count out the championship outsiders such as Stienes Longin, Ander Vilarino, and Alon Day. Problems encountered by Longin, Vilariño, and Day at Hockenheim has reduced their championship winning chances quite significantly – Longin even had already admitted that he has written off his chances of winning the title after his disastrous weekend at Hockenheim, but a slip-up by Hezemans and/or Rocca can see them move up in the standings.
They also had to be wary of the drivers currently sitting behind them in the Championship though, as only 33 points separated Longin – currently 3rd in the championship – from Ulysse Delsaux, who currently sits in 12th place in the championship. Adding in factors such as the double points and general unpredictability of the races, the championship standings is likely to receive a major shake-up as 10 drivers – Longin, Vilariño, Day, Gabillon, Ferrando, Villeneuve, Iannetta, Ercoli, Graff, and Delsaux – will be battling it out for 3rd place in the championship at Zolder.
Out of these 10 drivers, Jacques Villeneuve will be racing with an extra motivation as he will be racing at Zolder for the first time in his career. Jacques’ father Gilles was killed at Zolder during the qualifying session for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix and no member of the Villeneuve family has made a visit to the track until this weekend.
Jacques has said that this weekend “will be a special weekend” for him and it will be emotionally fitting if he can score his first Euro Series career victory at a track where his father tragically lost his life.
In the Challenger Trophy, Henri Tuomaala still holds the upper hand as he arrives to Zolder with a 44-point advantage from Kenko Miura. Dario Caso, who received a major setback in his Challenger Trophy aspirations after he was disqualified from the Sunday race at Hockenheim, was 47 points behind Tuomaala while CAAL Racing’s Mauro Trione was a further 4 points behind from Caso.
Despite he currently has a major points advantage in the Challenger Trophy race, Tuomaala can’t rest easy as the odds can be turned upside-down if he had a terrible race and his rivals scored a good finishing result thanks to the Playoffs’ double points system. Given that the battle for Challenger Trophy was decided on the very last race last year, the battle for Challenger Trophy is certainly not over yet for Miura, Caso, or Trione.
There will be several changes in the field for Zolder. Braxx Racing will be returning to full force as both Marc Goossens and Alex Sedgwick will be returning to the No. 78 Ford Mustang and the No. 90 Chevrolet Camaro respectively for the team’s home race. Goossens is also going to be racing with a new livery as the No. 78 team will be running a Wood Brothers-inspired livery to represent the team’s new title sponsor Anecars.
Elite 2 sensation Lasse Sørensen is scheduled to be making his second double duty outing as he has been listed in the Preliminary Entry List to be driving the No. 66 Dexwet-DF1 Racing Chevrolet Camaro in both classes for this weekend.
Mirco Schultis is also listed to in the Preliminary Entry List to be doing the double duty in his No. 70 Mishumotors Camaro and if Schultis did indeed race in Elite 1 this weekend, it will be his first Elite 1 outing since 2017.
A late change will be coming from Marko Stipp Motorsport, as the team announced yesterday that Salvador Tineo Arroyo will be returning to the No. 46 MSM Camaro. This will leave the Elite 1 field with 1 less entry from the Preliminary Entry List as Tineo Arroyo was previously listed to be driving Speedhouse’s No. 64 Chevrolet SS for Zolder.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will hit the track for Round 12 and Round 13 of the 2019 season on 5 October and 6 October respectively. The green flag for this year’s edition of American Festival NASCAR Finals will be waved at 13:45 CEST on Saturday for Race 1, and at 15:45 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.