Junior Trophy battle promises to be epic in the 2024 NWES season

The 2024 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season kicked off at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in April and the battle for the EuroNASCAR PRO’s Junior Trophy race wins was just a glimpse of what NASCAR fans can expect from another exciting year of official European NASCAR racing. Paul Jouffreau and Liam Hezemans split the weekend’s wins in the special class for drivers aged 25 and under. Thomas Krasonis impressed for his consistency and could be in contention for the class title with Marko Stipp Motorsport.

Jouffreau had to fight his way up the order in Saturday’s race after a tough qualifying session in the morning. He started from 15th position, but a strong performance in his #3 RDV Competition Ford Mustang was rewarded with a second place – Jouffreau was promoted from third to second thanks to a penalty imposed on Lucas Lasserre for abusing track limits – and four bonus points for the most positions gained. The Frenchman won the Junior Trophy and earned just one point less than race winner Vittorio Ghirelli.

“When you don’t follow track limits, it’s easier to be faster,” said Jouffreau after Round 1. “The race director saw it and that helped us. I’m happy for this podium, that was amazing after starting from P15. It’s nice that we got this podium after the bad qualification. I don’t know if the guys behind gained more positions, but if we get the four bonus points then it’s the perfect race for me.”

The season-opener at Valencia provided plenty of drama on Sunday and Jouffreau was among the pilots who struggled: the 20-year-old escaped the Big One, but was forced to pit after making contact with Lucas Lasserre, who was later penalized for causing an avoidable collision. Jouffreau finished the race in 16th place, leaving plenty of points on the table in his bid to win the overall championship and the Junior Trophy.

Hezemans had fond memories of the Spanish venue. The Dutchman celebrated his first EuroNASCAR PRO victory at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in 2023 and was eager to confirm his strong pace on the 4.005-kilometre track. The driver of the #50 Hendriks Motorsport Toyota Camry was among the front runners on Saturday, but a puncture dashed his dreams of a top-5 finish in the first race of the season.

The 21-year-old bounced back with an astonishing performance on Sunday. Hezemans avoided the crash at the start to overtake Ghirelli in the battle for first place. He then cruised to victory, his second career visit to the top step of the podium at Valencia. Hezemans also topped the Junior Trophy standings ahead of one of the most consistent pilots in the junior class in Spain, Thomas Krasonis, who finished eighth.

“Awesome job by the team!” said Hezemans after his victory in Valencia. “The car was awesome, as we already saw in Gil Linster’s race. We made some adjustments and it turned out to work pretty well. It’s unfortunate for the start, I think it’s just a driver mistake but I’m happy to be in the Victory Lane. Next round is Vallelunga and I hope we can show that we’re just as fast!”

Jouffreau leads the Junior Trophy standings after the NASCAR GP Spain in sixth place overall, but Hezemans is just two points behind the Frenchman. Krasonis did an amazing job at the wheel of the #46 Chevrolet Camaro entered by German team Marko Stipp Motorsport. The Greek was involved in intense and spectacular battles in both races and kept his cool despite several duels just inside the top 10. A tenth place on Saturday and eighth on Sunday completed a strong weekend for the Athenian, who has twice finished second in the Junior Trophy at Valencia. He was joined on the podium by Ryan Vargas in third in both races. The American was on the NWES podium for the first time in his career.

With just four points separating the top three in the points standings, the next round of the 2024 NWES season promises to be another thrilling battle in the EuroNASCAR PRO young drivers’ championship. Rounds 3 and 4 will be held on 18-19 May at the Autodromo di Vallelunga near Rome, Italy. Qualifying and all races will be broadcast live on EuroNASCAR’s YouTube channel and on numerous television networks around the world.