2017 ENS ROUND 1
MAY 19-21 MULHOUSE, FRANCE
Europe’s Onroad nitro season kicked off in earnest with Round 1 of the Euro Nitro Series. The fourth season of the four round championship, 2017 brought a new track into the mix with the Mini Car Club de Mulhouse circuit in the east of France the venue for the opening round. With its unique layout, Thursday practice was going to be extra important for the team as they tried to get familiar with the ‘difficult’ layout. The track’s first time hosting an international event, it hosting the European Championships later in the year, unfortunately rain would increase the difficulty of the challenge for the weekend. With the team arriving in Mulhouse Wednesday evening, Thursday morning rain meant no running until after lunch. Able to run four rounds of free practice in the dry, worse was to come Thursday night leading to Friday’s activities being completely rained off. The team used the delay caused by the bad weather to set-up their pits at the hotel and spend the day working on their cars which was particularly beneficial for our drivers racing both 1:10 and 1:8.
With the greatly reduced track time, it was Naoto Matsukura who would be the surprise of Saturday morning’s two round seeding practice as he lead the team on the time sheets. With his ENS participation only finalised during the previous weekend’s ETS in Italy, this was Naoto’s debut in the championship with P2 a promising start. Also making his ENS debut, Takaaki Shimo would make it two cars in the Top 4 despite feeling a little under the weather. In 1:10, Jilles Groskamp led our challenge setting the second fastest time with Teemu Leino not quite happy with his pace as his best 3-consecutive laps left him 9th but importantly seeded him in the top heat for qualifying.
After seeding, four rounds of qualifying awaited the drivers with Naoto continuing his impressive showing as he set the second fastest time every run. With three different drivers posting TQ runs, despite being in the Top 2 all day Naoto would line up fourth for Sunday’s 45-minute A-Main. Joining him as a direct qualifier, Dario Balestri secured sixth spot just ahead of Takaaki. With only Teemu and Jilles representing us in 1:10, the rest of the team focusing on 1:8 due to it being a World Championship year for the class, both put themselves on the A-Main grid in 6th and 7th respectively.
With two bump up places up to the A-Main up for grabs, Kenji Taira gave the team some early motivation on Sunday morning as he bumped up twice. Qualifying on pole for the G-Main, he won that before working his way from the back of the F-Main grid to finish second to move up to the E-Main. Working his way from 10 to 4th over the 20-minutes final the hat trick wasn’t possible but Kenji was more than happy to enjoy an hour of racing over his 3 Mains.
The 1:8 B-Main an opportunity to increase the number of Infinity cars in the the Main event. It was all going to plan as Jessie Davis led for the majority of the race from pole. Still the original asphalt that was laid when the track was built in 1988, high tyre wear added to the difficult of the track and for Jesse his front tyres just came up short and in the final two minutes the lack of front tyre left him struggling around with no steering. Driving a calculated race, Jilles was able to take over the lead as unfortunately Jesse dropped to 4th in between Carmine Raiola and Andy Moore. While the end of the race for the trio, Jilles’ win would move him up with 4 cars making Infinity the best represented brand on the 12 car A-Main grid.
1:10 would be the first A-Main on the schedule and was to prove a tough race for our guys. Not the result we aimed to open the new season with as reigning class champions, unfortunately for Teemu his race would end early after a high speed off at the end of the straight. Having struggled to get the car to his liking in qualifying, Teemu said afterwards the set-up he ran in the final was good enough to make the podium but his race was done after 20-minutes. Starting out the final planning to play the long game in terms of going one less tyre stop than his rivals, a decision during the race to change away from that strategy meant Jilles finished as he started, 7th place.
After the disappointment of the 1:10 A-Main, hopes were high for a better 1:8 result. Putting his 1:10 frustrations behind him Jilles would drive a great race to give Infinity its first ENS 1:8 podium. From 11th on the grid, Jilles would put in a great drive to finish second behind Bruno Coelho who had also won 1:10. With 2nd to 6th all finishing on the same lap, Takaaki just missed out on the podium finishing fourth. For Naoto and Dario, the race would end in DNFs. Naoto would suffer problems with his fuel tubing early in the race before finally retiring after 39-minutes but overall it was a very encouraging event with him taking so well to the similarity in driving style between 1:8 and the class for which he is famous, 1:12. For Dario his race never got a chance with a number of flame outs forcing his retirement after 10-minutes.
After the unfamiliarity of the Muhouse track, Round 2 of the ENS will take the team to Germany to the popular Ettlingen track… See you there!