Nine points decided the 2022 EuroNASCAR 2 Champion in favor of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series rookie Liam Hezemans, who also won the Rookie Trophy. The Dutchman chased down Alberto Naska in the very last race of the season to take over the points lead for the first time of the season and win the title. Despite being beaten by the Hendriks Motorsport driver, YouTube phenomenon Naska was one of the biggest surprises in 2022 and there is for sure a lot more to come from the Italian. The same also applies to Vladimiros Tziortzis, who started strong into the season but was cursed by bad luck.
Let’s break down Naska’s EuroNASCAR rookie season: The CAAL Racing driver joined NASCAR after collecting a lot of successes in bike racing and gathering first auto racing experience in Legends Cars. The EuroNASCAR 2 Championship was his first ever international racing campaign and all eyes were on the 32-year-old when he switched on the V8 engine of his #88 Chevrolet Camaro for the first time at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia.
From the get go, Naska was considered a top driver in EuroNASCAR 2: Under the sun of Spain, the CAAL Racing driver took second right behind the more experienced Tziortzis in his first ever EuroNASCAR race. On Sunday, Naska impressed with his maiden NWES win at Circuit Ricardo Tormo and the Italian also got the red Whelen banner as he conquered the championship lead during the season opener in Valencia. Hezemans finished sixth and third in what was the first auto racing weekend of his life.
Naska proved to be not just a one hit wonder at the Indy Circuit of Brands Hatch. With another win on Saturday and thanks to a second place on Sunday – his fourth consecutive podium finish – the 32-year-old laid the foundation to be the man to beat in the 2022 EuroNASCAR season. In front of almost 25,000 spectators, Naska took his third win of the season in his home race at Autodromo di Vallelunga in Italy, but on Sunday, Naska experienced his first setback due to a contact with former EuroNASCAR 2 Champion Martin Doubek, but the CAAL Racing driver still finished inside the top-5.
A perfect sweep came in September at Autodrom Most where Naska won both races on Saturday and Sunday. Such was Naska’s consistency that when he scored a fifth place finish and a transmission issue put him down to 24th at Circuit Zolder in Belgium, he had to drop the fifth place from his results in the regular season. He was the leader in the overall standings and in the Rookie Trophy ahead of the EuroNASCAR Finals at Automotodrom Grobnik, but with double points on the line, Hezemans still had all chances to win the championship.
13 points separated Naska and Hezemans ahead of the two final races of the season and Hezemans, who had already won both races at Circuit Zolder, made it four wins in a row to become the EuroNASCAR 2 Champion and Rookie Trophy winner, while Naska had to settle for second in both classifications. In the end, Hezemans had six season wins, Naska stopped at five. The gap between the impressive rookies was nine points at the end of the season.
“When you finish second, it’s hard to say ‘it went well’,” said Naksa. “Especially when you dominated the whole season and in the end it was only a few points that decided the title against you. That’s motorsport, though, and you have to accept that. It’s part of the game. In 2019 I won the championship in motorcycling because everything went in my favor. This year I lost it because of the opposite. Shall we call it karma? Apart from that I am proud of the work done this year and proud of a team that believed in my abilities. Because I exceeded all expectations and became the vice-champion. Now let’s draw a line and sum up this season. What can we do to improve? What can we do better to win in 2023?”
Tziortzis was among the highest rated title contenders in the 2022 EuroNASCAR 2 season. The Cypriot joined the series back in 2020 and showed a lot of progress in his rookie year. With all his experience, the whole paddock expected the Academy / Alex Caffi Motorsport driver to be at the front and Tziortzis delivered in Valencia where he won the first race of the season in a dominant fashion. He also finished first in the second race but a non-compliant part on his EuroNASCAR FJ resulted in a penalty and Naska’s maiden NWES victory.
Tziortzis then got back in the game with three consecutive podium finishes in Brands Hatch and Vallelunga, but an engine failure on Sunday in Italy while being in a promising spot was the reason the 25-year-old lost momentum and touch with Hezemans and Naska. Two more podiums at Autodrom Most with two third place finishes proved that Tziotzis has what it takes to battle for the title, but a violent crash at Circuit Zolder then forced the Cypriot to sit out on Sunday, shattering all his title hopes.
Despite leaving Belgium with a fractured hand, Tziortzis was back in action just three weeks later for the EuroNASCAR Finals at Automotodrom Grobnik in Croatia. The Academy Motorsport / Alex Caffi Motorsport driver put a lot of pressure on Hezemans in the last race and therefore kept the championship battle between Hezemans and Naska open until the very last second of the season. With two more podium finishes at the Croatian Riviera – he ended up in the top-3 seven times in the 2022 NWES season – Tziortzis conquered third overall ahead of Doubek and 2018 Champion Ulysse Delsaux.
“It was a good season for me with my maiden EuroNASCAR 2 race win in Valencia and seven podiums over the whole year,” said Tziortzis. “We were capable of battling for the wins at many tracks, for example in Vallelunga where the engine blew when I was leading the race. The pace was really good and in the end we lost the championship because of little technical issues and little details like the crash in Belgium and the penalty in Valencia. In Brands Hatch I made a little mistake when I lost first place in the very last lap – this was the only one by myself! I’m happy with my performance and third place in the championship. We hope to keep the momentum for 2023.”
Both drivers still have to confirm their plans for the 2023 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series but if Naska and Tziortzis will be back on the grid next year, they will set the bar even higher. The 2023 NWES season will kick off on May 6-7 at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. Ahead of the season opener, there will be the Arctic All-Star Race at Rovaniemi, Finland, on ice on March 4-5.