With the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series playoffs beginning in seven weeks, the race for the Junior Trophy – the classification rewarding ELITE 1 drivers aged 25 and under – is as tight as possible. Loris Hezemans and Nicolo Rocca are separated by just one point and sit respectively second and third in the overall classification behind leader Stienes Longin.
Both drivers are looking at the Euro NASCAR championship as their main target for the season, but a prestigious win in the Junior Trophy would also lead to a NASCAR adventure in America as a prize. For Hezemans, who won the trophy in 2018, it would mean back-to-back trips to the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, while for Rocca it would be a first, since the Italian finished second in 2016.
In 2019, Hezemans scored two back-to-back ELITE 1 Division wins late in the regular season to affirm himself as candidate for the biggest prize. The defending Junior Trophy champion won Round 8 at Autodrom Most and Round 9 on oval at Raceway Venray two weeks later. Five top-5 and seven top-10 finishes make him one of the most consistent drivers in the championship.
"It’s nice to lead the Junior Trophy classification, but since I won it already last year, I want something more," said Hezemans, who drives the #50 Hendriks Motorsport Ford Mustang. "This year I’m focusing more on the NWES championship. I put my thoughts mostly on that and I think it’s the same for Nicolo. If I can win both classifications, it will be even better and I expect a heated battle. Nicolo is a very quick and consistent driver, there will be some more really close fights."
Rocca, whose first experience in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series dates back to 2013 when he was 19 years old, took the ball away from Hezemans in the first race of the NASCAR GP Czechia to score his first ELITE 1 win of the season. The PK Carsport driver impressed in his full-time return to NWES with six top-5 and eight top-10 results in the regular season.
"So far we had some good battles with Loris," said Rocca. "We both have been consistently at the top and we are fighting for the overall championship, which is where the focus is on. But obviously winning the Junior Trophy would also be important, so I’ll push to stay in front of him and I’ll try to overcome this 1-point gap."
In the race for the Junior Trophy title, Hezemans is leading Rocca with 5 wins in his pocket against the Italian’s four.
The reigning ELITE 2 Division champion Ulysse Delsaux sits third in the Junior Trophy classification and tenth in the overall ELITE 1 Division points standings. The Frenchman stepped up the top division after winning the ELITE 2 title with RDV Competition in 2018.
With more responsibilities and expectations on his shoulder, Delsaux and the team worked hard to find a good balance and scored one top-5 and two top-10 finishes, all in the closing rounds of the regular season. The solid races at Most and Venray could be the beginning of a race to catch up with Hezemans and Rocca for the Troyes native.
"It was a great regular season," said Delsaux. "The level of the competition is high, I’ve learnt a lot and it’s awesome to race against a former Formula One World Champion like Jacques Villeneuve. We’re really working as a team! Frederic Gabillon still helps me to find the right driving technique and I work well with my engineer Sebastien Guerin. Together with team boss Franck Violas we have the goal to raise my level."
"Loris and Nicolo had a great start of the season and the gap is big. My goal is to develop to be competitive in the long term, but I want to be on the Junior Trophy podium at the end of the season. I’m really looking forward to race at Hockenheim, my favorite track, and Zolder. I’d really like to thank my sponsor GCS for the great support they are giving me."
The 2019 NWES playoffs kick off at the iconic Hockenheimring on 21-22 September. With double points on the line, thrilling races are expected. While Hezemans grabbed his first ever Euro NASCAR win in Germany in 2018, Rocca never raced there before with the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.