Round 3: Genk, Belgium. June 15, 2014
Nicklas Nielsen took advantage of heartbreak for Lando Norris to extend his lead at the top of the KF Championship during an exciting weekend in Belgium
The penultimate round of this year’s European KF season was always going to be crucial to the title hopes of British drivers Lando Norris, Callum Ilott and team-mate Tom Joyner.
If the trio were to continue to mount a challenge to points leader Nicklas Nielsen, who had not put a wheel wrong in the opening two rounds, they had to have a successful weekend in Belgium. It turned out to be a thriller.
Nielsen headed to Genk level on points with Norris with both Ilott and Joyner only seven points behind. Having topped Friday’s qualifying practice, Norris followed it up with two qualifying heat victories on Saturday. It elevated him above Nielsen to the top of the standings, with Ilott claiming three wins of his own. The pair looked to be dominating the field but Nielsen saved his best speed for the pre-final to place himself on pole for the final ahead of Ilott and Norris. Joyner had a disappointing pre-final, coming home sixth with Oliver Hodgson, on his first visit to Genk, tenth. Jehan Daruvala would line up a disappointing 19th with Oliver Norris at the back of the final grid after crashing out.
Sunday’s final was a not unexpected four-way tussle between the frontrunners but Nielsen needed a huge dose of luck to maintain his lead. But it was to be a cruel blow for Norris.
The reigning European KF Junior champion shot off from the second row, squeezing into second by Turn One ahead of Ilott who would re-take the place later in the lap. Ilott’s momentum increased and he claimed the lead from Nielsen two laps later, up the inside at the final hairpin corner.
Joyner was some way back in fourth but Ilott was to have difficulties soon after, running over errant grass along the back straight and reducing the grip on his Dunlop rubber: “There was grass everywhere,” Ilott said. “I almost went straight on into the barriers.”
It gave Nielsen and Norris the chance to grab the lead back up the inside at the Esses in front of the packed grandstand, and Norris took to the front the next time around before the main straight.
The young Glastonbury ace shot clear and looked too hot for Nielsen and Ilott to contain, and with world champion Joyner coming to the fore, the scrap looked to be on for second rather than the win.
By lap ten, Hodgson was up to eighth with Daruvala impressively making his way up through the pack to ninth despite being spun around.
On lap 13, after extending his lead to 0.9s, Norris’s chances of a win turned into heartbreak. He suffered engine failure heading towards the final corner. He later admitted it will now be tough to claim the title. Ilott was the man to profit, but he was having to defend heavily from Nielsen, and left a wide inside line into the final corner. Nielsen took his chance in what would be the race-winning move.
“I can’t think too much about the title,” Nielsen said afterwards. “That will bring about mistakes.”
Joyner finished a lonely third: “We almost made a risky set-up change for the final. I wish we had now.” Alessio Lorandi, who started 18th, claimed fourth. Oliver Norris impressed up to ninth.
Despite all drivers having to drop one of the four rounds, Nielsen’s consistent performances mean he will be tough to beat at the final round. But on British soil at PF International, Ilott, Norris and Joyner will be looking to steal the show.