July 6, 2017

Coelho’s rivals welcome return to familiar ground

With the 2017 Euro Nitro Series having opened in May with Mulhouse in France a new addition to the calendar, it is back to more familiar ground for teams this weekend (7-9 July) as Round 2 travels to Ettlingen in Germany. The third time the championship will visit the circuit, drivers will be hoping to recover ground from the dominant performance of Xray’s Bruno Coelho, who on the technical Mulhouse layout, became the frst driver in the four year history of the ENS to do the double on a weekend. As a result of this impressive achievement, the newly crowned ETS and EOS Champion finds himself leading the way in both the 1:10 and 1:8 standings of the nitro onroad championship but Ettlingen hasn’t been the best of hunting grounds for the Portuguese ace on the previous two visits. With results of 9th in 2015 and a slightly better 6th last year in 1:10, Coelho’s new increased tie in with nitro onroad stalwarts Fabio Domanin and Massimo Fantini mean a lot better can be expected this time round. With Alessio Mazzeo making it an Xray 1-2 in the 1:10 A-Main in France, this line-up should also contribute to Xray being a contender for the win this time out, with the duo appearing to work well together on their debut as team-mates at the season opener.

In terms of challengers to Coelho, in 1:10, reigning Champion Teemu Leino will be out to get his title defence on track after suffering a DNF at Round 1. The Infinity driver struggled to find form at Mulhouse qualifying 6th but last year took the first of two wins at Ettlingen en route to becoming the ENS Champion. Ettlingen’s other winner is Dirk Wischnewski, his 2015 victory in wet conditions ending a long drought of wins for the former European Champion. Having missed the season opener, this will be Wischnewski’s first ENS appearance with Mugen, the German having bolstered the Japanese manufacturers’ titles efforts as he joins former champion Erik Dankel who opened his 2017 campaign with a podium finish in France.

From Shepherd the challenge will come from their two new recruits Eduardo Escandon and Thilo Todtmann. Replacing Wischnewski at the German manufacturer, Escandon had a competitive showing on his first outing, qualifying and finishing 5th. Of the other leading manufacturers it is Briton Alex Thurston, who made his first ENS A-Main in France, who heads the challenge of Serpent, with their top 1:10 finisher at Round 1 Mark Green opting to switch to 1:8 for Germany.

In 1:8, Coelho admitting the track layout in France suited his driving, on paper the favourite for the win this weekend has to be World Champion Simon Kurzbuch. As its a World Championship year for the sport’s premiere class, the Shepherd driver faces highly motivated opposition. In France the Swiss ace uncharacteristically came undone in his fuel strategy and like his country’s famed watch making industry he will be looking to ensure precision timing for the final. The reigning champion took the TQ and win in Ettlingen last year. The previous year it was champion elect Dario Balestri who took victory at the German round and, after a unexpectedly off performance on his ENS debut as an Infinity driver with the difficult weekend ending in a DNF, the Italian will be out to prove a point especially as compatriot and team-mate Lamberto Collari also travels to Germany having skipped the first round.

In contrast to Balestri, Infinity’s newest signing would lead their challenge in France. 1:12 World Champion Naoto Matsukura surprised everyone, even himself, as he qualified fourth on his first major 1:8 outing. Unfortunately fuel tubing issues robbed us of the the chance to see how he would fare over 45-minutes but he’ll be one to watch this weekend. Fellow countryman and team-mate Takaaki Shimo finished 4th on his ENS debut but the vastly experienced 1:8 driver clearly wanted better. Expected to be a key challenger for the 1:10 win in France, Jilles Groskamp would instead put in a stealth drive in 1:8 to finish second despite qualifying in the B-Main. This weekend the Dutch veteran is focused only on 1:8 and last year he qualified third in Ettlingen.

The other impressive performance in Mulhouse was that of Toni Gruber, the German completing the podium on his debut as a WRC driver. Last year Gruber took his best result of the season at Ettlingen when he finished second on his way to third overall in the standings and, after a strong start to 2017, he will be hoping to go one better and register that first ENS win. Elsewhere inaugural ENS Champion Robert Pietsch carries the hopes of Mugen. The former World Champion took 5th in France, 2nd to 6th all finishing on the same lap, but has enjoyed success in Ettlingen finishing runner-up to Balestri there in 2015.


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