Gianmarco Ercoli on the podium at Automotodrom Grobnik. (Stephane Azemard Photo)
Gianmarco Ercoli on the podium at Automotodrom Grobnik. (Stephane Azemard Photo)

Ercoli Has What It Takes In Croatia

CAVLE, Croatia – Gianmarco Ercoli grabbed the lead on lap two and fended off Loris Hezemans, Alon Day and Jacques Villeneuve for his first EuroNASCAR PRO victory of the season Sunday at Automotodrom Grobnik.

The CAAL Racing driver led 16 out of 17 laps Sunday. The 26-year-old reduced the gap in the overall standings, while Hezemans kept the championship lead.

Ercoli made a good start from the front row and put himself right on the back bumper of Hezemans, who started from pole. In turn one of lap two, the Rome native made the decisive move on Hezemans. He went alongside the No. 7 Hendriks Motorsport Ford and the two stayed side-by-side for several turns. In the end, it was the No. 54 CAAL Racing Ford Mustang that took over first ahead of Hezemans and Day.

In the following laps, Ercoli was put under pressure by Hezemans, Day and Villeneuve but he never gave them an opportunity to pass him. With no less than six drivers battling for the win until the very end, the Italian sped to victory and secured his third career EuroNASCAR PRO win.

“When I lead a race, I don’t feel the pressure because it’s on my chasers,” said Ercoli, who also won the battle in the Junior Trophy classification for drivers up to an age of 25. “The whole CAAL Racing team did a very good job. Yesterday the win slipped out of our hands but today we made it happen. We are still in the title hunt and we proved we can beat the best. We wanted the 1-2 for CAAL Racing but that didn’t work out. We will try again next time at Zolder and the battle is on. Right now, I’m just very happy about the win.”

Events came thick and fast in a thrilling last lap of the race. First, Lucas Lasserre and Villeneuve made contact in the battle for second. The Frenchman made a late move to overtake the Canadian but he forced the former F-1 champion off track. The result was a 30 seconds penalty for Lasserre, who was shuffled down the order to 11th. Villeneuve went into the gravel trap and dropped down to 17th. It was Vittorio Ghirelli, who crossed the finish line second, but the Italian got a five-second penalty for forcing Lasserre off track, resulting in a fourth place for the Hendriks Motorsport driver from Fasano.

Hezemans inherited second place after a rollercoaster of emotions for the championship leader. On lap three the Dutchman made a mistake when he was getting passed by Day and therefore lost the rhythm. He fell back to eighth but managed to close the gap to the leading group in the closing laps. Due to the incidents ahead of him, Hezemans was promoted to second after the race. The 24-year-old from Eindhoven scored his seventh top-five result of the season and kept the championship lead.

Day rounded out the podium. The CAAL Racing driver fell back to sixth on lap nine and lost ground from the leading group. He recollected himself and inherited the remaining spot on the podium with a little help from the incidents ahead of him. With Hezemans missing the Zolder event due to a special commitment, Day will have the chance to jump back into contention at a track where he won a record six times. After Zolder, each driver will drop the two worst results of the Regular Season.

Solaris Motorsport’s Francesco Sini closed the top-five, while Marc Goossens turned a strong run into a solid sixth place at the wheel of his No. 77 DF1 Racing Chevrolet Camaro. His teammate Nicolo Rocca ended up seventh ahead of Marko Stipp Motorsport’s Romain Iannetta. Sebastiaan Bleekemolen and Ulysse Delsaux, who was second in the Junior Trophy classification, closed the top-10.

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