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Euro MAX Challenge Opens At Genk

press release

The first round of the 2012 ROTAX MAX EURO CHALLENGE last weekend saw the new season begin with some incredibly close racing at the Karting Genk circuit in Belgium over the weekend. With 190 drivers representing 30 nations from around the world, the opening event of the championship left no room for the faint-hearted, even when it came to the race for positions just to qualify for Sunday’s all-important finals.

Above: Rotax racers at Genk
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

The weather was near perfect and the technically challenging 1,360 metre Genk track provided an ideal location for round 1 of the series. Event organisers RGMMC Establishment welcomed the support of the competitors, both former and new to the opening edition of the ‘Euro’, where they introduced the new on-board safety cameras for the first time.

Babington wins an outstanding Senior Max battle
Several of the front-runners claimed the finals provided some of the hardest racing they’ve experienced. Full credit must go to those who turned on an impressive display in the amazingly close battle as the laps unfolded in the fight for every championship point, after 90 entries was cut to 34 following the elimination heats Saturday. British driver Sean Babington (Dan Holland Racing/Alonso) was an early pace-setter in unofficial practice and set fastest lap in the third group of the class during the official timed sessions to qualify on pole with 54.464. Senior rookie Jack Aitken (Protrain Racing/Formula K) missed the prime grid position by 0.019 seconds to narrowly outpace Rotax Winter Cup winner Harrison Scott (Strawberry Racing/Tonykart).

Above: Senior MAX final
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

The pole-sitter made a clean sweep of Saturday’s qualifying heats, taking four from four victories amidst the quality senior field. Ireland’s Charlie Eastwood secured three wins plus a 2nd place to join Babington on row 1 for the pre-final Sunday, while a win and three 2nd places ranked Ash Hand 3rd overall to make up the next row alongside Edward Brand, also claiming one win. Scott’s results saw him line-up on row 3 having just missed out on taking the chequered flag honours on two occasions, accompanied by Antoine Barthon with one victory.

After cooler conditions and the threat of rain leading into the weekend, Sunday’s pre-final was run under warm, sunny skies and the many race fans that came to Karting Genk were treated to some fabulous racing that was nothing less than truly impressive. Initially, it was Babington and Hand swapping places for the lead, joined soon after in the contest by Scott, Eastwood and Brand as an unforgiving five-kart shuffle manifested into a freight train of a dozen or so karts towards the latter stages of the 14-lapper. Although Babington pushed hard for the win, it was Scott who succeeded with the pole-man on his bumper, shadowed by Brand and Eastwood. 5th place went to seasoned local karter Kenny Vermeylen who made up 14 positions.

Above: Senior winner Sean Babbington
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

Keeping true to form, the Senior Max final of the opening round of the Euro Challenge was again a grid full of awesome talent that always continues to grow in caliber every year. Once more, it was a head-to-head encounter between the front-runners which saw various leaders each lap. Eastwood got caught up in the scuffle at the beginning of lap 3 which saw him stop briefly, while Vermeylen suffered the penalty as a consequence of the incident. However, the efforts of the drivers nudging the top 5 was incredible; the likes of Shaun Slavin from down the order in the pre-final, up to 4th and dicing with Aitken from the second chance race, as too was 2011 Junior European/World number 1 Ukyo Sasahara climbing to 5th. Former Euro junior champ Joel Affolter spoilt their party to secure P4 and add to the pressure of the podium campaign, as New Zealand’s Josh Hart moved into 5th to show why he’s a past European and world place-getter.

Scott lost the lead again in the closing laps to Babington, but found a short-cut across the ripple strip in the intensity to regain his place. It was short-lived though in an incredible finish, as Babington drove the wide line on the last corner to get the run on Scott with added support across the line from Brand to give them a one-two finish as the group of five scrambled for positions. Scott was 3rd then Affolter and Hart. James Singleton gained good points for the series to be 6th ahead of Aitken, Slavin, Hand and Sasahara in P10. Rookie Philip Morin set fastest lap after starting at the back, with a time equivalent to P4 in Friday’s qualifying practice.

