Hendriks Motorsport’s Liam Hezemans was crowned as the EuroNASCAR 2 champion of 2022 after he swept the two Finals races held at Croatia’s Automotodrom Grobnik to beat Alberto Naska for the title.
Liam Hezemans stole the show in EuroNASCAR 2’s season finale at Rijeka last week as the younger brother of the two-time EuroNASCAR PRO champion Loris Hezemans dominated both Final races to bring home the championship trophy in NASCAR Whelen Euro Series’ junior division.
Liam initially wasn’t the driver to beat at Rijeka though, rather it was Academy Motorsport’s Vladimiros Tziortzis that set the leading pace out of the 27 EuroNASCAR 2 drivers that took part in the EuroNASCAR Finals round.
Tziortzis, who was competing with an injured left arm that had yet to recover fully and was all but eliminated from the title race after what happened at Zolder, dominated the Friday Practice sessions before taking home the pole position in the 20-minute long Qualifying session with a time of 1:28.843.
Accompanying Tziortzis in the front row of the grid is Liam Hezemans, who finished the session 0.408 seconds behind the Cypriot driver. Championship leader Alberto Naska qualified third with a time of 1:29.561 while the other “Big Four” driver Martin Doubek ended up fourth.
Claudio Remigio Cappelli, racing the No. 16 MK1 Racing Italia Ford instead of the No. 18 Race Art Technology Toyota after Thomas Toffel was drafted by Race Art to race the No. 18 car at Rijeka, qualified inside the top-5 as the fastest driver of the Legend Trophy drivers while Luli del Castello became the fastest Lady Trophy qualifier in 17th position, 2.798 seconds behind Tziortzis’ pole time.
The session was temporarily stopped due to a crash involving debutant Hugo Sasse in the No. 48 Marko Stipp Motorsport Chevrolet. Sasse had been drafted by MSM to replace his ADAC GT4 Germany teammate Yevgen Sokolovskiy, who was in France to compete in the FIA Motorsport Games.
Unfortunately for Sasse, the high speed impact with the tire barriers damaged the chassis of the No. 48 Stop War Chevrolet and MSM was forced to withdraw the entry for the rest of the weekend, leaving Sasse and his ADAC GT4 partner Mike David Ortmann unable to make their EuroNASCAR debuts at Rijeka.
Twenty-four drivers lined up on the grid at approximately 16:33 local time to take the start of the first EuroNASCAR 2 Finals. Kasparas Vingilis and Serbia’s Zoran Kastratović would join Sasse in the list of non-starters, the latter being forced to sit out of his scheduled debut due to the engine blowout that Vittorio Ghirelli had experienced in the ENPRO race a few hours before.
The front-row starting position turned out to be perfect for Liam as a slow start by Tziortzis allowed him to get the holeshot with Alberto Naska following him behind. From then on, Liam was untouchable as he went on to win the race by 3.415 seconds in a 14-lap race that had no interruptions from the Safety Car.
“It’s crazy given where we were early in the season! Thanks to all my team, the car was just perfect! It’s closer than ever all season, that’s the first step and now we try to do the second step tomorrow!” said Hezemans after scoring his fifth win of the season. “I think it’ll be a bit more difficult because I think he expects it, but I’m definitely super happy! This is exactly what we needed to keep the championship alive.”
Naska would ultimately finish second, allowing him to keep a 3-point advantage over Liam for the final race of the season on Sunday. Tziortzis tried his best to find a way past the Italian on the last 4 laps of the race, but he was unsuccessful and had to contend with a third place finish, although he did get the fastest lap to secure pole position for the Sunday race.
Doubek finished fourth after a race long battle with Melvin de Groot, who scored his fourth top-5 finish of the season to become the top finishing driver in the Legend Trophy. Tuomas Pöntinen had to fight his way from 10th on the grid to finish sixth after reenacting his Zolder podium battle with Cappelli, who ultimately took home seventh place.
Christian Malcharek and Leonardo Colavita followed Cappelli behind in 8th and 9th respectively while Néo Lambert, fresh from completing his season in Club Challenge on Friday, took home an impressive 10th place finish. The Lady Trophy sub-classification was topped by Luli del Castello, who finished 16th in the end.
