In what is his first full-time season in Euro NASCAR, Henri Tuomaala has been the dominant force in the Challenger Trophy during the regular season. The Finn won the classification for silver and bronze drivers in the ELITE 1 Division seven times in nine races and ahead of the playoff opener at Hockenheim, he has an 18-point advantage on 2016 Trophy winner Dario Caso.
The Memphis Racing driver scored two top-10 finishes in the regular season and currently sits 16th in the overall ELITE 1 Division standings. His best race came in Round 7 at Autodrom Most, where the 30-year old Finn ended up eight overall. He then grabbed his second top-10 two weeks later in his oval racing debut at Raceway Venray by finishing tenth.
"Spain was a difficult race for me, as I didn’t get into rhythm at this track," said Tuomaala. "In Italy it all went way better. We had some solid results at Brands Hatch, but we made some minor mistakes with the setup, so we didn’t get the result we wanted. But it was great, to race in front of thousands of NASCAR enthusiasts. At Most, a new track for everyone, I grabbed the eighth place collecting important points for the championship. The oval at Venray was completely new to me, so I’m happy with the result we got there. In the playoffs I want both to improve and grab the Challenger Trophy win. We hope to find the right setup and get some good results at Hockenheim and Zolder."
Dario Caso is second in the Challenger Trophy classification, just 18 points short of Tuomaala. The Italian sits 18th in the overall standings and is still waiting for his first top-10 result of 2019 but with double points on the line in the playoffs, Caso has plenty of chances to close the gap on the leader.
Caso knows very well how to win the Challenger Trophy having won the special classification in 2016. The Racers Motorsport driver has 44 ELITE 1 Division starts under his belt and eight trophy race wins. He scored solid results at Hockenheim and Zolder in the past two years: in 2017 he ended up 14th in the first race in Germany and twelfth in the closing race in Belgium. He grabbed his lone Challenger Trophy win of the 2019 season at Valencia back in April.
"The first part of the season went quite well and I’m satisfied with our performances, especially in the last couple of races, because we’ve been closer to the top-10. I lacked a little bit of consistency, but I’m confident for the last two events. The tracks are fast, I like them and we made good progress with the car," said Caso. "I’m playing a bigger role in the team’s organization and I’m really looking forward to the summer break to recharge my batteries. The only way to beat Henri is to finish ahead of him, so it’s going to be an exciting battle, he’s strong and he has been very good in qualifying. Having already won the Challenger Trophy once, my main goal is to enter the top-10 in ELITE 1, but I’m excited for the battle with Tuomaala. I want to wish him good luck, may the best driver win!"
Ellen Lohr, a rookie in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, sits third in the Challenger Trophy classification having to bridge a 37-point gap from Tuomaala. The German motorsport icon already scored her first Challenger Trophy win in ELITE 1 Round 4 at the Autodromo di Franciacorta by driving her Dexwet-df1 Racing Camaro to 14th under the checkered flag.
She was able to score another 14th place at the Autodrom Most – a track Lohr knows very well – but it was not enough to beat Tuomaala. The former DTM driver is still looking for her first ELITE 1 Division top-10 finish.
"It will be a tough challenge to catch up with Henri," said Lohr. "I think I need a little bit of help to close that gap. The fight for second is totally open. The next two events are quite home races for me and with double points awarded, I hope to make a big step forward. I grew up in the area around Zolder and I know the track very well. It was always my home track. Everything is possible and that’s what’s so great in Euro NASCAR racing."
Defending Challenger Trophy champion Kenko Miura sits in fourth, just seven points behind Lohr. Playoffs were a key moment in his winning campaign in 2018 and the Japanese driver will do his best to win back-to-back trophies and celebrate again at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
On September 21-22 the 2019 NWES season will enter its most anticipated phase: the playoffs. Semi Finals will take place at the iconic Hockenheimring in Germany, while the Finals are scheduled on 5-6 October at the famous Circuit Zolder in Belgium. Who will grab the Challenger Trophy and the invitation to a NASCAR race in America?