HASSELT, Belgium — By Dries De Smet and Gian Luca Guiglia, NASCAR — Stephane Azemard photo — In one week 35-year old Belgian ace Anthony Kumpen will enter the playoffs of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series as the leader of an incredibly tight general classification, with four drivers separated by just 10 points and many others still hoping to join the title hunt.
Despite joining the Official European NASCAR Series this year, the PK Carsport driver is relying on his huge and successful experience in GT racing to handle the pressure of a battle that promises to be memorable. After winning a record 6 Zolder 24 Hours and taking part in Iconic races like the Spa 24 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Kumpen has put together a strong regular season, highlighted by 6 top-5s and 8 top-10s in 8 races, with a 39.75 points per race average that leaves him atop of the standings by 7-points over two-time reigning champion Ander Vilarino.
One of the few mistakes Kumpen has made in his first season in NASCAR? It happened in the season opener at Valencia, when he and his teammate Bert Longin fought for the lead entering turn one in the closing minutes of the Saturday Race and Yann Zimmer was quick enough to overtake both, relegating Kumpen to third position at the finish.
All in all however, the championship leader is looking forward to the title hunt that will begin in Italy on September 20-21 and build solid bases for next season.
You are leading the championship thanks to very consistent performances, but you lack a win to this point. What is your evaluation of your regular season?
“Up until now we are really satisfied with our debut in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. As a team, we made very few mistakes and both drivers and the car have a very strong pace. We are just looking for that 1% extra, but we are very close to our goal: winning races. I should have won a race in Valencia, but I can only blame myself: I made a mistake.”
What is your strategy approaching the playoffs?
“At Tours we decided to race with a little bit of reserve, without taking too many risks, but at Magione we definitely have to finish in the top-5, which won’t be easy, because the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series field is very strong. The battle will be very hard to win. We have never raced in Magione and to compensate for our lack of experience there we planned a test day before the race to gather as much data as we can about the track and be ready for the race.”
Do you think you still have something to find out to perform even better?
“We can still progress. Each member of the PK Carsport Team is doing a very good job, but they also need some time to get used to the championship, the races and the car. Everything was new for us and of course other teams have a little bit of an advantage due to their experience in the championship. But we are gathering a lot of important data, so that we can find the right setup before the end of the race weekend.”
The playoffs will start with 4 drivers in 10 points and various drivers can join the title hunt. Who do you think will be your strongest opponent?
“I think the top-4 of the general classification basically have the same pace. We are all very fast, but Ander Vilarino and Frederic Gabillon have more experience in the Series. This gives them a slight advantage compared to Borja Garcia and myself. Vilarino is of course a two time NWES champion and I think he’s the favorite for the title. He is also a very correct driver and fair play is for him just as important as it is for me. In the entire Series there is a lot of respect between the drivers.”
You are involved in lots of different forms of motorsport. Do you think being so eclectic gives you an advantage?
“The more you race, the faster you will be and the more experience you will gather. And yes: I drove several types of racecars, but I never drove a NASCAR car until the beginning of 2014, but it is an advantage to race several cars and championships — because of the experience you will also be able to adapt to the car and the Series relatively fast. In September I am racing three different cars in three different championships, starting with the Zolder 24 Hours in a Wolf GB08 CP-Prototype, followed by the Belgian Racing Car Championship in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra and then the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in my Chevrolet SS. A lot of variety and lots of fun!”
After four different events, how do you feel about the atmosphere NWES creates for the fans?
“I’ve been racing for about 20 years and I’ve taken part in many international and national championships as well as races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours or the Sebring 12 Hours. But to be honest, I’ve never seen a Series in which the fans are of utmost importance as in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Fans are great and there is a fantastic atmosphere, lots of animation and very well organized attractions. Sponsors that have supporting me for many years visited me during a NWES weekend and were positively surprised by everything they saw on and around the track. That says enough, I suppose. Will we be on the NWES grid in 2015? You can be sure of it, we will be there…”