|February 23, 2009
|Rotax Euro Challenge Winter Cup Report
| Senior Max Podium: Mats Van den Brand (2), Joseph Reilly (Champion) & Luke Caudle (3)|
(Photo: RGMMC-Bas Kaligis
The location was perfect and the weather “wintery” but ideal, with brilliant sunny days in the Andalusia region in the south of Spain, for the inaugural running of the RGMMC Rotax Winter Cup.
Although this was the first international event hosted by Karting Campillos, the competitors and teams were all very impressed by the choice of the somewhat challenging circuit. At a lengthy 1588m, the undulating landscape provided an excellent venue that was a definite winner. Even the spectators had the benefit of being able to watch the fantastic racing with a view to rival no other.
Friday’s official qualifying gave a clear indication of who the pace-setters were likely to be, once the competition got underway at the Rotax Winter Cup. The racing clearly looked as if it was going to be close, as almost 100 drivers from just over 20 countries settled-in for timed practice.
In Senior Max, it was Polish driver Karol Dabski (Uniq Racing)/Intrepid) carrying around 24 kg of lead weight, who excelled in the field of 50 contenders in the class. The 17-year old pole claims he realistically thought he could run in the top 10 in Spain, but managed to set the best lap 1:04:655 with a gap of 0.135 seconds to Frenchman Antoine Barthon (MD Competition/Tonykart), who just edged out Eduardo Moreiro (Korridas/Intrepid) third quickest. The first group of seniors was notably slower than the next; headed by Britain’s Joseph Reilly (Strawberry Racing/Tonykart), as the track conditions continuously improved. The 2008 British junior champ was only classified 11th overall.
Karol Dabski - “I knew after the first training sessions in the morning that I was fast and we had a good set-up. The new Intrepid Sirius chassis, which I’ve only driven twice, suits me well and as the track gets more grip it feels good to drive. We had made some changes before the qualifying and knowing that I only had two or three laps to set my best time on the new tyres, I was happy when I could see that I had set my fastest lap.”
Local youngster Mark Megens (Premier Motorsport/Energy) in Junior Max showed why the prior knowledge of the circuit was a definite advantage and secured his place on the front row for the qualifying heats Saturday’s. At just 13 years of age, the tiny Spaniard only began driving the Rotax Junior Max two weeks ago, in the hope of winning the attractive prize of free entry to the Euro Challenge series in 2009. According to his dad, the economic situation currently limits their racing plans for this season, but the opportunity to have the championship paid for in advance gave them the incentive to compete at the Rotax Winter Cup.
| Junior Max Podium: Beitske Visser (2), Ed Brand (Champion) & Josh Webster (3)|
(Photo: RGMMC-Bas Kaligis)
It was a brilliant start for Megens this weekend, posting 1:06:201 in the official timed practice, 0.033 ahead of Edward brand (Coles Racing/CRG) and Kay Van Kemenade (Team TKP/Intrepid).
Mark Megens – “It’s good to be on pole position and I was quick from the start of practice, though I have done a lot of laps here at Campillos seeing I only live 80km away. Other than Beitske Visser, I haven’t driven against any of the others; but I think there are some good drivers. My first time in the Rotax was two weeks ago, as I race the KF3 class and I am learning that I need to be smooth. I’m looking forward to some good racing now and believe that I have a good chance to win.”
The Rotax DD2 class had a field of 18 drivers for the season-opener, one-third of which were amongst the front-runners at the most recent Rotax Grand Finals in La Conca, Italy last November. It was South Africa’s 21-year old Ralph Odendaal (Korridas/Intrepid) who set the quickest time 1:03:208 to take pole on his third lap into the 15-minute session. The Belgian number one who comes from the Netherlands, Maik Barten (PDB Belgium-DFK/Gillard), was 2nd quickest by 0.036 seconds and Seweryn Szczepanik (Schepers Racing/Zanardi) took P2, who is yet another Polish driver who featured strongly at the Euro Challenge.
Ralph Odendaal – “This is my first time racing the Intrepid DD2 kart and having come over on my own, it’s a case of being both driver and mechanic. I suppose I can be happy with being on pole taking that into account. I did a round of the Euro Challenge in 2006, so when I read about the prizes for the winter Cup being free entry to the championship this year, I thought I’d have a shot at winning it. Realistically, I thought I’d go well and could make it into the top three, as we were quick in the practice leading up to today’s qualifying. The track at Campillos is a lot different to what we have back home, mainly as the rubber goes down… plus it averages 31°C in Durban.”
