EuroNASCAR: Rookies Aliyyah Koloc and Luli Del Castello share Lady Trophy wins at Valencia
A record-breaking number of female entries made for an exciting start of the 2022 EuroNASCAR season: rookies Aliyyah Koloc and Luli Del Castello shared victories in the Lady Trophy at Valencia, with Arianna Casoli claiming two class podiums and Alina Loibnegger securing a second place despite a late team change.
The European NASCAR championship got underway last weekend at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia, launching the series' 10th season under the Whelen Engineering title sponsorship and with a record-Setting 37 cars on the grid.
The 2022 EuroNASCAR season will also break another record: for the first time, in fact, the Lady Trophy will see five drivers battling out in the EN2 division.
Italian racer Arianna Casoli is an iconic figure in the EuroNASCAR paddock - as well as defending champion of the female trophy - and will again compete for both the Lady and Legend trophies. Casoli, though, will sport a new livery with new colours, abandoning her traditional yellow: having switched teams, Arianna will now race the white and turquoise #14 SpeedHouse Camaro.
Also returning to the EN2 grid is Alina Loibnegger. The young Austrian also had a last-minute team change and will represent Swiss outfit RacingFuel Motorsport, at the wheel of the orange and black #94 Camaro. As a rookie, Loibnegger was 20th in the standings in 2021, with a P11 as her best finish at the Czech round of Most.
Three new faces joined the ranks in 2022: Luli Del Castello and sisters Aliyyah and Yasmeen Koloc - both racing for new team Buggyra ZM Racing. Yasmeen, though, was not on the starting grid at Valencia, while her sister Aliyyah is also contesting the full EN Pro season, to maximise her track time at the wheel of the #29 Mustang.
Italian Luli Del Castello joined top-team CAAL Racing, in the bright pink #54 Camaro that she shares with EN Pro front-runner Gianmarco Ercoli. Despite being her first international season, Del Castello has extensive experience in touring cars and GT competitions on home soil - and was eager to start her new challenge with the powerful stock cars of EuroNASCAR.
The 2022 season therefore started with the most interesting premises - and with the typical features of the fan-friendly and cheerful environment that has been defining EuroNASCAR since its inception: a paddock with an excellent atmosphere, music in the pitlane, friendly teams that let the fans in their garages to touch first hand their beautiful cars. The EuroNASCAR events are truly family-friendly as well, with podium ceremonies with drivers surrounded by fans, as well as classic cars to be enjoyed by enthusiasts, places to eat and bouncy castles for kids - also providing plenty of entertainment when racing sessions are not underway.
Fans at Valencia could also enjoy the drivers' autograph sessions in a totally relaxed atmosphere - but once the cars hit the track the excitement and sound is brutal: once the famous words of the "start your engines" announcement is made, the powerful stockcars take over the stage, and it's a pure racing spectacle.
The story of the raceS
Vladimiros Tziortzis (Academy Motorsport) took pole position on Saturday, preceding Alberto 'Naska' Fontana, at his debut in the series.
Aliyyah Koloc was the best placed among the Lady Trophy contenders, with 17th place on the grid - just ahead of Luli Del Castello. Alina Loibnegger and Arianna Casoli lined up in 26th and 30th position respectively.
Tziortzis had a clean run into Turn 1 and took the early lead of race 1, while behind him there was early drama for reigning EN2 champion Martin Doubek, who was involved in a contact and dropped towards the middle of the pack. Similarly, a few other cars tangled and spun, but most rejoined. Luli Del Castello also had a small contact but kept it on track.
Alberto Naska was soon under pressure from Linster (CAAL Racing), but the Italian youtuber managed to break away - although Tziortzis was already approximately two seconds further up the road.
Koloc made up two places in the opening lap, while Del Castello was protagonist of a great recovery - the driver of the #54 machine charged back to 18th and, two laps later, she had climbed to P16.
Doubek was also making progress with impressive speed and the Czech driver found himself back into sixth place. He moved further up when fourth-placed Alfredo De Matteo was handed a drive through; right behind him, Delseaux and Hazemans had a long battle that rewarded the Frenchman with fifth. Meanwhile, Doubekhunted down Linster, aiming for the podium after the first lap scraps. He could make the move stick on lap 11.
