The racers are raring to go as the trucks get set to roar into the new season
09. May 2017This coming weekend the action will start over again – the 1,300 hp race trucks of the FIA European Championship will once again flatten the grass on the meadows that clothe the Red Bull Ring as they thunder past – if there is any to flatten. Last year the grass was completely snowed over as the curtains rose on the 2016 season against the backdrop of a winter wonderland. This time the truck racers will descend on Styria a full fortnight later, and in any case they’ve had enough of snow and icy temperatures already at the tests in Most. Now the nights can get very chill up here, almost 700m above mean sea level, but nice spring temperatures should rule during the daytime.
What we do know is that the forecasts for the race days – Saturday and Sunday – aren’t bright at all, with the unwelcome prospect of heavy snowfall every now and again.
This won’t bother the truck racers unduly; their concerns are centred more on the new constellation that not only many fans will have to come to terms with.
Since the end of last season the focus of the media’s attention has been on reigning (quadruple) champion Jochen Hahn’s defection to Iveco. At Team Hahn Racing, as you’d expect, absolutely nothing is being left to chance. No 2017 truck has as many test kilometres under its wheels as Hahn’s new Iveco Stralis. What benefited the bantam from Altensteig was his frequent use of the proving ground on the Iveco Magirus AG estate in Ulm, not quite two hours by truck from his own base in the Black Forest.
In seventh-year Schwabentruck regular Gerd Körber, a thrice-champ and 30 year veteran of the sport, he not only has a partner with whom he enjoys good chances of winning the team title as the “Bullen von Iveco Magirus”, but also a very strong rival for the driver’s title.
The Buggyra Freightliners are equally firm favourites, as every year. Of the following we can be absolutely certain: the Fatfoxes of Adam Lacko and comeback kid David Vršecký will start the season at peak performance and in top tune, be among the fastest in the field, and play a dominant role in the team championship. Vršecký, however, won’t be racing in Spielberg; Slovenian Alen Draganovic will take his place at the opening round.
The tankpool24 Mercedes trucks gained considerably at the top end following Hungarian twice-champ Norbert Kiss’s switch to MB Motorsport last season, though the team still struggled with the engines’ frequent inability to go the distance, failures that cost them fourth place, and very likely even third, in the overall standings. And so the focus over the winter was on enhancing the motor’s durability.
As for the MAN race trucks, which have dominated the sport over the last decade, it’s difficult to say where they’ll stand. Last season MAN pilots occupied six of the top 10 positions; this year only Steffi Halm and Sascha Lenz remain, and the two young Germans will set off on the points chase together as Reinert Adventure. Antonio Albacete, who returns after a season, joins them to spearhead the Munich-headquartered truckmaker’s ETRC assault. The Spaniard has teamed up with another MAN pilot from the Iberian peninsula, Portuguese José Rodrigues.
The 13-strong field of full-season entrants will be supplemented by Josés father Eduardo Rodrigues (MAN), never-say-die Dutchman Erwin Kleinnagelvoort (Scania), and the returning Mercedes pilot Dominique Orsini. The Frenchman won’t be coming to the Red Bull Ring; his son will be racing the (family) truck at Circuit de Charade in the season-opener of the French championship the same weekend.
On the other hand, home hero Markus Altenstrasser will most definitely be racing at the Red Bull Ring, come what may. For years now professional preoccupations have prevented the second Schwabentruck Iveco pilot from doing a full season in the FIA ETRC, but Altenstrasser hasn’t let them stop him from racing in front of his home fans, and won’t this year either.
The field for Spielberg will be rounded off by two race-by-racers from the British Truck Racing Championship, Terry Gibbon and Ryan Smith (both MAN).