Racing as part of the senior class, the Max Masters was the smaller of the classes, which caters for drivers 30 years and over, plus they have an additional 5kg on the minimum weight as compared to the Max competitors. However, the times were close as a group and it was Euripides Hatzistefanis (RL Race Team/Tonykart) who led the timed practice. His lap of 1:05:792 was 0.150 seconds clear of former European DD2 Masters’ Champion Rui Viera (Korridas/Intrepid), with Nuno Santos (Sportkart/CRG) of Portugal clocking the 3rd best time.
Euripides Hatzistefanis – “I’m very excited to be the fastest Master, but our aim the last three days has been to be as close as possible to the seniors. To be honest, I’m not as happy with my qualifying as I’d like to be. My goal is to win the Masters but also to be competitive. I’m now in the RL Race Team which is probably one of the best – if not the best in Europe. To bring all my equipment and a mechanic as well with me from Greece is expensive, so I’ve just come by myself with my helmet and racesuit. The guys are great and very experienced, with six other senior drivers that I want to be as quick as. They’re a bit lighter but I believe I can still do better and hopefully make the final on Sunday.”
Joseph Reilly was the man to beat in the qualifying heats, taking two wins and a second in Senior Max, to start on pole position for the first of the finals the next day. Each taking one victory in the remaining 4 races [as the class was split into 4 groups], was Alex Magee (RL Race Team/Alonso) who also set the best lap Saturday, Josh Hart (Intrepid Force Rotax/Intrepid), Antoine Barthon and James Greenway (Strawberry Racing/Tonykart).
The polesitter Karol Dabski was unable to keep his place for the lead, but would start on row 3 beside Magee in the prefinal. Looking dangerously competitive, UK driver Bradley Smith (Team Dadson/Tonykart) was pushing the leaders at every opportunity, finishing with two 2nd places. A few surprising results saw the likes of some of the well-known better drivers including David Bellchambers (HRS Motorsport/CRG), Mike Joossens (Hugo Motorsport/Kombikart) and Jack Swinkels (Team TKP/Intrepid) positioned towards the prefinal cut-off mark, luckily avoiding the second chance race Sunday.
The battle between the two junior rivals of Beitske Visser (Team TKP/Intrepid) and Mark Megens continued at Karting Campillos, with the Dutch lady driver edging out the fastest qualifier by a mere one point for P1 on the prefinal start grid. The very determined blonde karter had done a lot of preparation prior to the event, so it was basically expected from her current form when she won two of the heats. The third win belonged to Megens, but it was the young Estonian Aavo Talvar (Team TKP/Intrepid) who was 6th in the Euro Challenge series last year, that would take grid position 3. He was also the pace-setter overall from Saturday’s racing.
| Rotax DD2 Podium: Seweryn Szczepanik (2), Denis Thum (Champion) & Dennis Ladefoged (3)|
(Photo: RGMMC-Bas Kaligis)
The 2008 Junior Max ‘Rookie of the Year’ Josh Webster (HRS Motorsport/CRG) was reeling in some lost ground, ranking 4th following the heats and admitting that he has unfortunately grown over the minimum weight, to his disadvantage. Making his presence felt as well, was Webster’s new team-mate British vice champ Edward Brand (Coles Racing-HRS Motorsport/CRG), who would be joined on row 3 by Kevin Gubbels (Mira Motorsport/Sodi) running in the top 5 throughout the qualifying heats.
As has been the case over the last season, the Rotax DD2 turned on some close battles in what is continuing to become a very competitive class as it grows. Denis Thum (Wildkart Racing Team/Wildkart) driving a new pink chassis with plastics covered in flowers, said he was going to win with “flower power”, and although he didn’t take the chequered flag for 1st in any of the three heats, ended up being on pole. The German driver who was 3rd at the Euro Challenge last year, racked-up two 2nd places plus a 3rd to claim the inside grid by only one point to fastest qualifier Ralph Odendaal, who won the final heat. It was Thum that also succeeded in setting the best lap of the racing Saturday, just 0.060 seconds off pole.
Maik Barten and Damien Vuillaume (Freekart Racing/CRG) both took the honours in one heat and remained up with the frontrunners all day, seeing them make up the second row for the prefinal Sunday. Behind them would be the combination of the Polish and Danish champions in the 2-speed gearbox class; Seweryn Szczepanik and Dennis Ladefoged (Swiss Hutless DK/Spirit).
