Stoffel Vandoorne (Josef Kaufmann Racing) knows that big things are expected of him on home soil this weekend. And to prove that he is up for the challenge, the RACB National Team driver scored the fastest time in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 collective testing, ahead of Stefan Wackerbauer (Koiranen Motorsport) and Norman Nato (RC Formula).
Forty-two cars will line up to compete in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps. As well as the regular competitors, six additional drivers have been invited to take part. Victor Franzoni (Koiranen Motorsport), Steijn Schothorst (Manor MP Motorsport) – the younger brother of Pieter Schothorst – and Tristan Papavoine (Arta Engineering) all join the field for the first time in this discipline. For their part, Fortec Motorsports will have three additional cars on track, driven by Jake Dennis, Dan de Zille and Josh Hill, son of Damon Hill. As a result, the British team will have no fewer than seven cars on the grid this weekend.
All the drivers began the session on grooved tyres, and it was Stoffel Vandoorne, driving in front of his home crowd, who quickly took control. Patrick Kujala (Koiranen Motorsport) pushed the Belgian hard for the lead, with the pair exchanging top spot several times. The shape of the session changed completely, however, when the first sets of slicks were fitted. Oliver Rowland (Fortec Motorsports) improved significantly on the fastest time but, with a lap of 2:24.256, Steijn Schothorst replaced him at the top of the timesheets before the red flag interrupted the session. The young Dutchman went on to finish the morning session on top, ahead of Oliver Rowland, Miki Weckstrom (KTR), Oscar Tunjo (Tech 1 Racing) and Timmy Hansen (Interwetten.com Racing).
The conditions were more settled in the afternoon and the drivers proved immediately quicker than in the first session, with Patrick Kujala and Javier Tarancón (RC Formula) the driving forces. Norman Nato and Stoffel Vandoorne entered the fray 20 minutes into the session and set about challenging the fastest lap of 2:20.215, held by Javier Tarancón. Nato and Vandoorne, matching each other blow-for-blow, then moved up to first place. It was Vandoorne who would ultimately record the fastest time, and his effort of 2:18.857 was not far off the fastest ever Formula Renault 2.0 lap set by Carlos Sainz Junior last season. The surprise package, however, was Stefan Wackerbauer. The Red Bull Junior Team driver, in his very first drive on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, finished the session in second place, just ahead of Norman Nato and Alex Riberas (Josef Kaufmann Racing). The second session also saw Christof Von Grunigen (Epric Racing) and Nyck de Vries (R-Ace GP) come off the track.
What they said:
Stoffel Vandoorne: “If I had recorded a bad time, I’m sure I would have said it’s pointless to get the fastest lap in collective testing. But, clearly, it feels good! This morning we did well in the rain, but we didn’t have time to go out for a run on slick tyres. This afternoon we did a good job on fresh tyres, and our times are already very quick. I think we’ll need to watch out for Norman Nato this weekend. He looks in great form at the moment.”
Stefan Wackerbauer: “I’m really happy to have finished second today, as it was the very first time that I’d driven at Spa-Francorchamps. The first time you find yourself faced with the Raidillon, it’s amazing. I had never felt a sensation like that before. I now know what I’m capable of, and now I have make it happen in qualifying.”
Norman Nato: “I’m on a good run in the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps with three wins in three races. Now I need to win in the Eurocup! The track conditions were difficult this morning, and we worked a lot better in the afternoon. It’s a circuit where you have to be daring, and where driving skill can really make the difference.”