The Euro Nitro Series three reigning Champions got their weekends off to the best possible start in Austria this evening as they each TQ’d the opening round of qualifying at Aigen-Schlägl. Having topped 1:10 seeding, Teemu Leino would start a dominant evening for the Infinity team as he TQ’d the first of the four scheduled qualifiers from team-mate Jilles Groskamp with Jakub Rozycki third. Next it was the turn of the 1:8 40+ class to run their opening qualifier with 4th seed Arie Manten taking the TQ with one & a half seconds in hand over top seed Klaus Köwenig. It was however 1:8 that delivered the closest finish, as Dario Balestri just held off Simon Kurzbuch for the TQ by 0.024 of a second! Having been in the mix for the TQ before an error, a recovering Carmine Raiola completed the Top 3 followed by Oliver Krähemann, Toni Gruber and Dominic Greiner, the latter lacking the pace he had shown in the final practice.
Reacting to his TQ run, Balestri said, ‘in the last 5-laps I lost all the gap I gained in the middle of the race to Simon. We both lost time with traffic at different parts of the run but I am happy to get the TQ’. The Italian, who wouldn’t rate the Aigen track among one of his most successful, said he had a moment during the qualifier when he hit a stone at the end of the straight which saw him get out of shape for the following corners. Looking to tomorrow, the current schedule made up of 3 rounds of qualifying after a review of the weather showed the arrival of rain Sunday afternoon, Balestri replied, ‘All is OK with the car and the best way is not to lose time in traffic’.
‘It was close but it was second’, was Kurzbuch’s thoughts on Q1. The Shepherd driver continued, ‘the car was again a bit loose in the rear but I struggled a bit with a lot of traffic during the run. It is hard to get by cars on this track without getting super close. I could not do it as quick as needed’. Looking for his 5th Aigen win, the former Champion concluded, ‘the speed overall was there and it was only the first qualifier’.
Frustrated by his mistake Riola said, ‘the run was not bad expect for the mistake. I touched the curb and almost ended up in the carpark’. The Italian continued, ‘I think I was last after that but I still came back to third so with no mistake I can push for TQ. We will see what we can do tomorrow’.
Despite his 1:10 TQ, Leino said, ‘It was not good’. The Finn explained, ‘We tuned the engine in the warm-up but in the race it became too lean and at the end I had no power. At least I survived the 4-minutes. The car was good like just like in practice’. Asked if he had any concerns over his engine being damaged he said, we ran it after it is ok for tomorrow but I haven’t decided if I will change the engine anyway for the next qualifier’.
Simon Kurzbuch and Teemu Leino are the top seeds at ENS Austria in Aigen. Second fastest to Carmine Raiola in free practice, Kurzbuch produced a new fastest 3-consecutive laps in the first of the two controlled practices to secure the top seeding ahead of Dario Balestri, the World Champions split by 9/100ths of a second. Topping CP2 ahead of Kurzbuch, this time would leave Dominic Greiner 3rd overall ahead of Riola who also was unable to improve on the time he set in CP1. Last year’s race runner-up Toni Gruber will be seeded 5th ahead of Silvio Hächler with Jeffrey Rietveld being the only other driver in the Top 10 to improve his time in CP2 ending up 7th fastest. In 1:10 Leino was able to remain at the top as he had done in free practice. Topping both his runs, the Finn’s closest challenger was again team-mate Jilles Groskamp with Shepherd’s Melvin Diekmann stepping into the Top 3.
‘Everything is good, the car is a bit easier to drive now’, was how Kurzbuch summed up his form after seeding. Chasing his fifth consecutive win at the Aigen track, the Swiss ace said, ‘we have been slowly adjusting the rear of the car each run to get more rear traction. We might adjust it a little more for the first qualifying but I should be able to make a consistent 4-minutes now’. The Novarossi driver also added, ‘I have 3 good engines I can choose from for qualification so things look good’.
Summing up his performance in controlled practice, Balestri said, ‘honestly all is OK and I just need to drive slow and then I can try to make something more consistent in pace. It (the track) is really loose’. Infinity team-mate, Raiola admitted changes in CP1 did little to get his car easier to drive saying ‘we added more camber but we still had the same problem. It’s a difficult track’. For the final practice the Italian said they used the track time to ‘just bed in tyres for the qualification’ and they will pick the best tyres from the two sets for Q1.
Enjoying his first ever 1:8 win of the ENS at this year’s season opener in Bologna, Greiner described his controlled practice as ‘so so’. The Serpent driver added, ‘I am not really happy with the car. We just need a little bit more and then it would be perfect. My car is better for long runs not for 4-minutes, we have a good car for the final’. Fastest in CP2, the German said, ‘I think I can go faster if I can make the car more stable but the issue is the consistency over 4-minutes. I will try a different shock in the rear for Q1 as now it was a little too loose’.