The Max Masters driver with the lowest points in the qualifying heats was Pedro Loures (JPL Consulting-Korridas/Intrepid), finishing all three of his races inside the first 20 in the Max category. This made him the highest ranked Master and gave Loures a row 5 start in the second chance race. Lining up right behind him would be fellow Portuguese driver Nuno Santos, whose team-mate Goncalo Gaivao (Sportkart/CRG) was only 4 points behind with the 3rd best results in the class. Loures is a familiar face from the Euro Challenge, having competed in all four rounds for the past five years since the championship began. For his dedication, ongoing support for the racing and good sportsmanship, he was given free entry to the 2009 European series [together with two other drivers] by event organisers and promoters RGMMC Establishment.
Of course, the repecharge is not where any driver hopes to find himself Sunday morning… but it does give everyone an additional chance at qualifying through to the finals later in the day. The first six progressed into the Senior Max pre-final to take their places at the rear of the field. The hard luck story of the day went to Axel Van Der Burgt (Hugo Motorsport/Kombikart) off grid 2, who received a 3-second penalty for a false start, after crossing the line in what he thought was 5th position in the 10-lapper. It was a disappointing end to his race, after fighting hard to qualify.
When it came to the Max Masters, all drivers competing for the Rotax Winter Cup title were grouped relatively close to each other the way it turned out in the second chance race, giving them one final in a sense, as opposed to two. The leading five Masters karts were bunched together, dicing for their places until the race end. Being all so evenly matched, the second half of the field was basically their class, with the exception of three other drivers. The original polesitter from Friday, Hatzistefanis, retired 6 laps into the podium-decider, which was unfortunate. However, it was the Korridas Team Manager Rui Viera, also fastest in the morning warm-up, who gave the race fans something to cheer about when he held off a charge for the finish line by Georges Popoff (RKO/Tonykart) and Gaivao taking 3rd. Viera was totally elated with his victory!
Rui Viera – “To be honest, I had the pace but it was difficult to overtake, so it was my lucky day. When I was driving, I recalled the last laps at Salbris [France] at the Euro Challenge when I was running 2nd and crashed; so I’m happy it all finished well today. It was very good for me. I owe this also to Roland Geidel from RGMMC for putting on the Rotax Winter Cup, which was again another very well organised event. The racing, the location and the weather have all been great.”
It was the seemingly confident Reilly from the number 1 grid position in the Senior Max prefinal, who took the early lead from Smith right behind him, as the English pair went through turn one ahead of New Zealander Josh Hart. It was Smith who assumed the lead and extended it as the laps unfolded, until there were only five of the 13 laps remaining, when Reilly relegated him back to 2nd to hold on for the win. The battle in the chasing group was rather heated, with several warning flags being handed out in the opening laps. The racing was tough, as Greenway, Barthon, Magee, Mats Van den Brand (Team TKP/Intrepid) and Luke Caudle (SSR Motorsport/Tonykart) kept the action coming. Martin Pierce (Dartford Karting/Kosmic) came through into the top five from P13 to join in the bout, but it was Joossens from grid 27 with a huge effort to end up inside the first 10.
| Max Masters Podium: Georges Popoff (2), Rui Viera (Champion) & Goncalo Gaivao (3)|
Photo: RGMMC-Bas Kaligis)
Reilly’s lead was just over half a second on Smith at the flag, with a small gap to Hart, then Caudle and Greenway in 5th. Casualties on the outside at the start who fell way out of contention were Swinkels, Eduardo Moreira (Korridas/Intrepid) and Tom Fawcett (RL Race Team/Tonykart). Magee also retired on lap 9. The lady driver from Columbia, Tatiana Calderon, lost her row 8 position for the final when she failed to see the mechanical defect flag on its first showing, just before the closing laps. This eliminated her from the last race as a result.
The Senior Final was 18 laps of serious racing from go-to-woe. Reilly was in a prime position to improve his chances of getting away from the pack, when Smith had a technical problem that hampered his front row start, only to have another kart collide with him, which left no possibility to challenge for the lead. A black flag went out within the first minute for Stephen Ballering, with officials not happy with his start. Hart held P2 until lap 5, when Barthon circulating quickest passed him temporarily, but the Kiwi now racing for Austria claimed back his place for another 4 laps. It was Van den Brand then as the pace-setter who stole 2nd, hunting down Reilly at the front.
