All was looking rosy for Tinko van der Velde in the Europe Sprint Series. A win in the opening round looked set to be bolstered by a podium—at the very least—in France. David Tonizza had other ideas.
Leading the Dutchman, Tonizza would be spun as a result of a controversial overtake. Van der Velde’s punishment was swift and painful; he failed to record a top five finish as a consequence of his penalty.
This left the consistent George Boothby top of the standings with Tonizza some fifteen points behind; a lucky man to have recovered in-race as well as he did.
Hopping across the northern-based border, the grid headed to Spa-Francorchamps for its third round out of five. Boothby would surely be gunning for a first victory of the season, whilst the likes of van der Velde and Tonizza would aim to make up for lost ground.
None would do well at all in the preceding qualifying session. The highest placed, van der Velde, found himself fourteenth. Tonizza and Boothby were a miserable twenty-first and twenty-sixth respectively.
Mercedes-AMG machines dominated the top of the times. Dominik Blajer lay on pole position alongside stablemate Dáire McCormack.
Unicorns of Love filled out the second row; Niklas Houben third and Michael Tauscher fourth. Kamil Pawlowski was unfortunate not to beat Tauscher to that position in the end, replicating the young German’s laptime.
Vojtech Fiala lay on Silver class pole position down in ninth. Only Mikhail Statsenko sat in between himself and his closest rivals Marco Jonkers and Danila Cherepenin.
The sun had set as the lights went green – a unique addition to the spectacle. Visibility was still good enough to avoid incidents, however, though caution was thrown to the wind on Lap 1.
A huge incident developed up Eau Rouge involving a third of the field though the most important tangle was yet to come. A slipstream train down the Kemmel Straight devolved into chaos as Pawlowski paved into the back of McCormack, spinning the Irishman out of podium contention.
Fiala was by far the biggest beneficiary rising from ninth to fourth by the end of the opening sector. He slotted in behind Houben who had fallen behind Tauscher through Les Combes.
Boothby, involved in the mess at Radillion, retired early. This, of course, meant that with both van der Velde and Tonizza struggling the top three could make serious inroads on the championship story by race end.
Further investigation of the incident that ruined McCormack’s efforts yielded an interesting find. Though it was Pawlowski’s car that went into the back of the Mercedes, it was not he who made the mistake.
Instead, Maciej Malinowski – the previous race winner – had conducted the carnage and found himself duly punished with a fifteen-second time penalty.
A quarter of the race win, the two Unicorns of Love would exchange positions once again. It was a relatively simple pass for Houben down the Kemmel Straight, Tauscher offering little resistance.
Together with Blajer, the leading duo broke away from third place rapidly. Chasing for a number of laps, Houben pulled the trigger on his mandatory stop practically at the halfway mark.
Left to his own devices for a lap, Blajer’s stop came one lap later and one lap too late. Houben’s undercut had worked a treat seeing him into the lead by Les Combes.
Fiala had gone the other way, ultimately dropping behind Pawlowski, Statsenko and Bastian Richter with nineteen minutes left to run. Cherepenin was now right behind the class leader.
Slowly but surely, the Williams and UOL machines closed up again. Blajer was the hunt for victory and made his first stab at an overtake count. Around the outside of Turn 7, the Pole was back ahead upon exit of Turn 9 albeit with Houben breathing down his neck.
Nevertheless, his control over the situation proved immaculate. He passed the chequered flag to claim his first victory in PRO class.
Fiala, meanwhile, had also bounced back during the home stretch. After losing all those positions, falling into the clutches of his closest threat, the Czech pilot had overtaken all except Richter who himself climbed to a mighty fourth place finish.
- Dominik Blajer – 1st – 26 Laps
- Niklas Houben – 2nd – +0.662
- Michael Tauscher – 3rd – +3.795
- Bastian Richter – 4th – +12.293
- Mikhail Statsenko – 6th – +13.918
- Vojtech Fiala – 5th – +13.340
- Danila Cherepenin – 9th – +17.370
- Marco Jonkers – 10th – +17.791
- Dario Iemmulo – 13th – +24.371
- Luis Fleischer – 16th – +33.734