2006 Rotax Mojo Max Euro
Round 2 - Lonato, Italy - 17th-21st May 2006
The Euro Challenge lives up to it's name in Lonato
It was a weekend of mixed results for some of the championship front-runners at the South Garda Karting circuit in Italy last weekend. The track proved to be a real challenge as drivers needed to come to grips with both the extra rubber being layed down and a few testing technical sections, that needed some time to adapt to.
Round two of the ROTAX MOJO Max Challenge was a definite contrast to the first meeting of the series held in France last March, as the drenching rain was replaced by hot, sunny days. Red Bull turned on the party Friday night at the track with a huge BBQ so competitors and their supporters enjoyed the chance to relax before the racing started. It was an exciting debut to the famous circuit as well for the majority of the 140 competitors, knowing that many of the world’s best have also raced there. From the beginning of official practice Wednesday, the pressure was on as mechanics spent the next days working hard to find that perfect kart set-up. Even the larger teams had factory support on hand to assist the drivers.
Senior Rotax Max
After just missing out on a podium place at round 1, British driver Martin Pierce (Tonykart/Passion Racing) was the only one in Lonato to break the 45 second mark in timed practice. The competition was close with the next 51 karts clocking a time within one second of the polesitter. Damien Vuillaume from France (Sodi/Free Kart) was 2nd fastest ahead of South African Leeroy Poulter (Birel/Savani Competition).
There were six qualifying races for seniors Saturday, as the class was divided into four groups and each driver ran in 3 heats. The young Frenchman Viullaume dominated all three of his races at his first ever Rotax Euro Challenge event, while Martin Pierce secured two of the qualifiers and Wesleigh Orr (CRG/CRG Italy) of South Africa the remaining one. This round saw Orr make the change from Swiss Hutless Belgium to CRG Italy, where he now lives and has made Lonato his local track. Some hard-luck stories came out of the day’s racing that left a list of the more well-known drivers having to face the second chance race the next morning, including the Euro Challenge championship leader from the Netherlands Cenel America (Kombi/Kombi Motorsport). The Dutch driver claiming that it was not so common to have such fast drivers battling for a place in the finals like this, making it almost impossible to make up too much ground unless there were some incidents along the way.
Sunday gave the opportunity for drivers to change to new MOJO tyres for the pre-final. Damien Vuillaume led from the start, clocking the fastest time on lap 4 for Senior Max with a 45.278, followed by Ricardo Romkema (Energy/Team TKP) of the Netherlands, who was soon overtaken by Martin Pierce maintaining his position to the flag. Wesleigh Orr finished 4th from Austrian Kevin Friesacher (CRG/CRG Italy), brother of former F1 driver Patrick Friesacher, who was not quite able to catch his team mate in the latter stages of the race. Outside the first five places, the battle further back in the field was keeping the competition interesting. Swiss driver Kevin Ludi (CRG/Kartshop CH) had qualified 4th and done well in the heats to be on grid 5 but suffered in the dicing to be back in 13th, while several others gained up to 6 rows in the fight for vital points.
The final lost three drivers before the start with Ben George (AUS) unable to race after a hit in the pre-final damaged his kart then Roy Curfs (NL) and a very disappointed Daniele Maccini (I) off row three, who also had to watch the race start from the infield. Again Vuillaume and Pierce led the Senior Max field around to the starter and the French pilot accelerated with Pierce tucked in behind. Orr kept Romkema out for 3rd as Mike Joossens (Kombi/Hugo Motorsport) had moved up from 10th in the first laps to challenge Poulter for 5th, with the Dutch driver eventually succeeding but not without a battle. Friesacher had run wide on lap 1 through the slow “snail” section of the circuit and rejoined leading a pack of 6 karts tailgating to secure 8th and prevented the polesitter from the Salbris round Tiago Ribeiro (Intrepid/Kronos Motorsport) from passing. As the end of the 21 lap decider drew closer, Pierce closed in on Vuillaume, who was glancing back over his shoulder and looked as if he would have a shot at the lead.
The Sodi driver had the advantage of front brakes over the Tonykart but with Pierce setting the fastest lap time of the race, it was no surprise that he had caught Vuillaume. The spectators were glued to the final lap, as Vuillaume covered well and made no mistakes to take the chequered flag throwing his arms up in elation. Pierce tried hard but 2/100ths told the story. Wesleigh Orr made up the podium from Romkema and Joossens. Following the race, the winner said he could see Martin Pierce getting closer as the hot track became a little slower with the heat. “I knew from the first practice Wednesday that the Sodi kart was fast here at Lonato and I could possibly win. After this result, I will now race in the next rounds in Austria and Genk as well.” Damien Vuillaume came to the Euro Challenge at the last minute when his mechanic was asked to help out a friend in the Masters class (who actually won as well), so it was an ideal chance for him also to race.