Sean Babington – “It was the hardest race I’ve had I think! We were always at the sharp end in the heats, so I knew we had a good chance. I overtook Harrison [Scott] on the last lap and he cut across the ripple strip to make a bit of a meal of it, but I went wide to get the cut on him in the final corner for the win. Thanks to Dan Holland Racing, Ogden for my engines, as well as sponsors The Helmet Company and Freem. I’m looking forward to this year, going away from round 1 now leading the championship.”

1. Sean Babington (GBR)                   - Alonso/Dan Holland Racing            
2. Edward Brand (GBR)                      - Formula K/Formula K Europe        
3. Harrison Scott (GBR)                     - Tonykart/Strawberry Racing             

Above: Senior podium
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

Anxious start to Junior Max as Webb reigns
After winning the 2012 Rotax Winter Cup junior title in February, Harry Webb (Strawberry Racing/Tonykart) in his first season racing in Europe fresh from the Mini Max class, staked his claim on the first round ‘Euro’ event from official timed practice Friday, taking pole position (55.851) with a gap of 0.011 to group 2 pace-setter Ryan Anderton (Coles Racing/Tonykart) who was just 0.07 seconds ahead of Sam Schippers (Team TKP/Intrepid) posting the third best time in the field of 66 drivers. The usual season-starter anticipation was already obvious, as were a few overly-pretentious youngsters eagerly trying to make every lap and every move a winner.

It was Webb’s Strawberry Racing team mate, Jay Goodwin, who out-ranked him by one point following Saturday’s qualifying heats securing two victories and a 2nd place, while Webb had a 3rd along with two wins. The British duo was shadowed by the Dutch double of Janneau Esmeijer and Fazio Franssen on row 2, although it was Schippers starting from grid 6 who claimed another of the qualifiers, as did Max Aitken off the next row. With many rookies coming into the 2012 championship and possibly racing at international level for the first time, the competition also saw some likely front-runners disappointed not to qualify for Sunday’s finals and unable to qualify through the second chance race in what was a tough encounter for many.

Above: Juniors line up for their final
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

The pre-final was a continuation of the close racing, although failing to resemble the desired race-craft or potential skill displayed by the Senior Max, it was literally a nail-biter to the last lap. Goodwin led from the lights with a great battle for places behind him, until he came under pressure from Esmeijer on lap 3. The lead changed momentarily, but Webb took control shortly after as the early leader dropped a few spots; he and Franssen appearing to have their own dispute as the laps wound down. As a string of the lower order drivers made their way through the pack, there were some good passing moves that kept the field shuffling. In the closing laps, Webb fought for the win which was made easier in the final moments due to the action-packed combat that looked like the ultimate showdown. It was to the benefit of local Lennet Van Bogaert who stole 2nd and Pepijn Steeman who started on P27 in 3rd. In a close top 5, Anderton took the flag ahead of Esmeijer. A handful of penalties were given by the officials, which meant those drivers would not start the deciding race.

It was a positive start from Webb for the final, chased down within several laps by a slightly quicker Esmeijer after he managed to overtake Steeman who started on row 2 in front of him, and not letting the pole-sitter get away. Esmeijer had a look at the lead as the chequered flag approached and had the Euro newcomer glancing over his shoulder on occasions, quite aware he was being hunted. Webb kept a small gap of around two kart lengths and took the victory for a brilliant start to the series to be 7 points ahead of Esmeijer in 2nd. Franssen was too strong for the pre-final pace-setter Josh White, after having a good dice for positions to finish in P3 and 4. Max Aitken eventually made up for one poor qualifying heat result that dropped him down the order, taking 5th from Steeman then followed by Anderton and Tobias Holm in P8, who came through the repecharge that morning. Next was Connor Hall, who featured strongly at the recent Rotax Winter Cup in Spain, setting best lap of the final near the end to come from start grid 26 while 10th was Denmark’s Jan Jonck.

