As the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series field continues their preparation for the second half of the season, we take a look back and picked four “winners” and “losers” from the first half of the 2021 season based on how well their season have transpired in their first six races of the year…

NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has already reached the halfway point of the 2021 season and as ever, the series produced many great moments and surprises. Some drivers and teams have either kept the momentum or made a great leap forward in comparison to their previous season. For others, they haven’t been able to do the same due to either bad luck, downturn in form, or other seasons.

With the second half of the season starting next weekend with the series’ return to Automotodrom Grobnik at Croatia, we picked four “Winners” and “Losers” from the first half of the season based on how well they performed above – or under – our expectations coming into the 2021 season.

WINNERS

Hendriks Motorsport

After a historic 2020 season that saw Hendriks Motorsport thoroughly dominated the EuroNASCAR 2 division and became the first team to successfully defend the Teams Championship title, Hendriks entered the 2021 season with a major goal of winning all three of EuroNASCAR’s major titles and after three rounds, everything seems to have gone smoothly for the team based in Maasbree.

Loris Hezemans, who was mostly overshadowed by Alon Day and Lasse Sorensen last year, has proven himself to be the driver to beat in the top class once more. With 3 wins, 4 pole positions, and 5 podium finishes, Hezemans currently sits comfortably at the top of the standings with his only real mistake being a terrible pit stop during the dry-to-wet race at Most that prevented the Dutchman from achieving a podium finish in all six races so far.

Vittorio Ghirelli has proven himself to be an immediate contender in the top class too as numerous close calls to the podium came calling to Ghirelli before he dominated the second race at the Czech Republic to score his maiden victory in the PRO class, propelling the defending EN2 champion to second in the championship.

Improvements has also been visible in the No. 18 Hendriks team. Giorgio Maggi, now the sole driver of the No. 18 car, has yet to score a podium this year but his pace is steadily improving and he’s now comfortably fighting for the Top-10 positions in every race. With Maggi having track knowledge on the tracks that the series will visit next, it’s expected that Maggi would step up the fight in the remaining six races of the 2021 season.

Hendriks’ EuroNASCAR 2 drivers Tobias Dauenhauer and Martin Doubek continued to left their mark by continuing the team’s domination in the junior category. While a chance of retaining their total sweep has slipped away, a total of 5 wins – 3 to Dauenhauer and 2 to Doubek – has contributed to them sitting 1-2 in the championship with Dauenhauer in particular having finished on the podium in all six races so far.

It’s also looking certain that Hendriks will retain the Teams Championship title for a record breaking three-in-a-row as the No. 50 team, who currently leads the Team standings, has opened up a gap of nearly 100 points to the nearest non-Hendriks challenger. With Hendriks predicted to clinch the Teams title early and their drivers sitting 1-2 in the drivers standings on both classes, the odds of Hendriks winning the triple this year is becoming more and more likely.

Sebastiaan Bleekemolen

Sebastiaan Bleekemolen was left unpleased with his debut EuroNASCAR campaign in 2019 and declared his intention to fight for the podium positions on his second season. While his second EuroNASCAR campaign ultimately was delayed by a year after Team Bleekemolen quietly withdrew from the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sebastiaan has managed to back up his words on his return to the championship this year.

Aided by a strengthened technical alliance with Hendriks which effectively turned Team Bleekemolen into a satellite team for Hendriks, Sebastiaan has scored three podium finishes and currently sits fifth in the championship after a run of 5 consecutive Top-10 finishes, a sharp contrast to his debut EuroNASCAR campaign where he failed to finish inside the Top-10 and was only 17th in the standings after the first six races.

The second half of the season is likely to be tougher for the second-generation driver given that he has yet to race in two of the tracks that the series will visit – Rijeka and Vallelunga. Despite this, it’s expected that his vast experience will allow him to overcome the issues and maintain his streak of Top-10 finishes as he aims to bring home a Top 5 finish in the overall standings come the season finale at Vallelunga.