Rotax Junior Max
Last year’s German Junior Max Champion Toni Greif (MBA/VRK Team) competed in the last round of the Rotax Euro Challenge last year and returned in 2006 but failed to get a result in the first round in Salbris, not starting the finals. In Lonato it was a totally different outcome and Greif claimed he was surprisingly lucky to be the quickest on the track for the Friday timed practice sessions, setting himself up for pole position in the heats to follow. Two Gillard drivers from Great Britain fought it out for 2nd and 3rd fastest; David Sutton (Gillard/Team Avago) and Jack Hawksworth (Gillard/Protrain Racing).
With 39 entries, the class was split into smaller groups for the qualifying heats Saturday. Hawksworth and Sutton each won two of the races, with Greif taking just one heat and the tiny Estonian driver Karl Oscar Liiv (Zanardi/AGS Racing Team) winning the other. Every race was non-stop dicing from the leaders to the back-markers, as the competition was extremely fierce and so close. The South Garda Karting circuit was bringing out the best and worst of many drivers, being a tight layout that is very unforgiving if you are left out wide in the corners.
The beginning of the pre-final saw the polesitter Jack Hawksworth head the field followed by Dutch driver Niek Vos (Energy/Team TKP), Daniel Schellnegger (Intrepid/Team V) of Austria and Toni Greif, all of which were lined up behind the leader. Turn 1 is a slight left-hand kink before a fast right hand corner, so it’s important to get to the inside and this makes it difficult for the even-numbered side of the grid if they get left behind at the lights. Mats Van den Brand had won the Salbris round last March but was really struggling this weekend to be competitive, losing ground in the early stages of the race. Despite a desperate attempt to get through, he was unable to get into the top 10 and found himself amongst the group where the most intense fighting went on all race. At the front nothing separated the seven karts behind the leader Hawksworth, who managed to pull over a second gap to be on grid one for the finale. Schellnegger chasing another podium for the series took 2nd across the line ahead of Vos, Greif and Steel Guiliana (PCR/PCR) from Australia. Kevin Korjus (Zanardi/AGS Racing Team) clocked the best time in Juniors on finals day (45.394).
Following a start the officials were not so happy with in the final, a second roll-up lap was indicated which changed the entire result for Hawksworth as Schellnegger off two accidentally mounted the back of the pole man’s kart near the pit exit. The exhaust had become dislodged and although his crew tried to repair the damage, it was not able to be done in time to face the starter. Niek Vos moved up on the grid and the race got underway, as the Energy driver was then leading a 15 kart freight train in pursuit. Behind Vos, Schellnegger, Guiliana and Sutton swapped places on several occasions through the corners with every opportunity being taken.
In what would be a huge turning point in the race, the first five karts including Karl Oscar Liiv tangled as Vos and Schellnegger went side-by side for the leading position. Vos, Liiv and Guiliana were able to continue but Schellnegger and Sutton were forced to retire. The race was then handed to Toni Greif, who never looked back and stretched his lead to over three seconds. Liiv soon got caught up with Kristaps Gasparovics (LV) which ended both their chances of finishing. Japanese driver Kazuki Hiramine (Maranello/HRS Japan) made the most of Kevin Korjus running wide off the circuit to slot into 5th place, which was an unexpected result after being the last driver to qualify through the heats for the Sunday finals. Another collision left three more drivers as spectators on the last corner, shuffling the points yet again in what can be described as an “action-packed” event.
It was non-stop dicing until the end of the 17 lap final, as Greif took the win easily but 2nd placed Jeffrey van Bergeijk (Sodi/Van der Pol Racing) of the Netherlands and Frenchman Alexander Bessac (Kosmic) 3rd had to work hard to keep Italian CRG driver Eftychios Ellinas behind them in 4th. Hiramine held onto 5th position. Toni Greif was excited to be 1st having made the change to the VRK chassis in 2006, which he said worked really well for him. “After a crash in one of the heats, I had to start 9th in the pre-final and got up to 4th then I was lucky then in the final when the leaders went out. The level of racing here at the Euro Challenge is very good so I am very happy to win.” Unfortunately for Daniel Schellnegger, he was excluded from the race by the stewards for the incident at the start with Jack Hawksworth in the roll-up laps, making it practically impossible now for him to place in the championship.
