Tuomas Pöntinen created history in last week’s NASCAR GP Italy after he became the first Finnish driver to score a podium finish in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series with his second place finish in the second EuroNASCAR 2 race at Vallelunga.
History was made at last week’s NASCAR GP Italy at Autodromo Vallelunga as Tuomas Pöntinen became the first Finnish driver to score a podium finish in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
Pöntinen, who was back on the seat of the Iceboys-supported Team Bleekemolen No. 23 Barot’s Ford Mustang at Vallelunga, started off his NASCAR GP Italy weekend on a lowly note as he failed to take part in the first Free Practice session due to car troubles.
Thankfully, the problem was sorted for Final Practice and after 15 important laps, the Finn would end up sixth in the session with a time of 1:43.427. Pöntinen also ended up sixth on the Saturday Qualifying session that would determine his starting position in that day’s EuroNASCAR 2 race, but he was not satisfied with the result thanks to the numerous red flag periods.
“I couldn’t manage a single clean lap,” explained Pöntinen after Qualifying. “Based on the data, the time could easily have been at least half a second better, but it was ok. Of course, taking part in the first Practice session would have been good as I don’t have too much experience. I’m going into the race with a good feeling though.”
The good feeling that Pöntinen experienced would come to fruition in the race itself. Pöntinen was able to get a good launch at the start to get past Christian Malcharek on the opening lap and he would enjoy a fantastic battle with Liam Hezemans for most of the race.
In the end, Pontinen would cross the finish line in fourth place after he got past Martin Doubek, who had a slow puncture on one of his tires in the closing stages of the race. It also allowed him to finish in the podium of the Rookie Trophy sub-classification, finishing behind race winner Alberto Naska and Liam Hezemans.
Despite the tense battle with Liam and securing his goal of finishing inside the Top-5, Pöntinen simply described his Race 1 experience as “just a basic race, nothing special.”
The following day would turn out to be anything but basic for Pöntinen. Starting fifth alongside Paul Jouffreau, Pöntinen was able to keep his car clean and put himself just outside of the podium contention on the opening laps when race leader – and pole sitter – Vladimiros Tziortzis retires his No. 5 FJ on the fourth lap due to engine issues.
Alberto Naska and Martin Doubek then collided at the hairpin on the following lap, allowing Pöntinen to sneak into the lead of the race. His surprise lead didn’t last long, however, as Liam was able to get by the Finn at Curva Grande to take the lead of the race on the start of lap 6.
Pöntinen would eventually settle down for a second-place finish, but it could’ve been better had Pöntinen knew that Liam had a 10-second penalty for causing an avoidable collision on the opening lap. In the end, a spirited charge from Liam – who was basically running on Qualifying pace in the latter stages of the race – allowed him to open up a 11.415 seconds gap to Pöntinen, which was enough to give Liam the win by 1.415 second.
“The win was close, but I didn’t know the first guy had a penalty and I lifted too much in the end,” said Pöntinen immediately after race.
“But in the end, I must be happy with P2! The race felt like an eternity, as the drivers in front crashed and the gap between the front and the back grew. It’s really good to continue from here and with experience I can definitely improve my pace,” further concludes Pöntinen.
The podium result from Pöntinen is the first for a Finnish driver in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series and Iceboys’ team manager Markku Tuomaala knew the historic importance of Pöntinen’s achievement at Vallelunga.
“This is a really big deal for both us and Team Bleekemon. Congratulations to Tuomas, this is a great weekend for the Finns,” said Tuomaala on Pöntinen’s podium finish.
Disclaimer: Unless noted on the photo, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Klemen Sofric.