Our third and final Race Preview for NASCAR GP Croatia takes a look at what we can expect from the epic title fight between Alberto Naska and Liam Hezemans for the title in EuroNASCAR 2.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will be back this week for the season finale of the 2022 season, the EuroNASCAR Finals at the Automotodrom Grobnik in Croatia.
The beautiful mountainous range that surrounds the circuit at Rijeka will provide the perfect backdrop for the Finals as 30 teams and 50 drivers are ready to participate in the grand finale based on what is listed in the Provisional Entry List that was revealed on 27 October 2022.
As with our other previews this year, the first part of the season finale preview will be focused on the Entry List changes as previews for the EuroNASCAR PRO and the EuroNASCAR 2 title race will be posted at a later date.
The events that happened at Zolder set up a two-way fight for the title between CAAL Racing’s Alberto Naska and Hendriks Motorsport’s Liam Hezemans. Both drivers have been trading wins for the majority of the season and now with the title on the line at Rijeka, they must muster everything that they can have if they want to have a shot at becoming this year’s EuroNASCAR 2 champion.
Naska is the dominant driver in EuroNASCAR 2 all-season long and had built up enough of an advantage that he managed to enter Zolder with enough points to ensure that he remains as the championship leader no matter what happened there, but a sweep for the younger Hezemans brother there meant that Liam is only 13 points behind the Italian entering the double points finale at Rijeka.
With 176 points still up for grabs at Rijeka, theoretically every full-time driver in the roster still had a chance for the title. That being said, theories sometimes don’t translate well into reality and it’s the case with the EuroNASCAR 2 defending champion Martin Doubek as with a 50-point deficit over the internet sensation, Doubek’s chances to become the first EN2 double champion is going to be a small one given that Doubek is still winless this year.
The same small odds can be said to Academy Motorsport’s Vladimiros Tziortzis, who – quite literally – had an even bigger problem in his hand. The Cypriot injured his left arm and hands after a crash with Doubek on the Saturday race at Zolder that left him unable to start the second race on the following day. With a 56-points deficit to try and overcome, the Cypriot’s title challenge looks to be sadly over given his extremely promising start to the season.
Doubek and Tziortzis would have another problem to contend with as the results at Zolder meant that Ulysse Delsaux was able to trade his two non top-10 finishes into a top-10 result that elevated the Frenchman to fourth in the standings.
It has not been an easy return to the junior division for the former EuroNASCAR 2 champion as Delsaux struggled to establish the same pace and dominance that he showed on his title-winning year four years ago, but a strong result at Rijeka could allow the driver of the No. 3 TEPAC Chevrolet to secure third place in the driver’s championship as a solid personal glory.
Speaking of personal glory, Tuomas Pöntinen will be all for it at Rijeka after another successful weekend at Zolder. The impressive Finn, who was a latecomer in the series as he only joined the field starting from Brands Hatch, has established himself as one of the hottest prospects in EuroNASCAR’s junior division and a win at Rijeka would be the perfect way to end his impressive rookie year with Team Bleekemolen and Iceboys’ joint-run No. 23 Barot’s Ford.
On the battle of sub-championships, the battle for top Rookie Trophy honor is certainly going to be another main event highlight as not only has Naska, Hezemans, and Pöntinen all having the pace to compete at the top all season long, drivers such as Paul Jouffreau and Claudio Remigio Cappelli can add some extra spice to the party given their credibility as a podium finisher in 2022.
In the Legend Trophy, the road for Melvin de Groot to win the sub-championship for drivers aged 40 years and above has been made easier as his closest rival Yevgen Sokolovskiy would not take part due to a scheduling clash with the FIA Motorsport Games.
With Sokolovskiy out to represent his home country Ukraine, the task to challenge the Dutch for the overall top position will be tasked down to his teammate Miguel Gomes. A 28-point deficit doesn’t sound too much on paper, but it will be a lot to try and overcome for the Portuguese given that de Groot is a regular fixture in the top-10 and even top-5 battles.
For Lady Trophy, all that Luli del Castello needs to do is to not bottle it. With her closest rival Aliyyah Koloc not participating after Buggyra withdrew from the series in between the rounds at Most and Zolder and a 37 points advantage in hand over both Alina Loibnegger and Arianna Casoli, the driver from Roccaraso can take it somewhat easy even though it’s certain that Luli will be trying her absolute best to ensure that she will be crowned as EuroNASCAR 2’s top female driver of the year.
Disclaimer: Unless noted on the photo, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Klemen Sofric/ Bart Dehaese.