Rotax Max Masters
Colin Davis (Tonykart) from Great Britain was the man to beat after he basically conquered all at round one in France. The French were back for revenge and timed practice went all their way, taking 1st, 2nd and 4th fastest laptimes for front row grid positions. Jerome Bourquard (Sodi/BRK) was the pace-setter ahead of fellow countryman Dany Moriceau (Tony/Kart Racing Organisation). Former Rotax Max World title holder from 2002 Claudio Piazza Musso made a return to competition in the Masters class, racing for PCR and was 3rd quickest. He said it was fantastic to be back in the seat again and couldn’t resist the chance to compete in ‘the Max’ but was definitely feeling the effect of driving on the grippy track at Lonato. The South African was not unfamiliar with this though, having raced in international CIK events many years before as well.
All three qualifying heats Saturday were in fairly hot conditions and the racing was pretty heated from the beginning. Although Bourquard was able to maintain his start position for victory in all three races, he was hassled constantly by Piazza Musso along with Belgian driver Christophe Adams (Swiss Hutless/Gem Sport) who was able to snatch 1st place just for a brief time in the last race when the leaders were caught by a move up the inside. Colin Davis was just out of the top 3 points going into Sunday’s finals. The competition was extremely close even behind the leaders, with some serious dicing amongst the 19 kart field.
In the Pre-final Jerome Bourquard took the lead from the start ahead of Adams and Moriceau but around mid-race distance had to surrender to the Swiss Hutless pilot. Davis was too strong for Moriceau, unable to keep the pace and Piazza Musso joined in the battle as well so the French driver was then back in 5th. As 3rd and 4th swapped places, the lead went back to Bourquard as Piazza Musso had his sights set on Adams. With 3 laps remaining, he had stolen 2nd and the next time around took 1st from the Sodi kart temporarily. Bourquard had to drive hard to secure his pole position for the final. For the Masters class, it almost appeared that every race was for the trophy.
Starting from the outside of the track on grid 1 at Lonato seems to be an obvious advantage coming out of the tight right-hand corner in the run-up to the line but if you are in P2, there’s a good chance you will end up around 4th or 5th. Claudio Piazza Musso had to work his way back up again from 4th after experiencing the same in the previous race. Bourquard was on a mission to make the Lonato round his own, pulling a good gap early on in the race ahead of Davis and Moriceau. By lap 3, Piazza Musso was up to 3rd and closing on Davis, while Adams made a big move for 5th on Remon Hannink (Haase/Eiks Racing) of the Netherlands that allowed Junpei Takiyama (Maranello/Trent Quattro) from the Japanese team to go passed them both clocking a time just off the pace of Bourquard.
Breaking away from the main group further back, Dennis Kroes (Alpha/Team Kroes-Havel Racing) couldn’t catch the leaders and was unable to improve on his 8th position. It was a blistering finish for Christophe Adams, overtaking Hannink, then Moriceau and Takiyama followed by Davis with 1 lap remaining. The Brit tried hard to regain his podium position and fought it over the finish line unsuccessfully. Jerome Bourquard took the honours without a challenge from Piazza Musso and Adams. For Jerome, it was like winning at the Vatican of Karting in Europe. “To come back and win in Italy at the home of European karting driving a French Sodikart chassis is a big pleasure for me. It is also a well organised event and the standard of racing is very good.” Bourquard actually raced in Formula A in the European Championships 10 years ago for an Italian kart manufacturer, so he said this was a great result.
Series championship leader and 2005 Grand Finals winner Wesleigh Orr (CRG/CRG Italy) was upstaged in the 15 minute timed practice session Friday by another unknown CRG driver at the Euro Challenge Wesley Vyt (CRG/DNR De Nies Racing) from Belgium. Vyt gave himself a brilliant pole position for Saturday’s heats, just under a tenth ahead of Orr and 3rd fastest was Ben George (Intrepid/Team V) both of which were racing in the Senior Max class this round again. South African driver Arnold Neveling (PCR/PCR) who came 2nd in the Salbris round was fast in practice but suffered from brake problems.
The Belgian pilot took the early lead in all three qualifying heats but only won the 1st, as Wesleigh Orr was too strong and claimed the 2nd and 3rd races. Neveling and Toms Bobrovskis (Gillard/PDB Belgium) of Latvia made up the top 4 places with the leaders, showing they had the pace to stay at the front. Competition between the others in the field of 18 provided some really entertaining racing in this relatively new Rotax gear box category which looks like being even bigger again at the next round in Austria.
