Spielberg This and That
19. May 2017The FIA European Truck Racing Championship opened at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for the second season in succession.
Last year there was snow all around when the truck racers arrived here; this time they were spared the worst effects of the weather – not considering Friday evening, of course, when heavy rain forced the second free practice session to be postponed to the next morning.
A couple of changes have been introduced in the schedule this season. The two free practice sessions are now of 30 minutes’ duration, whereas qualifying has been cut in half to 10 minutes. It’s not clear yet what consequences this will have on longer circuits, where the lap times are correspondingly longer.
Another change for all the teams coming into this first round was a new speed monitoring system that’s being implemented to enforce the 160 km/h limit. The system wasn’t available to the teams at the tests in Most last month, so they had no idea how it would function. In the event, only one penalty was handed out for a speed infringement.
There’s also now a successor to the very popular TRO Sponsors Challenge for those racers who aren’t usually in the limelight but without whose engagement there would be no sport of truck racing. As a sub-competition within the overall classification, the new Promoter’s Cup rewards the top three drivers from the “Chrome” category with independent cup standings according to the ETRC points system and a separate podium ceremony after each race.
Of the 12 season entrants, the five from Germany set the pace here, foremost among them being defending champion Jochen Hahn. The Swabian has lost none of his speed despite the switch to Iveco.
At least one of these five figured in every single prizegiving. Following the first race, with Hahn, Steffi Halm, and Gerd Körber on the podium, there was black, red, and gold – the colours of the German flag – everywhere you looked.
To imagine that there were years, as 2008 and 2009, in which Jochen Hahn was the sole flag-bearer for Germany in a field of up to 25 racers! It wouldn’t surprise us if the bantam from Altensteig fetches his fifth title.
The second force at the moment is Steffi Halm. The only lady in the field – in an MAN built by Hahn Racing, mind you – impressed everyone with the way she earned her first pole in qualifying and then won the race despite unyielding pressure from Hahn the entire distance.
Czech Adam Lacko is tipped as Hahn’s strongest rival, and the Freightliner pilot showed all signs of being just that, as his zinger of a lap in Super Pole 1 showed – before all his times were cancelled for inadvertent overspeeding, relegating him to 10th on the grid.
It didn’t go perfect for Körber either; despite two podium places, the 30-year veteran of European truck racing had a far less than ideal start to his chase of the Team title with Jochen Hahn as “Die Bullen von Iveco Magirus”, finishing out of the points in the truncated Race 3.
The two former European champions Antonio Albacete (Spain, MAN) and Norbert Kiss (Hungary, Mercedes-Benz) will also be wishing they’d scored more points. Both demonstrated pole- and race-winning pace, and both finished on the podium (once each). But they also dropped positions following contacts with competitors or finished out of the points because of mechanical failures.
Even if a crash took André Kursim in the second tankpool24 Mercedes out within sight of the podium, the youngster can still look back on one of his most satisfying weekends in truck racing – not least because he finished thrice on the Promoter’s Cup podium.
No less satisfied was the other youngster, Sascha Lenz. The striking design of his #30 truck’s livery drew admiring glances from everyone in the paddock, but it was his race trailer that stole the show. On the track everything went like clockwork, topped off with a podium in the final race. Sascha is now squarely in the big league; his accomplishments last season have established his standing as a “Titan”, making him ineligible for the Promoter’s Cup.
The happiest man of the weekend – even happier than Jochen Hahn from the looks of it – was José Rodrigues following an improbable win in Saturday’s second race. The self-assured Portuguese and his paí Eduardo have raced trucks for half an eternity. His fluent victory, and powerful performances in the other races, have put the paddock on notice that his success in Spielberg is just the beginning of things to come. The high point of this season for the Rodrigues clan will be the finale in Jarama, where Rodrigues’s son José Eduardo will make it three generations of a single family to compete in one event.
But that’s half a year away yet; in a week the second round of the season at the Misano World Circuit in Italy will be upon us.