Thrilling races in Vallelunga for the third round of EuroNASCAR
EuroNASCAR returned to the track in Italy, at Autodromo Vallelunga, as home racer Luli Del Castello took home two victories in the Ladies Trophy and clinched her best result to date with an overall top-10. She was followed closely by an impressive Aliyyah Koloc, Alina Loibnegger and Arianna Casoli.
Autodromo Vallelunga hosted the third round of the European NASCAR championship, at its ninth season, during a warm and sunny weekend as almost 10.000 fans filled the grandstands and showed support to the many Italian drivers on the grid, like Youtube content creator Alberto Naska, hometown hero Gianmarco Ercoli and the two italian ladies Arianna Casoli and Luli Del Castello.
"It was certainly one of the busiest race weekends in Italy for EuroNASCAR: paddock and grandstands packed with families, kids and many motoring enthusiasts. An American festival where there was a lot of entertainment both on and off the track." Casoli said.
Arianna (#14 Speedhouse's Chevrolet) was fourth in the class championship standings after a difficult weekend in Brands Hatch she is at her seventh season in the series and a real icon in the paddock: she's the current Ladies' champion and looking to defend her crown. Del Castello (#54 CAAL Racing's Chevrolet) , on the other hand, is at her first season in the series and currently leading the Female Trophy with four victories under her belt.
At the wheel of the stunning orange Camaro n. 94 (Racingfuel Motorsport), Alina Loibnegger is at her second season in EuroNASCAR and on the hunt for her first title win, after last year's battle with Casoli: she managed to finish on the podium in both previous events and currently is third in the Ladies' Trophy.
The grid of the female trophy is completed by Aliyyah Koloc (#29 Buggyra ZM Racing's Mustang), all the way from Dubai, usually joined by her sister Yasmeen Koloc, not competing last weekend in Vallelunga. The pair are the youngest ever female drivers in the championship and soon gave proof of their talent and tenacity.
The qualifying session saw home hero Alberto Naska taking pole position, followed by championship contenders Vladimiros Tziortzis and Martin Doubek. Aliyyah Koloc was the fastest among the ladies with a lap of 1'43.964 that put her in 14th position, followed by Del Castello (18th), Loibnegger (26th) and Casoli (27th), as the session was red flagged multiple times and lots of drivers struggled to find a clean lap lap.
"Qualifying for EuroNASCAR 2 saw three red flags deployed in the first 15 minutes, leading to the suspension of the session. I, as well as others, did not have a chance to set any real fast laps so we had to shift all our expectations to the race." Arianna explained.
As soon as the lights went out, the battles began: Naska retained first place and the rest of the field immediately got up to work. Koloc had an impressive getaway as she managed to reach ninth place, where she began to battle with Gil Linster.
The first few laps went by drama-free: drivers battled for positions, such as Liam Hezemans and Thomas Pontinen, but there was no major drama until lap 7, when a nasty crash happened: Alberto Panebianco's Chevrolet hit the barrier hard and triggered the deployment of the safety car. As the pack was all bunched up again, the race resumed with another brilliant sprint from Alberto Naska. Koloc was able to overtake and moved up to sixth position, while Del Castello managed to stay out of trouble and overtook Malcharek and Sokolosvskiy, claiming eighth place.
Loibnegger and Casoli also had great restarts: they both gained positions and got closer to the top 10. "A great weekend in Vallelunga with the Team" - Alina summed up. "A lot of fun and always being focused. Thanks to Team Racingfuel Motorsport for the great support and engagement" - she told us, as she finished her first race on the third step of the female podium and 19th overall.
As the last lap started, the #8 car of Paolo Valeri hit the barriers but the accident didn't influence the rest of the pack, as Alberto Naska crossed the finish line winning his home Grand Prix. He was joined on the podium by the other two championship contenders Tziortzis and Hezemans.
Within the top ten, Luli Del Castello overtook Aliyyah Koloc and took victory in the Ladies Trophy, followed by Alina Loibnegger on the podium. They finished 8th, 9th and 19th overall respectively.
"From 18th position I went to catch up with my opponent and on the last lap I took advantage of her mistake and took the lead", Del Castello told us. "I wanted my victory and I gave it all to reach it."
