The 2016 season of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has started recently and I caught up with rookie-to-the-series driver Freddie Hunt to get to learn about his take on the ride.
If you haven’t heard about NASCAR’s European series, you are not in minority, although the number of people not being aware of the series is rapidly decreasing.
From the initiative of Team FJ in France, the former Euro-Racecar Series gained worldwide recognition by having their purpose-built stock cars used in the annual Race of Champions and receiving full NASCAR backing a few years ago. The Whelen Euro Series is now NASCAR’s third non-US-based championship and the first truly international one tackling various racetracks around Europe, including two short ovals.
A Europe (and especially France) based NASCAR series may sound like a sequel to ‘Talladega Nights’ and listening to all the French-accented commentary and drivers doesn’t help matters, but it is a serious venture with drivers hoping to race at the Daytona 500 one day. Besides, there is a better movie plug-in for a narrative.
Freddie Hunt and Mathias Lauda - descendants of the protagonists of the movie ‘Rush’ - share a car for each race weekend, although in different classes. Mathias races in the top class, Elite 1, who famously won NASCAR’S first ever full race in the wet on an oval in Tours in 2014. Freddie uses the same car for the lower-tier Elite 2 class. I caught up with Freddie to have his thoughts on his first outing in the series in Valencia.
“I’m doing the whole season. [Driving this car] is quite fun actually, it’s completely different from everything I’ve done before, but it’s really good, really good. It’s a big, heavy car, but it’s not too dissimilar to a Formula Ford in terms of its feeling. Because of the steel chassis rather than carbon fibre, it’s very forgiving, it’s easy to read, easy to feel the grip and when you’re out of grip. It’s got big, chunky tyres, you just need to get the setup right. We were two seconds off the leading guys in Elite 1, but with no testing what could you expect? It’s a lot of car and unfortunately we haven’t been doing any pre-season testing. It was a difficult weekend in terms of experiencing the car, so I was just really careful trying not to drive the car off the circuit. But I think I’ve done okay in the end.”
That didn’t turn out quite as planned despite best intentions.
“There was an unavoidable contact in lap 3 or 4. No major damage, but I finished in the gravel, so I couldn’t continue. And in the second race I started P20 because they take your fastest lap time from the first race for the grid of the second race and in the early laps of that I wasn’t fast. So I started P20 and I finished in 8th place overall and second in the rookie championship.”
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is picking upon May 14th for its first oval race of the season, a first for Freddie.
“The oval race - I think - will be massive survival, a complete carnage. Lots of crashes, which is normal for the guys in Elite 2. Some of them are very experienced and some of them are pretty crazy. Finishing the race without crashing the car will be the primary objective. The next race after that is Brands Hatch, which is a track I obviously know well and should give me a good result if we can get the setup right.”
One should think that all stock cars drive to Daytona eventually, and this idea is no strange to Freddie either.
“The team, DF1, is speaking with the Americans about going over there and maybe doing a race, but it depends on finding the right funding. We have to see how the races go, I mean I’m 16th overall, but I would like to score some decent points and finish quite high in the rookie championship. That’s what I should realistically be aiming for and then next year - with more experience - I should be thinking of the championship outright.”
All images are created from the videos found on the official EuroNASCAR YouTube channel.