Preview: European Championship 2015

The European Championship: the fourth of the major F1 championships, its winner earns the right to race under a red-and-yellow chequered roof for the next twelve months.

First held in 1978, the European moved around a little in its early years. Since 1994, it has been held at Northampton and is now a staple in the schedule, always around mid-July.

Held during a full-weekend meeting, the championship race is traditionally the first F1 race on Sunday afternoon. The top 20 or so available drivers in the grading list are automatically entered – the exact number depends on the number of Dutch drivers, who are also seeded into the race. The remainder of the 32-car grid is comprised of the top performers during the Saturday meeting. The grid is formed in usual grading order – white, yellow, blue, red, superstar – but in a closed grid, so no gap between each grade.

It might not be viewed in quite the same league as the World or National Points titles, but the European is still one that everybody wants to win. It all kicked off at the meeting last year, when Tom Harris, Dan Johnson, Mat Newson, Danny Wainman and Frankie Wainman Junior all traded bumper paint. Will it be as spectacular this year?

The defending champion:

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Last year’s European Championship was Frankie Wainman Junior’s first major title for five years. A fantastic first lap saw him scythe through the field and fight for the top positions almost immediately. By the time Wainman appeared behind leader Shaun Blakemore with five laps to go, there was only ever going to be one winner. Frankie might not be the fastest out there in terms of straight-line speed anymore, but he has the racecraft to make up for it. He has stood on the European podium more times than any other – eleven – and is hungry for more.

The challengers:

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If somebody has to take the title from Frankie, he’d probably be least disappointed if it went to his little brother, Danny Wainman. Last year’s second place at this event is his best achievement so far. It’s time for Danny to make the hardest step of all – onto the top step of the podium. Maybe this is his time?

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Northampton has already hosted a major title this year. On that occasion, Lee Fairhurst dominated to become British Champion. There have been two other Northampton meetings so far this season. Lee Fairhurst has won both finals. Unless he feels guilty and lets somebody else win for a change, Fairhurst has to start as pre-race favourite.

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It’s a race on tarmac, so Tom Harris can never be ruled out, but last year’s European meeting turned into Tom Harris v The World. Perhaps this year Tom will keep out of the firing line and hope his speed takes him to victory. Or maybe he’ll look to get revenge for those two rollovers 12 months ago. If so, Dan Johnson and Mat Newson had better watch out.

The dark horses:

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The graded grid means that this is the major title most likely to be won by a lower-graded driver. Michael Scriven might take heart from that news, given his recent drop to blue. He won the Trust Fund race and both finals at the European meeting at Northampton a couple of years ago, so he’s no slouch on the Brafield tarmac.

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One of the previous lower-graded winners is Paul Hines, who lifted the trophy from blue in 2005. Paul is still bedding in his new tarmac car and thankfully avoided major injury in May when he tried to bench press his car in the pits. If car and body are both in good shape, Hines could be a worthy and popular winner.

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Joff Gibson won all three of his heats at the British Championship, but his quest for the title ended before the green flag after losing a game of chicken with the pace car. He has since been upgraded from yellow to blue, but will still hope to take advantage of starting in front of the red tops. If he can find the speed that he displayed at the British, Gibson will be a good bet for the podium.

Did you know? Three drivers have won the title three times: John Lund, Peter Falding and Frankie Wainman Junior.

 

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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