Harry Webb – “It was hard in a way being fast already from the first day for the whole weekend and everyone’s just working to catch you. I’m happy it’s over now and I’ve come away with the win. It’s given me even more confidence for the following rounds of the series now. Thank you to Strawberry Racing and Cream engines.”

1. Harry Webb (GBR)                          - Tonykart/Strawberry Racing         
2. Janneau Esmeijer (NED)                - Intrepid/TKP
3. Fazio Franssen (NED)                     - Formula K/Formula K Europe

Above: Junior podium
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

ROTAX DD2 victory a career highlight for Laiho
In his 12 years of karting, Miika Laiho (MPT Racing/Tonykart) has been at the top of his class in numerous race categories, but the 17-year old believes that his success at Genk in the opening round of the Euro Challenge is definitely a personal career highlight. The driver from Finland has been in the spotlight at the Rotax Grand Finals in Juniors and more recently again in the U.A.E last November as a front-runner in the Rotax DD2 class.

However, it seemed that the new Rotax Winter Cup champ Xen de Ruwe (Formula K Europe/Formula K) would also be a key contender for the first round victory at home in Belgium after he clocked the best lap to take pole (53.414), almost one-tenth over Thomas Smith (Star Karting/Kosmic) and 3rd fastest Haralds Garkaklis (DFK/Gillard). The local driver won the initial two heats Saturday and was quickest in all three of the 2-speed gearbox races, but it was Laiho who beat him to take the honours in the third qualifier. Arch rival and fellow Belgian Jules Szymkowiak actually ranked 2nd overall by one point to split the pair and share the front row for the pre-final with De Ruwe. Laiho would start on grid 3 beside Garkaklis and another likely podium candidate Kevin Ludi, together with the defending European vice champion Mathias Detige, would line-up on row 3. 

Above: DD2 winner Miika Laiho
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

It was a dominant drive in the DD2 pre-final by De Ruwe, giving him a comfortable win by 2.5 seconds after he started well to take a good lead of several kart lengths as the fierce competition for the first 10 places heated up behind him. The top of the finishing order resembled the start grid, although Garkaklis failed to keep 3rd that he’d held from the inside row, being passed by race pace-man Szymkowiak in lap 3 on his way to overtake Laiho for P2 as well by half-race distance. Ludi gained a place in the shuffle to take 4th and formed part of the close action; unlike the efforts of seasoned Euro DD2 driver Patrick Pearce, unable to maintain a row 3 finish.

The opening lap of the final Sunday afternoon determined the outcome that may have a lasting effect on the 2012 series results after De Ruwe’s lead was short-lived following a move by Szymkowiak to pass him coming onto the straight at the far end of the circuit. Unfortunately for both the Belgian drivers, it all went wrong and left the 18-year old pole-sitter sidelined while his younger compatriot was forced to retire 4 laps later, so they are now both positioned outside the top 10 in the championship points going into round 2. Ludi had the advantage to assume the lead until the next lap when he was overtaken by Laiho and consequently came under attack from Tom Dielissen and Fred Alliksaar, as Mathias Detige also joined in seeing Ludi fall to P5.

Thomas Smith and Maxime Gravouille added to what unraveled as a great battle for the first 5, although amidst the dicing, Alliksaar was given a warning for a collision that left him out of the running by lap 8. It was also the case several minutes later for Gravouille who had come close to a podium chance, but lost a tyre. Eventually, it was Detige reeling in Laiho towards the end of the 17 laps, but the leader won it in a final dash to the line; Dielissen was just over a second behind Detige, then Smith. Garkaklis made a comeback in the late stages, setting best lap of the race to hold onto his original 5th place position ahead of Ludi. Giel Bronder was 7th with a close finish between Patrick Pearce and Geoffrey Jamin from down the order, while Maximilian Fleischmann of Germany was 10th.