The fact that the race went green for the entire race and Rijeka’s reputation as a track that is hard to make an overtake meant that there wasn’t many major position changes that occurred and in the end, it was Dario Caso who gained the most positions gained bonus points despite finishing 22nd as the last driver classified as a finisher.
Caso took advantage of the three DNS and two retirements to gain 5 places, which coupled with him starting from last after he did not set a lap time in Qualifying meant that it was enough to bring home the extra 8 championship points.
At 10:33 on Sunday, twenty-six drivers took the green flag for the last race of the season in EuroNASCAR 2. Liam once again repeated his feat in the Saturday race as he was able to outdrag Tziortzis on the run to the ever-important first two corners to grab the lead of the race, although this time Tziortzis stayed at bay and actually collided with the Dutchman at turn 15 on the opening lap.
In a winner-takes-all situation between Liam and Naska, Liam quickly tries to break away from the Cypriot. That initial attempt didn’t last long, however, as the Safety Car was called on lap 4 due to an incident between Miguel Gomes and Michael Bleekemolen on the front straight.
Bleekemolen was experiencing mechanical issues and as he tried to move to the outside lane of the track, he collided with Gomes which in turn sent the Portuguese into the tire barriers that separated the track with the pit lane. Gomes, thankfully, was alright although the race was slowed down for an extremely lengthy period of time – Six laps, to be exact.
Eventually, the race got underway again for a 5-lap shootout to the end and it was Liam that once again retained the lead on the start. As chaos unfolds behind the leading pack for the remainder of the shootout, Liam was able to fend off the constant challenge from Tziortzis to snatch the title from Naska’s hands on the final race of the season.
“I cannot believe it! I made my first race car start ever in Valencia in the beginning of the season, coming from go-kart and immediately winning the championship! There’s so many close battles all the time, we’re making progress every week, I cannot describe it with words! It’s just an awesome weekend and we couldn’t hope for more!” said a jubilant Liam Hezemans in the Victory Lane.
Finishing third in the race is Alberto Naska, who ultimately was unable to find an answer against Liam and Tziortzis in the closing stages of the race. Naska rued the incident with Martin Doubek at Vallelunga and his gearbox issues at Zolder for costing him the championship, although he was quick to point out that Liam deserves the title after he showcased improvements in pace over the course of the season.
“I mean, we were unlucky this year!” said Naska. “I didn’t make any mistakes and all the points that I lost were because Hezemans’ teammate was trolling me at Vallelunga and in Zolder I broke the gearbox. I did my best this weekend, but this wasn’t our track for me.”
“I wasn’t fast enough and Hezemans was faster than everybody so he deserves it this weekend but in the end, when you didn’t make any mistake and you lost the championship, it’s tough. I was unlucky this season but the level was so high that the small details decided the finish. What makes me happy is that this weekend Hezemans proved that he’s very fast, he was not that fast at the beginning but now he’s super fast in the end.”
De Groot once again topped the Legend Trophy in 4th place to ensure his status as the top Legend Trophy driver of the year. Doubek finished fifth ahead of Pöntinen, who had to contend with a missing rear body panel for the entirety of the race once more.
Delsaux, Malcharek, Paolo Valeri, and Alina Loibnegger completed the top-10 finishers. Valeri would bring home the bonus points for most positions gained while Loibnegger brought home the top spot in the Lady Trophy, even though Luli del Castello was still crowned as the overall winner of the trophy as the top female driver of the year.
It was a quiet race for Zoran Kastratović, who took home 16th in the end. It wasn’t a quiet occurrence for him however, as his start allowed him to become the first Serbian driver to start a NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race in history.
Loris Hezemans may have not defend his EuroNASCAR title due to his commitments in the United States with Team Hezeberg, but Liam Hezemans will continue the legacy of the Hezemans family in stock car racing as he proved that he has adapted himself to the EuroNASCAR stock cars very well.
There have been some low points of course, but Liam’s performance this year has been full of highlights. From the Overtime finish that steal the show at Brands Hatch, his commanding win at Vallelunga where he opened a gap large enough to overcome a 10-second time penalty and his sweep at both Zolder and Vallelunga, it perfectly showcases the potential that Liam has in EuroNASCAR and depending on how his career trajectory will go, the future looks to be bright for the younger Hezemans brother.
Disclaimer: Unless noted on the photo, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Bart Dehaese / Klemen Sofric.