Advait Deodhar

Advait Deodhar, the London-based Indian driver, created a surprise in 2019 when he unexpectedly fought for the title in the Elite 2 class – as it was called back then – despite a constant struggle with financial backing, having to switch teams twice mid-season and nearly missed the cut from several races due to said funding issues.

His efforts to continue on with his racing ambitions in the face of adversity was rewarded this year after news broke out that he has managed to secure a full-time seat at CAAL Racing a few weeks before the season-opening round at Valencia. TJB Super Yachts also agreed to give him the financial support he needed to complete the season, with Deodhar having been personally endorsed by their CEO Tim Johnston after he showed his dedication and passion to compete in motorsport on said 2019 season.

The trust that CAAL and TJB placed to Deodhar this year paid dividends when the series headed to Brands Hatch in July. Brands Hatch is the track where Deodhar scored his first podium finish in 2019 and when the series returned to the historic venue this year, he managed to one-up his result by accomplishing a feat that no one was able to achieve in more than a year: Beat the seemingly invincible Hendriks Motorsport team.

Having qualified on pole to score India’s first pole position in EuroNASCAR, Deodhar bravely fought the Hendriks Ford of Tobias Dauenhauer in an incredibly tense Saturday race. Deodhar was pressured by Dauenhauer lap after lap, but he refuses to give even a single inch towards the Hendriks driver and despite a close-call with traffic in the closing laps of the race, Deodhar held off Dauenhauer’s challenge after a grueling 30 lap race to claim a well-deserved first victory.

It was the first win for an Indian driver in Euro Series and more importantly, his win broke a 12-race winning streak that Hendriks has achieved in the junior division. The victory also later proved to be more poignant when his brother Akshay passed away less than a week after his historic win at Brands Hatch, with Deodhar honoring his brother’s memory with a special tribute decal on his car at Most.

Admittedly misfortunes has led to 2 DNF’s – one due to a late mechanical trouble at Valencia, the other due to a first-lap collision with former teammate Pierluigi Veronesi at Most, effectively leaving Deodhar with little room for error as he has expended both of his “joker” rounds. Despite this, Deodhar has proven himself to be one of the top non-Hendriks title challenger and it’s expected that he will continue to fight for the top positions in the upcoming rounds of the 2021 season.

Not Only Motorsport in EuroNASCAR 2

Not Only Motorsport, the plucky little team from Vignate, created headlines when their lead driver Davide Dallara unexpectedly won the Challenger Trophy and regularly competed for Top-10 finishes in his debut season. The team’s knack of honing talent in the series looks to have continued this year as their EuroNASCAR 2 drivers Naveh Talor and Alberto Panebianco have turned themselves into an unlikely challenger for the title in the junior class.

Talor, competing on his second full-season campaign in EuroNASCAR 2, hasn’t received the best amount of luck in the 2021 season campaign but he made it up with some impressive performances. At Valencia, he finished 6th in Race 1 despite having to start from last place on the grid due to car troubles in Qualifying. He narrowly missed on a podium finish at Brands Hatch and could potentially finish on the podium in Race 2 at Most if he didn’t get spun midway through the race, although he did set the fastest lap time of the race.

Panebianco has proved himself to be the best rookie in the EuroNASCAR 2 field this year and like Talor, he too narrowly missed on a podium finish at Brands Hatch. While he hasn’t had the peaks that Talor experienced this year, his consistency meant that he is just ahead of Talor in the standings, currently sitting 6th in the EuroNASCAR 2 standings with 173 points – Talor is currently 8th with 169 points.

Given the misfortunes that some of the top EuroNASCAR 2 challengers have experienced this year and with both drivers being separated by just 14 and 18 points respectively from 2nd place in the standings, Not Only Motorsport could be in a shot for an unlikely Top 5 finish in the overall standings if both Talor and Panebianco can keep up the results they have achieved this year.