Reacting to topping 1:10 seeding, Leino said, ‘my car has been good here from the first practice. It is almost the same as we ran in Holland but we found more rear traction and it is better. I leave it as is for Q1’. A two time Aigen winner, asked his thoughts on the track he replied, ‘For 1:10 it is the perfect size of track. For 1:8 it is a little small but I like it’.
Carmine Raiola has set the pace in free practice for the third round of the Infinity Euro Nitro Series in Aigen, Austria. The Infinity driver would conclude the 12 rounds of free practice run over the past two days with a best 3-consecutive laps that was 1/10th of a second faster than the unique track’s winner of the last four years Simon Kurzbuch. Completing the Top 3 would be Serpent’s Dominic Greiner who like those ahead of him ended free practice with his fastest run. Unable to improve on his time from the 10th round, the second run of today, reigning champion Dario Balestri found himself 4th fastest.
‘I’m happy but it’s not super easy’, was Raiola’s reaction after topping the times. The Italian continued, ‘3 laps is ok but doing the full 4-minutes is hard work. The traction is low so you have understeer and the curbs here are very dangerous’. With two rounds of controlled practice ahead of them now before the first round of qualifying concludes Friday’s action in the Austrian hills, the World Championship Finalist concluded, ‘we need to try something in controlled practice to make it a little easier. The traction has reached a point now that it is just staying the same and not improving with more cars running on the track’.
With 3/10th separating the Top 4 over 3-laps, Kurbuch said, ‘It is really close, as it has been all year, and it is not just Dario but Carmine, Dominic and others. Free practice was OK for us but we still want to make the car easier to drive. It is fast but difficult to drive’. Asked what he felt he was lacking, the Shepherd driver replied, ‘the reason the car is difficult is because of the track conditions, the traction is low’.
A previous winner here in 1:10, Greiner summed up his free practice with, ‘It is not so bad today but yesterday we went the wrong direction with the set-up. We improved it this morning and now I’m working on just driving it. Overall I am happy with the car’. Focused on 1:8 this season as it is a World Championship year for the sports oldest class, the Serpent driver explained, ‘we are trying a lot of new stuff here in preparation for the car we will run at the Worlds so we had a lot going on yesterday’. Asked what he thought of the track the German replied, ‘For 1:8 it is tricky. I like it more for 1:10. More traction would be better’.
‘OK’ was Balestri’s response on how free practice had gone. The World Champion added, ‘this has always been a difficult track for me to find a good balance in all the years I have come here so I am not surprised. Describing the track as ‘too small for 1:8’, the Infinity ace who secured the Japanese company’s first 1:8 TQ of the ENS last time out in the Netherlands, concluded, ‘It is so hard to get the perfect balance and the curbs just add to the difficulty but we will keep trying to find our way’.
In 1:10, it was also Infinity that set the pace with Teemu Leino quickest from team-mate & last year’s winner Jilles Groskamp by 2/10ths. Just missing out on the podium in the Netherlands but recoding his best ever ENS finish, Milan Holthuis is backed up his home race form to make it an all IF15 at the top of the free practice time sheets. Melvin Diekmann took his Shepherd to the fourth fastest time ahead of the Xray of Jakub Rozycki with Patrick Nähr completing the Top 6.
Track Name – Aigen-Schlägl Club – Modell Auto Verein Aigen-Schlägl Country – Austria Location – Aigen-Schlägl (50km Northwest of Linz) Direction – Anti-Clockwise Surface – Asphalt (new surface 2017) No. of ENS Races hosted – 5 (2014-18)
The only track to feature on the calendar of all six seasons of the ENS, Aigen definitely takes the top award for its setting. Situated 600m up in the Austrian hills near both the German and Czech borders, since the ENS’ first visit in 2014 the host club MAV Aigen Schlägl has developed the track into a facility that has put it up there as one of the best in the world. In the five previous editions of the race the 290 metres long track has produced only 2 different winners in 1:8. On the first visit John Ermen took victory in wet conditions but since then the race has very much belonged to Simon Kurzbuch. In 2015, it was here that the Swiss driver took his first ever ENS race win and hasn’t looked back since. 1:10 has produced double the number of different winners the first of which was claimed by Dominic Greiner. In 2015 & 16, Teemu Leino enjoyed victory with the second of those wins helping him to the overall title. Another champion to be, Bruno Coelho took the win in 2017 en route to the title while reigning Champion Jilles Groskamp took the top step on the podium on last year’s visit.
