On the race track in Mariembourg, Belgium, the international Rotax elite went all out again last weekend. The Rotax MAX Challenge Euro Trophy ushered in the second half of the season and brought the championship decisions a whole lot closer with the fifth and sixth rounds. 145 drivers from all over the world gave full throttle and fought for the victories in a total of five categories, sometimes in the most difficult weather conditions. In the end, familiar faces were joined by new names on the podium of the event.
The long wait finally ended for the drivers of the RMC Euro Trophy last weekend. The six-week break from the midway race in Val d'Argenton, France, to the start of the second half of the season in Mariembourg was over. All the competitors were ready to continue the contest at the international Rotax racing series. The race weekend in Mariembourg had it all: After initially good weather conditions in the qualifying sessions, the heats and the prefinals of the individual classifications, the final races were confronted with a weather change for completely new challenges. Under difficult conditions, Jacob Ashcroft (Mini MAX), Armand Hamilton (Junior MAX), Mark Kimber (Senior MAX), Martijn van Leeuwen (DD2 MAX) and Nicolas Picot (DD2 MAX Masters) ultimately held their own with flying colors and celebrated on the podium.
Nikita Ljubimov (Bouvin Power) started the race weekend in Belgium as the fastest driver in the Mini MAX category and took pole position on the demanding circuit. The Estonian then went on to similar success in the heats: with two of three possible wins, the youngster was ahead in the intermediate rankings and thus had the best chances - Cole Denholm (Dan Holland Racing) was placed right next to him on the grid in P2.
After the start of the pre-final, Ljubimov managed to maintain his place in the sun ahead of Denholm and Jacob Ashcroft (Dan Holland Racing). In the meantime, a thrilling five-way fight for the win took place, which Denholm decided in his favor halfway through the race. The Briton took the reins - at the same time a collision between Ljubimov and Ashcroft shook up the positions among the top ranks. After a slow phase and subsequent restart, Denholm, followed by Felipe Reijs and Maxim Bobreshov (George Gibbons Motorsport), was delighted with victory. Albert Friend (Strawberry Racing) was fourth, ahead of Vic Van Campenhout.
Things got particularly exciting in the final. Rain created new conditions on the 1,388-meter circuit and brought plenty of action. Ashcroft was in top form and once again showed himself to be in his element. After a retirement in the pre-final, the Dan Holland Racing protégé started the race from 21st place and made it his show. Lap after lap, the Brit passed his opponents and finally made it to the front. Ashcroft won ahead of Denholm in second place and Lars Lambers in third. Rounding out the top five were Kristian Sejersen (RS Competition) and Zdenek Babicek (TEPZ Racing Team).
For Kasper Schormans (JJ Racing), the start to the Mariembourg weekend could not have gone better: Starting from pole position, the Dutchman immediately won all three heats and was therefore rightly regarded as the favorite for the qualifying rounds. Mateja Radenkovic (Bouvin Power) added two wins to his tally and then took over the chase at the start.
Schormans promptly took advantage of his good starting position in the pre-final. The up-and-coming driver dictated the pace at the start, but found himself in the sights of Alberto Fracassi (Strawberry Racing) early on. The Italian replaced the front runners and took the lead in the race. The duel for second place was quite turbulent thereafter. Schormans dropped back for the time being following a scuffle. Meanwhile, Beau Lowette (Daems Racing Team) sped up and secured the chasing spot. At the finish, Kenzo Craigie (Argenti Motorsport) took third place ahead of Schormans, who fought his way up to fourth. Luka Scelles finished fifth behind him.
With a catapult start, Schormans took the lead of the final and underlined his ambitions. The driver from the ranks of JJ Racing completed his laps without making any mistakes and was undeterred by the pressure from his pursuers. Armand Hamilton (Strawberry Racing), with the best race time on his account, kept up with the leader until the chequered flag - but was unable to find a way past him on the track. However, a time penalty made Hamilton the winner. Schormans slipped back to second place ahead of Timo Jungling (Dan Holland Racing). Archie Clark (KR Sport) finished the race in fourth place ahead of Lowette, who also had to relinquish third due to a penalty and was fifth in the standings.
