CKN Euro Report: Rotax Euro Challenge @ Genk, Belgium
One of the most anticipated events of the season hit the track this past weekend as the Rotax Euro Challenge kicked off their 2014 campaign in Genk, Belgium. The premier Rotax Max Challenge series in the world has gained even more exposure this year with the support of many official factory race teams joining the program, along with the heavy-hitting powerhouse teams that have dominated in Rotax over the years.
213 drivers filled the grids of the four classes on track in Belgium, with a whopping 89 drivers in Rotax Senior. Among these entries, two Canadian drivers were in action as Ben Cooper (Birel) was back to defend his Rotax DD2 championship from a year ago, while Zachary Claman DeMelo (Intrepid) looked to continue his strong start to the year.
Rotax DD2: Lennox-Lamb by 0.018 seconds; Cooper on the podium
It may have been the most anticipated class of the weekend, with every major manufacturer and several high profile world champions on the grid.
The regular Rotaxians were in control of qualifying as Sean Babington (TonyKart) of the UK posted the quickest time. Cooper was only able to manage the 11th quickest time, while notably Jonathon Thonon (Praga) was 25th and Anthony Abbasse (Sodi-kart) was 31st, both drivers being high-profile world champions.
Cooper picked things up in his heat races, scoring results of 2nd, 4th and 4th to rank fifth overall, behind leaders Paolo de Conto (Birel) and Jordan Lennox-Lamb (CRG).
On Sunday things were even more exciting as de Conto was removed from the results after winning the Prefinal for cutting the track and thus not allowed to start the Final. There is also a slight drizzle as the group leaves the grid for the Final, but everyone stuck on slicks.
Cooper grabbed the early lead as everyone fought to hold on to the slick Genk track. The 16-lap Final was a thriller with action lap after lap. After a tough start, Lennox and Thonon returned to the front of the grid to setup a two-lap final battle for the win. Making a move in the final corner, Lennox, sporting a PSL Karting nosecone sticker, was able to get inside and drag race to the finish line, winning by a mere 0.018 seconds ahead of Thonon. For Cooper, he completed the weekend on the podium with a third place result.
Rotax Senior: Strawberry Still in Control; DeMelo shows strength
A dominating team for many years now, Strawberry Racing has always been in control of the Rotax Senior division. This was once again on display this weekend.
Qualifying saw Connor Jupp (FA Kart) of the UK on the pole as the only driver to break the 55-second barrier. DeMelo was tenth quickest overall, a mere 0.2 seconds off the pole-position time.
The heat races were wild, with Guan Yu Zhou (TonyKart) taking three out of four victories after starting each of his heat races from the second row. For DeMelo, it was a tough go after finishing second in his first heat. Scoring a DNF in heat two, but he battled back, finishing 12th in heat three and capped it off with a heat win. Ranking him 20th and a direct spot into the Prefinal.
DeMelo was strong in the Sunday morning Prefinal, advancing up to ninth and one of only three non-OTK products in the top-18. But his luck would unfortunately run out there, as he would be forced to retire from the Final while running with the leaders.
Winning the race was Joseph Riley (TonyKart) ahead of Zhou and Ed Brand (Intrepid).