At the end of a thrilling battle for the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series title, Loris Hezemans was crowned European NASCAR Champion ahead of Stienes Longin and Nicolo Rocca. The Dutchman won four back-to-back races and scored eight top-5 finishes in 13 starts, collecting 551 points. The Hendriks Motorsport driver not only became the youngest Euro NASCAR champion at 22 years, 4 months and 10 days, but also the first to win both the title and the Junior Trophy.
During his second NWES season, Hezemans also made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Road America to become the fifth NWES driver to race in one of the three national NASCAR series in the States.
How NASCAR became Hezemans’ passion
Coming from touring car and GT racing, Hezemans fell in love with the Euro NASCAR car during a Drivers Recruitment test day in 2017 and in the short span of two seasons he was able to bring the #50 Hendriks Motorsport Mustang to the European title.
Hezemans adapted extremely well to the brutal Euro NASCAR beasts and his debut season in 2018 was nothing short of impressive. The Amsterdam-native repeatedly proved to have the outright pace and after grabbing his first win at Hockenheim, he missed the opportunity to take the title in the last round at Zolder, but came home with the Junior Trophy. If something missed in his first NWES experience, it was consistency. What to work on was therefore clear, but the first part of 2019 was tougher than expected, also because of a competition getting stronger and stronger every year.
"For me it’s amazing to see how the level increased from the 2018 season to the 2019 season," Hezemans said. "And it’s going to continue growing! We see a lot of EuroNASCAR 2 drivers coming to the series with a lot of racing experience and they will for sure make their way to the top of the EuroNASCAR PRO as well."
A rollercoaster of emotions
At Valencia Hezemans only qualified 13th for the season opener, but carved his way up to sixth in the first race of the season. The second race marked his first podium in the 2019 campaign with a solid third place. Next time out at Franciacorta, Hezemans once again missed the podium in Round 3 with the fourth place, but fought his way back in the top-3 on Sunday with a strong second place finish. It was not the start of the season the Dutchman was hoping for, but after two of the seven events, he was sitting second in points, tied with Stienes Longin 15 markers behind two-time champion Alon Day.
At Brands Hatch, Hezemans almost saw his title ambitions shattered due to a dramatic weekend at the British track. Hezemans started second in the first race but fell back to ninth, while Day was increasing his championship lead followed by Longin. In the second race things were getting worse: Hezemans again started second but dropped out of the top-10 into twelfth.
The lowest low and the turnaround at Most
The first race at the Autodrom Most represented both the lowest point and the turnaround moment in Hezemans’ season: while leading the race, the engine of his #50 Hendriks Motorsport blew up with three laps to go on Saturday and Nicolo Rocca grabbed the win. Just 24 hours later in the second race in the Czech Republic he won Round 8 in dominant fashion and gained a lot of momentum for the following races. This was when the Hezemans show began.
"That weekend showed how harsh racing can be sometimes," said Hezemans on the engine failure. "I was leading the race with three laps to go and the engine just gave up. But things like this happens. We just tried to overcome the situation and fight back with all we had. After this setback I grabbed my first season win at Most. It really was a turnaround for me and the team and one of the highlights of the year."
At Venray, the only oval race in 2019, Hezemans won an intense fight against Jacques Villeneuve to end the regular season with another first place and leaving his home NASCAR GP in second place, nine points behind Longin.
After making a convincing debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Road America during the summer break, Hezemans rolled into the Hockenheim Semi Finals with plenty of confidence. He went on to win both the double-points paying races, taking advantage of Longin’s huge setback to grab the points lead. Before the Finals at Circuit Zolder, the Dutchman had a 21-points advantage on Rocca.
"The best moment was the win at Venray, which was my first ever on oval. To win in front of my home crowd was just a very special feeling. After the Hockenheim weekend with two wins in a row, we were really pumped and it was the time we thought: ‘Yeah, we can win this championship!’ You have to give all your best as the level is getting higher and higher every year. You have to improve yourself and your team has to do the same to win this championship," Hezemans summed up talking about the regular season finale and the playoff opener.
A Championship up for grabs
Two weeks later in Belgium, Hezemans finished fifth in the Saturday race, knowing that Rocca was already out of the race due to a first-lap crash and on Sunday he just had to complete the first lap to become Euro NASCAR’s new champion. He finished sixth and despite having almost the entire race to appreciate the accomplishment, he was still overwhelmed by joy in Victory Lane.
At the end of one of the most competitive seasons in the series’ history – seven different drivers won at least one race and seven different drivers scored a pole position – Hezemans was rewarded with the biggest prize the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has to offer.
"It was the first time I won an overall championship in my career. It’s a great feeling and I hope there will be many more championships to come. Two years ago NASCAR was completely new to me, but I was welcomed with open arms. Now I’m the Champion and all I can think about is NASCAR!" said Hezemans.
It was also the first Euro NASCAR championship for Hendriks Motorsport. The Dutch team joined the series with Hezemans in 2018 and also won the EuroNASCAR Teams Championship thanks to Giorgio Maggi’s second place in EuroNASCAR 2.
"The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series opens a lot of doors for drivers like me to race in the United States, Canada or Mexico," said the Hezemans. "It’s an amazing opportunity for me with a title in my pocket. I want to grab any opportunity to race in the United States next year but my heart belongs to the Euro NASCAR."
Before shifting focus to the 2020 season and the defense of his NWES title, the Dutchman will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate his title at the NASCAR Hall Of Fame with the traditional Awards ceremony on November 23rd. He will fly to Mexico to compete in the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series Final at the famous Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez on December 1st as a reward for his European success.