The new season of Lotus Cup Europe brought in lots of new faces, as the 2-Eleven class numbers dramatically increased, with the Exige Cup class not far behind on numbers and expected to be on equal terms this year. In addition the new Evora class brought in two cars for last year’s outstanding driver Gregory Rasse and preparation expert Thierry Verheist.
Whilst there were a lot of new drivers and cars, the circuits remained familiar and amongst the very best in Europe, so where better to start than the former home of the French (and Swiss!) Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois? The combination of challenging corners and undulations provide the perfect venue for what promises to be a vintage season for the European series.
Practice & Qualifying
The initial sessions took place several hours apart and as a bright morning became ever hotter heading towards the early afternoon qualifying session, the track conditions changed. This was exaggerated by a problem with Jon Walker’s engine that left the track coated in oil for that second session.
The new drivers provided a very different look to the timesheet and whilst Thierry Humbert’s 2-Eleven headed practice, it was Rémi Pochauvin’s example that would start from pole position for the races, the former Le Mans 24 Hour competitor fastest of all by nearly half a second. John Rasse picked up from where he left off last year with second and the shared 2-Eleven of Phillipe Fertoret and Fabrice Jouan would line up third, from Olivier Cunat’s Exige in fourth.
The first of two Evoras on the grid, driven by Gregory Rasse, qualified fifth, from a pack of 2-Elevens. Steve Williams would head Christophe Lisandre, penalised for overtaking under the red flag shown for Walker’s maladies. Olivier Severini, Tom Chatterway and Phillipe Loup would complete the top ten.
The Open class was headed by Xavier Georges, in thirteenth and three places ahead of David and Rob Fenn, whilst in Production, Nigel Ayres qualified thirtieth and first in class from Jose Vaslin.
With the remainder of the field jostling for position, the Rasse brothers were able to work on Pochauvin. Within a couple of laps, John had taken the lead but all three remained joined together for the duration. It seems that no matter what they are driving, the Rasses remain tied together.
At this point Lisandre had fought his way up to fourth and behind him Storey was fending off the attentions of Williams. Similarly in the Open class Rob Fenn had caught the class leading Exige of Georges, whilst Vaslin was lining up Production leader Ayres. First Fenn made his move, before Vaslin and eventually Williams completed similar manoeuvres. Williams then set off after Lisandre, several metres up the road.
In the late stages of the race, Pochauvin fought his way back past John Rasse, with the three still running together. Behind, Williams was getting ever closer to Lisandre, with Storey sitting just behind. Then Simon Deacon’s engine expired on the entry to the first corner, leaving the braking zone a treacherous place. Soon after, Lisandre had a moment and this enabled Williams to catch him right at the flag, to take fourth place. Whilst the winner had opened up a small gap, fourth, fifth and sixth were separated by just a second.
Seventh was claimed by Humbert, a solid result just three seconds behind the cars ahead, to back up his early pace. Olivier Severini, Tom Chatterway and Jean-Pierre Genoud Prachex finished just behind, with Rob Fenn right with them in eleventh and winner of their class. Vaslin completed the race as Production leader, with Ayres and Open class competitor Paul Pattison keeping him company throughout the race.
The podium provided a healthy outlook for the new season, with the first three places claimed by class winners, the familiarity of the Rasse brothers in contrast to the new driver on the top step.
Sunday’s race two was held, if anything, in even warmer conditions, with the late spring sun generating a heat haze that, if anything, just added to an already challenging circuit. It was another perfect start from Pochauvin, who once again had the company of John Rasse for his tour of the circuit but the outlook wasn’t as good for Gregory Rasse. His Evora seemed to be off the pace this time and whilst he ran near the front initially, he would soon start to drop back, eventually finishing 38 seconds after the leaders.
Whilst Lisandre and Williams would be keen to stake their claim to the final podium position, they were soon to fall victim to a charging Loup, making up places from his starting position at the unfashionable end of the top ten. By the late stages of the race he was harassing John Rasse and, finding a way past, was looking to threaten Pochauvin’s lead. It couldn’t be done however, and a second win was added to complete a clean sweep for the former Le Mans competitor.
With John Rasse the sole Exige in the top ten and Lisandre and Williams behind, Humbert added a sixth place to complete a fine debut weekend, whilst Gregory Rasse finished seventh. Prachex took another top ten finish, with Vivion ninth and Chatterway tenth. Little more than ten seconds covered Gregory Rasse’s seventh place and thirteenth, a place claimed by the Open Class winner Georges. David Fenn wasn’t able to catch the Exige in the short space of time that Rob had been able to in race one, a poor start not helping his cause. Then later in the race he was caught up in a spin, ironically from Pattison, running a lap down and third in class. Both drivers’ races ended there and then.
Meanwhile Ayres and Vaslin were having another close tussle for the lead of Production, a class that had been exclusively theirs all weekend. This time however the tenacious Ayres was able to fend off the yellow Elise and take a well-earned victory.
Not only had the return visit to Dijon been a successful one, but the series proved itself to be in rude health, with a huge entry – 41 cars had attempted qualification. Whilst Pochauvin proved the sort of class that his racing CV promised, it will have been comforting for the Rasse brothers that they are on the pace once again and the competitiveness and rules of the series were confirmed by a first race that saw three classes represented on the overall podium.
The series remains in France for round two, in just a fortnight, as Lotus Cup Europe supports the FIA Formula Two Championship at Magny-Cours, another former venue for the French Grand Prix. Action from this weekend’s race can also be seen on Motors TV very soon.