Renault upped its investment in the Eurocup championship this year, and was rewarded with a thrilling three-way battle for the crown between Sacha Fenestraz, Will Palmer and Robert Shwartzman.
Over the winter, Shwartzman moved from Josef Kaufmann Racing to R-ace GP to partner Palmer, with Fenestraz switching from Tech 1 Racing to take the JKR seat left absent by Shwartzman.
All but Shwartzman had won in their rookie year, but the Russian made up for it in the first race of the 2017 season at Monza.
He went from hero to zero in the next race though, colliding with Tech 1’s Gabriel Aubry while chasing second place.
Will Palmer won that race and took the championship lead, with two second places for Fenestraz putting him one point behind.
A win and a second place for Palmer at his home round at Silverstone meant he extended that lead, with Shwartzman moving past Fenestraz after winning the second race.
This was Fenestraz’s worst performance of the season, turning ninth on the grid into fifth in the first race, then retiring from the second after contact with Red Bull junior Dan Ticktum.
Fenestraz took a sixth and a second at Pau, the latter result coming after a thrilling battle with eventual winner Alex Peroni. His street-circuit knowledge really came to the fore at Monaco though, where he picked up his first win of the season.
Aubry and Ticktum shared the wins at the Hungaroring, but Fenestraz was the most convincing of the three title contenders. He did in fact win the final race on the road, but a 10-second penalty for jumping the start dropped him to eighth, and meant Palmer left Hungary with the championship lead.
The Briton had gone into the weekend 29 points up on Fenestraz, and without the penalty he would’ve left it one point behind.
2017 Eurocup title contenders compared
From that point on, Fenestraz was the strongest of the three title protgaonists, taking at least one win at each of the next four rounds, including a double in the Spa-Francorchamps triple-header, and three further podiums.
In that same period, Palmer and Shwartzman combined only stood on the podium five times, and Fenestraz built up a championship lead of 52.5 points.
Prior to the championship decider at Barcelona, Shwartzman was signed to the Ferrari Driver Academy, and it inspired the Russian to two wins and a second.
The championship was Fenestraz’s though, as Palmer only scaled the podium once, and after wrapping it up in the penultimate race, he ended the season with his seventh victory of the year.
Palmer and Shwartzman’s R-ace GP team-mate Max Defourny finished one spot worse than in 2016, taking a singular win on the way to fourth in the standings.
Tech 1 pair Aubry and Max Fewtrell were fifth and sixth, with Renault F1 junior Fewtrell securing the rookie title over fellow Briton Ticktum.
Fenestraz’s Chinese team-mate Yifei Ye was eighth in the standings, with now former Red Bull junior Richard Verschoor ninth, and 2016 V de V Single-seater champion and Pau winner Peroni tenth.
Alongside becoming champion, Fenestraz has also been enrolled onto the Renault F1 junior scheme, and is set to step up to FIA European Formula 3 in 2018 with Carlin. Shwartzman and Macau Grand Prix winner Ticktum already have confirmed seats at Prema and Motopark, while Verschoor will join Shwartzman in tackling the Toyota Racing Series at the beginning of 2018.
Northern European Cup
After a strong 2016, the Northern European Cup came down to earth with a bump this year, with only five-full time entrants and a champion who only finished on the overall podium once.
This was partly down to Renault itself, with the increased investment in the Eurocup leaving the NEC in the shade. In the past the series benefited from drivers contesting dual campaigns in both series, but with the expansion of the Eurocup to 10 events, drivers were prevented from contesting full seasons in both.
Of the five cars that attended all the rounds, four were supplied by R-ace GP, with the other belonging to Bart?omiej Mirecki and his family-ran BM Racing Team.?If anything, these five cars were the bit-part players of the championship, with JKR?s Eurocup regulars Fenestraz and Ye, and Tech 1’s Aubry supplying most of the action up front.
Aubry won the first two races at Monza, with team-mate Fewtrell finishing second in both. This proved to be the most competitive showing for two of the title protagonists, with Mirecki and R-ace GP’s Michael Benyahia taking a podium each.
The second round of the season at Assen belonged to Red Bull juniors Neil Verhagen and Verschoor for local squad MP Motorsport, with the pair winning a race each. Like at Monza, two of the full-timers got a podium, with Gilles Magnus finishing second to Verschoor, and Charles Milesi taking the final spot on the podium behind the Red Bull pair in the other race.
Fenestraz made his first start at the Nurburgring, and won four of the next five races. He was ineligible for points during the Spa-Francorchamps triple-header however, together with the rest of the Eurocup regulars on the shared grid.
This proved to be a turning point for the championship, with the five full-time entrants being the only ones eligible to score. Magnus took two wins as a result, with Milesi taking the other after the Belgian crashed heavily at Raidillon in the middle race.
None of the three ‘wins’ came from anything higher than a 14th place finish overall, and Benyahia, the only of the five to be on the podium in each of the three races, finished 27th, 24th and 23rd.
Magnus therefore went into the season finale at Hockenheim with a five point lead over Benyahia, with four other drivers in contention for the title.
Ye won both races, with Benyahia causing an upset to beat a struggling Magnus to eighth, and the title, in the second race.
He may have only won four races, but Charles Leong was dominant enough to miss the final round of the season and still secure the title.
The Macanese driver took double wins at Zhuhai and Shanghai, and was on the podium in all bar one of the other races, where he finished fourth. He is set to drive in the NEC in 2018.
See also:?Scout Report: Charles Leong
Daniel Lu was his closest rival, and as the best-placed Chinese driver in the standings, won the Renault Road to Champion scheme, which will place him in Europe for 2018.
Other notable drivers included Formula 4 South East Asia dominator Daniel Cao and Monegasque driver Louis Prette. Hua Miao was the Class B champion.
The fate of the Argentinian title ended up in court, after title rivals Hernan Palazzo and Hernan Satler collided in the final round and were excluded from the meeting.
Two corners into the first race of the weekend they made contact, putting both out of the race and leading to Satler getting out of his car and verbally confronting Palazzo.
A fortnight after the season finale the ACA CDA, the Argentinian motorsport governing body’s court, judged Palazzo to be at fault for the crash and disqualified him from the championship. Satler was awarded the title, but is suspended throughout 2018.
V de V Single-seater Challenge
Frenchman Gilles Heriau finished third in 2015, second in 2016, and finally won the title this year.
The Formula Motorsport driver won three times across the season, with closest rival Laurents Horr going one better for Dutt Motorsport, with three of his four wins coming in the Barcelona opener.
Former ADAC Formula 4 midfielder Moritz Mueller-Crepon was third in the standings, winning six times.
NEC stars Benyahia and Magnus both won twice in their brief sojourns in the championship, while British F4 front-runner Logan Sargeant also won a race in his cameo.
Formula STCC Nordic (FR1.6)
WestCoast Racing Junior driver Hugo Nerman won the FSTCC Nordic title, which visited Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Nerman won 11 of the 14 races, with Konsta Lappalainen winning two races and taking second in the standings.
Succeeding Linus Lundqvist, Nerman also won the three-round FSTCC North-European Zone title.