As the only driver at the Campillos meeting competing in back-to-back classes, Denis Thum (Wildkart Racing Team/Wildkart) had an amazing drive from grid 22, as did Bellchambers just in front of him, to be fighting Joossens for 7th position. By half race distance, Swinkels, Magee and Moreira also appeared from the last three rows to be bidding for a place in the top 10. It was an incredible turnaround to what may have been anticipated, although the long, fast circuit lent itself to an increasing number of overtaking opportunities as the drivers became more comfortable with it during the racing. The lead Reilly had stretched to 1.6 seconds was gradually reduced by the former Junior European Champion Van den Brand, who narrowed the gap to one second. It was nail-biting stuff as the last lap saw Hart came under fire from Caudle in 4th, who made a last-ditched attempt with what he obviously thought was “nothing to lose”, as contact with Hart three corners from the finish line resulted in him gaining a place on the podium. Hart ran wide and could only savour 5th, allowing Barthon also to steal 4th. Greenway ended the final with a credible 6th, while Bellchambers made amends for 7th, to a relieved Swinkels, Magee and Moreira in 10th.
Joseph Reilly – “It’s great to win, for me and my team Strawberry Racing! It’s my first race for this year and a good start to the new season. The start of the final was hard but I just kept pushing. Once I got a break, I still just kept pushing the laps out. I really only looked back a couple of times and saw I had a gap. So, I just kept pushing. Being consistent with the laps is the best way to win. Now, I definitely think I have a chance this year to do well at the Euro Challenge in Seniors Max. The Winter cup win means that my entry for the championship is already paid, which is great.”
Leading up to the Junior Max prefinal, Megens topped the warm-up, as the chilly wind off the snow-capped mountains gave the air an icy feel. Visser from pole led the field when the 9 lap race got underway, only to see Megens squeeze past on the following round, as his new MOJO tyres began to work. From the second row, Talvar had also chosen new rubber and tailed him in P2 within the next minutes, also setting the best lap. The battle for 4th between Webster and Brand was a close one, neither one giving the other any room for error. Brand eventually claimed 3rd, and then in what appeared to be a strategic move, Webster hesitated slightly on the last lap to give Visser 4th. As they crossed the finish line, Megens had extended his lead to over three seconds, with Talvar braking in the hope Brand would move into 2nd, but instead the 14-year old forced him to break the beam and start the pre-final on the outside. The lady driver was a little smarter and waited until the last moment to brake, so Webster also found himself back in 4th for the final grid.
At this point, it almost seemed that the local hero would run away with the trophy in the Junior Max final. Megens was really doing a superb job considering it was his debut in the Rotax class. However, it all went terribly wrong on the formation lap, as the 13-year old pulled away from the field trying to ensure he didn’t foul a plug, only to experience a mechanical problem that ended his race before it even started. On the next row, Brand maintained his position, knowing that this now gave Talvar the advantage of being able to come across to the inside from P2 on the first corner. With Brand, Webster and Visser having saved their new set of tyres for the 14-lap finale, it wasn’t long before they had overtaken the leader. By lap 6, Kay Van Kemenade (Team TKP/Intrepid) was closing on his team-mate Visser, as Ferenc Kancsar (Kalman Motorsport/Birel) slotted-up behind him for 5th.
The following group of karts were having their own race not far behind, diced non-stop for positions. Coming from row 6, Matthew Parry (Paul Carr Racing/Kosmic) was the quickest guy on the circuit in the final, passing Kancsar just over the half-way mark, who started alongside him. Webster couldn’t hold off Visser with four to go, as she grabbed 2nd and went after Brand. With the race almost run, Van Kemenade began applying pressure to Webster, but found himself pounced upon by Parry just before the last lap board came out. Brand took his well-deserved win half a second ahead of Visser, and then Webster in 3rd had managed to break clear from Parry and Van Kemenade. 6th place went to Kancsar, closely followed by Talvar who’d driven well the entire weekend. Gubbels took 8th from Russian Roman Mavlanov ((Silver Rain Motorsport/Tonykart) splitting the Dutchmen, with tiny newcomer Dave Blom (Team TKP/Intrepid) pleased to finish 10th.
Edward Brand – “I felt a bit sorry for the polesitter [Mark Megens] on the formation lap when he stopped. He had driven well and is a local lad, so it was a shame. I knew I just had to get through the first corner safely, but then when Megens was out, I realised [Aavo] Talvar would come across. It took a while for the new tyres to get some heat in them, then after a lap I was able to challenge for the lead. The race was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience and I was glad when it was over. A scrap broke out for second behind me, so it gave me a break. This victory means a lot to me.”