LOSERS

Alon Day

It’s perhaps unfair to place the defending series champion Alon Day in the list of “Losers” for the 2021 season so far given that the Israeli driver has already scored two race victories to further extend his lead in the all-time wins list, but there’s one major problem that could cost Day a chance to win a record-breaking fourth title this year: Reliability.

Day has retired from three out of the six races that has been held this year, two of which are caused by engine troubles. A crankshaft on his No. 88 Monster Energy Camaro blew on the second restart of Race 2 at Brands Hatch and despite an valiant effort to keep the car running on the track, he was forced to retire not long after.

Later at Most, he was running well inside the Top 5 when his car suddenly experienced technical issues on lap 6 of Race 2, an issue that became apparent when Jacques Villeneuve – and subsequently the rest of the field – was able to get past him easily. He later brought his car to the pits and after a quick check under the hood it soon became clear that another engine issue had developed in his CAAL Racing machine, forcing him to score his third retirement of the year.

Coupled with another retirement thanks to suspension damage following an unintended off-track excursion at Valencia, Day’s three retirements meant that he sits 9th in the championship at the halfway mark with just 168 points on his name, 51 points behind championship leader Hezemans. Worse still, Day effectively had used both of his “joker” rounds as no matter what happens in Rijeka and Zolder, Day can only drop two of the three retirements that he have given that only the best 8 of the first 10 races will count towards the final standings.

Of course it is still mathematically possible for Day to win the championship, but EuroNASCAR’s championship system places an importance on consistency and no driver in EuroNASCAR’s history has won a championship title with more than one DNF in a single season. Day’s capabilities of winning races is certainly a benefit, but he needs to pray that he suffered no other retirements in the last six races of the season to keep his championship hopes alive.

Marc Goossens

While Alon Day has found the 2021 season to be a tougher season than expected thanks to reliability issues in his CAAL Racing machinery, Marc Goossens has found himself on the wrong side of things this year due to a different reason: Considerable drop in pace with his new team DF1 Racing.

A late signing to the No. 77 DF1 team, things have been rough for the Belgian this year as he has struggled to match the pace set by DF1’s on-track leader Nicolo Rocca. He has finished outside of the Top 10 three times this year and while he did score a podium in the manic dry-to-wet race at Autodrom Most, it was arguably a lucky one given that he started from 19th on the grid and he nearly pushed his luck too far by gambling to stay on the slicks two laps longer than the majority of the field.

The pace drop is certainly weird given that the 51-year old Belgian still had what it takes to compete at the top of Europe’s biggest stock car series, as showcased last year when he finally made a full-time shot at the EuroNASCAR title with CAAL Racing. Goossens’ stint with CAAL yielded him 2 podiums – both at his home race in Zolder – and 5 Top-5 finishes on his way to a 5th place finish in the overall standings, proving Goossens’ capabilities of competing at the top in European’s biggest stock car series.

He is still sitting in the Top 10 of the championship after six races as he continues to adapt with the machinery provided by Norbert Walchoffer’s team, but strong results in the upcoming races is absolutely needed for Goossens if he wants to stay in the title fight and given the increased competitiveness in the EuroNASCAR PRO field this year, it will be a tough ask for Goossens to try crack into the Top 5 positions on pace alone.

Davide Dallara

The dreaded term “sophomore slump” in motorsport refers to cases where a driver, a team, or a combination of the two experienced a downturn in performance after an exceptionally well debut season. Some has managed to avoid the slump but for some, they have yet to lived up to the standards set in their first season and it’s a slump that is currently experienced by Not Only Motorsport driver Davide Dallara.

Dallara was one of the more under-the-radar stars of last year after he delivered a series of strong performances in the top EuroNASCAR PRO class, a division that Dallara wasn’t even supposed to race in the first place. Despite the nature of his promotion and his status as an amateur driver, Dallara regularly fought against the series’ more established drivers and was a consistent Top-10 challenger in his debut year as he brought home five Top-10 finishes in the shortened 2020 season, ultimately claiming the top honors in the Challenger Trophy sub-classification.