Luli Del Castello also had her hands full in the midfield, as she held off the attacks of Tronconi and saved her #54 from a slide after contact. Unfortunately, she dropped out of the top-20 in the final minutes.
Vladimiros Tziortzis took a controlled victory in the first race of the season, crossing the finish line 6.6 seconds clear of Alberto Naska - second at his series debut. Doubek held on to third despite Linster fighting back in the final laps.
Aliyyah Koloc had a really solid debut race, finishing 17th and claiming victory in the first Lady Trophy classification despite being hit and spun around in the first half of the race. Luli Del Castello was P21 and Arianna Casoli claimed the class podium with a great recovery from 30th on the grid up to P22 - gaining 8 places. Alina Loibnegger finished just behind Casoli, as she still tried to adapt to the new team and car after the late switch on Friday.
Tziortzis and Naska shared the front row once again for Race 2, as Luli Del Castello led the female class in P20, preceding Koloc (P22), Casoli (P29) and Loibnegger (P30) on Sunday.
After a three-way battle into Turn 1 at the race start, Naska and Doubek sandwiched Tziortzis - who could still turn in second place, behind the Italian rookie. Doubek, on the other hand, was down to fourth, having lost third to Linster.
Koloc had a great start and made up two positions, also moving ahead of Del Castello. Tronconi was off in the tyre barriers, but the race continued under local yellow. Unfortunately, the race of young Emirati Aliyyah Koloc was soon compromised by a puncture and the driver of the #29 Ford Mustang had to pit on the second lap. She nevertheless rejoined the race to get some mileage under her belt.
A big battle for the lead saw Tziortzis making a successful move on lap 4 once Alberto Naska got a bit deep under braking and then locked up as he tried to defend.
Meanwhile, Doubek overtook Linster - in a similar battle to Saturday's for third. Liam Hazemans followed as well and gained fourth, also passing the driver from Luxembourg.
Del Castello was again protagonist of a great recovery: after a difficult start, Luli was back in the top-20 on lap 6 and kept climbing the order lap after lap: two laps later, she completed a great pass at Turn 1 on Lintukanto that gained her P16.
Del Castello then kept momentum and hunted down Teo Calvet; she tried a switch-back on lap 12, but had to watch her mirrors from Malcharek as well.
After 15 action-packed laps, Tziortzis won back-to-back the second EuroNASCAR 2 race of the season, ahead of Naska and Doubek. A series of post-race penalties, though, would significantly alter the result of the race: a technical infringement on the #5 Alex Caffi Motorsport's machine of the Cypriot cost him the win and he was demoted to P11.
Alberto Naska could therefore celebrate his first win in the series and Liam Hazemans was promoted on the third place of the podium.
Luli Del Castello took victory in the Lady Trophy with 14th place overall.
"Race 2 was absolutely fantastic - it was a fought race but really fun and very fair" - told us Del Castello. "I gained positions and I kept until the last lap the progression, also winning in the Lady category. So today was a great result."
The Italian seemed already at ease fighting with the powerful EuroNASCAR stockcar and showed great racecraft. Del Castello now leads the Lady Trophy standings and sits 15th in the overall classification.
She preceded Alina Loibnegger, who had a stunning charge back from 30th on the grid to finish P22 and second in class. The Austrian kept it clean and made the most out of the hectic midfield battles.
"My race was really great; I had an unexpected team change on Friday, so I didn't know the car before so it was really nice to finish there".
Arianna Casoli also recovered several positions to finish P23 - in yet another strong run for the Italian, who stepped on the class podiums in both races.
"It was a great race, fighting from the first lap until the very last second. It was really nice, having great battles on a great circuit" - Arianna said.
"It was a fun race - this is what NASCAR is about".
Despite an unlucky second EN2 race, there was some glory also for Aliyyah Koloc, who went on to finish 13th overall and fourth among the rookies in the second EN Pro race on Sunday.
In my first lap I had a contact which left me with a puncture and I had to pit", she explained. "I also got a drive through after that, but I completed the race and it's all good experience."
"It's my first time racing here and it's also my first EuroNASCAR race - so everything is new for me but so far it was a pretty good weekend and I'm learning a lot."
The next round of the season will see EuroNASCAR drivers tackling the iconic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit, on June 11-12.