Home Featured PaddockScout Preview: Huge grid for start of NEC season

PaddockScout Preview: Huge grid for start of NEC season

by Peter Allen

Photo: Chris Schotanus / Essay Produkties

Nearly 40 cars for the opening round of the Formula Renault North European Cup season at Hockenheim, while GP2 moves onto Bahrain for round two…

Last year the North European Cup was dominated by the Red Bull pairing of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, but the energy drink firm and the Koiranen team have moved on to the Alps series for this season.

Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne was the best of the rest last year, and will be amongst the favourites for victory this weekend. Its unclear whether he’ll do the full campaign though – his new team Josef Kaufmann missed some races last year as it focussed on the Eurocup. Similar will go for his teammates, Spaniard Alex Riberas now entering his third year of Formula Renault 2.0, and Dutchman Pieter Schothorst.

Another team likely to be frontrunners when they are present in R-ace GP, affiliated to junior racing superteam ART Grand Prix and led on the driving front by McLaren protege Nyck de Vries – making his long-awaited car racing debut this weekend after winning two world karting titles. He is partnered by French F4 graduates Pierre Gasly and Andrea Pizzitola, who should make for an exciting lineup. The team only contested four NEC rounds last year though.

The series says at least 30 entries have committed for the full season, and those are led by two teams making the switch from Formula Renault UK – which is cancelled for this year at least. Fortec’s Josh Hill, the son of Damon and grandson of Graham, should be amongst the title contenders. So could teammate Jake Dennis, backed by the Racing Steps Foundation and champion in the British Intersteps series last year. Formula Ford graduate Dan de Zille and India’s Shahaan Engineer – present in this year’s Toyota Racing Series – complete the team’s regular lineup, while two of their Eurocup drivers Mikko Pakari and Ed Jones join the team this weekend.

Manor also join the series, partnering with Dutch team MP Motorsport and entering six cars between them. Jordan King raced in the NEC towards the end of last year and joins Manor in making the full-time switch from the UK, having also impressed in some F2 appearances in 2011. Also in their lineup is Steijn Schothorst, Formula Ford graduate and younger brother of Pieter, and Thai driver Tanart Sathienthirakul, who had a quiet Toyota Racing Series campaign after some promising karting results.

Belgian squad KTR took Vandoorne to third place last year, and this year return with a trio of drivers made up of? Italian Ignazio D’Agosto and Japan’s Yu Kanamaru, fourth and sixth respectively in the World Karting Championship last year, and Spain’s Victor Colome, who steps up from French F4. Swiss team Daltec Racing enters six cars for the season opener, led by Italian Kevin Giovesi, who makes a step down despite winning two races in Italian F3 last year when he was just 17, and German Dennis Wusthoff, second in Formula Lista Junior last year.

Other to watch for are Van Amersfoort Racing’s Jeroen Slaghekke, runner-up to the dominant Scott Malvern in British Formula Ford last year, and PositiOne’s Leopold Ringbom of Finland, a champion last year in the Asian Formula Renault Challenge.

GP2 Series

Luiz Razia heads to the first round in a Bahrain double-header with the championship lead after his feature race win in Malaysia. Fellow series veteran Davide Valsecchi in his nearest rival, but the less experienced but more talented trio of James Calado, Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Nasr are close behind after locking out the sprint race podium.

Dani Clos has replaced Josef Kral at Addax, while Brendon Hartley takes over at Ocean from Jon Lancaster.