In Senior MAX, Kai Rillaerts (Strawberry Racing) put in an impressive performance at the start of the event in Mariembourg. In qualifying, the Belgian drove to pole position with a lead of just under two tenths of a second over Sean Butcher (KR Sport) and immediately went into race mode. The 16-year-old remained true to his strong performance in the heats as well. In the three heats to be completed, there was no way past the Strawberry Racing team member. As a result, Rillaerts also set the pace at the start of the pre-final and was again joined by Butcher in second place.
In the first heat of the weekend, Rillaerts put on a flawless show. From the start, the Tony Kart driver led the action and ultimately took the win. Mark Kimber (Strawberry Racing) initially ranked within reach of his teammate, but then had to relinquish his place to Devyan Roest (Bouvin Power) and Butcher. The championship leader finished fourth, followed by Austin Lee (Strawberry Racing) in fifth.
In the final, too, it looked like a strong performance by Rillaerts in the first laps. However, the Belgian became the focus of his pursuers early on and dropped back after battling for position, ultimately dropping out. Lee took the lead for a while, but as the race progressed, he had to let one of his teammates pass: Kimber emerged as the new man to beat and brought everything to a head. The Englishman crossed the finish line with a solid gap and thereby extended his championship lead. Ethan Jeff-Hall (Strawberry Racing) took second ahead of Kai Hunter (Dan Holland Racing). Hunter, however, received a technical penalty after the race. Butcher was the new third-place finisher ahead of Lee and Matthew Higgins (Dan Holland Racing).
Rookie Enzo Bol (SP Motorsport) caused a stir in the DD2 qualifying session, taking pole position as one of the youngest drivers in the field. But Martijn van Leeuwen (Schepers Racing) struck back in the heats and was the best-placed driver of the 22-strong field with two wins. In the races, the veteran put the crown on his crown: Both in dry and especially in wet conditions, Van Leeuwen did not give his competitors a chance and impressed with two clean start-to-finish victories.
In the pre-final, the positions in the chasing pack were clearly distributed. Bol held on to second place for the entire race distance and crossed the finish line ahead of Jakub Bezel (KSCA Sodi Europe). In the first laps Maxim Shchurko (Lenktyniu Linija) still went with the speed in fourth position. As the race progressed, however, the Lithuanian lost some pace and relinquished his spot to Axel Saarniala (SP Motorsport).
In the first laps of the final, it seemed that Bol's performance would continue as Van Leeuwen's direct pursuer. But on a rain-soaked track, Jakub Bezel moved ahead of the Junior MAX rising star, pushing him into third position. Victor Frost Bay (RS Competition) dueled in fourth position ahead of Sebastian Schou (RS Competition) in fifth.
In the DD2 Masters classification, Denis Thum (Kraft Motorsport) repeated his performance from last year. Once again, the German took pole position - but the experienced kart driver could not claim it for long. Nicolas Picot caused a battle at the top in the heats and took the lead in the intermediate standings. From there, there was no stopping the Frenchman in the races either. In the pre-final, as well as in the final, the Tony Kart driver left no doubts, maintaining control under demanding conditions and was ultimately happy about a double victory in the evening.
Martynas Tankevicius (Lenktyniu Linija) was on a good pace in the pre-final, but despite the fastest lap time he was not able to pass Picot and consequently finished second ahead of Thum. Christoph Capitaine (RM Concept) and Michael Becker took the flag in fourth and fifth place respectively.
In the rainy final, Tankevicius significantly reduced the gap to the leader Picot. At the finish, the players from France and Lithuania were separated by just over a second. For Thum it was again enough for third position ahead of Lukas Devera and Igor Mukhin (BirelART Baltics).
Now the Rotax MAX Challenge Euro Trophy is already looking towards the season final at the Paul Fletcher International Karting Circuit in England. For the first time, the championship will be held at the renowned circuit in Great Britain, which means that the last races of the year will bring a number of challenges. All five Rotax MAX classes will be represented again, as well as the Rotax E20 electric categories for Junior, Senior and Masters. The championship decisions are still open for the taking - so excitement is inevitable from September 8 to 10.