Dario Balestri is the 2018 Euro Nitro Series Champion, the Infinity driver lifting the title with victory ahead of team-mate Carmine Raiola at the season finale in Fiorano, Italy. The World Champion came into the weekend as one of three drivers in contention for the title but with reigning champion Simon Kurzbuch taking the TQ bonus point that eliminated Toni Gruber from the battle. With Balestri qualifying P2, the final would be a straight up battle at the front for the race win and the title. Pitting together Balestri would find a way passed Kurzbuch after the second round of fuel stops with a pass on the out lap and then began to gap his rival. Unfortunately for the Shepherd driver, his race was to go downhill, a sticking one-way bearing causing an off that would end his quest for a hat trick of titles. The worsening problem delaying him further later in the race and leading to his retirement just inside the final 10-minutes. With his rival in trouble Balestri took charge of the 45-minute race with the attention now on the battle for who would join him on the podium. Riola, Andrea Pirani and 3rd place qualifier Robert Pietsch all took part but there was cruel luck for Pietsch as he battled with Riola over second. Entering the pits together for their final stop, Pietsch led them out of the pits but at the other end of the pits Alberto Picco’s car was released and collected by Pietsch’s Mugen which from the opposite end of the pit was already running in 2nd gear. The impact destroyed Pietsch’s car ending his race on the spot, allowing Riola in to second for an Infinity 1-2 while Pirani inherited his second ever ENS podium finish.
‘We won’, said a very pleased looking Balestri, continuing, ‘honestly when Simon had some problems I just try to go to the end’. Formerly the champion in 2015, that title also decided at the final round between himself and Kurzbuch, he added, ‘When I followed him at the start I felt I had more speed. The car felt really good. Then my pitman gave me some tenths in the pitlane and I was able to make a pass on the out lap. I really need to thank Massimo (Mannucci) for this. Of course I have to also thank Kenji for everything and Massimo (Fantini) for the best engines. Today we won the race and the championship so we can all be very happy’.
Pleased to end the championship with his first podium finish of the season, Raiola was also slightly frustrated he hadn’t been able to start the race higher up on the grid. The newly crowned Italian National Champion said, ‘everything in the race was ok but we start too much behind and lost too much time in the beginning. I need to start 2nd or 3rd not 5th to fight for the win’. He added, ‘It is a good finish to the season for me and I am happy with Dario’.
A very happy Pirani said, ‘I think this is my best ENS result. Everything went the right way and I made a very clean race’. The ARC driver added, ‘we decided to fuel before the others so as to avoid others in the pit and also to be sure not to have a flame out’. He continued, ‘In the end I was lucky. I was fourth then Pietsch crashed and I ended up in third. For the last race of the season it is a nice way to end the year’. Behind Pirani, Silvio Hächler finished 4th just ahead of Rick Vrielijnck who started last on the 12-car grid having bumped up with Alessio Mazzeo from the B-Main.
Commenting on his retirement from the race Kurzbuch said, ‘the result was super bad for us. Everything was going quite good but then the one way in the gearbox locked up and I went on the grass at the end of the straight. I tried to push what I can but it locked again and then it completely locked near the end and the race was done’. The ENS’s most decorated driver he went on ,’this ENS Season has been really bad. The speed was good in qualifying but we need to work on reliability in the finals’.
‘I don’t have words’ was Pietsch reaction to his ungraceful exit from the race. He said, ‘Edo put out Alberto’s car without checking and because he was at the other end of the pitlane to me I hit him in second gear and it destroyed the car’. On his race prior to the crash, the Mugen designer said, ‘I had a small mistake at the beginning which lost me 2-seconds but then in the first stop I damaged the bumper and when the tyres started to get smaller I started to lose steering. Running one less stop than his rivals and taking the lead in the early part of the race each time they did their stops, he concluded, ‘Otherwise I feel I could have challenged Simon and Dario today’.
In the 40+ Final, we got only the second different winner of the inaugural season for the new class in Andrea Hächler. Chasing a clean sweep of the championship, Champion & Top Qualifier Arie Manten was pulling clear until he hit a lapped car after just 5 laps which dropped him to the back of the field. Second placed qualifier Bo Nielsen then took up the lead but just as the race reached 2/3rd distance he hit the pitwall, his race ending immediately. This moved Hächler, father of Silvio, into a lead he would hold to the finish. Finishing on the same lap Rudi Scherer took second with Manten recovering to complete the podium.
