Euro Challenge, Round 1, Genk, Belgium, 6th April 2014
The European Rotax season started at Genk in early April, with two impressive wins for some of the UK’s best drivers.
In Juniors Thomas Preining was the one to beat. The Austrian youngster was in top form and took two wins in the finals, and was never really in danger. For the Alonso driver, it was his first ever Euro win. Dean MacDonald took the chequered flag in 2nd place in both finals, staying out of trouble and leaving the rest of the grid to its own quarrels. Max Timmermans and Richard Verschoor were fighting for the last podium place and while Timmermans took third in the pre-final ahead of Verschoor, the final was destined to end badly. At the final corner they collided, leaving the way clear for Rinus van Kalmthout, who took advantage to cross the line third. But the Dutchman was later penalised due to unfair driving which dropped him back to 24th place, so Verschoor did manage to get on to the podium afterall.
In Seniors Guan Yu Zhou and his team-mate Joseph Reilly were the driving force. In the pre-final Zhou asserted himself early on in first place while Reilly made a brilliant start, which boosted him from 7th up to second. Once in front, the duo had quite an easy job bringing home their top positions. Third place went to Edward Brand who drove a remarkable pre-final, which he had started from 13th position.
The final quickly turned into a fight between Zhou, Reilly and Brand. Although the trio pulled far away from the pack, a yellow flag phase and a subsequent suspension of the race due to an accident at the back of the field, undid their advantage. However they were confident enough to repeat the performance after the race was re-started. For most of the remaining laps, Zhou stayed in control but as the race approached the end Zhou had to give way to Reilly and Brand. While he finally was able to regain 2nd place on the last lap, by pushing Brand back to 3rd place, he had no way to challenge Reilly who crossed the finish line to repeat his victory at the Rotax Winter Cup in February.
Paolo De Conto and Jordon Lennox-Lamb proved to be the protagonists of the pre-final in DD2, although both had to contend with Jonathan Thonon. The Belgian had a great start and put the leaders under pressure. But as fighting got tougher he slightly struggled. The leaders were unintimidated and dedicated themselves to their own battle. Unfortunately it ended quite dramatically: at the penultimate corner De Conto launched a last-minute manoeuvre against Lennox-Lamb. As a result both went off the track. Lennox-Lamb rescued 13th position, while De Conto was later excluded which kept him out of the final. The lucky driver who inherited the win was Denmark’s Mads Thomsen. Second place went to reigning champion Ben Cooper ahead of Sean Babington who surged up the grid from 18th on his championship debut with Strawberry Racing.
After the start of the final, despite his opponents breathing down his neck, Cooper established himself in the lead. Almost 15 drivers were in his slipstream and started to fight for positions. At half distance Lennox-Lamb and Thonon took over the leading role, pushing Cooper back to 3rd place. Even Frenchman Damien Vuillaume found a way to pass Cooper but he was given a time penalty for unfair driving which dropped him back to 25th. At the front Lennox-‑Lamb and Thonon put on an impressive duel. Several times the lead changed until a photo finish had to identify the winner: 0.018s was the winning margin for Lennox- Lamb ahead of Thonon and Cooper.