The Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup saw a drastic calendar change following the expansion of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship in 2017, with a drop from seven to five rounds, while entry levels have also dipped, though this is expected to be temporary.
The championship continues to thrive and has the full backing of Renault Sport, and with current Formula 1 drivers including Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr having plied their trade in NEC in the early stages of their careers, it is still being viewed as a serious international series.
Talking to The Checkered Flag ahead of this weekend’s round at the TT Circuit Assen, series promoter Mick de Haas says the support from Renault Sport has been vital as the Northern European Cup has become a full support series to the Eurocup series.
“We started the series in 2005 by merging the Dutch and German national Formula Renault 2.0 championships,” said de Haas to The Checkered Flag. “In 2016 the NEC was established as a serious international series where drivers such as Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr made their first steps into the single seater category.
“In the summer of 2016 Renault sport discussed with us their plans for the new format of the FR2.0 Euro series and asked us to become a full support series of Eurocup. It meant that we had to make some drastic changes to our regular calendar.
“It also meant that our German partners (Renault Sport Germany) could not support a series that would only have two rounds in Germany only. It has taken a bit of time to restructure but with the great support from Renault Sport we had a good, although a bit later start to the season at Monza.
“For 2018 we are already quite far down the line with RSR to finalise a calendar and dates and venues are evenly matched with the Euro series so we are confident that we will have a healthy field for 2018.”
De Haas admits that the expansion of the Eurocup to ten rounds in 2017, coupled with some hurtful rumours about the future of NEC, meant the field had lower numbers than they hoped this season, but he expects at least some of those outfits to return in 2018.
“We found at the early part of this year that some of our regular teams were struggling to combine the extended Eurocup programme with the 2017 NEC calendar,” said de Haas.
“At the instigation of RSR, we met with the teams at the Eurocup test days in March at Magny Cours and we then decided to revise the calendar to avoid any conflicts with the Eurocup calendar.
“Once we made the adjustments it was for some of the teams too late to fill the seats for the NEC. It has to be said also that during the winter some people – not to be named – have made it their mission to tell the would that the NEC would not happen in 2017. We lost a number of certain entries for that reason.
“I am sure that the professional teams mentioned will try and join us again next year now they see we are still in business. In fact some of them will enter some of our races later this season.
“Next season we plan to have six weekends, with Spa, Nurburgring, and a UK race in the calendar. As stated before there might also be a surprise circuit on the calendar… Three of our events are open for ‘wild cards’ for Eurocup drivers.”
The forthcoming second round of the season takes place at the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands, with an estimated 80,000+ fans expected to attend, and de Haas says the whole weekend will be a spectacular one, both on and off the track.
“Some race weekends are spectacular because of the total programme of the weekend,” said de Haas. “Our next event at Assen NL is an event where there are at least 80,000 spectators each year.
“Nico Hülkenberg will give a number of Demo runs in the current Renault F1 car and there will be Le Mans cars and Dakar trucks on the track. Other events are at well-known GP or Sports car tracks with a smaller overall race programme but this will give the fans an opportunity to come close to our teams and drivers.
“At most weekend the races can be followed live on line with live stream.”
The opening round of the season took place at the legendary Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy in June, and saw two excellent races, both won by Frenchman Gabriel Aubry after two battles with Tech 1 Racing team-mate Max Fewtrell, but their were good fights up and down the field with very few incidents.
“Monza was a new beginning for the NEC and both races were close and exciting not just at the front but also in midfield,” said de Haas. “There were no major incidents and the atmosphere, despite the 35+ heat, was very good.
“We maybe relatively small as a series but we are part of a big organization – Renault Sport – and by participating in the NEC and the Euroseries young talent will be seen by the powers to be. Renault and Renault Sport have been at the forefront of motorsport in virtually every category and for a very long time.
“Probably the longest of any car manufacturer, and they are serious about their new F1 commitment and their new talent academy will certainly benefit the NEC as well.”
One of the great things of the Northern European Cup is the chance of small teams to enter, with Bartlomiej Mirecki racing for his family-run BM Racing outfit, and the Polish driver drove a superb opening weekend at Monza, securing a podium finish.
“It was good to see Mirecki do so well at Monza,” admitted de Haas. “It proved that there is room for the smaller teams. We are actively talking to the smaller, sometimes national, outfits in Europe to consider entering the NEC.”
Looking forward, the championship is looking to announce the 2018 calendar sooner rather than later, whilst they are planning to enhance the operational team to further propel the series to new levels.
“The Formula Renault 2.0 class is still after all these years one of the best classes on the way to the top of the categories,” said de Haas. “Next season we expect a 20+ field with many more young drivers flowing in from the national F4 series in Europe and Asia and sometimes direct from the international karting categories.
“Our calendar will be attractive for these young competitors with international circuits such as Spa and the Nurburgring and most likely a circuit that would surprise some of them….
“The long term plan is in the capable hands of Renault Sport, and I believe they are already working on this. On the organization side we will also strengthen our operational team over the next few months.”