Miika Laiho – “This win is a little bit of a surprise for me today! I have really enjoyed the racing here this weekend and today is the best day in my racing career. We have a new chassis for this year and had a few problems with the brakes that we need to improve. I want to thank the team at MPT Racing for all their support this weekend. ”

1. Miika Laiho (FIN)                             - Tonykart/MPT Racing                      
2. Mathias Detige (BEL)                     - Tonykart/Bouvin Power
3. Tom Dielissen (NED)                      - CRG/CRG Holland

Above: DD2 podium
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

Tamsin Germain takes her first ROTAX DD2 Masters win in style
The ROTAX DD2 Masters is developing into an amazingly competitive class within the DD2 category with the Masters fighting it out in every race in close proximity to each other. At the initial round in Genk, it was British lady driver Tamsin Germain (DG Racing/Gillard) who beat the guys home to collect the winners’ trophy and begin her season off with a good start to the series. Local driver Carl Cleirbaut (Brand Racing/Praga Kart) came out of temporary retirement after almost a year away to be the fastest qualifier in Friday’s official timed practice, where he was 14th overall out of 36 entries in the class and 0.5 seconds off Xen De Ruwe’s pace.

Defending DD2 Masters European champ Christophe Adams ranked best mid-field following the three races Saturday, after reaching the top 10 in one qualifying heat and narrowly taking the grid position in front of Germain by just one point when it came to the pre-final. However, the winner of the last Euro round in 2011, Dennis Kroes, was the highest placed Master in the initial race Sunday, which gave him a row 9 start for the final. It was not the Dutchman’s day, however, as an incident in the first lap left Kroes being checked out by the medical staff before the race resumed without him. So with some minor bruising together with the disappointment of scratching his helmet and missing the final, Kroes lost his podium chances for round 1.

Above: DD2 Masters winner Tamsin Germain
pic - Didier Lambert

It was a well-deserving win for Tamsin Germain at the end of the day, finally claiming the honours after competing at the RGMMC event for some time now and the only female driver racing in the ROTAX DD2 class in Genk. In 2nd place was Florent Lambert (Tatum Racing/Tonykart) who gained 8 positions as the quickest of the Masters during the final to take the chequered flag only 1-tenth behind Germain. Adams made the 3rd step of the podium just 4 places later, where he led the next group of five Masters drivers across the finish line.

Tamsin Germain – “I’d like to thank all the people who have helped me this weekend, including Tim Gillard for his support with the new Gillard DD2 chassis and Tim de Feyter at Team DFK, plus my husband Dave who’s my mechanic, for his perseverance. We struggled a bit at the start of practice, but got it right for the final. Hopefully, there’s more success to come now! I want to dedicate my win to Danny Pennell, who sadly passed away the year before for always supporting me with my racing. All the best to Dennis Kroes too who went out early in the final.”

1. Tamsin Germain (GBR)                  - Gillard/DG Racing             
2. Florent Lambert (GBR)                  - Tonykart /Tatum Racing
3. Christophe Adams (FRA)               - Sodikart/Sodikart NL 

For the complete results from the first edition of the 2012 ROTAX MAX EURO CHALLENGE or additional information about the championship – visit the official homepage at

Round 2 of the championship will be held at the ProKart Raceland circuit at Wackersdorf, Germany May 9 – 13, 2012.

Above: Friday's fastest qualifiers [Left to Right] - ROTAX DD2 MASTERS – Carl Cleirbaut (BEL), ROTAX SENIOR MAX – Sean Babington (GBR), ROTAX JUNIOR MAX – Harry Webb (GBR), ROTAX DD2 – Xen De Ruwe (BEL)
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

Above: Junior podium with trophies
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

Above: The 1,360 metre Genk circuit in Belgium
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media

Above: All the drivers who climbed the podium at round 1 [Left to Right] - Fazio Franssen, Edward Brand, Mathias Detige, Florent Lambert, Janneau Esmeijer, Harry Webb, Sean Babington, Miika Laiho, Harrison Scott, Tamsin Germain & Tom Dielissen (Absent - Christophe Adams)
pic - Bas Kaligis / RGMMC Media