From the moment Jacques Villeneuve announced that he’s going to compete full-time in the series during the pre-season to Loris Hezemans’ crowning as the new NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion in the season finale at Zolder, the 2019 season is filled with its fair share of dramatic moments.
With so many moments to pick from, it’s going to be tough to pick only 10 of these to be featured in our Top 10 moments of the 2019 season. Before we start our list, here’s the honorable mention for the moments that ultimately didn’t make the cut:
- Nicholas Risitano’s first career victory at Valencia
- Loris Hezemans and Jacques Villeneuve’s battles at Franciacorta and Venray
- Frederic Gabillon’s defensive driving masterclass on his way to victory at Brands Hatch
- Florian Venturi leaves Go Fas Racing mid-season after a disagreement with team boss Alain Lord Mounir before the OMV MaxxMotion NASCAR Show at Most
- Vittorio Ghirelli and Myatt Snider’s battle at Venray
- Loris Hezemans and Nicolò Rocca’s battles at Hockenheim
- Hugo de Sadeleer’s double podium finishes in his debut weekend at Hockenheim
- The first lap carnage in the first Elite 1 race at Zolder that brought upon major championship implications
With the honorable mentions over, here are the moments that we have picked as the Top 10 moments of the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season.
10. Mauro Trione Goes Upside-Down at Franciacorta
Poor ol’ Mauro Trione is quite possibly the unluckiest driver in the series this year. From his heavy crash with Ellen Lohr at Valencia to his inadvertent “drive-through penalty” after he missed his braking point in the Saturday race at Zolder, the 56-year old Swiss-Italian driver just doesn’t seem to get the lady of luck on his side this year and no moment epitomize this more than his upside-down journey in the first Elite 1 race at Franciacorta.
After he qualified 27th earlier in the day, Trione raced down the first two corners when Alex Caffi Motorsport drivers Alex Caffi and Kenko Miura tangled together on the exit of Turn 2. Trione then hit the front-right corner of Caffi’s Mustang in such an angle that his No. 31 CAAL Racing Chevrolet SS was sent airborne and into its roof. The car nearly goes for a complete roll, but it would eventually land upside-down in the gravel trap on the exit of Turn 3 in what has become the series’ first flip since Ruggero Melgrati flipped his Camaro back in 2015.
“We had a good start, passed some of our competitors and Alex [Caffi] was hit in the back by his teammate Kenko. We were unlucky because I almost passed him on the left, but my back wheel got stuck with his front wheel that was in the wrong position and the car just went upside-down,” said Trione in the Elite 2 race commentary the following day.
Despite this, Trione was uninjured and described the flip as “another experience” in his career. Ever the cheerful man off-track, Trione joked in the commentary that after his Valencia crash and the flip at Franciacorta, he would need to change the roof color of his car – something that CAAL Racing would ultimately do as the roof color for the No. 31 car was changed from red to black for the rest of the season.
9. Sørensen Wins his Debut Race at Franciacorta
After Advait Deodhar’s financial issues meant that he was unable to fulfill his contract to drive full-time in the No. 66 team, Dexwet-DF1 Racing made the decision to sign Lasse Sørensen during the Valencia NASCAR Fest race week to replace the Indian driver for the remainder of the 2019 season. It would prove to be an inspiring choice as Sørensen immediately shown his speed with a front row start for the Dane in his first ever Qualifying session.
During the race itself, Sørensen showed his class as he fought off Myatt Snider and Giorgio Maggi for most of the race to keep himself in 2nd place when race leader Andre Castro was forced to retire from the race with just two laps to go. Sørensen inherited the lead and led the final two laps of the race to secure a highly memorable first win in his very first race in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
“That’s amazing, thanks for the whole team and Dexwet-DF1 Racing. They put a car together that was totally amazing without any failures. Tactic-wise, we put a good performance as well. There was a lot of tire management in the race due to the temperature, but I think we did good and after the Safety Car, my tires was on point and got a help in the end,” said Sørensen in the post-race interview.
