Lucas Lasserre secures his first race win in five years at Valencia and exits the 2023 season opening round as the championship leader after race 1 winner Liam Hezemans gets involved in a heated battle with Gianmarco Ercoli.
The first round of the 2023 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has concluded with a familiar name exiting the round as the championship leader. Lucas Lasserre, two-time champion in the Racecar Euro Series era and team owner for SpeedHouse Racing, leads the EuroNASCAR PRO standings after he scored his first EuroNASCAR win in five years.
He and Liam Hezemans shared the spoils of the victory, as the reigning EuroNASCAR 2 champion won on his first race as a full-time EuroNASCAR PRO contender in the Saturday race. The recap of Saturday and Sunday’s action can be checked in the sections below.
Race 1 Recap
The first race of the EuroNASCAR PRO class – and the first race for the 2023 season as a whole – began on Saturday at 2:14 PM CEST, when pole sitter Vladimiros Tziortzis led the field of 27 cars to the green flag for the first 18-lap race of the weekend.
Tziortzis, who claimed pole on his EuroNASCAR PRO debut, made a poor start and immediately lost his lead to front row sitter Liam Hezemans. The Cypriot driver then lost another position to Gianmarco Ercoli, who also made a perfect getaway in the No. 54 Italian Box Camaro.
The Italian driver mounted pressure towards the reigning EuroNASCAR 2 champion in the early parts of the race, but his car started to experience “big problems” on lap 6 of the race. Liam took advantage of Ercoli’s struggles to slowly build up a lead and in the end, the Dutchman proved to be untouchable for the rest of the field.
Liam led all 18 laps en route to his first victory in EuroNASCAR PRO, making him the first sibling of a former EuroNASCAR PRO race winner to win a race in EuroNASCAR’s top division.
“It was just amazing, last year I started racing and won the championship and now I’m a EuroNASCAR PRO race winner,” said Liam in the Victory Lane. “The car was amazing and it was a challenging race with intense battles and high temperatures.”
“I’m speechless, the team did an amazing job and I’m looking forward to jumping back in my Toyota Camry for tomorrow’s second EuroNASCAR PRO race.”
Ercoli’s problems forced him to go into damage control mode, as he knew that he didn’t have the pace anymore. Tziortzis, having regained his rhythm following his poor start, was trying his best to find a way past for most of the race, but he struggled to find a way past Ercoli thanks to the Italian’s masterful control in car placement.
In the end, the pressure was too much to handle for the 2015 EN2 champion. A mistake at Adrian Campos on lap 16 allowed Tziortzis to run side-by-side with Ercoli on the front straight. Tziortzis, who was on the inside, was then able to put the No. 5 ENEOS FJ into second position on the next corner at Aspar.
It was a position that they kept for the rest of the race, with Tziortzis completing his impressive debut in the top class with a second-place finish. Ercoli would come home third, a result that he was still happy to achieve given that it’s the first race of the season.
On the positive side for Ercoli, he also managed to set the fastest lap of the race to secure the pole position for Sunday’s race. Only 0.001 seconds separates Ercoli and Liam’s fastest laps, making it one of the tightest gaps for the fastest lap battle in EuroNASCAR history.
Team Bleekemolen continued their impressive run at Valencia with top-5 finishes for Vittorio Ghirelli and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen. Ghirelli’s solid weekend was nearly hampered by the Qualifying crash suffered by his teammate Michael Bleekemolen, but thankfully Team Bleekemolen’s mechanics were able to repair the No. 72 car in time.
Lucas Lasserre came home sixth ahead of Anthony Kumpen, Marc Goossens and Frédéric Gabillon. Closing out the top-10 is Giorgio Maggi, who was running fourth in the early stages before brake issues dropped the Swiss driver down the running order.
Maggi barely held off Ulysse Delsaux in the battle for the final spot in the Junior Trophy podium, which saw Liam and Tziortzis take the first two positions. Martin Doubek was only able to finish twelfth in a surprisingly poor round for the former EuroNASCAR 2 champion.
Finishing on top of the Challenger Trophy sub-classification is Fabrizio Armetta, who survived a 5-second post-race time penalty after he punted his teammate Riccardo Romagnoli out of the race on the penultimate lap. Romagnoli had been running as the top Challenger driver for most of the race before Armetta did the friendly fire.
Max Lanza completes the top-15 ahead of India’s Advait Deodhar, who completed the Challenger Trophy podium on his first race in the top division. Another driver with a noteworthy performance is Alina Loibnegger, who ran a solid race in the No. 94 Racingfuel Camaro before a late mistake relegated her to 22nd position.
Team Bleekemolen’s young driver Thomas Dombrowski did not have the best of starts for 2023 after he was forced to retire due to contact with another driver. Néo Lambert also came in blows with Kenko Miura on lap 5, causing damage to the front-left wheel of the No. 40 Ford Mustang.
Christoph Lenz is the race’s sole non-starter. The Swiss driver was on the sidelines because the damage suffered by the No. 58 Racingfuel Camaro was too severe to be fixed for the Saturday race.
Race 2 Recap
Despite the searing hot conditions at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, the fans spectating the race live on track were up on their feet when the second EuroNASCAR PRO race went to green at 2:49 PM.
Unlike the race on Saturday, Sunday’s race starts with an immediate drama. Contact between Riccardo Romagnoli and Max Lanza started a multi-car pile-up that took Lanza out of the race. Miguel Gomes, Néo Lambert, Michaela Dorcikova, and Christoph Lenz were also involved, causing the latter two to go to the pits over the course of the 18-laps race.
The SEAT Safety Car was soon called to assist the recovery of Lanza’s machine. During the Safety Car period, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen entered the pits with suspected engine issues. He tried to rejoin the race, but the engine issue was terminal and he was forced to retire after completing 8 laps.