The Rotax DD2 prefinal was fast, even though the conditions were cool. Thum was quick all week in the stand-out pink Wildkart and he absolutely dominated the race by leading all the way to the chequered flag. He also clocked a better time (1:03:184) than the qualifying lap set on Friday by Odendaal. Not to take anything away from his competitors, Thum was fortunate to have a slight edge, as the next five karts were all extremely close, with nothing much separating them. It was fabulous racing and after 13 laps on the Karting Campillos circuit, they knew they’d been working.
2nd and 3rd places were claimed by the younger drivers in the class – Barten and Szczepanik, while the French DD2 champion Vuillaume was 4th ahead of Odendaal. Ladefoged tangled with Manuel Scheibinger (Scheibinger Motorsport/Kosmos) three laps from the end, so they failed to finish.
Well, this race didn’t go all to plan for the German driver, who looked like the one to beat. Instead, it was Szczepanik that secured the lead from the start of the 18-lap Rotax DD2 final, as he forced Thum to settle for second. Odendaal was tucked-in running 3rd followed by Antoine Ferret (MD Competition/Tonykart) and Barten, who had lost out from the outside lane off P2. A collision at the top of the track on the next lap concluded the racing for longstanding Euro Challenge driver Tiago Ribeiro (Korridas/Intrepid), who had been the fastest in the morning practice session. Jorge Matos Bedoya from Equador was doing a great job to be up into 9th already at this stage.
Back with the frontrunners and Thum got a little out of shape letting the South African move into 2nd, re-sparking his hopes for a win. Vuillaume was looking for a way through from 5th at every chance, not finding much success, as Thum reclaimed 2nd once more on lap 4. Barten appeared to be struggling to keep the pace and gradually lost ground. The mover and shaker of the final though was Ladefoged, shuffling his way into the first five from the back of the grid. Still with six laps remaining, Thum made his bid for the lead and never looked back. He finished with the victory and again set the fastest lap, making him the pace-setter in every race of the event. 2nd place went to Szczepanik followed by a brilliant drive from Ladefoged to make up the podium. Vuillaume finally passed Odendaal for 4th. Barten was 6th ahead of Patrick Pierce (Energy), Ferret, Carl Cleirbaut (DFK/Gillard) and Steve White (SMP Racing/Swiss Hutless) rounding out the top 10.
Denis Thum – “It’s fantastic to win! I’m now the first driver to win the Rotax DD2 at the Winter Cup and in the history books. It’s a free season [paid for now by RGMMC], so even though Wildkart support my racing, it means that I can have more support towards my travel and accommodation. It also means I can get extra PR for me and our team. I’ve really enjoyed the racing and the kart was great to drive. My goal for 2009 is to be the Euro champion and beat the World number one Leeroy Poulter.”
The winners of each of the four classes at the Rotax Winter Cup received their ticket from RGMMC to compete at each round of the 2009 Euro Challenge with their entry fees, race tyres and oil paid for. 2nd place-getters were awarded the same ticket for 2 rounds and 3rd place get one round free.
The organisers and promoters of the Rotax Winter Cup, RGMMC Establishment, were literally “over the moon” with the interest and support for the first ever edition of the season-opener and are now looking forward to another successful year of some of the best kart racing in the World. They would like to extend their congratulations to the winners at Campillos and thanks to the many teams and competitors who made the trip to the Spanish circuit for the event. A special mention also must go to Martin and his team at Karting Campillos for making it such an excellent event for everyone.
The introduction of the live commentary to accompany the Kart Data Live Timing proved to be a very popular addition to the online services provided by RGMMC, as did the new concept of IP TV. KART-WORLD.TV lets race fans stay updated throughout the events with what’s happening trackside, including interviews and other interesting stuff over the course of the meeting.
Check it out, together with all the results from every timed session beginning from Friday’s unofficial practice, by going to http://www.rgmmc.com and clicking on the LIVE TIMING logo. You then have the choice of the live timing results or watching the online video clips from the Winter Cup. The test run has proved to be a winner, so you can expect to see bigger and better things now!
Entries close this Friday for the first exciting round of the 2009 Rotax Euro Challenge, to be hosted by the impressive International Circuit Zuera in Spain from March 25-29. More information about the Euro Challenge and RGMMC events can be found at the homepage – http://www.rgmmc.com