Dominic Greiner did exactly what was asked of him at the season finale of the Infinity Euro Nitro Series securing the TQ and the win in Fiorano but a strategic drive to second place by Jilles Groskamp sees him crowned the 2018 Champion. The Infinity driver came into the weekend leading the points with Greiner his only challenger for the overall title. The Serpent driver’s first obstacle was the bonus TQ point which he needed to have to go into the 45-minute A-Main in contention for the title. He did that in style, his pace one notch above everyone while Groskamp found himself P4 on the grid. A track that has played into the hands of the Dutch driver’s skill of playing the long game, his 2015 title coming about thanks to doing to final without a tyre stop that secured him second place which was enough for the overall win, he again played that card today getting the second place which gives him the title on tie-break. There would be a dramatic start to the final as second place starter Teemu Leino tried a move down the inside of Greiner into the second corner that result in contact and the World Champion going flying off the track. Cutting the track, Greiner was then forced to wait dropping him back to the back but the German quickly proved why he is the benchmark for 1:10 racers as he needed just 10-minutes to get back to the front where were he took total control of the race. A single side tyre strategy, that came early in the race, was Groskamp’s strategy and knowing he didn’t need to finish ahead of Greiner he drove a title winning race to second. Leader for a time after the first corner clash, engine tuning issues ended former winner Alessio Mazzeo’s bid for glory with contact with a slower car then finishing any hope of getting by Groskamp for second with the Xray driver eventually finishing in the final podium position, half a lap back.
Summing up the season finale as ‘a hard race’, Groskamp said, ‘At the start Teemu hit Dominic. I heard he had no brakes. I know it looked different but I know Teemu would never do that’. Winner of the season opener and again at Round 3 in Aigen, he continued, ‘I knew all I needed was second and I knew we had an advantage on the pit stops. I changed two tyres and when I saw Mazzeo changed four I thought lets see how fast he is now but he didn’t gain much on me in the middle of the race. At 10-minute to go I knew I had enough gap to finish second’. Giving Infinity its second 1:10 ENS title win, Leino securing the first in 2016, Groskamp added, ‘our strategy was perfect and gave us the result we needed, we didn’t have the pace. Dominic even with a crash won by a lap and a half. I’m happy with my driving and Felix (Heyse) did a perfect job in the pits. He did a lot of work with the engines and we had no trouble with engines or run time’. He concluded, ‘I am super happy to win the championship and with my consistency at all the rounds but I know Dominic is faster and we have some work to do for the World Championships’.
‘I did my best’, said Greiner, the ENS title still eluding him. He continued, ‘It was a crazy start. I went very wide. I saw Teemu coming on my inside and he crashed me. He said he had no brakes. After that I was on the grass and cut the track and I had to wait to let all the car go by me. Then I passed all the cars back and won the race. The title was so close but Jilles had a good strategy. He did a great job, got second (in the race) and that was it’. Debuting Serpent’s new 750 chassis in Italy this weekend and using it to claim his fifth ENS career win, he said, ‘I had more pace than the others and I could have pushed more so it was a good showing for the new car. I passed all the cars in the first 10-minutes. I hope for the worlds we have the same pace. That’s the most important thing at the moment’.
Giving his side of the first lap contact with the Top Qualifier, Leino said, ‘I tried to go inside and went full power but when I went full brake I didn’t have enough brake. It was my fault’. Finishing the race down in 7th despite setting the fastest lap, the Finn said, ‘the car had great pace but I had a mistake in which the car flamed out’.
A disappointed Mazzeo said, ‘we had some issues in the final with the engine. In two refuelling we lose time to adjust the engine. I think it was the plug. The first 8-minutes was all ok but when Dominic arrived I had no speed to battle with him’. The Italian, who finished third in the final overall standings, continued, ‘For sure we had the speed to fight with Jilles but some drivers today were not very sporting. Sure its a race but to have respect for each other is very important. I tried to pass a driver who was three laps down and he crashed me and I lose 8-seconds. I lost second in the race because of this’. Behind Mazzeo, WRC driver Melvin Diekmann would finish fourth while Xray’s Leo Arnold secured 5th having bumped up from the B-Main earlier in the day.
Team: Infinity Neighbours: Milan Holthuis (right) Andy Moore (left) Francesco Tironi (front) Charger: Team Orion Tools: JG Racing Setup Tools: JG Racing Car Stand: None Transport Bag: Ferrari Travel Trolley Features: Set up board Tamiya (custom edition for drivers), it is maybe more than 10 years old and it has been with Jilles on all his races, as a kind of lucky charm, full of memories; Tamiya wheel wrench, as well very dated as it is visible from the once bright blue colour of the handle now opaque; Battery bag JG Racing; different boxes of different brands, the driver used an old Xray box as a template to build some by himself.