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Though he led the standings from the opening race at Nogaro (France) through to the final contest at the legendary Le Mans venue, Ander Vilarino’s journey to the title was not as smooth as it may at first appear. Strong competition would hold off his coronation, and it was not until the final laps of the season that the 32-year-old San Sebastian, Spain native became the inaugural Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series champion.
Here is a quick look back at the 2012 season:
Vilarino Conquers All: Continuing his momentum from 2011’s final race at Le Mans, where he won to secure third place in the Racecar Euro Series standings, Vilarino became the first winner in Euro-Racecar since it became Europe’s first NASCAR Touring Series by winning at Circuit Paul Armagnac Nogaro. His desire to be champion led him to an outstanding season which included a total of six wins including a sweep at the Nogaro 200 in April and one apiece at Great Britain’s Brands Hatch 200 and the Spa 200 in Belgium. He added another two wins with another sweep at the Semifinals at Valencia, Spain in October. Vilarino also claimed five pole positions, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes from the 12 races, setting a new record for the series in the process. Additionally, he scored the points victory in the Michelin 100 at Tours Speedway (France) where guest driver Eric Hélary was ineligible to receive points. Vilarino’s largest lead of 58 points came following the Valencia event – the season’s penultimate round – with double points awarded during the playoffs. He eventually secured the crown by 16 points over Romain Thievin.
Thievin Gave It His All: Romain Thievin joined Vilarino as the only driver to finish in the top-10 at all 12 races this season. The Frenchman scored 10 top-five finishes – one more than his title-winning rival – with the added bonus of a pole position at Brands Hatch on a track made extremely treacherous by the weather. But there was bad luck too. He led the most laps at Valencia and as many as Vilarino at Nogaro, but did not reach Victory Lane during 2012. Victories were his target at Le Mans, but he played it safe to score maximum points by yielding two wins to Gaël Castelli, who, like Hélary at Tours, was a guest driver ineligible to score points. His title chances took a hit at Tours Speedway where Thievin recorded a 10th-place finish in the Tours 100 after contact led to engine problems. The 33-year-old, who calls Las Vegas, Nev., his home, finished just 16 points shy of Vilarino. He was able though to celebrate that he and Open Division teammate David Perisset secured the Team Championship.
Villa Builds Strong Season: Following three consecutive victories for Vilarino to open the season, Javier Villa was the first to topple his fellow countryman when he scored an endurance race win at the Brands Hatch 200. Making his debut in the series this year, the native of Colunga, Spain quickly got the hang of driving a stock car. His performance allowed him to fight for the title right up to the season finale in Le Mans. However, misfortune at Tours Speedway and mechanical woes at Valencia short-circuited his championship dreams. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old Villa completed the season third in points after recording nine top-10s, including six top-fives, and secured the Junior Trophy in the process.
Consistency Always Pays: Nine top-10 finishes, including six appearances in the top five saw Antoine Lioen, winner of the Challenger Trophy and sixth overall in 2011, further progress this season. Making consistency his credo, the driver of the No. 5 Rapido Racing Chevrolet Camaro could not take the next step and secure podium finishes, but nevertheless improved to fourth in the 2012 standings. Along with Open Division racer Joaquin Gabarron, Lioen narrowly missed winning the Team Championship.
Lord Of The Rings: Tours Speedway was the blue ribbon event of the 2012 Euro-Racecar campaign. As the first NASCAR race held on an oval track in Europe, this was the contest every driver in the field dreamed of winning. The event would produce a fitting story with NASCAR K&N Pro Series regular Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., qualifying seventh and winning the Michelin 100. The following day, the Tours 100 saw an equally illustrious victor as 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Eric Hélary, owner-driver at Still Racing and the series’ 2011 champion, took his first victory on an oval in the showpiece event.
Coming Of Age: Javier Villa was the clear winner of the Junior Trophy, but there were many challengers in the class reserved for drivers under 25 years of age. Five of them ranked among the overall top-10. Behind Villa, Willy Boucenna, the inaugural series champion in 2009 who competed in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale, Calif., in January 2010, finished sixth overall just ahead of Romain Fournillier, who scored the Open Division championship in 2011. Fournillier enjoyed renewed confidence following his pole position at Tours Speedway. Anthony Garbarino was next, followed by Swede Freddy Nordström, who claimed the fan’s vote as the series’ Most Popular Driver. Rounding out the top 10 was Bruno Cosin who kept the youngsters honest while also securing the Challenger Trophy.
Open Division Was Wide Open: An astounding 16 drivers had a mathematical chance of winning the Open title at the Le Mans Finals. The star performer during the regular season, Vincent Gonneau experienced a nightmare Playoff campaign. After mechanical woes in the Spain semifinals took a huge bite out of his lead, he got caught up in an accident at Le Mans. This run of bad luck saw him end the season in fourth spot, behind Gerald Cormon, who also won the Gentleman Trophy, and Alain Grand, who was victorious in the Legend Trophy competition and a top-10 finisher on 10 occasions during 2012. But the Open Division championship itself was claimed by Simon Escallier. The 23-year-old from Gap, France struggled in the early portion of the schedule, but had an incredible second half which concluded with a record of five wins, two pole positions, 10 top-10s and seven top-fives.