Preview: European Championship 2017

For the last few years, the fourth of the major F1 championships has struggled a little to maintain its status and popularity among fans, most notably due to a lack of continental entrants. This year, a major change to the championship format means that there will be added interest in the red and yellow checks – although whether the changes will improve the event remains to be seen.

Previously, the European Championship race was the first F1 race on Sunday afternoon during Northampton’s mid-July weekender. The top 20 or so available drivers in the grading list were automatically entered, the remainder of the 32-car grid was comprised of the top performers during the Saturday meeting. The grid was formed in grading order but with no gap between grades.

Now it’s all change. The European Championship race has been moved to the meeting final slot on Sunday and there are no automatic qualifiers. Who makes the grid, and their positions on it, will be decided by the racing on Saturday and Sunday – whoever scores the most points takes pole position in the championship race. What it effectively means is that the stars and superstars with a red roof have the chance to earn a grid spot closer to the front rather than have to fight their way from the back. Lower graders will probably have a better chance to win a spot on the grid, but will have a worse chance of actually winning the title.

The defending champion:

Dan Johnson has spent the last three years quietly picking up championship trophies: the European in 2016, National Points in 2015, World Cup in 2014. Now in his eleventh season of racing, Dan has just pushed through 100 race wins and qualified on pole position in the British Championship. He’ll be looking to get the same grid slot again but do better in the big race this time. He’ll have to watch his back though – he appeared to deliberately slow down to block Tom Harris in the British, although Dan claims he thought they were under caution. If Tom doesn’t believe him, he will be keen to repay the favour if Dan gets in the lead.

The challengers:

Nigel Green is the top scorer on tarmac so far this season (prior to the Skegness weekender, when this preview was written) and won the meeting final last time out at Northampton. It seems crazy to say that Nigel is due a major title win considering he has only been racing since the end of 2014, but such has been his impact that it’s surely only a matter of time before he does lift some silverware.

The change to a championship format similar to the British will have Frankie Wainman Junior rubbing his hands with glee. The current British Champion is a master at picking up that particular title, having won in nine times in all, and seems to revel in qualifying well and adapting to changing conditions as the temperature or weather alters. He already has eleven podiums in the European and is a good bet to add to that tally this year.

Tom Harris should return from a sun and sprint cars holiday in the USA in time to compete for the European, a title he has won twice in the last five years. Fears that Tom may struggle to adapt to using the bumper again after a couple of weeks in a non-contact sprint car are likely to prove false if he finds himself behind Dan Johnson – the two have been niggling each other since that moment when everything slowed down at the British Championship at the start of June.

The dark horses:

Luke Davidson is a specialist on the hard stuff who won the European title in 2010. He also won two races in the first Northampton meeting of the year and has taken the chequered flag five times elsewhere, making him the highest-scoring single-surface racer so far this season. With Rob Speak no longer part of the Davidson stable, Luke is presumably getting a little extra attention – it seems to be doing him good!

Two other tarmac-only drivers it’s worth keeping an eye on are Drew Lammas and Steve Webster. Like Luke, both have won races at Northampton this year too, but both have the advantage that they will start from blue grade. If they can get a decent grid position, they just might get away from the superstars for a shock win.

If you fancy a real long-odds bet, look no further than Roger Bromiley. He has only raced four times this season and we don’t yet know whether he’ll grace the Euro meeting, but Roger has recently been downgrade to white – a very generous gesture to the experienced circuit racer who won three races in five meetings in 2015. Will he be tempted to put on his helmet and have a crack at the Euro?

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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