What fans don’t know at the time however, is that this victory would be the start of one of the most dominating seasons by a single driver in NASCAR history…
8. Valencia NASCAR Fest’s Sunday Elite 1 Race Goes with a Bang – Literally and Figuratively
As explained in the title entry, the Sunday Elite 1 race at this year’s Valencia NASCAR Fest proved to be a “bang” for the fans, both literally and on the figurative side of things.
The literal “bang” came in right as the field took the green flag to start the race. At the start, Ellen Lohr in the No. 99 Dexwet-DF1 Camaro made a great start and tried to overtake both Mauro Trione and Henri Tuomaala by going in the middle of both cars. Unfortunately, she misjudged the gap and collided with both cars, sending both Lohr and Trione into the retaining wall before crashing heavily whilst Tuomaala spun off with no damage to his No. 23 Memphis Racing Camaro.
Amazingly, despite the severity of the crash – Lohr’s car was written off for the remainder of the season – both drivers were uninjured and they were able to walk away from the crash scene under their own power. The crash itself is a testament of the safety progress that NASCAR has achieved since NASCAR lost Dale Earnhardt in the infamous final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.
On the figurative “bang”, it came when home driver Ander Vilariño crossed the line to sweep the weekend at Valencia. The race week at Valencia was Vilariño’s return to the series after a three-year absence and while he ultimately would fade away from title contention as the season goes, the wins at Valencia reminded people why he’s a three-time champion in the series and the sweep showed people he’s still one of the best drivers to have ever raced in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
7. Advait Deodhar Fights Financial Issues to Finish the Season in Top 5
If there’s one lesson that can be learned from Advait Deodhar’s 2019 Elite 2 campaign, it’s the resilience and “never give up” spirit that he had showed over the course of the year. Having funded his racing career through his own pocket from his off-track job as a yacht broker, Deodhar found himself in a desperate need of sponsorship this year as his usual job payment wouldn’t secure him enough funding to race for the whole season.
The financial issue would cost him his initial full-time contract at Dexwet-DF1 Racing, forcing the London-based Indian driver to make two team switches before he found a new home at CAAL Racing starting from the races at Brands Hatch. Even then, the financial issues just don’t stop coming – He almost missed the races at Most due to funding issues before the Indian had to skip the race at Venray after he failed to find a sponsor in time for the series’ only oval race meet of the year.
Fortunately, by the time the Playoffs started in September, he and his partner – and team spotter – Anish Damji Gohil had secured enough funding that will allow him to compete for the final 4 races of the year without having to worry about missing races due to a lack of funding.
Deodhar’s resilience in finding the money to race would be rewarded with a series of strong on-track performances. He started the year with a Top 5 finish at Valencia and he would prove to be a regular Top-10 contender for the rest of the year. In total, Deodhar scored 4 Top-5 finishes and 10 Top-10 finishes on his way to finish the 2019 Elite 2 season in 4th place, ahead of the likes of Nicholas Risitano, Myatt Snider, and Justin Kunz.
This also includes a spectacular race at Brands Hatch where in his first race with CAAL, Deodhar was able to score a podium finish after he kept his car clean in the middle of the chaos that ensued during the race. Finishing third on the road, he was later promoted to second after Scott Jeffs received a post-race penalty for pushing Vittorio Ghirelli to the gravel trap late in the race.
As Deodhar is once again resuming his hunt for a sponsorship to fund his racing career, it is certain that Deodhar’s resilience and success despite the setback that he had to face this year is going to be remembered for years to come.
6. Thomas Ferrando and Stienes Longin Tastes Glory at Zolder
The 2019 season saw two first-time winners in the Elite 1 class in Thomas Ferrando and Stienes Longin. Interestingly, both drivers secured their first Elite 1 wins in the season finale races at Circuit Zolder.
For Thomas Ferrando, he secured his win in the Saturday race after he scored his first ever Elite 1 pole position earlier that day to make it 7 different Superpole winners in 7 race weeks. The 2019 season proved to be a breakthrough season for him as the mid-season team switch for the No. 27 entry – from Alex Caffi Motorsport to CAAL Racing – would prove to be the X factor that Ferrando needed to show the potential that he had shown previously in the Elite 2 class.
As for Stienes Longin, he had spent most of the season as the ultimate bridesmaid. Within the first 8 races of the season, Stienes finished in second-place a staggering six times. In fact, it could have been 7 second-place finishes in 9 races for him had he didn’t receive a post-race penalty at Venray – a race where he finished second in the road.