Expectations were high on Dallara as he aims to defend his status as Challenger Trophy’s top driver and continue to regularly fight in the Top-10 positions against a stronger opposition in 2021, but Dallara’s results has taken a few steps backwards instead.

This regression in form was best showcased in Valencia, a track where Dallara scored three of his five Top-10 finishes last year. Dallara’s pace at Valencia in 2020, on average, was within 1 second of the leaders and in the three races where he managed to cross the finish line – namely Valencia 1, Valencia 3, and Valencia 4 – he finished 20, 15, and 24 seconds behind the race winner respectively. In contrast, Dallara’s performance in the 2021 races saw him finish 40 and 54 seconds behind the race winner, finishing well outside of the Top 10 in both occassion.

Some of this performance drop at Valencia can be traced to mechanical issues, but the following races has yet to showcase an improvement. In Brands Hatch, he finished 40 seconds behind Alon Day in the caution-free first race. His double retirement at Most was mostly traced to bad luck and mechanical issues, but he was overshadowed by teammate Andrea Nori who had the pace to compete in the Top 10 positions all-weekend, even briefly slotting himself to the lead on Race 1 despite a controversial charge to the front.

Of course, the season is still long for Dallara and the next three rounds will see Dallara visit tracks that he did visit on last year’s campaign, but he is already 24 points behind Henri Tuomaala in the Challenger Trophy sub-classifications. Given Tuomaala is also capable of fighting against the series’ established drivers, it might be a tough ask for Dallara to fight for his first Top-10 finish of the year and overturn the 24-point deficit that he has over the Finn in Challenger Trophy.

Solaris Motorsport

It’s safe to say that things have not gone well for Solaris Motorsport this year. If anything, that sentence would perhaps be considered as an understatement given the large amount of bad luck the team has suffered this year.

Alina Loibnegger, the team’s new EuroNASCAR 2 driver, certainly didn’t have the pace that Nicholas Risitano had but so far she has kept herself well-behaved and continues to gain important on-track experience in her rookie EN2 season. For Francesco Sini however, practically everything that could have gone wrong have indeed gone wrong.

Things started off badly for Sini at Valencia as mechanical issues immediately hampered him on Race 1. Having failed to take the start initially, he was able to rejoin and drove for 7 laps before he pulled his car into pits for his first DNF of the year. Race 2 at Valencia was shaping to be a decent one for Sini as he was comfortably running inside the Top 10 and his pace was mostly on par with the race leaders, but a crash on the run to Turn 4 with just two laps to go gave him his second retirement of the year.

Sini was then forced to skip Brands Hatch, albeit for a happy reason as he was celebrating the birth of his first son. He returned to his car at Autodrom Most where, unfortunately, his problems continued: Three spins in a span of two laps gave him his third retirement of the year in Race 1 before he was disqualified for failing to heed a drive-through penalty that Sini received for causing a first-lap collision with Villeneuve and Nori on Race 2.

The litany of issues that Solaris had meant that the team sits in a lowly 25th place in the Teams Championship, a far contrast from the team that finished 4th in the Teams Championship last year. What’s worse is that not only is Solaris currently sitting behind it’s allied car – the No. 27 Double V Racing Ford, who ran just a single driver in Veronesi – in the Teams standings, it’s also sitting behind 5 more teams that ran just a single driver for the majority of the season – both RDV cars, Shadow’s No. 17 team, Hendriks’ No. 18 team, and CAAL’s No. 56 team.

A silver lining for the team is that the car prepped for Double V has proved itself to be able to fight for the top positions, but there would be a lot of work to do for Solaris to catch-up with the teams that they competed with on a regular basis in 2020.

Disclaimer: Unless noted, the photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard / Bart Dehaese / Klemen Sofric.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s