The second round of the 2012 Lotus Cup Europe season saw the drivers return to the Magny-Cours circuit in central France, home to the French Grand Prix for nearly 20 years. A fast track, with several technical corners, it would provide a challenging lap for the competitors, albeit one that many had driven on two previous occasions.
The Rasse brothers would be facing tough competition from Olivier Georges, the star of round one, whilst Jon Walker and Magny-Cours specialist Christophe Lisandre were also expected to be at the head of the field.
Taking place mercifully before a torrential downpour, the overcast session produced some close times as the drivers negotiated the circuit’s many twists. Walker and Lisandre disputed the pole position and despite the latter’s form in Nevers, it was Walker who would reassert himself at the head of the field on this occasion. However the gap was barely a tenth of a second, promising a close race between the pair.
Phillippe Loup made it an all-2-Eleven top three, with the Evoras next up. However the big surprise was Thierry Verhiest out-qualifying Gregory Rasse by just over a tenth, the pair ahead of round one polesitter Olivier Georges.
Another surprise was the leading Exige, for John Rasse languished down in eleventh place. Jean-Baptiste Meusnier headed the class in seventh place, with a trio of 2-Elevens separating the category battle. Laurent Feve, Jean-Pierre Genoud Prachex and Jeremy Lourenco completed the top ten.
Meanwhile David Harvey would start the races from 18th, two places ahead of Open class rival Christophe Calley. In Production, Markus Nikowitsch sat in 23rd place, with Nigel Ayres in 26th, just ahead of Matt Bartlett, Jose Vaslin and Paul Pattison.
Walker made a super getaway to lead by a fair margin into the hairpin on lap one, however Jean-Baptiste headed the rest and was first to challenge the Englishman. Attacking early on, he took the lead, with John Rasse also making the most of the slippery conditions to demote the leading 2-Eleven a further place. Rasse, the only one of the siblings to race following a fuel pump issue with his brother’s Evora, then tracked the highest-qualifying Exige for a few laps before it was his turn to head the field. For a while it looked like he would take his third win in the series, with Lisandre after Walker and Jean-Baptiste falling back into their grasp. Meanwhile Georges became increasingly isolated as the race wore on.
With the non-appearance of Gregory Rasse, Verheist was leading the V6 class but racing cars further back in the field than his qualifying form promised, with Harvey’s experience in the Open class much the same. This left the Production category, which was a closely-fought affair with Bartlett tracking Nikowitsch but electing not to attack at this stage. Vaslin kept Harvey company, whilst Ayres fell into the clutches of Pattison.
At the front, Walker got his revenge on Jean-Baptiste and set off after Rasse in the lead, leaving Lisandre to fight over the final podium position. With the 2-Eleven closing on the Exige, a parallel was drawn between the overall and Production battles as the lead in both changed hands in the dying moments of the race. Both Walker and Bartlett judged their attacks to perfection and took the spoils for their efforts. Lisandre also promoted himself up the order to take third overall.
Jean-Baptiste and Georges completed the race in fourth and fifth places respectively, whilst Lourenco, Guillaume Bouche, Feve and Vivion followed in their 2-Elevens. Metzker’s Exige completed the top ten, with Verheist placing thirteenth and Harvey seventeenth, behind the Production top two of Bartlett and Nikowitsch.
Walker made another fine start off the line for the second, shorter race. Leading Lisandre around the first lap, he began to eke out a useful lead as a resurgent Greg Rasse came back into the picture. Making up for lost time in the earlier encounter, the Evora burst through into second place after a few laps that saw Verheist holding a fine third. Greg soon dispatched Lisandre and set off after Walker, who would have been aware of the extra horsepower under the Belgian’s foot whenever he appeared in the leading 2-Eleven’s mirrors.
Meanwhile a titanic battle was being fought behind the leading three as Verheist gamely held on in fourth place, even giving Lisandre something to think about. Georges was in the thick of this action, taking Loup, Lourenco, Genoud Prachex, Meusnier, John Rasse and Laurent Feve. The action lasted for the duration of the race, with the train grouping into individual battles on their final laps, meaning the gap between fourth and tenth stretched a little, to 15 seconds.
It was another lonely race for the Open class, however Christophe Calley started off well, running high up, whilst his opponent Harvey could only look on from the barriers at Estoril corner, his 340R having left the circuit on the first lap.
The Production battle was close once more, with Nikowitsch fighting off Ayres this time. However there was to be no repeat of his race one loss, as Ayres fell back in the final laps, as the track began to become greasier as an approaching storm started to make its presence felt. The heavens opened as the cars came in at the end of the race, by which time Bartlett had secured third in class, not far off Ayres and some way ahead of Vaslin and Pattison.
There was to be a similar story at the front of the race as Walker resisted the challenge from Greg Rasse, the pair separated by two seconds and another six clear of Lisandre.
Walker’s brace of wins leaves him one short of perfection in the first third of the Lotus Cup Europe 2012 season. His main challengers are led by the Rasse brothers, with Georges continuing to run at the sharp end after his impressive class debut in Germany. Lisandre remains a tough competitor, whilst Verheist produced a fine performance in race two, as did Meusnier in the first encounter and Lourenco a fine performer all round this weekend.
Lotus Cup Europe returns to Germany next month, with two races at the Hockenheim circuit ahead of the German Grand Prix at the same venue in July. Highlights from Magny-Cours will be shown shortly on Motors TV.