While a disastrous race week at Hockenheim would effectively eliminate him from title contention, Stienes fought back in his home race week at Zolder with a third-place finish during the Saturday race before he dominated the final race of the season to secure the elusive first win that had eluded him for the entirety of the season.
Both drivers’ future in the now-called EuroNASCAR PRO class has never looked brighter and with both Ferrando and Stienes projected to be retained by CAAL Racing and PK Carsport respectively, expect both drivers to be in the talks for title contention in 2020.
5. Hendriks Motorsport’s Engine Swap to Victory at Most
As any mechanic would tell you, it is certainly not easy to repair a damaged engine, let alone having to replace the entire engine in your race car. Yet, this is a situation that Hendriks Motorsport had to face at Most after the engine in the team’s No. 50 Ford Mustang spectacularly blew up in the Saturday Elite 1 race.
With just around two hours between the Elite 1 and the Elite 2 race, Hendriks was faced with a near-impossible task of having to replace the engine in the No. 50 car in time to allow the Elite 2 championship leader Giorgio Maggi to start Saturday’s Elite 2 race. What would follow is a monumental feat of achievement for Hendriks Motorsport – Not only they successfully replace the engine in time for the start of the Elite 2 race, Giorgio Maggi brought the car to the Victory Lane to extend his lead in the Elite 2 championship!
This feat was especially special because no other teams managed to replace their engines that quick over the course of the 2019 season, and it – along with the successes that Hezemans and Maggi brought in the No. 50 Mustang – is a feat that made Hendriks Motorsport worthy of becoming this year’s NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Teams Champion.
4. Jacques Villeneuve’s Double Podium Finishes at Franciacorta
When Jacques Villeneuve announced that he’s going to be competing full-time this year, it generated a lot of attention and media hype to the series. After all, it’s not often that you see a former Indy 500 winner, CART and Formula One World Champion decided to give a shot in the world of stock car racing.
But on the same time, there were people who doubted how he’s going to perform. Before competing in NWES this year, Villeneuve has been having a three-year sabbatical and when Villeneuve took the checkered flag in the final race of the season at Zolder, it marked the end of his first full season campaign on any motor racing series since his 2005 Formula One campaign with Sauber.
Then there’s also people who doubted whether he’s even going to be competing full-time in NWES. As his detractors would love to point out, he had a track record of leaving a series early after he declared that he’s going to be competing for a full season.
Those doubts, however, were silenced during the second race week of the season at Franciacorta. After a tough first race week for him at Valencia, Villeneuve showed that he still has what it takes to be competing at the top, as shown with his third-place qualifying effort in Qualifying and his double 3rd place finishes during the races itself.
While it was Alon Day that pulled off the sweep at Franciacorta, Villeneuve was arguably the star of the week with his double podium finish and his fantastic battle with Hezemans in the Sunday race. It is arguable that the results of Franciacorta also convinced him to field his junior academy team FEED Racing in the series starting from next year, showcasing JV’s commitment to the series for years to come.
3. Snider and Castro’s Heartbreak – and Maggi’s Glory – at Valencia
Americans Myatt Snider and Andre Castro made their mark on the first Elite 2 race of the year when they were running 1-2 for pretty much the entire race. Snider, who had secured pole position earlier that day and is arguably the most experienced driver with stock cars in the entire Elite 2 grid this year, looks to be the favorite for the win for the day yet Castro showed that even though this is his first race in NASCAR, he can keep up with someone whose family has been working on the sport for many decades.
That, however, would change on the very last corner. As Castro entered the final turn with his first victory on sight, Snider tried to overtake Castro on the inside line. The move would end up in heartbreak as Snider’s No. 48 Racing Engineering Ford Mustang collided with Castro’s No. 24 PK Carsport Chevrolet Camaro, sending both cars to a spin and gifting Giorgio Maggi a surprise win, with Vittorio Ghirelli and Martin Doubek taking up the pieces with their podium place finishes.
