Pietsch & Wischnewski set early pace at European Nitro Challenge
After four rounds of practice at the European Nitro Challenge which is taking place in Germany this weekend it is pre-event favourites Robert Pietsch and Dirk Wischnewski who are setting the pace around the Hockenheimring track where a capacity entry are set to do battle to become champions of the second running of the Shepherd Micro Racing created event. Located right behind the grandstand, that on the weekend of the full size German F1 Grand Prix would give spectators the perfect view of Sebastien Vettel and co. coming onto the main straight, the track is not your traditional European style track but more similar to what American’s would be used to racing on.
Having sugar watered the track yesterday ahead of the start of practice, the traction built up over the two rounds of controlled practice was unfortunately washed away by heavy rain yesterday evening. Only able to give the track a light spraying this morning for fear that a heavy application would not dry sufficiently to allow proceedings to get underway on time today all the drivers are reporting much lower levels of traction today with tyre choice being the main item of change on the agenda.
Top Qualifier at the inaugural European Nitro Challenge last year, only to go out in the final with a plug failure, World Champion Pietsch was happy with how things were going so far with his factory Novarossi powered Mugen. The same MRX-5 which he used to win the recent Austrian GP, preparations for last weekend’s 1:10 200mm European Championship warm-up race in Italy meant he had little time to work on his car but with a 1-hour lunch break on the timetable and the time between rounds, the German will give it a full rebuild which he says should allow him to improve on his current pace.
Driving what has been nicknamed the Mugen ‘MRX 4.5′, engine guru & one of the greats of 1:8 onroad racing Alberto Picco was pleased with his early performance on a track as he set the second fastest time over three consecutive laps. His first visit to the Hockenheimring, the Italian is finding it hard to adjust to the track admitting he is still building up his confidence in terms of running over the painted curbs behind which there are corner dots which if hit tend to launch, in particular, the 1:8 cars. Running a MRX 4 chassis fitted with a different front anti roll bar and radio plate configuration similar to the MRX 5, hence the 4.5 name, Picco said he has done little with his set-up since arriving and today, due to the low grip, he is just focusing on his driving as hopefully with the weather due to stay dry right through to the end of tomorrow’s qualifying the traction levels will come back up as the 155 cars lay down a racing line.
Part of the 2-Speed Race Team, the company who look after Serpent’s European distribution, Philip Eberle finds himself third after 4 of the 6 practice rounds just ahead of team-mate Philip Sting. Both running Xceed engined 966 chassis’, 21-year-old Eberle has used today’s outings to try different tyres shores. Running Xceed 32/35 in P3 he switched to 35/37 in P4 and for his next outing he is considering to try 30/32. Only his second race with Serpent, Sting is very happy with his early practice pace saying his car is really easy to drive. Enjoying the track the 26-year-old said he quickly got a set-up he liked yesterday and so far he has made no changes allowing him to just concentrate on driving.
For defending champion and Serpent designer Michael Salven today has been a ‘weird’ one for the German. Losing his rear roll bar in both of the morning runs along with suffering a jammed carb he said problems aside his 966 feels really good. Sixth fastest after P4, Salven said he loves the track, describing it as being very nice to drive but added the size of the track and the distance of the main straight away from the rostrum makes the cars feel slow on the straight and after his first run he had to check he was actually getting full throttle – which he was.
Setting the fifth fastest time, with his P4 run, Oliver Mack was fastest of the Shepherd drivers. The former World & European finalist said his Velox V8 has been getting better every run as he just left his set-up as is and let the track come to the car. Having switched engine sponsor this year away from Novarossi to Picco, he has been focused more on clutch and engine settings. Although he is able to call on the support of Picco engine tuner Edoardo Picco, who is here as mechanic for brother Alberto, Mack said he is keen to teach himself how to get the best from his Picco engines as he will not always have Edoardo pitting next to him.
In 1:10 former European Champion Dirk Wischnewski is running a fresh Xray NT1. Prior to last weekend’s 1:10 European Championship Warm-up race the German built two new cars as he knew he would not have enough time to prepare in between races and from the set-up he started with yesterday he said he has had to change nothing on the Orcan powered chassis.
Having been more focused on electric touring car this season Eric Dankel was very happy with his early pace, with his Capricorn second fastest after four rounds of practice. Having signed for the Italian manufacturer at the start of the year this is the German’s first race with them with just two days of testing in Italy his only previous experience with the car. Team-mate Francesco Tironi is currently 6th fastest, the former World Championship Top Qualifier who is used to running additive in the Italian Nationals and at the Euro warm-up is having to get used to running again without it this weekend as the European Nitro Challenge is an additive free event. Describing Hockenheim as a ‘good location for a nitro race’ and liking the ‘American style’ track, the friendly Italian said he needs to find more steering and will try different set-ups in the final two practice runs.
Former World Champion Daniele Ielasi was third fastest for Shepherd with team boss and last year’s winner Patrick Schafer 8th. Ielasi, who is this year focusing on 1:10 in preparations for November’s World Championship in Thailand, has been focusing on tyre choice saying it is very hard to find a good compromise between grip and wear. Running a Sonic engine in his Velox V10 he said the balance of the car is good and overall is happy with his early pace. Schafer said he took the wrong direction with the set-up on his car and will go in the opposition direct to the set-up he had yesterday when he posted his fastest three laps.
The newest car on the market Serpent’s 747 set the fourth and fifth fastest time respectively in the hands of Sweden’s Mikael Fransson and British ace Mark Green. Having only had one test day prior to traveling to Swede Fransson was very happy with his Orcan powered 747 which he said feels very promising. Another driver who is really enjoying the track he has used today’s runs to try different diff settings so as to start to build up a better understanding of how the new car reacts to changes. Green, for whom this is first international outing with the car and first visit to the track, he said it is a steep learning curve but so far the car is working well and having tried something new every run the car is proving to have a very wide operating window.
Drivers have two more opportunities in which to improve on their three fastest consecutive laps which will determine the heat groupings for tomorrow’s 7-minute qualifiers.
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