For the first time since Alon Day and Arianna Casoli won two trophies in different divisions sharing the the #54 Chevrolet in 2016, the 2019 Challenger Trophy and Legend Trophy both went to the drivers of the #23 Memphis Racing Chevrolet Camaro: Henri Tuomaala and Ian Eric Waden. The two Finnish racers rewarded the expansion efforts of Memphis Racing with a season for the ages.
Challenger Trophy: Henri Tuomaala the dominant force
Henri Tuomaala topped the Challenger Trophy standings nine times during the season, making him the most successful driver among the bronze and silver competitors in the ELITE 1 Division. The Finn ended up 15th in points, beating Mauro Trione and defending Trophy winner Kenko Miura by a sizeable margin of 59 and 64 points. In just 17 career races, the Hyvinkaa-native brought his career Challenger Trophy wins total to 11, tying all-time leader Fabrizio Armetta.
Tuomaala had a strong start in Valencia, bringing home the win in the first race of the season, while veteran Dario Caso took the second race. At Franciacorta the Finn again topped the standings in the opening race of the NASCAR GP Italy, but surrendered to Ellen Lohr on Sunday. With two triumphs in his pocket, Tuomaala traveled to the UK with a 16-point advantage on the rest of the field.
The NASCAR GP UK was the start of an impressive streak by Tuomaala, who won five back-to-back races at Brands Hatch, Most and Venray, becoming the clear favorite for the title ahead of the playoffs.
At Hockenheim, the 31-year-old experienced his only event of 2019 without a Trophy win, while Caso and newcomer Ioannis Smyrlis topped the podium. Nevertheless, Tuomaala left Germany with a 44-point advantage on Miura thanks to his consistency and came back strong in the Zolder Finals, winning both races in the Challenger Trophy and earning the title for the best bronze or silver driver in the ELITE 1 Division.
"It’s great to win the Challenger Trophy at Circuit Zolder," said Tuomaala. "The whole team did a great job and we will for sure work on having an even better pace for the 2020 season. Memphis Racing is working very hard for it. My plan is to come back in 2020 and do my best to improve my results."
Legend Trophy: Ian Eric Waden wins via tie-breaker
Ian Eric Waden took on a way more dramatic journey to become the 2019 Legend Trophy champion. The Finn fought the whole season against 70-year-old former Formula One driver Michael Bleekemolen and when they came out of the last race in Zolder tied in points, the title was assigned thanks to the tiebreaker: the most Legend Trophy wins during the season. Waden brought home the trophy thanks to six wins against Bleekemolen’s three.
While veterans Mirco Schultis and Jerry De Weerdt prevailed on the first event of the season, Waden grabbed his first Trophy win at Franciacorta in the Saturday race and Bleekemolen climbed the top step of the podium in Brands Hatch. Waden struck back the day after to claim his second Legend Trophy triumph of the season and then confirmed his strong pace in the second race at Most by adding another first-place finish to his collection.
Bleekemolen mastered the only oval race of the season at Venray to close the regular season and entered the playoffs with an 11-point advantage on his Finnish rival, but Waden was dominant in the double-points playoff races. At Hockenheim the Helsinki-native scored back-to-back, cutting the gap from the Dutchman to just one point and in the Zolder Finals, Bleekemolen won on Saturday but Waden delivered a determinant win on Sunday, tying the rival for first place.
Tension was palpable before the podium, but it was Waden who took the Legend Trophy home to Helsinki thanks to six race wins against his rival’s three. The Finn couldn’t believe it.
"It was a really exciting weekend, because we had to deal with a really broken car," said Waden, who was involved in a crash in the ELITE 2 Final 1 on Saturday. "We were able to strike back and finish the second race ahead of every other contender. We came back and at the podium, they told us that we had won the championship. I couldn’t be happier!"
After a very successful 2019, the Finnish duo of Henri Tuomaala and Ian Eric Waden is already looking for more in 2020.