The events at Valencia would arguably set the tone for Snider, Castro, and Maggi’s campaign for the rest of the year – The race at Valencia was perhaps Snider and Castro’s closest attempt towards their quest to visit the Victory Lane this year, whilst Maggi’s victory would proper him to the championship lead and turned him into one of the primary championship contenders of the Elite 2 class this year.
2. The Crowning of New Champions at Zolder
The season finale at Zolder marks the completion of the rise of two youngsters to become part of NASCAR’s elite as Loris Hezemans and Lasse Sørensen was crowned as the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champions of 2019.
Lasse Sørensen’s season will be considered as one of the greatest performances by one driver over the course of a season in NASCAR. Despite having a 2-race deficit from most of his competitors, Sorensen went on an absolute tear as DF1’s Danish Tiger scored 7 wins and 10 podiums on his way to become the Elite 2 champion of 2019. He also had an average finish of 1.91, which is certainly one of, if not the best average finish by a NASCAR champion in history.
The way Sørensen was crowned champion is also special too, as it was held in an incredibly tense final showdown. With only one point separating him and Maggi in the championship coming to the final race of the season and both drivers starting 1-2, they know that whoever crossed the line first is going to be crowned as the champion. In the end, it was Sørensen that managed to fend off Maggi to secure his 7th race win of the season and with it, the title of becoming the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Elite 2 Champion.
As for Loris Hezemans, he had an easier time in comparison. Because his closest rival Nicolò Rocca was eliminated early in the first lap pile-up during the Saturday race, all Hezemans had to do at the final race of the season is to simply start the race. Despite this, Hezemans showcased why he’s the champion in NASCAR Whelen Euro Series’ most competitive season so far.
The 22-year old Dutchman was consistent but struggled to find the pace he needed to win initially. When the series visited Most however, things went into high gear for Hezemans. While he was denied from a win in the Saturday race after his engine spectacularly blew with four laps to go, he redeemed himself to win the Sunday race before proceeding to score 4 consecutive victories to put himself as the favorite coming to Zolder.
With a grand total of 4 wins, 6 podiums, and 11 Top-10 finishes, Hezemans showed that he is fast and consistent enough to win the title and be crowned as the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Champion in a field that featured talents such as ex-Formula One World Champion Jacques Villeneuve and former series champions Ander Vilariño and Alon Day.
1. Lasse Sørensen Completes a Last to First Challenge in Brands Hatch
When Lasse Sørensen was relegated to last place on the grid for the Saturday Elite 2 race at Brands Hatch due to a prop shaft failure in his No. 66 Dexwet-DF1 Camaro during the Elite 1 Qualifying, nobody expected the Dane to be able to carve his way to the front of the pack over the course of the 30-lap race at one of Britain’s most iconic race tracks.
But, the Danish sensation did just that. He made it to the Top 15 after just 5 laps, and by lap 10 he had made it to the Top 10. With 10 laps to go, he was in 7th place when things started to unfold for the drivers in front of him.
Giorgio Maggi, running 2nd at the time, had to relinquish his place on lap 21 to do a drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Andre Castro early in the race. Castro himself would also dived in to the pits on lap 24 to take a drive-through penalty, this time for spinning Myatt Snider in the restart and he had to relinquish his position on the Top 7 as well.
The lap after Castro took his penalty, Sørensen passed Advait Deodhar for 4th place and with three laps to go, he climbed up to 2nd after Scott Jeffs and Vittorio Ghirelli had a tangle together in the first corner. Then, as Florian Venturi starts the final lap, Venturi’s gearbox started to seize up and Sørensen duly took over the lead on the main straight to complete an incredible charge from last on the grid to first.
From controversial incidents such as the Maggi-Castro and Castro-Snider incidents, to excellent performances for the underdogs such as Advait Deodhar’s podium and career-best finishes for Thomas Krasonis (6th) and Michael Bleekemolen (7th), to the last-lap drama with Sørensen and Venturi and even post-race drama with Scott Jeffs’ post-race penalty that promoted Venturi to the podium, the race itself has everything on the recipe that is needed to make it as a candidate for one of the best NASCAR races of the year.
Yet, one moment stands out from the rest and it is Lasse Sørensen’s last-to-first charge that would become our pick for the No. 1 moment of the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season.
Disclaimer: Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard / Bart Dehaese.