After a long rain delay on Friday, worries over the likelihood of bad weather on Saturday saw the organisers of the EFRA 1:8 I/C European Championships move all of the finals bar Quarters and up, forward a day. As luck would have it Saturday dawned bright, sunny and would mean there would have been no issues at running all the finals on Saturday as originally planned. Law of sod.
So with many of the 80+ drivers having left the track, the pit area on Saturday was a little quiet and lacking in the atmosphere we have come to expect from the Euros.
The Quarters started bang on time at 9:00 am and ran smoothly. The pick of the driving came form Mirko Salemi who improved from grid 8 to finish second and go through to the Semis. He would not be the first Italian we would need to watch.
In the semis the B race was a cracker. At the front, Swiss Simon Kurzbuch was pushed hard by young Brit Kyle Branson who had, surprise surprise, an Italian Alberto Picco, in his wheel tracks. But it was the battle for final automatic qualifying that was enthralling with Frenchman Adrien Bertin left to bite his nails a a fastest loser having fallen a second short of Francesco Tironi, Italian of course.
The A semi was far more clearcut with Robert Pietsch pacing himself to a comfortable 3.2 second win ahead of four Italians. Dario Balestri was not made to work too hard in second and seemed to have speed in hand. This was a faster race… JUST as far as ‘fastest loser’ qualifying was concerned. Daneiel Ielasi was a second quicker than Bertin’s time for the 70 laps but GB’s Mark Green had only 0.578 in hand as he shaded the 10th and final spot in the A Main.
The build-up to the final was up to the Stohr Ring’s usual standard and as the 10 drivers were introduced on the rostrum, the atmosphere intensified, helped by the goodly number of spectators who had installed themselves in the shaded areas adjacent to the 100 kmh back straight.
Of course we had the now almost obligatory 10 min technical called, everyone taking full advantage of the extra track time before settling into grid positions, ready for the off.
So from the back of the grid we had GB, SIX italians in a row, GB, Switzerland and Germany. It was a long hold from the cars going down to the hooter to start the 45 minute contest. Pietsch stuttered slightly as his motor seemed to oil up and Kurtzbuch rocketed through as if fired from a steam catapult. Balestri, a man who always seems to find a tenth or two of lap time in a final, immediately took the fight for third to Branson, who did well to hold his own initially but the Italian found a way by and gently headed off in pursuit of the leaders. Up front there was contact between the first two. Pietsch running into the back of the leader as the Swiss slowed unexpectedly possibly with a glow-plug issue. When the first pitstops unwound, Balestri had grabbed the lead, Branson was second and everyone else was third! At one stage 7th up to the last podium place were separated by a couple of seconds. Cruel luck struck the young Branson when his engine gave out but the other Brit, Mark Green, from grid 10, was making the most of his final appearance and had clawed his way into the top half of the field in the first two fuel stints.
After the demise of Branson the front of the field was dominated by Italian for the middle part of the race. green had used his tyres in his charge and was the first of the leaders to change. he benefitted from a clear pit lane and a very tidy stop saw him back out and back into the fight without much penalty.
Meanwhile Robert Pietsch was on a charge of his own, once a low as 7th, he paced himself back through the field and picked off places seemingly at will. So it was a bit of a surprise that when, with about 10 minutes remaining, he got to around a second of Green, he didn’t challenge. Even after the last pitstop when he again cruised up to the Brit, there was no decisive passing attempt. Green by now had closed to within 3 seconds of the leader but his hard driving meant he was now was beginning to struggle for tyres. Even with the grip advantage the German stayed behind and Balestri began to pull away again and was still in control of the race.
So Dario Balestri led the field home, easing down in the last couple of laps but still with almost 3 seconds in had. Mark Green was great value for his second and after squeaking into the final he was delighted with his performance. For third placed Robert Pietsch it was an odd race. Fighting back from so far back you might have expected him to be relatively pleased with his performance. But in that fightback he handn’t realised Mark was so far up the field, in fact believing he was racing Collari, who was intact behind him on the track and in the standings. thinking he could catch the Italian, he though it not worth trying to pass Green. It was clear that the German had the pace, he recorded the fastest lap (16.195) on his chase back through the field, and one can but wonder what would have happened had he nipped past Green and with 10 minutes to go had been able to put pressure on Balestri up front. Perhaps we were denied a grandstand finish between two very different driving styles.
However no one can deny that Balestri deserved the victory, he was quick enough to chase down the leaders before the incident and he show great control, consistency and poise when he took the lead. There were a lot of happy Italians after the final, and one VERY happy one indeed. I sense there may be a party somewhere, starting, oh, right now!
Be sure to watch all of the days twists and turns as broadcast by RCTV as it happened!