Just five full-time drivers competed in the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup in 2017 thanks to ill-judged and untrue rumours of the championships demise, but with the calendar confirmed, other teams and drivers joined each of the five rounds and brought excitement to the years actions.
R-ace GP field four of those full-time entries, and competed with four different drivers to their Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 contingent, with Frenchmen Charles Milesi and Theo Coicaud being joined by Moroccan Michael Benyahia and Belgian Gilles Magnus.
The fifth full-timer was Polish racer Bartlomiej Mirecki, who returned again with his own BM Racing Team, while Tech 1 Racing, Josef Kaufmann Racing, Fortec Motorsports, Arden Motorsport, JD Motorsport, Mark Burdett Motorsport and MP Motorsport all fielded entries at some point to boost the field.
With the exception of the round at Spa-Francorchamps, where the NEC entrants joined the Eurocup field, part time drivers won every race, and had Eurocup entrants been eligible to score points in that Belgian round, the final championship standings would have looked a whole lot different, and it would not have had a driver who did not take a single race victory as champion.
Eight different winners in eleven races
Tech 1 Racing were dominant in the opening round of the season at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, with Gabriel Aubry leading team-mate Max Fewtrell to two one-two finishes, with Mirecki and Benyahia standing on the third step across the weekend.
It was MP Motorsport’s turn to dominate at the TT Circuit Assen, with Red Bull Junior’s Neil Verhagen and Richard Verschoor each taking a victory. It was a one-two for them in race one in favour of Verhagen, with Milesi taking his first podium in third, while Verschoor took the honours in race two ahead of Magnus and Renault Sport Academy member Jarno Opmeer.
Josef Kaufmann Racing joined the field for the first time at the Nurburgring, with Sacha Fenestraz taking a double victory. Yifei Ye took second for the squad in race one ahead of Red Bull Junior Daniel Ticktum of Arden Motorsport, while Aubry finished second in race two, with Ye completing the podium.
A trio of races took place at Spa-Francorchamps as NEC linked up with Eurocup, and it was only the five NEC drivers that were eligible for points, meaning Magnus was declared the winner of the first race despite finishing fourteenth on the road, with the racing being held completely behind the safety car due to fog, with Milesi and Benyahia completing the podium.
Milesi took race two honours after Magnus crashed out at Raidillon on the opening lap, with Benyahia second ahead of Mirecki, while Magnus recovered to win race three after hard work from his R-ace GP team restored his damaged car, with the Belgian finishing ahead of Benyahia and Coicaud, who took his one and only podium of the season.
Overall honours in Belgium went the way of Fenestraz in races one and three, while Aubry won race two, although both drivers and the rest of the podium finishers were only eligible for points in Eurocup.
Josef Kaufmann Racing once again took both of the victories at the season-closing round at the Hockenheimring, with Ye taking his first victories ahead of Fenestraz in both races, with Verschoor and Aleksandr Vartanyan completing the respective podiums, but all eyes were on the championship battle.
Magnus and Benyahia went into the final races at the head of the standings, with Mirecki an outside shot, and it was ironic that all three weren’t podium contenders when it mattered.
Two ninth place finishes were enough for Benyahia to clinch the championship, mainly due to a disappointing weekend for Magnus, who finished fifteenth in race one and had to beat the Moroccan in race two to take the crown, only to fall short by one position. Benyahia ultimately became champion despite failing to take a victory, two points ahead of Magnus, and twelve ahead of Mirecki.
The Future of NEC…
There may have been only five full-time entries and only five rounds in 2017, but the championship now has direction once more, and the field is likely to grow again next season, while the calendar is also expanding.
BlackArts Racing Team has already announced its presence in the championship, while the uncertainty that prevented the likes of Josef Kaufmann Racing and Arden Motorsport, amongst others, has gone, meaning a full-time presence in NEC next season could before a distinct possibility, especially as the championship is being aimed as a feeder category for Eurocup.
Northern European Cup Final Standings
|1||3||Michael Benyahia||MAR||R-ace GP||163|
|2||4||Gilles Magnus||BEL||R-ace GP||161|
|3||96||Bartlomiej Mirecki||POL||BM Racing||151|
|4||2||Theo Coicaud||FRA||R-ace GP||129.5|
|5||14||Gabriel Aubry||FRA||Tech 1 Racing||115|
|6||11||Sacha Fenestraz||FRA||Josef Kaufmann Racing||108|
|7||1||Charles Milesi||FRA||R-ace GP||106|
|8||41||Yifei Ye||CHI||Josef Kaufmann Racing||104|
|9||29||Richard Verschoor||NED||MP Motorsport||90|
|10||30||Jarno Opmeer||NED||MP Motorsport||68|
|11||6||Thomas Neubauer||FRA||Tech 1 Racing||52|
|12||7||Max Fewtrell||GBR||Tech 1 Racing||48|
|13||15||James Pull||GBR||Josef Kaufmann Racing||48|
|14||31||Neil Verhagen||USA||MP Motorsport||47|
|15||22||Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer||FRA||JD Motorsport||47|
|16||34||Aleksandr Vartanyan||RUS||Arden Motorsport||36|
|17||5||Thomas Maxwell||AUS||Tech 1 Racing||36|
|18||21||Sun Yue Yang||CHI||JD Motorsport||33|
|19||42||Luis Leeds||AUS||Josef Kaufmann Racing||28|
|20||19||Frank Bird||GBR||Fortec Motorsports||26|
|21||81||Oscar Piastri||AUS||Arden Motorsport||26|
|22||25||Julia Pankiewicz||POL||Burdett Motorsport||25|
|23||43||Logan Sargeant||USA||R-ace GP||24|
|24||51||Chia Wing Hoong||MAL||Fortec Motorsports||22|
|25||26||Presley Martono||INO||Burdett Motorsport||0|
|-||Max Defourny||BEL||R-ace GP||-|
|-||Will Palmer||GBR||R-ace GP||-|
|-||Robert Shwartzman||RUS||R-ace GP||-|
|-||Daniel Ticktum||GBR||Arden Motorsport||-|
|-||Thomas Randle||AUS||AVF by Adrian Valles||-|
|-||Henrique Chaves||POR||AVF by Adrian Valles||-|
|-||Zane Goddard||AUS||Arden Motorsport||-|
|-||Axel Matus||MEX||AVF by Adrian Valles||-|
|-||Alex Peroni||AUS||Fortec Motorsports||-|
|-||Aleksey Korneev||RUS||Fortec Motorsports||-|
|-||Raul Guzman||MEX||R-ace GP||-|
|-||Xavier Lloveras||ESP||AVF by Adrian Valles||-|
|-||Najiy Razak||MAL||Fortec Motorsports||-|