With inspiration from the decade photo album that NASCAR Whelen Euro Series released a few weeks ago, we took a trip back to the memory lane and relive how the 2010s shaped the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, a decade that saw the series grew from a start-up racing series to become an official and beloved part of the NASCAR family.
For the first part of this, we’re going to look back at the major moments that happened in the series from 2010 to 2014. Part 2, scheduled for a later date, will be focused on the major moments that happened from 2015 to 2019.
2010 – A Fresh Dawn in the New Decade
When the decade starts on 1 January 2010, NASCAR Whelen Euro Series – or Racecar Euro Series as it was called back then – had only just completed its first ever season in 2009, a season that saw all of its races being held exclusively in Team FJ’s home country of France.
Despite this, the newly-formed series has started to receive a considerable amount of interest from both the fans and the racing industry. Fan interest to the Racecar Euro Series was high enough for series organizer Team FJ to decide that they will host one race outside of France in its second season.
In July 2010, Racecar Euro Series made its international debut as they raced in the Nürburgring for the first time in history, an event that proved to be an immediate success for the fledgling series.
Apart from the race at Nürburgring, all of the races in the 2010 season were held in France. Nogaro hosted the first Racecar Euro Series race of the decade, while the season also hosted races at Dijon-Prenois, Circuit du Val de Vienne, Circuit de Lédenon, and Le Mans’ Bugatti Circuit in 2010.
The season finale races at Le Mans saw the introduction of the double point races for the first time, something that would become a staple of the series for its Playoff rounds. In addition, one of the races at Le Mans that year was held at night – to this day, that race remains as the only NASCAR Whelen Euro Series night race in history.
In the end, it was Lucas Lasserre that would win his second consecutive Racecar Euro Series title in the Elite (now-EuroNASCAR PRO) class, while Emmanuel Brigand would earn his first title in the Open (now-EuroNASCAR 2) class. For Lasserre, that title would prove to be a special one for him as NASCAR gave him an invitation to take part in the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale on 29 January 2011 as a reward for winning the 2010 title.
Lasserre’s first oval race proved to be an interesting one. Being used to competing in road courses more than ovals, Lasserre struggled to find pace initially and was relegated to the Last Chance Open, where he had to finish in the Top 6 in order to make it to the 40-car field for the Showdown. Lasserre would make it to the Showdown, but only just – Lasserre would finish the Last Chance Open in fifth place, guaranteeing him a spot in the Showdown as the 39th place starter in the race.
Despite the initial struggles and fighting against a field stacked with talents such as Daniel Suárez, Travis Pastrana, Germán Quiroga, D.J. Kennington, Anthony Ranger, Michael Self, and Bubba Wallace, Lasserre managed to stay out of trouble, keep his car clean, and finished his first oval race in an impressive 15th place as the last car in the lead lap.
2011 – International Status for Stock Car Racing in Europe
Racecar Euro Series’ successful trip to the Nürburgring in 2010 brought a major implication to the status of the series. Starting from the 2011 season, Racecar Euro Series received the approval by the FIA to be recognized as an FIA International Series, a status that is still being held by the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series to this day.
2011 also saw one of the biggest changes in the series’ calendar as the Racecar Euro Series replaced four of the tracks featured in the 2010 calendar with four new tracks. Only Nogaro and Le Mans remained in the schedule for 2011 while Lédenon, Dijon, Val de Vienne, and Nürburgring was replaced by Motorland Aragón, Zandvoort, Magny-Cours, and Brands Hatch respectively. The new addition meant that the series expanded to three previously untapped markets in Spain, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
For Aragón, Zandvoort, and Magny-Cours, the 2011 season marked the series’ only visit to the tracks as of the end of the 2019 season. For Brands Hatch, it will be the start of the track’s long partnership with the series, as well as the start of the track’s journey to become EuroNASCAR’s biggest event of the year.
The second race at Aragón saw history being made, as female driver Carole Perrin was handed the race victory by the officials post-race after initial race winner Romain Iannetta received a time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Ander Vilariño at the start of the race. Perrin’s victory would be the first – and only – occasion where a female driver has scored a win in the Racecar Euro Series, a feat that is currently unmatched in the NASCAR era of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
In the 2011 season, the series would crown two new champions. Former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Éric Hélary would be crowned as the champion of the series in the Elite class while Romain Fournillier would be crowned champion of the Open class. The drivers would leave their mark in the series’ history book as the final champions in the pre-NASCAR era of the series.
Later in the year, the Racecar Euro Series visited NASCAR’s World Center of Racing, Daytona International Speedway, for a very special exhibition round. Six cars were imported from Europe to the States to take part in an exhibition race at Daytona and while very little information is known about Euro Series’ visit to Daytona, the race at Daytona – along with the invitation for its champions to race in the States – made it clear that a purchase from NASCAR and integrating it as part of the Home Tracks international series to accompany both the Mexico Series and the Canadian Tire Series (now Pinty’s Series) was imminent.