With a 5-degree inclined up the 65 metre long main straight the track, 4 time winner of the race Simon Kurzbuch says this feature makes the track ‘quite special’. ‘It’s a nice layout and the facility is great but when you are coming down (from the highest point on the right) you need to be more careful on braking because there is more weigh on the front of the car’. The Shepherd driver also added, ‘the curbs are quite high so you need to be careful there also’.
Groskamp is also a fan of the track saying, ‘I really like this track and always enjoy racing on the layout. In 1:10 you can drive the curbs but not too much because of their height’. On car set, the Infinity driver said, ‘You need a lot of steering here so find the right balance can be hard but I think managing tyre wear and fuel consumption are really important. The tyre wear is not crazy high but its high’.
Simon Kurzbuch has taken the win at Round 2 of the 2019 Infinity Euro Nitro Series, but it was anything but easy as the three time ENS Champion seemed unlikely to even make the podium in the first half of the race. Qualifying fourth on the grid after admitting that he had struggled on Saturday, Kurzbuch initially circulated in fourth place, fighting with Dominic Greiner, who had bumped up from the B Final, as the race out front initially seemed to be a fight between the top three qualifiers of Dario Balestri, Robert Pietsch and Carmine Raiola. Deciding only to make one four tyre change at the half way point, as the other top runners chose two full changes, the Swiss driver confirmed that he knew he “couldn’t go at the pace of Balestri and Raiola, so we decided to make one less fuel stop [by running longer between stops] and making only one tyre change”.
Moving up through the field as issues took Pietsch then Raiola out of the running, it looked as though the Shepherd driver would repeat his Bologna result and stand second on the podium. But in the closing minutes of the race, Balestri hit trouble, going off on the main straight and then again a few corners later, which dropped him out of a top three placing. “It was a really tough final” was how Kurzbuch described the race. He also pointed out that with his father absent from this event, his brother Pascal had taken over pit duties and, along with pit lane regular Alex Kempe, they “made a great job and gave me great information during the race so I knew what I needed to do”.
Also benefiting from the mistakes and issues which struck the top three in the race, Dominic Greiner came through from 11th on the starting grid to finish second at the end. The Serpent driver was almost speechless when asked to explain his race, openly admitting it hadn’t looked like a “great weekend – we didn’t have the pace to be competitive [early on]”. Even after the B Final, he completely changed the setup on his car, and “never expected it [a podium result]”. Even his pitman Thomas Gunsel noted problems in the final – with “strange fuel consumption” causing a flame out. Luckily this didn’t cost much time, but the winner at the first round of the championship said “this cost the win, but still it’s very good for the championship” – him now sitting one point behind Kurzbuch.
Making it two Swiss drivers on the podium, Silvio Hachler said that after Bologna, he still had a “bad feeling” in the car, and so working over the next month developed a completely new setup approach for his ARC chassis. Noting that he was “a little bit lucky” to move up following the problems of other drivers, he had a pretty lonely race as the attention was focussed on those ahead. He was understandably happy to make a return to the top three at an ENS event and concluded by saying “of course I’ll take that one!”.
Clearly upset at being just minutes away from a potential victory after the retirement of team mate Raiola, Balestri was at a loss to explain what happened. With nothing obvious broken on the car to cause his initial high-speed off as he entered the back straight, he said he must have hit a stone or something as he was on cruise-control and “just running laps”. This accident bent the bumper of his Infinity car, which then in turn caused a second crash a few corners later, which then left the current ENS champion to nurse his car home to a fourth place finish.
Raiola had been in the hunt for the overall win, the lead swapping places with Balestri as the pit stop cycles worked through each time. Possibly looking set for the top step of the podium with Balestri due to make one extra pit stop for fuel, Raiola said he saw the side belt come off his IF18 and “drove immediately to the pit lane”. With father Alfonso then confirming that it was in fact a broken pulley which had caused the belt to fail and therefore no chance of a quick repair, the Italian, who has been with the Infinity program since the start, will have to continue his wait for his first ENS victory.
In the +40 Masters class, Arie Manten failed to start the race after engine issues led to a stripped gear, allowing fellow Dutchman Martin Zevenhoven to get the jump at the start and lead early on. As the race continued, Belgian John Lenears, who had battled with Martin in the initial stages, moved through to the lead and Angelo Fagnani, who had started 9th on the grid, moved up to second as Zevenhoven had to settle for third at the finish.
The 1/8 4S Electric class made its debut in The Netherlands and saw local hero John Ermen secure pole position and wrap up the overall title with wins in leg one and two of the final. Simon Schutte looked to be John’s closest challenger, taking second in every leg, but Kai Asmer came through to take the leg three victory after John sat out the race, giving Asmer second overall in front of Schutte.