Following a disappointing trip to Round 3 of the Euro Touring Series in Spain, our EP team travelled to the fourth round with high hopes. Having previously hosted the season finale of the opening four years of the ETS, Andernach in Germany was back on the calendar after 7 years. A late addition, following the news of the closure of the Mulhouse track in France, our distributor Tonisport put in sterling work to have the track ready and looking pristine for race weekend. For Marc the return to Andernach meant one of the shortest trips of the year for him with Motodrom Andernach located right in his home town of Andernach. While only a few 100 metres from his family home, the track is however not one which he makes use of but the winner of 3 of the 4 previous ETS races there this doesn’t appear to affect his performance. Marc and Akio would be joined for the event by Naoto and Andy. Both travelled directly from the ENS season opener the weekend before in the Netherlands, stopping off for a day of nitro testing at Ettlingen on the Monday in preparation for the second round next month.
With the ETS calendar featuring more ‘nitro’ style outdoor tracks in recent seasons, the return to tight technical Andernach track made for a different challenge. While no driver would claim to really like the track, the majority did like that it was something different albeit it difficult. Unfortunately Thursday's practice day would be hit by rain and there was more rain forecast for Sunday. The good news was though that Friday and Saturday were to be nice, shorts wearing type days. Based off the many weather predictions, the decision was made to condense the event into 2 days - Friday & Saturday.
At the end of practice, our guys looked good with Marc fastest in seeding ahead Naoto with Akio also making the top heat of qualifying. Following the three rounds of practice that started off Friday’s action, it was then straight into 2 rounds of qualifying. In Q1 Marc posted the 2nd fastest time feeling he didn’t drive very well. Behind, Naoto put in the third fastest time reporting that after a strong first 2-minutes his car began to develop understeer. Managing to improve his car from practice, Akio recorded the 4th fastest time. With Q2 taking place in cooler evening conditions this was going to be the ‘rocket round’. With small changes reducing his car's drop off after 2-minutes, Naoto was on target for this critical TQ but touching the curbing on the last lap he got ever so slightly out of shape. Given how close everyone was it was enough to cost him the TQ by just 5/100ths of a second!! Further improving his car set-up, Akio was again 4th but for Marc changes he made didn’t work and he could only manage 6th.
Saturday would be a full day for the team with 2 more qualifiers to run followed by the triple A-Mains. An even sunnier day than Friday, the hot conditions meant a slower track but Naoto got the day off to the best start possible posting a TQ run ahead of Marc. His first ever TQ run of the ETS, it also meant he had a chance at the overall TQ but the high temperatures were working against him. In the end it wasn’t to be, drivers with new tyres for the fourth & final qualifier coming to the fore and Naoto having already used his 3rd allocated set of tyres. With 2 from 4 rounds to count, the final outcome was Naoto would start 2nd behind Bruno Coelho, with Marc fourth and Akio 8th.
With all the drivers predicting overtaking being a challenge given how tight the track is and how high its curbs are, Naoto knew he needed to put pressure on Coelho for a mistake from the start. Running on his rear bumper and clearly with a quicker car but showing great patiences, the mistake he was waiting for eventually came and he was able to get down the inside to take the lead. Again trying the same approach for A2, they both had small errors that cancelled out any opportunity. Trying to set up an inside pass through the chicane on the final lap, Naoto was just a little too far in and the curbing sent his car into a roll. He could still manage to retain his P2 given how much they had pulled clear of the field. Marc would finish each of the opening A-Mains in 3rd.
With both Naoto and Coelho having a win & a second a piece it all came down to A3. Again great patience drive from Naoto saw him shadow Coelho as he waited for an opportunity. It presented itself after 3-minutes as Coelho jumped the curbing in the centre chicane, but as Naoto went for the pass the cars touched as Coelho’s car landed letting the pack come through. The result left both drivers tied on points but Coelho's faster A2 race time meant Naoto’s quest for his first ETS win continues. Still it was an impressive performance from Naoto who drove three brilliant finals. Marc made it a podium double for the IF14 but unfortunately it was a tough day for Akio and he finished 9th. In the other ETS classes, we also made the +40 Masters podium thanks to Beni Stutz while Dominic Vogl took a strong 5th in the A-Main of Pro Stock. The 11th qualifier for the Formula A Main!, the 11 car grid the result of a solution to a miscommunication regarding the extra tyres for the final, Jitse managed to make up 2 spots to finish 9th. An exciting weekend given how close Naoto came to the win lets bring on the next round.