Full marks for Bennett!
The second round of the CIK-FIA European Superkart Championship lived up to expectations at Assen this weekend (on 3 and 4 August). Following a somewhat limited opening round (Snetterton), a good number of competitors were lined up (38 entries) and the race was more unpredictable, involving a greater range of drivers. Both races were close, even if the outcome was identical with a double victory for Gavin Bennett. Thanks to this success, the Brit takes the lead in the championship. Superkart gave a good show on Sunday in front of a large audience. The organiser announced an increase in attendance for these “Gamma Racing Days”, with 80,000 spectators (free entry) just before at a demonstration by David Coulthard in the Red Bull F1!
While three drivers dominated at Snetterton (E.Vinuales, G.Bennett and H.Lilja), the other favourites were eager to make up their time difference, in particular in top speed, like the drivers of the Redspeed Team. The weekend was set to be a repeat of the Vinuales-Bennett duel (both in Anderson-DEAs), but their fortunes in the race proved to be very different, and other drivers were in the running. Nevertheless, the Frenchman excelled in qualifying; in a single lap, he had put a second between himself and his rivals! Little changed in the second session, but that Vinuales was able to show that he has what it takes to be the fastest. Adam Kout (MsKart-DEA) was in the first row, before German D.Hentschel (Anderson-DEA), more comfortable with his new chassis, and Bennett, making 4 DEA engines in front of the official PVP of Dane Henrik Lilja.
In race 1, the first row was cursed. It was overtaken as soon as lights went out and went astray. Kout went straight ahead, and Vinuales span off. Both drivers restarted after the pack had set off at full speed. Lee Harpham (Anderson-FPE) came out of nowhere from the 6th row. He moved into 5th place at the end of the 1st lap, behind Bennett, Lilja, Hentschel and the young Liam Morley (Anderson-DEA). The race captured the spectators’ full attention thanks to the epic duel that ensued between Bennett and Harpham once the latter had caught up with the leader. Both Brits overtook each other several times until Harpham’s spark plug cap broke and came off (lap 9). Morley and Lilja were well placed, but Hentschel outstripped them to make an encouraging second place on the podium before the Dane. Vinuales had climbed to 7th place and was racing ahead to close the gap, when coming out of a corner, he hit Harpham who had almost come to a stop. The result was 3 places lost again and a “wounded” chassis for the next day. Harpham refitted the cap of his spark plug and set off again to finish in a modest 8th place.
In race 2, Kout was first to take the lead, but Bennett then took his place. Vinuales was close behind. The trio was about to break away from the pack. Lilja lost ground and was joined by Harpham, again very fast. The three drivers were going to attack the straight head on. Bennett fought off Kout; Vinuales was unable to challenge. Harpham, rid of all other rivals, had almost caught up with the leading trio when, following a previous contact with Hentschel, his broken rear wing began to give, creating drag and slowing him down. Morley was rewarded for his progress by retaining his advantage over the group of outsiders including Harpham, Lilja, who was set back from the rest, and Vésa Lethinen further behind.
Besides Bennett (The triple champion said: “…fantastic weekend, even though I was lacking speed in qualifying and Lee pushed hard in the race...”), several drivers were satisfied with their results when leaving Assen. Hentschel (3rd in the championship 2011) was among them. Looking out for an opportunity, he took advantage of Harpham’s difficulties in race 1 to get back on the podium. After breaking down in the UK, Kout also made the podium and proved that he was capable of aiming for victory, something he had often failed to do in the European Championship. Morley confirmed hopes which had not materialised until then. He ruffled the feathers of the favourites without being intimidated.
Lilja had a more mixed weekend. Among the front-runners, he did gain points, but lacked the competitiveness demonstrated at Snetterton. Vinuales looked put out. Had he not made an error of the 1st lap on Saturday, he would have stood a better chance against Bennett, as his lap times show. The driver who deserved to do better is of course Lee Harpham, who achieved the quickest lap in the race and whose starts were excellent. He reached a furious pace each time, but two minor incidents (spark plug and wing) caused him to lose momentum and prevented him from scoring the points he deserved.
With another two meetings in France, and a score to be deducted, the championship is far from being decided, but the Bennett-Vinuales battle looks set to continue. Vinuales is now 18 points adrift of Bennett. The outsiders are grouped together around a very close temporary total number of points. The next stage is in Magny-Cours (7 and 8 September).
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