Arianna Casoli ended her race 21st, having gained six positions from her starting place in an overall positive recovery drive. Unfortunately she couldn't show her true pace, as her car had a few issues due to a contact during the Euronascar PRO race, where her teammate Marc Goossens competed. The SpeedHouse team did a brilliant job to put Arianna's car back on track in time for the EN2 race, but it wasn't until Sunday that the car was fully fixed.
On Sunday morning, expectations were high, after a double top ten in Race 1 for both Koloc and Del Castello - the latter scoring her best finish in the series to date, with all the female entries proving very competitive. Poleman for the race was Vladimiros Tziorzis, as he clinched Saturday's race fastest lap, followed by Alberto Naska and Liam Hezemans.
Luli's amazing performance in Race 1 made her gain the 9th spot on the grid, again at the top of the Ladies Trophy class, followed by Koloc (14th), Loibnegger (24th) and Casoli (26th). The lights went green and cars took off: Del Castello had an incredible start and, after several battles, she was able to gain one position and kept her nose clean, unlike many in the Top 5.
Alberto Naska in fact found himself in fourth position after the first two corners; he tried to overtake Hezemans but failed and they touched - both went off track multiple times during the first few laps. In the lead, Tziorzis kept increasing his gap until the Cypriot had a mechanical failure and his car came to a halt on track. Naska took the lead.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the race Del Castello and Koloc dropped to 11th and 17th, while Alina Loibnegger and Arianna Casoli got stuck in the group from 30th and 20th positions. As the race went on, they were able to climb back the order: Del Castello was protagonist of a thrilling battle with Gil Linster and Koloc got closer to the Top 10. Loibnegger clinched 19th place, while Casoli found herself battling with multiple cars for the 20th position.
The two race leading contenders crashed - with Doubek entering the pits and Naska rejoining the race in 7th place, thus gifting Liam Hezemans with the final victory as their damaged cars made for a difficult end of the race. Just outside the Top 10 with yet another remarkable race, Luli Del Castello ultimately ended in 13th position.
The checkered flag saw Liam Hezemans taking the win, followed by Thomas Pontinen and Paul Jouffreau; Del Castello took home another Ladies Trophy win with her 13th position, followed by Aliyyah Koloc (14th) and Alina Loibnegger (19th). Arianna Casoli was P21 across the finish line.
Casoli finally got the chance to drive in optimal conditions, after the issues reported in qualifying and in race 1 and significantly kept improving her times: she signed her best laps ever at Vallelunga during this race.
"This weekend was the proof on the field for the team's work in the setup done in free practice and how much the work we are doing together is paying off. The results do not always reflect the progress made, but despite the setbacks we had, we are really satisfied and confident ahead of the race in Most in the Czech Republic in the first week of September" - a satisfied Arianna Casoli stated after a good performance on Sunday.
As usual, EuroNASCAR provided plenty of spectacular action all weekend, including the fight for the top in the Female Trophy category. These talented ladies are proving to be capable of breaking into the overall top ten with such physically demanding cars.
"I will keep on fighting and working hard to get better and improve constantly!" - continued Loibnegger. "There are new chances ahead in Autumn, in the second half of the season. I'm looking forward to new challenges and great achievements!"
Luli Del Castello had an almost perfect weekend: "I am extremely happy and proud of the work I am doing together with the team", she explained. "We came to the home race with the knowledge that I have a great responsibility on my shoulders. I am working to be an asset and not a ballast for our crew and the greatest satisfaction is seeing that my determination is paying off." she said.
Aliyyah is also competing in the PRO category and she collected valuable points in Race 1, while she unfortunately could not take part in race 2 due to an arm injury that had also made the EN2 races more challenging for the Buggyra ZM Racing driver. Nevertheless, she scored her best finish to date in the series.
"I enjoyed the Vallelunga track", Aliyyah said. "It was a really hard weekend with the problems with my arm from shifting issues but I got my first top ten finish and learned more about the car so it was a great experience."
"A big thank you for this race to SpeedHouse and the sponsors" - concluded Casoli. "A special thanks goes also to the public and the fans, who were incredible! Lots of curiosity for a series with an unusual format on the Italian racing scene: the access to the pits and the grid for everyone allowed direct contact with teams and drivers." she added, having felt the support of the home fans. "I hope that this event will help create new NASCAR fans in Italy and that they will continue to follow us throughout the championship with the interest and affection they showed us in Rome."
EuroNASCAR will return after the summer break, with the Czech GP at Autodrom Most on 3/4 September.