The second round of the Euro Nitro Series brought the team to Germany and following the success at the season opener, on a track that was new to everyone, our drivers were looking forward to racing again on a familiar track. However, while it is a track that had hosted rounds of the ENS previously along with the 1:8 European Championships, Minidrom Ettlingen has one very special feature - it's super fine asphalt. Resurfaced in 2014, this asphalt gives the track a unique set of characteristics that presents a challenge to drivers in finding a set-up for the high amount of steering it induces in the car. With this the fourth ENS visit for drivers, it must be said the track gets a little easier each year but it still presents a different way of thinking when it comes to dialling in the cars. Attracting a healthy 115 entries, the weather, like Rucphen in the Netherlands for Round 1, was to be very accommodating with hot conditions during the day and any rain nicely timed to happen overnight so that the timetable could run without interruption.
With seven rounds of free practice on Thursday's schedule, it was a productive first day with Jilles and his IF15 topping the times. 1:10 would prove ultra competitive throughout the entire weekend with the leading drivers covered by some of the smallest margins possible. With overnight rain bringing the level of traction from 'super high' back to a more 'normal' level for Friday, the final three rounds of free practice brought no change at the top with Jesse, Lamberto (yes, he was back for more 1:10 racing), Teemu and Andy all setting Top 10 times. With two rounds of controlled practice to decide the heats for qualifying, Jilles again set the marker albeit he only ended up fastest by 0.028 of a second! Francesco, Lamberto and Teemu would join him in the top heat.
In 1:8, free practice didn't look particularly good for Dario who was the fastest IF18 in 6th but come Friday's controlled practice he improved to P2. Jesse, who was absent from ENS Netherlands due to his honeymoon, Carmine and weekend birthday boy Oliver booked their spots in the top heat for the 4 rounds of qualifying.
The first of the qualifiers brought Friday's action to a close. In 1:10, Jilles' engine was a touch too rich on the opening lap costing him a few tenths, which given how tight everything was, was enough to leave him with a P2 behind World Champion Dominic Greiner. 6/10ths was all that separated them after 4-minutes with the Top 5 all finishing on the same second. Dario would continue his improvement over the day to open qualifying with a TQ run with Carmine 5th and Shimo, who was running in the second fastest heat, getting 7th.
Further rain Friday night meant once again the track would be slightly different for the final three qualifiers but Jilles nailed it in Q2. With Q3 producing the third different driver to go fastest this meant it all came down to a 'showdown' in the final round with a winner takes all situation. Ready for that challenge, Jilles delivered to claim his first ever overall ENS TQ. Repeating his Q3 performance with another P3, Teemu claimed 4th on the grid with Francesco and Andy also booking their places on the A-Main grid. 1:8 also went down to the fourth & final qualifier with Dario going into it having the fastest TQ time. With a minimum of second on the grid already secured, he opted to try something different with his set-up. Unfortunately it didn't work allowing Simon Kurzbuch to claim the overall TQ. Again we would have the most cars on the grid for the final with Carmine and Oliver qualifying directly with that number increasing as Shimo and Naoto bumped up after taking a 1-2 in the B-Main. In the 40+ class, Arie kept his perfect campaign going with his second TQ start of the season thanks to TQ runs in Q3 & 4.
While tyre wear is relatively low at Ettlingen, the 45-minute final still presented opportunities to gamble and try to get an advantage over rivals with a different strategy. With the 1:10 field so evenly matched every second to be gained counted. With the stakes high, Jilles opted to gamble on going long between fuel stops to save a trip down pitlane. Stopping on 5-minutes, the first refuelling went exactly as planned but things came undone at the next one as he just came short on the fuel. Rejoining in 5th, the high level mean't without others hitting problems the lost time would be too much to make up but with every championship point valuable the goal was now to finish as high as possible. Opting to change only outside tyres, the car a handful for a number of laps after the stop, he made it back to fourth finishing just half a lap off the final podium placing. Not the result the weekend had promised, it would keep him in the lead of the championship as the next round moves to Aigen, Austria - a track which Jilles enjoys. For the rest of the team, the final would bring a P7 for Francesco in front of Teemu with Andy getting 10th.
Next up was the 1:8 40+ Final and from the TQ Arie took control of the race. At the end of the half hour final he had a very healthy 5-lap advantage over 2nd. With Bo Nielsen also putting his IF18 on the podium, Arie takes the bragging rights of being the first double winner of the 2018 ENS. With Arie setting a tough task for our 5-drivers to follow, in the 1:8 final Dario kept Kurzbuch in his sights with them both pitting together for the first two stops. Unfortunately with his clutch engaging a little too early, Dario would have to change his refuelling and start to come in earlier from the third stop on but still the battle for the win was on. Opting for one tyre stop, changing all four tyres, Dario held the lead coming into the final stages of the race but the extra refuelling he would need to make was still to be played out. However, as Kurzbuch came in for his final stop he flamed out. Now with breathing space, Dario could take his extra stop at his leisure before taking the finish two laps clear of 2nd place Alessio Mazzeo to crown off a thrilling day of racing. From the back of the grid Naoto would finish 7th despite running out of fuel on his last lap with Carmine and Shimo ending the race 9th and 10th. While 'Birthday Power' had helped him in qualifying, the final didn't go to plan for Oliver and he retired from the final.
Winning 2 of the 3 finals and with our drivers now sitting at the top of all three championship tables we can safely sum up ENS Round 2 as a successful weekend. Thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible and roll on Round 3 in Austria.