A week before the 2012 Daytona 500, NASCAR made a major announcement that would change the series’ future forever.
2012 – The Official Start of NASCAR in Europe
On 22 February 2012, NASCAR announced that starting from the 2012 season, Racecar Euro Series will be receiving official sanctioning from NASCAR. Interestingly, NASCAR didn’t buy out the Racecar Euro Series like with what they did with Mexico and Canada. Instead, NASCAR announced that they will be making a long-term partnership with Team FJ, with the initial contract stating that the partnership between NASCAR and Team FJ would last until the 2020 season. In addition, as part of the agreement, the series would change its name to the Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series (ERNTS).
Nogaro’s Circuit Paul Armagnac would witness the first stock car race sanctioned by NASCAR in Europe on 8 and 9 April 2012 as the track was chosen to host first race of the 2012 season, the Nogaro 200. The 2012 season saw the series visit 6 tracks once again and the schedule would feature three new tracks: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Tours Speedway (as a non-championship round), and Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
Spanish driver Ander Vilariño and Belgian driver Martin van Hove became the series’ first ever winners in the NASCAR era of the series after they swept the weekend at Nogaro in the Elite and Open class respectively. Vilariño would proceed to dominate the 2012 season, scoring 6 wins and 8 podium finishes on his way to become the first champion of the series in the NASCAR era. Three other drivers – Javier Villa, Romain Iannetta, and Gael Castelli – would also visit the Victory Lane in the first season of NASCAR in Europe.
In the Open class, Simon Escallier won the championship rather comfortably as he finished the season with a 44-point advantage over Alain Grand in the standings. Despite this, the competition in the Open class was a lot closer as 7 drivers – van Hove, Vincent Gonneau, Adriano Medeiros, Loic Deman, Marc Duez, Escallier, and Olivier Porta – visited the Victory Lane that year. An eighth driver, Frederic Johais, also visited the Victory Lane after he scored a victory in the one of the non-championship races held at Tours.
Speaking of the race at Tours, the non-championship race week that year would mark Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series’ first ever visit to an oval track – a staple of NASCAR and American motorsport, but a rarity in Europe. Tours Speedway itself is a 0.375-mile oval that was built in the parking place of Tours’ Parc des Expositions. Originally built without a banking, the track was reprofiled with a 9° banking on both ends of the oval soon after the first races were held in 2012 and the track would continue to host EuroNASCAR races until its closure in 2018.
The first Elite race at Tours that year saw another historic occasion being made as the series would crown its first American race winner, with the current NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series General Manager Ben Kennedy earning the honors after he won the Michelin 100 by 1.427 seconds over Dimitri Enjalbert.
To this day, no other American driver has managed to repeat Kennedy’s feat, although drivers such as Bobby Labonte, Myatt Snider, and Andre Castro have managed to come close in their future EuroNASCAR campaigns.
In addition, Carole Perrin’s third-place finish in the first Elite race at Spa would also mark the first – and so far only – occasion in the NASCAR era of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series where a female driver has managed to score a podium finish.
2013 – Significant Rebranding and Signs of Worldwide Reach
The 2013 season saw the series visit six tracks once again, with Spa and Valencia being replaced by one new track and one returning track. Dijon makes its return after being absent for the previous two seasons, while Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series would visit Italy for the first time in 2013 with its visit to Italy’s famous “Temple of Speed”, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
The year also saw another name change for the series. Between the first American Speedfest at Brands Hatch and the series’ first championship races in an oval at Tours, Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series announced that they have reached an agreement with Whelen Engineering – already a title sponsor for NASCAR’s Modified Tour series since 2005 – to become the title sponsor of the Euro Series for the next six years. As a result of this, the series was renamed into its current name, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
Ander Vilariño once again dominated the series in 2013, as the Spaniard scored 7 wins on his way to his second consecutive title. Despite this, Vilariño was embroiled in a season-long battle with rookie Frédéric Gabillon, who scored 4 wins on his way to finish second in his debut season. Vilariño and Gabillon pretty much dominated that year, as they scored all but one win in 2013. The sole non-Vilariño or Gabillon win that year came at Monza, where Yann Zimmer secured his first career NWES victory in Race 2 at Italy.
In the Open class, Josh Burdon dominated the Open class that year with 7 wins on his name, but a catastrophic Playoffs for the Australian would saw him lose the title to Anthony Gandon in the final round at Le Mans. Just like in the Elite class, Burdon and Gandon dominated the Open class that year, with the sole non-Burdon or Gandon victory came from Julien Goupy’s victory in the first race at Tours.
