At the end of a twelve-race season filled with passion, emotions, sudden turnarounds and close Pure Racing action, the last race of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season decided the battle for the title in favor of Gianmarco Ercoli, who earned his first EuroNASCAR PRO championship in the most unpredictable way. A never give up attitude was the key to success: Ercoli on the #54 CAAL Racing Chevrolet Camaro came out the winner ahead of Speedhouse’s driver-owner Lucas Lasserre at the end of Europe’s closest and most thrilling touring car championship.
Ercoli started the race from 17th and ended up fourth under the checkered flag. The outstanding comeback awarded him the eight bonus points for the most gained positions in the 18-lap race, a feat that played a major role in the outcome of the race. The Rome native is the first ever EuroNASCAR 2 champion to also win the premier NASCAR Whelen Euro Series title.
The race began with a potential three-way battle for the championship between Lasserre, Vittorio Ghirelli and Ercoli in which Ercoli was in the most desperate situation. Drama struck already in the first lap behind the Safety Car, when Ghirelli’s throttle got stuck and caused the #72 Team Bleekemolen Ford Mustang to spin, putting the Italian at the back of the field.
In the first half of the race, Ercoli had to climb through the midfield of the pack and had only a glimpse left of hope for a miracle. But the Italian continued to get the best out of his #54 Chevrolet and tried to maximize the result, hoping for Lady Luck to be on his side. Meanwhile, Lasserre was cruising in second place with one hand on the Tijey Trophy.
In the rain of Belgium, drama struck again on lap 16, when a contact between Lasserre and Mario Ercoli, shuffled the Frenchman down to fourth. Ercoli received a 30 seconds post-race penalty for the incident. Lasserre still finished in front of Gianmarco Ercoli, but a 10 second post-race penalty for a procedure infringement in the initial start of the race relegated the Frenchman in 10th place, promoting Gianmarco Ercoli to fourth, 15 points clear in the lead.
In a season that saw six different winners, four different championship leaders and a unique competitive parity at all levels, three race wins, nine top-5 and ten top-10 results were the foundation for Ercoli to win the 2023 NWES Championship. To add to the record books, the winningest driver of the season, who won the EuroNASCAR 2 Championship in 2015, became the first driver to top both divisions, a testament to the quality of the NWES ladder system. The CAAL Racing driver stepped on top of his car’s roof after being announced as the champions with tears of joy in his eyes. Ercoli experienced a rollercoaster of emotion in 2023.
“Even after the events on Saturday, I knew that this season would be decided today,” said Ercoli, who held onto the very last straw in the final race. “I just focused on myself and pushed very hard. Before the race, my team bosses Luca and Corrado Canneori as well as the whole team came to me and said: ‘Gimmy, fight! Don’t think and just drive to have fun!’ We were unlucky yesterday but today I’m the lucky guy. It’s really important for me personally to have won this EuroNASCAR PRO title and I have no words right now to express my emotions. I thank the whole team for the amazing work during this season.”
Lasserre ended up tenth in the last race of the season and finished second in the overall standings. Despite the heart-breaking loss, Speedhouse can be proud of an amazing year of strong results and a great development within the whole organization. Lasserre scored a total of two race wins in 2023 and paved the way towards strengthening the team’s status in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Despite the frustrating outcome, the Speedhouse team will for sure find the positives in the season and keep on following their motto of “racing, style and good times”.
The same can be said about Vittorio Ghirelli and Team Bleekemolen, who vehemently emerged as top contenders for the title in the official European NASCAR Series.
Tobias Dauenhauer scored his second win of the season with Bremotion in dominant fashion. On a wet track, the driver of the #99 Chevrolet Camaro mastered the challenging condition with stunning lap times that were at some points more than two seconds better than the rest of the field. The German crossed the finish line 47.276 seconds ahead of Liam Hezemans in second. The latter, racing for Hendriks Motorsport, took the win in the Junior Trophy for drivers aged 25 and under, just six points ahead of race winner Dauenhauer. The special classification’s podium was rounded out by Race Art Technology’s Giorgio Maggi, who finished sixth.
“I love the rain and the car felt amazing,” says Dauenhauer in the Victory Lane. “It was a tough challenge for us because the car was damaged in a crash in the EuroNASCAR 2 race but my team managed to fix the car within ten minutes before the start of the race. Many thanks to Bremotion, we had an amazing car and I love these conditions. It’s amazing to see so many fans here and I’m really happy to end the season like this.”
Fabrizio Armetta collected his second overall Challenger Trophy win by finishing third under the checkered flag. The Italian made it to the overall podium for the first time of his career and scored his 22nd Challenger Trophy win to increase his lead in the all-time standings of the special classification. Giorgio Maggi followed behind Ercoli, while Anthony Kumpen ended up sixth and therefore kept his fourth place in the overall standings. The top-10 were rounded out by Martin Doubek, Paul Jouffreau, Ulysse Delsaux and Lucas Lasserre. Yevgen Sokolovskiy and Thomas Toffel joined Armetta on the Challenger Trophy podium.
Another thrilling and unpredictable championship is in the books. The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will continue in 2024 with seven unique events across Europe in seven different countries. Buckle up for another year of exciting American themed events and Pure Racing at the tracks. Follow EuroNASCAR on social media and visit EuroNASCAR.com for the latest news about the 2024 season until the series travels to Valencia, Spain, on April 13-14.
Featured image by NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Bart Dehaese