The opening rounds of the 2012 SPEED EuroSeries for CN sports prototypes took place at Le Castellet over the weekend with an 18 car grid putting on the show for fans at the ELMS meeting. Both races were won by Italian Ivan Bellarosa’s Wolf GB08, pushed hard by the Darren Burke/Duncan Williams Juno CN2012 over 180 minutes.
In netting both pole positions, Bellarosa made his intentions for the season clear and despite a drive-through penalty in race 1 and a collision with the fellow Wolf of French team, DB Auto in race 2, he set the fastest laps in both races to head the championship table by 8 points from Burke & Williams. Series newcomer, Formula Ford Festival winner and McLaren Autosport Award nominee, Chrissy Palmer and teammate Sarah Reader finished their first race as a duo in third in race one. Italian Gugliemo Belotti (Avelon Formula Wolf), an experienced endurance touring car driver and Italian prototype racer, picked up a great third in race 2.
New Season – New Faces
31 drivers turned out for the season opener with, a very strong showing and proof that the SPEED EuroSeries CN sports proto grid is growing in this its second year. Operating out of the brand new Le Castellet pit complex, SPEED competitors arrived at the sweltering French circuit full of expectation with numerous new-look cars, teams and several new faces in the paddock.
A new structure for 2012 has seen the introduction of a Classic Class for older chassis and saw the Luchini of experienced Italian racer Ranieri Randaccio & SCI Racing contesting the class honours with Frenchman Richard Mori (Ibanez Racing Ligier JS49) and the Norma M20 of ‘Philippes’ Macé and Yschard (SPYD Racing). The latter pairing fared best over the weekend, taking home both trophies with a 13th and 7th placed finish overall in what is set to be a competitive and cost-effective race category joined by several more contestants at the next meeting at Spa Francorchamps.
The ‘Elite’ category features a blend of current designs and chassis configurations which are testament to the innovative and competitive arena of the CN formula. Italian manufacturer, Wolf, has led the way in carbon fibre chassis design with its GB08 which the more experienced French designers, Ligier & Norma, have followed with success. Against these the British marque, Juno Racing, has proved remarkably successful in maintaining a tubular-framed chassis with developed aero designs which make it a serious threat. Following a winter of testing and development, competitors arrived at the Paul Ricard circuit ready to prove their efforts.
Free practice and qualifying gave fans and competitors alike the opportunity to size up the class of 2012. Last season’s strong finisher Bellarosa was rapid in the first session but Darren Burke proved his quality by finding nearly a second between free practice and qualifying to keep the Italian keen, both cars sporting a new-look rear wing configuration which clearly works. Ultimately though, Bellarosa took pole from Burke by over a second with rapid newcomers Olivier Porta and William Cavailhaes (Ibanez Racing Service Wolf) a very good third ahead of Reader and Palmer.
The G-Cat Racing Wolf of former Historic Formula One racer, Rowland Kinch, was 5th fastest in its first outing. Team owner Greg Caton has only had the car for a fortnight with neither driver getting more than a couple of hours behind the wheel before the race weekend; Caton is positive that simple developments can be made to take the car further up the grid. France’s Anthony Gandon and German Jens Petersen, both new racers with the SPEED EuroSeries, arrived with Team TFT’s Norma M20CF and impressed with 6th place in qualifying. The excellent Team TFT won both SPEED races at Spa in 2011 and with a full challenge coming from the Spa round of SPEED onwards, looks to be challenging in 2012. With a skeleton crew, the pair came in just ahead of the Guglielmo Belotti-driven Wolf and the first Springbox Concept Ligier JS53, piloted by former F1 and sportscar star Philippe Alliot & promising French racer Amandine Foulard. The DB Auto team, another new outfit in the paddock brought their Wolf home 9th with Daniel Bassora and former SPEED UK racer Damien Delafosse at the wheel. The Gianluca Pizutti/Claudio Francisi Wolf closed out the top 10.
Race 1 started soon after qualifying – too soon for some, who were forced to start from the pit lane. Bellarosa was caught out by Burke at the start too, the Englishman getting ahead as they squeezed towards the first corner but the Wolf was soon ahead. Sector times saw the Juno quick down the long Mistral straight but the Wolf was quicker round the slow corners, Bellarosa driving sensationally to extend a sizeable lead. An error by the Italian team which saw Pane and others make a mandatory stop outside the pit window offered a slim chance to the Juno, with Duncan Williams at the wheel for the final 30 minutes but despite an excellent stint, he was unable to close the gap to the Wolf which finished over a minute clear. Third place was sealed by the Juno of Reader/Palmer, a great showing for the first time out by Palmer and the rapid Reader.
Race 2 saw a hectic start early on the Sunday morning. At the rolling start Reader suffered from gearbox problems which meant she dropped back from the car in front as they approached the green lights meaning Williams and Bellarosa got away as cars around Sarah hesitated then passed her before the startline, the Belotti and Kinch cars benefitting inadvertently. Williams kept Bellarosa in sight over the first 30 minutes before handing over to Burke who began to reel in the Italian, The paddock held its breath when Bellarosa and the DB Auto car came together; both cars were stranded mid-track for what seemed a very long time with the Team Excool Juno getting closer. When Bellarosa finally untangled himself and set off, the gap was just 20 seconds and closing. Over the last few laps Burke was charging hard and closed down to 17 seconds but simply did not have enough time to make up the difference.
Sarah Reader was running a strong 3rd after the start line woes but in a final twist of a tough weekend for the TFL Racing team, suffered a loosening bolt on a throttle pedal which saw her drop back through the pack over the final laps to finish 11th handing third to the strong showing Belotti. The impressive G-Cat Wolf of Kinch/Latif was fourth with Gandon/Petersen fifth. Despite the collision with Bellarosa the Bassora/Delafosse Wolf was sixth ahead of the Mace/Yschard Norma with impressive lady racer Ines Taittinger and veteran racer Philip Plainsance just behind. Pizzuti/Francisi and Antonio Mastroberardino, both Avelon Formula Wolf runners, were just ahead of the Reader/Palmer car with the Ligier JS51 of Dominique Wozniak and Jarno Violette closing out the finishers.
Bellarosa’s enthusiastic celebrations at the end of the first race saw the car pirouetting some tasty doughnuts. The next race is in Belgium at the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit where waffles are the snack of choice. Will Bellarosa’s races be as sweet? Stay tuned to find out.
Follow action from the championship @SPEEDEuroSeries or on www.facebook.com/speedeuroseries