Vilariño and Gandon’s combined results would be enough for TFT Racing to claim their first – and only – Teams Championship title that year. They also became the first team to sweep all available championship titles, a feat that has been repeated twice so far.
2013 also saw drivers from Asia and America making their first appearances in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Australian Josh Burdon, Filipino’s Don and Enzo Pastor, Indian Sailesh Bolisetti, and Americans Gilles Thornton, Kevin O’Connell, and Rick Crawford all made their series debuts that year, proving that the success of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series have reached the attention from racing drivers all over the world.
For Burdon and the late Enzo Pastor, they would become the series’ first full-time Asian drivers with their full season participation in the Open class that year. As for Gilles Thornton, his participation in 2013 meant that he became the series’ youngest ever driver, as he started the first race at Tours at the age of just 15 years and 90 days – almost a full year younger than 2019’s youngest driver Ben Creanor, who debuted at Valencia at the age of 16 years and 29 days.
The series also received a significant boost in media coverage that year as Fifth Gear presenter Tiff Needell made a one-off appearance in the season finale round at Le Mans as part of a special coverage by the long-running British motoring television series. Needell’s participation and behind the scenes coverage at Le Mans was aired in 31 March 2014 as part of the episode “European NASCAR”, the sixth episode of Fifth Gear’s 24th season. You can check out Needell’s participation in NWES via the video link provided here.
2014 – NASCAR Whelen Euro Series’ Most Competitive Year?
2014 starts off with the announcement that the NWES calendar is going to receive yet another major shakeup. Nogaro, Dijon, and Monza were replaced with two returning tracks – Valencia returns to host the first edition of their now-traditional season opening round Valencia NASCAR Fest, while Nürburgring returns for the track’s only appearance in the NASCAR era – and one new track in Autodromo dell’Umbria.
The 2014 season would prove to be the closest season in NASCAR Whelen Euro Series up to date and while future seasons would have stronger quality of drivers and teams, the 2014 season is also arguably the most competitive yet. Across both classes, a total of 15 drivers visited the Victory Lane that year and the titles would be decided with a gap of less than 10 points in total.
In the Elite 1 class, rookie Anthony Kumpen managed to win the title in his debut season. Only one point separates the Belgian from Ander Vilariño despite Kumpen scored only 1 victory in comparison to Vilariño’s four Victory Lane visits that year.
In an era where NASCAR is constantly receiving criticism from racing fans for the Playoffs system that “disregards” in-season consistency, Kumpen emphasizes how consistency is still an important part of a driver’s championship bid as Kumpen never finished outside of the Top 10, while Vilariño’s two DNFs early in the season would prove to be the factor that would cost the Spaniard the chance to win the title for three years in a row.
Five other drivers – Zimmer, Eddie Cheever III, Mathias Lauda, Borja García, and Gabillon – also visited the Victory Lane in the Elite 1 class that year. Eddie Cheever III, son of ex-Formula One driver and Indy 500 winner Eddie Cheever, is the stand out rookie that year with three wins and three pole positions in his debut year, while Mathias Lauda’s lone win at Tours would become memorable for it being the first NASCAR oval race to be held in the wet conditions.
Kumpen’s Elite 2 teammate, Maxime Dumarey, also won the Elite 2 title in his debut season that year despite only scoring a single victory throughout the season. Just like Kumpen, Dumarey won the title by virtue of a season-long consistency, although Austrian driver Philipp Lietz gave Dumarey a run for his money.
Both Dumarey and Lietz scored a single victory throughout the year and both drivers also finished outside of the Top 10 just once that year. Dumarey, however, was more consistent overall as 9 of his finishes are inside the Top 5 while Lietz only had 7 Top 5 finishes that year. In addition, Lietz also got affected by three very poor qualifying results – 28th and last in Brands Hatch 1, 19th at Tours 1, and 22nd at Le Mans 1 – while Dumarey’s worst qualifying result that year is 7th at Valencia 2.
The overall consistency meant that Dumarey was able to clinch the Elite 2 title in 2014, even though his sole retirement of the year happened during the double-point Playoff rounds – the worst races to have a bad race result. Kumpen and Dumarey’s title triumphs meant that PK Carsport also secured the Teams Championship title that year to cap off an incredible first season for the Belgian team.
Six other drivers – Neal van Vaerenbergh, Wilfried Boucenna, Denis Dupont, Thomas Ferrando, Guillaume Rousseau, and Gabriele Gardel – also visited the Victory Lane in the Elite 2 class that year and with the 2014 Elite 2 season having 8 different race winners in just 12 races, they would set a record for the most different race winners in a single season of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series – a feat that has been yet to be matched in future seasons.
Part 2 of this article series, which focuses on NWES’ major moments from 2015 to 2019, will be coming at a later date… Stay tuned.
Disclaimer: Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard.