The whole CAAL Racing team chanted “Gimmy’s on fire” during the champion’s interview in the garages of Circuit Zolder in Belgium. The organization, led by Luca and Corrado Canneori, made a miracle come true when Gianmarco Ercoli won the EuroNASCAR PRO title with a desperate comeback in the 2023 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season finale. The 2015 EuroNASCAR 2 Champion finally reached the very top of NASCAR in Europe, a journey that took him ten years from his 2014 debut at Brands Hatch to the explosion of joy when he was announced the champion in Victory Lane at Zolder.
In a season highlighted by extreme parity and spectacular battles on track, the way Ercoli won the 2023 title was breathtaking. Four drivers – Ercoli, Vittorio Ghirelli, Lucas Lasserre and Anthony Kumpen – entered the EuroNASCAR Finals with a concrete chance to become European NASCAR champion, and on Saturday evening, Ercoli seemed to be the one in the most desperate situation.
1st: Gianmarco Ercoli (413 points)
Starting Final 1 as the points leader, from fourth on the grid, the Italian damaged the front of his own #54 Chevrolet Camaro against the rear bumper of Lasserre. This damage occurred under safety car conditions at the start of the race, in wet conditions. With a crippled car, Ercoli only finished tenth and wasn’t able to set a good lap time for the second race’s grid. “I’m the only one to blame and maybe I lost the championship today,” Ercoli wrote on social media after Saturday’s first double-point race. But Luca Canneori and his crew still believed in a miracle, in spite of beginning Sunday’s race from 17th place on the grid.
The team boss was proven right, but the final minutes of the last race of the season were not suited for the faint of heart.
Ercoli produced a massive effort and climbed position after position during the race, entering the top-10 and chasing the group led by Lasserre. A lot of fans saw a controversy when Lasserre and Mario Ercoli clashed in the closing stages of the race, but the contact had no impact on the outcome of the championship. Lasserre was already under investigation for the initial start of the race behind the Safety Car, owing to a starting procedure infringement. After analyzing all the footage, Lasserre was penalized for not respecting the mandatory 3700 RPM in second gear rule, which also meant he failed to maintain the correct speed entering the starting zone.
The 10-second penalty would have lost Lasserre the title to the elder Ercoli brother, even without the contact with the #9 Mustang. Mario Ercoli received a 30-seconds penalty for the incident. Gianmarco Ercoli and Lucas Lasserre met shortly after the race and talked about the situation.
2nd: Lucas Lasserre (-15)
Having won Final 1 in spectacular fashion, Lasserre had his hands on the title in the final race when he started from the pole position, but he had to let a dominant Tobias Dauenhauer go past in the early stages. Dauenhauer went on to collect his second win of the season, while Lasserre endured pressure from Giorgio Maggi and Liam Hezemans until the incident with Mario Ercoli on lap 15. The infraction to the starting procedure and the consequent ten-second penalty would have cost him several places, so the title was already gone for the Frenchman at the wheel of the #64 Speedhouse Ford. Still, Lasserre managed to end the season on a high note with two race wins and six top-5 finishes, proving Speedhouse’ status as one of the top teams in NWES.
3rd: Vittorio Ghirelli (-22)
Ghirelli was probably the strongest driver in the field after the summer break. Unfortunately, his dream of becoming champion ended at the very start of Final 2, when a stone got stuck behind the throttle pedal of the #72 Toyota Camry and sent the Italian spinning under safety car conditions. The Team Bleekemolen driver was dead last when the race went green, and while he made it up to 13th position, that wasn’t enough to become champion. With two wins and eight top-5 finishes out of twelve races, the Fasano native proved to be one of the best European NASCAR drivers.
4th: Anthony Kumpen (-25)
Returning to the championship full-time after four years, Anthony Kumpen was the dark horse all season long. And hopes were understandably high for the Belgian at Circuit Zolder; the Belgian’s home track, a place he knows like the palm of his hand. In the Finals, Kumpen showed an amazing pace in Free Practice and all eyes were on the #24 PK Carsport Chevrolet. However, both qualifying and the races didn’t go as planned, and Kumpen wasn’t able to attack and win his third championship. Consistency was his strongest point in the 2023 season, but he couldn’t take the last step in Belgium. “I made some strategic errors and didn’t perform at the level my team deserved,” stated the two-time champion.
5th: Liam Hezemans (-29)
Liam Hezemans rounded out the top-5, but the young Dutchman never had the chance to enter the EuroNASCAR PRO championship battle. Following a phenomenal win at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, the reigning EuroNASCAR 2 Champion couldn’t find the consistency that’s mandatory to be at the top of the standings. Still, Hezemans won the battle in the Junior Trophy for drivers aged 25 and under in a thrilling finale against Zolder race winner Dauenhauer. His sophomore season among the best European NASCAR drivers will be one to watch.
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