With Orr starting the pre-final from grid 1, he took the lead and increased the gap throughout the 18 laps to almost 6 seconds setting an incredible lap time a fraction above 44 seconds (44.158). Neveling had been in 2nd position but Vyt passed him for a close finish across the line. Still chasing a couple of tenths between himself and the front-runners, Ben George drove well to take a comfortable 4th from Alvaro Guerrero (Intrepid/Kronos Motorsport) of Andorra. A difference of opinion on and off the track saw Bobrovskis and Austrian Bernd Herndlhofer (MS Kart/MS Kart Racing Team) excluded from the finals following the race.
The DD2 finale start mirrored the previous race although last year’s Junior Euro champ Arnold Neveling was able to keep Wesley Vyt at bay until the last few laps. He said after the event that he may have gone with the wrong gear ratio for the final. Aussie Ben George would just miss out on the podium as he did in the series opener in France but the points are what are important in the championship for him. Team mates Guerrero and Rui Viera (Intrepid/Kronos Motorsport) rounded out the top 6 in the fight for places over the 21 lap final, closely followed by Greek driver Miltos Kirkos (Rotax RM1/Kart Shop Hochhauser). Dennis Ladefoged (Swiss Hutless/Swiss Hutless DK) from Denmark had also been setting some good times over the weekend, keen to make up for a DNS in the final at Salbris, but was unable to finish the race with only five laps remaining.
Wesleigh Orr made it another 1st place on the podium by charging home with a 9.5 second lead, from Vyt in 2nd and Neveling 3rd. When asked about his ability to keep increasing the lead gap in the finals Orr said “I’m never that fast in qualifying and in the heats I conserve everything to find the best braking points and be smooth, working with the chassis and engine but not really giving 105% but maybe about 93%. In the pre-final I do a fast lap and find my limit, then keep pushing in the final until the end.” Having just started racing in the ICC class at the European Championships last month, the new CRG factory team driver admits he has to really work at keeping his driving smooth in the Max but will focus now on continuing to improve the engine and chassis performance for the third round of the Euro Challenge in Austria in July.
With many of the Italian kart Manufacturers on location at the Euro Challenge in Lonato to support international teams; it is encouraging for both the series and the industry that they recognise the level of the competition. CRG boss Mr. Tinini made the comment regarding the ROTAX MOJO Max Euro Challenge that “It is the single most successful program outside the CIK parameters. We at CRG couldn't be any happier to have obtained a driver with the talent of Wesleigh [Orr] and this is even further testament to the fact that the program truly gives drivers the opportunity to emerge, which otherwise would have never been possible.”
Members of the engine company BRP-Rotax Austria were at the event and also invited some of their distributors to watch the fantastic racing, together with those who already run teams in the series. Heidenau who are the tyre manufacturers of the regulation MOJO joined them in presenting the trophies at the prize giving ceremony Sunday afternoon. Every driver was given a souvenir medal by the organisers RGMMC Establishment for taking part in the Euro Challenge in Lonato.
Complete racing coverage, driver interviews and highlights can be seen on RaceWorld TV on Astra Digital so check their website for all programming information. Go to www.raceworld.tv to watch the finals videos anytime as well.
All results and points for the championship can be found at www.rgmmc.com along with the official live timing from the event in Italy.
A1 Speedworld, Austria hosts the next round of the ROTAX MOJO Max Euro Challenge from July 26-30. As the competition is now half way through the series, round three will no doubt see many drivers and teams looking for good results, not to mention the manufacturers’ trophy that is also up for grabs.
Results – Round 2
Rotax Senior Max
1 - Damien Vuillaume - France - Sodi/Rotax/Mojo
2 - Martin Pierce - Great Britain - Toni Kart/Rotax/Mojo
3 - Wesleigh Orr - Belgium - CRG/Rotax/Mojo
Rotax Junior Max
1 - Toni Greif - Germany - MBA/Rotax/Mojo
2 - Jeffrey van Bergeijk - The Netherlands - Sodi/Rotax/Mojo
3 - Alexander Bessac - France - Kosmic/Rotax/Mojo
Rotax Max Masters
1 - Jerome Bourquard - France - Sodi/Rotax/Mojo
2 - Claudio Piazza Musso - South Africa - PCR/Rotax/Mojo
3 - Christophe Adams - Belgium - Swiss Hutless/Rotax/Mojo
1 - Wesleigh Orr - Belgium/RSA - CRG/Rotax/Mojo
2 - Wesley Vyt - Belgium - CRG/Rotax/Mojo
3 - Arnold Neveling - South Africa - PCR/Rotax/Mojo
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