It was a weekend to remember for British driver Ben Hanley at the 23rd Winter Cup as he secured his fourth victory at the prestigious event! Ben’s last win at South Garda came back in 2005 when he successfully retained his title in the Formula A class with his third win coming in 2001 in the same class. However, this may just feel the sweetest for the 33-year-old as he won in the KZ2 class in a grid of 94 drivers!
The 2015 Karting magazine Driver of the Year, took a step back from the sport in 2017 after he signed with the Dragonspeed team to compete in the LMP2 class in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series. His heavy involvement with the Mad Croc factory in recent years brought him back to the sport in the latter stages of last year as his name pooped up on the entry list for the CIK-FIA World KZ Championship.
As good as Hanley is, he should have struggled against the full-time professionals, but he perhaps surprised even himself as he went on to take a podium at Wackersdorf. What’s even more impressive was that Hanley had started the final down in 13th place! With Hanley set to graduate to the LMP1 class this year, his winter training clearly included a visit to the Winter Cup as the Brit sported his Dragonspeed livery on the kart.
In such a competitive field, which contained the World’s best KZ and KZ2 drivers all in the same grid, Ben did a good job to start his weekend with 12th in qualifying. However, it was the heats where the Croc Promotion driver started to turn it on with his worst result over the five races being 4th! Added to that was two wins a 2nd place and 3rd finish. It was only Leonardo Lorandi who had managed to score more points than Hanley meaning he would start pole position for super heat two.
In slightly tricky conditions Ben was able to quickly adjust and took off from the rest of the pack with the assistance of former World and European KZ Champion, Jorrit Pex. By the time the last lap board was shown Ben had just managed to have enough of a margin to not need to seriously defend from the Dutch driver and he went on to take the win and with it a front row start for the final.
As 34 of the World’s best lined up for the final, all knew the start would be crucial in this all or nothing event. With the track, still slightly damp in places overtaking would be even more tricky if it wasn’t hard enough already! Despite his recent lack of racing experience in KZ, Hanley had no problems getting away quickly, in fact he was already in a healthy lead by turn one leaving Lorandi for dead!
Going with him early on were Anthony Abbasse and Fabian Federer, but both men looked in no mood to pass early on. As the conditions became more bearable Abbasse started to pile on the pressure with local driver, Francesco Celanta closing in on the top three. As the last few laps approached there was still no change and it began to come apparent that this was going to be a four-horse race. Abbasse made several attempts to threaten Hanley but nothing gave and the Dragonspeed driver did not make one single mistake.
With Abbasse under pressure himself that made the last lap straight forward for Hanley who covered the inside on his way to take his fourth victory at the Winter Cup and his first for thirteen years! Along with his four wins at the Winter Cup Hanley also has a further podium after finishing 2nd to Charles Leclerc back in 2013.
Hanley’s win further proves his status as the most successful driver in Winter Cup history as he remains the only driver to win more than two titles. Eight drivers have won two Winter Cups and they include, Max Verstappen, Marco Ardigo, Davide Fore, Nicklas Nielsen, Alessio Lorandi and Yannick de Brabander.
Written by Chris McCarthy