Spectacular racing on the 600-metre circuit, thousands of delighted fans, a thoroughly satisfied contingent of NASCAR officials and countless messages of support back-up the achievement of this unique event, which was organised in partnership with Tours’ Parc des Expositions and the FFSA.
Not even a bout of unusually gloomy July weather could cool the spectators’ enthusiasm as they packed theParc des Expositions eager to witness the first European-based NASCAR oval contest. A total of 35,000 people attended the Country Bike Rock Festival with which EURO-RACECAR shared the bill. The 3,500-capacity temporary circuit was filled on both Saturday and Sunday as the Elite and Open class pilots thrilled the delighted crowd who, in return, were not shy about showing their appreciation.
Organisation of the weekend was given a significant boost by the support of visiting NASCAR officials, while the presence of members of the series’ founding family reflected the strong bond between the two parties. As well as making history as a brand new event, Tours Speedway also witnessed a significant first when Ben Kennedy – the great grandson of the discipline’s original founder, Bill France Sr. – recorded his maiden NASCAR series win during Saturday’s (July 7) Michelin 100.
“Today was a true fairy tale,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR’s vice president of regional and touring series, who was on hand to witness the event. “The first ever oval race in Europe under the NASCAR banner won by the great-grandson of the discipline’s founder for his first ever NASCAR win. Added to this, a packed house of enthusiastic French fans went crazy. This was a huge milestone for EURO-RACECAR, NASCAR and our efforts to push stock car racing abroad. In true European fashion, they played the national anthem of the winning driver’s country as part of victory lane celebrations and a lot of us got goose bumps.”
2011 series champion Eric Hélary wrote the second chapter of EURO-RACECAR’s oval history by winning Sunday’s Tours 100 and, with this success, sealed his entry to a US-based NASCAR event. Meanwhile the regular front-runners played their part in the action, not least the impressively fast Romain Fournillier who won the pole and dominated early running in the Michelin 100 before being struck by bad luck. Carole Perrin took pole and led Sunday’s contest before yielding to a rapid Dimitri Enjalbert, while Romain Thievin made the impressive climb from ninth to third on Saturday. There were also strong displays from EURO-RACECAR’s Spanish stars, with Ander Vilarino second on Sunday and Javier Villa proving extremely fast in practice only to fall victim to on-track clashes during the race. Swiss youngster Yann Zimmer took fifth to earn the tag of top junior driver, behind series debutant Antoine Lioen. Special guest driver Yvan Muller also enjoyed a strong weekend with third in Sunday’s Tours 100.
In the Open division, the history books will remember a home win for guest driver Frédéric Johais on Saturday, while Vincent Gonneau would improve upon a runner-up finish in the opening race by taking victory in Sunday’s run. Simon Escallier enjoyed two podium finishes with third and second respectively, while Tanguy Ide also took a rostrum with third on Sunday. Meanwhile there were victories for Pascal Renaudat and Alain Grand in the Legend class and a remarkable debut for young Spaniard Zahara Esteban, all of which added up to a spectacular weekend of racing. Roll on 2013!
Q&A with Javier Villa
After joining EURO-RACECAR at the start of the 2012 season, 24-year-old Spaniard Javier Villa made an instant impression by climbing the podium on his debut and winning second time out at Brands Hatch. However, despite putting in more top-notch performances, the former GP2 and WTCC star didn’t enjoy the same sort of success at either Spa-Francorchamps or Tours. As the championship hits the final straight, we speak to the man currently sitting third in the standings.
The results at Tours Speedway didn’t reflect your true performance. Why do you think this was?
Tours was very unpredictable. It was the first time most of us had competed on an oval, while a lot of the rules were new and very different from those we have in Europe. Unfortunately we fell foul of some of these, but that doesn’t mean we had a bad weekend. I was very close to taking pole, set the fastest lap in race two and was able to match NASCAR regular Ben Kennedy’s pace in the opening run. Overall this left me pleased, despite the lack of results.
What are your feelings on oval racing after getting your first taste at Tours?
I enjoyed it a lot and learned a great deal. I felt quite comfortable with the format and was able to relax when I saw that my lap times were very competitive with Kennedy, who was our only point of reference. I would certainly like to race on an oval again and build on this experience. Tours really boosted my motivation to make the switch to the US.
Last month’s Spa 200 was also a disappointing weekend for you despite showing good pace. Can you explain this?
After my first win at Brands Hatch I had to switch team. This meant that we went to Spa with a lot of teething issues as I didn’t know my new crew, the car hadn’t run for several months and of course everything in motorsport takes time to fine-tune. But I immediately received a great deal of support from Gonneau Racing and we started to progress together, making small changes as we went along. These began to bear fruit in Tours and, at the final two meetings of the season, I’m sure we will take another step forward.
The next round will be held at your home circuit in Valencia. What are your expectations for the event?
Valencia will be my third race with the Gonneau team and we are well prepared for the weekend. As far as the title battle goes, we have four races to run and a lot of points left on the board, so we still have a chance to be champions. Valencia holds good memories for me as I won there in Formula 3, scored a podium in GP2 and led the World Touring Car race last year. It will be crucial to push as hard as possible so that I can travel to Le Mans in a good position to win the championship in my first year competing in NASCAR-style machinery.