The race got underway again on lap 5. A mistake with the flagman dropping the green flag too early caused Liam Hezemans to jump the restart, resulting in the Dutchman being able to get past Ercoli on the run to the first corner.
Liam retained the lead for the next 6 laps before the stewards, unusually, ordered Liam to give the lead position back to Ercoli. It was later revealed that Liam received a “lighter” penalty because of the flagman’s mistake, as the stewards deemed that it’s their fault for mistakenly ordering the field to go back to green flag action early.
This view was disagreed by Ercoli post-race, as he lambasted the race control for their deviation in his post-race interview. Under normal circumstances, jumping the restart is an infraction that resulted in time or drive-through penalties.
In any case, Liam later tried to regain the lead from Ercoli at Doohan corner on lap 14. Liam failed to close the gap, however, allowing Ercoli to sneak back on the inside as the leaders exited the corner.
As the duo ran side-by-side, Ercoli did not give enough space for Liam to rejoin safely. Liam was forced to swerve his No. 50 Binance Toyota Camry to the left to avoid the grass and the left-front fender of his car made contact with Ercoli’s rear-right tire.
The consequences were felt almost immediately. The contact caused steering damage that took Liam out of the race while Ercoli had to limp back to the pits due to suffering a puncture on his rear-right tire. Coupled with a race-ending spin for Thomas Toffel at Benoit Martinez, this caused the Safety Car to be called for the second time.
Vladimiros Tziortzis, who had fought his way to third place, is now in the lead for the two-lap shootout. The Cypriot, once again, made a bad getaway and allowed SpeedHouse’s team owner Lucas Lasserre to take the lead of the race.
Tziortzis’ race then went from bad to worse on the final lap. Vittorio Ghirelli, who is now running third, made contact with Tziortzis as they entered the Aspar corner for the final time. The impact sent Tziortzis into Narnia, dropping him down the running order.
All of this chaos allowed Lucas Lasserre to grab a surprise victory from Martin Doubek, who clawed his way back from 13th on the grid. It was Lasserre’s first victory in five years and his first visit to the Victory Lane in the EuroNASCAR era, as his previous win at Franciacorta was handed to him post-race due to Alon Day’s failure to pass the post-race inspection.
“It’s been a long time for me, but Speedhouse was really fast last year!” said Lasserre, who was visibly excited and tired in the Victory Lane. “I needed to concentrate on my team manager and team owner role, but then I just competed in this race and I won! A big thanks to all the people who stayed with me this winter, it’s been good times and high spirits at Speedhouse!”
Finishing behind Lasserre and Doubek is Marc Goossens, who took his first podium finish in more than a year. The Belgian had found his way up to second after Tziortzis and Ghirelli made contact only for him to be caught napping at Doohan. This allowed Doubek to make the decisive overtake that he needed to secure his career-best finish in ENPRO.
Ghirelli finished fourth on the road, but was relegated to 16th in the final result as a result of his contact with Tziortzis. Anthony Kumpen picked up the scraps to secure fourth, ahead of old rival Frédéric Gabillon who grabbed fifth in the No. 3 TEPAC Ford.
The restart incidents proved to be a blessing for Ulysse Delsaux, as he was able to secure the victory in the Legend Trophy sub-classification with a sixth place finish. He finished ahead of Giorgio Maggi, who once again had car issues that caused him to slowly drop down the running order.
Completing the top-10 are three drivers that scored their first top-10 finishes in the top class. An eighth place finish is enough for Thomas Krasonis to secure the final spot in the Junior Trophy podium, while ninth handed Riccardo Romagnoli the win in Challenger Trophy.
Advait Deodhar edges out Néo Lambert and Kenko Miura for the final spot in the top-10. Tziortzis would ultimately cross the finish line in 13th ahead of Ercoli, who recovered six places after his trip to the pits.
Fabrizio Armetta, Ghirelli, Alina Loibnegger, Stefano Attianese and Thomas Dombrowski completed the running order for those finishing on the lead lap. Dorcikova completes the top-20, albeit a lap down from the leaders after she received the meatball flag for flapping bodywork.
Joining Liam, Toffel, Bleekemolen, Lenz and Lanza in the retirement list is Miguel Gomes, who was forced to retire after making contact with Fabrizio Armetta in the second restart that damaged his front-right tire and suspension.
In the championship standings, Lucas Lasserre gets to receive the red Whelen windshield banner after scoring 71 points. The Frenchman revealed in his Victory Lane interview that he is currently only scheduled to compete in Valencia, which does beg us a question: Would Lasserre reconsider his stance and go for a full-season return to try and win the championship title?
Regardless of what happens in the future, he currently leads the standings by 7 points from Martin Doubek. Doubek’s position is boosted by the most positions gained bonus points that he scored in Race 2. Marc Goossens and Anthony Kumpen followed with 63 points each, but Goossens won the tiebreaker thanks to his podium finish.
Gabillon is fifth with 60 points, one point ahead of Junior Trophy leader Vladimiros Tziortzis in sixth. Ercoli, Delsaux and Maggi made up a three-way tie for seventh, a tie that Ercoli won because of his podium in Race 1. Ghirelli closes out the top-10 with 54 points while Liam Hezemans is only eleventh after his retirement in the Sunday race.
Topping the Challenger trophy is Advait Deodhar, who sits 13th in the standings with 48 points. He is three points ahead of both Kenko Miura and Fabrizio Armetta to give Challenger Trophy a proper international flavor in the top-3. The female drivers Alina Loibnegger and Michaela Dorcikova are currently 19th and 24th in the standings respectively.
Disclaimer: Credits for all photos are listed underneath each image.