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MAIDEN TITLE FOR HARPHAM,
VICTORIES FOR LILJA AND BENNETT

After Hockenheim, Snetterton and Assen, the European Superkart Championship visited the Le Mans circuit for a suspenseful season end. Before the French stage the Dutchman Marcel Maasmann and the Briton Lee Harpham had just about the same chances of donning the crown. Twice on the podium while his opponent had one bit of bad luck after another, Lee Harpham perfectly managed his weekend and treated himself to his first European title. Winners of the day’s two races, Denmark’s Henrik Lilja and Britain’s Gavin Bennett have already made an appointment with him for their revenge in 2013.Champion2012_mans2012.jpg

Further to a year off, the Circuit Bugatti of Le Mans hosted again the ever spectacular European Superkart Championship at the last September weekend on the occasion of the feast of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. The meeting welcomed no fewer than 41 Drivers, but it was mainly characterised by the expected duel for the title between Holland’s Marcel Maasmann (Anderson-FPE) and the Brit Lee Harpham (Anderson-FPE).

On his home ground, it was however France’s Emmanuel Vinuales (Anderson-DEA) who gave the first blow. The reigning European Champion was determined to show that he did not land the title last year by a stroke of luck, and he smashed the track record during qualifying practice. At an average of over 158 km/h, Vinuales was ahead of the Dane Henrik Lilja (PVP-PVP), the Brits Lee Harpham and Gavin Bennett (Anderson-DEA), as well as the Dutchman Marcel Maasmann. But a broken steering which made him go off the track in an impressive way during the second qualifying forced the poleman to a lengthy mechanical session on Saturday evening…

On Sunday morning it was one of the title candidates who gave himself a fright he is not likely to forget. As he started from the 5th place, Marcel Maasmann lost control of his Superkart even before the first corner, thus wreaking havoc in the field and causing the retirement of four other competitors. “I don’t know what happened”, confessed the team Redspeed Dutchman. “I suddenly lost the rear in the long right-hand corner before the Dunlop chicane. I hadn’t even touched the brakes and found myself spinning in the middle of the track. I was very lucky to escape unhurt.”

The safety car was deployed to allow the cleaning of the track; when it pulled out we thought we were in for a festival from Emmanuel Vinuales. And indeed, after a bad start, the Frenchman achieved the fastest lap time of the race and was catching up on the leaders… when a broken chain forced him to retire. At the front, Henrik Lilja was pulling away to his first European Championship win with his original PVP unit, the chassis and engine designed by the former World Champion Poul V. Petersen. While the Dane enjoyed an undisputable success, a fantastic three-some opposed Lee Harpham, the Czech Adam Kout (MS Kart-DEA) and Gavin Bennett, who eventually crossed the finish line in this order ahead of another duo, composed of Sweden’s Stefan Malm (Scherman-PVP) and Finland’s Vesa Lehtinen (Anderson-DEA). The German Jürgen Reinke (Anderson-DEA), the Frenchman Alexandre Sebastia (Anderson-FPE), the Dane Henrik Vejen (PVP-PVP) and the Briton David Harvey (Anderson-FPE) completed the top 10 of this first race.

The best deal was obviously for Lee Harpham as the Brit with his second place got a good option on the title. “When we were behind the safety car I saw that one of the karts which had retired was Marcel’s”, he explained. “So I knew that I had a card to play but I absolutely had to score many points. I was second when I missed a gear, which enabled Adam Kout and Gavin Bennett to overtake me again. But I spared no efforts and re-conquered this second spot. Now there is one race left, and the best thing to do is to finish ahead of Marcel in order to secure the title definitively.”vainqueurC1_mans2012.jpg

The second fight was to offer quite a different scenario as Gavin Bennett covered the first lap in the lead with Adam Kout and Lee Harpham right behind him. Only 5th in the early stages of the event, Emmanuel Vinuales started another recovery – once again rewarded by the fastest lap time of the race – and soon competed for victory with Gavin Bennett, the runner-up of the European competition in 2011, and Lee Harpham. While Marcel Maasmann retired due to vibrations in his steering, probably resulting from his accident in the first race, Bennett and Vinuales pulled away, both claiming the final win of the season. The Frenchman was supposed to cruise to victory but he was blocked by a competitor he was lapping on the very last lap, and Gavin Bennett seized this opportunity to pip at the post the outgoing European Champion, certainly not spared by bad luck during this weekend throughout which he nonetheless showed that he was extremely fast.

At the end of the race, Lee Harpham managed to hold the return of Henrik Lilja and was able to enjoy his first European Champion title thoroughly. The 30 years old Lincolnshire citizen thus adds his name to the list of results of this prestigious competition. “It’s unbelievable”, he said with a smile. “I did not enter the European competition in 2010 and 2011. For my return, I was aiming at podiums but not at the title. However, the season went beautifully. Apart from a broken chain when I was leading the second race at Hockenheim, I did not have the slightest mechanical issue. I landed three wins and stepped seven times on the podium in eight races! I am obviously very happy and would like to thank all those who made this title possible.”

It will go down in history that the top 10 of this final race of the 2012 campaign was completed by Adam Kout, Britain’s Christopher Needham (Anderson-FPE) and Paul Platt (Anderson-FPE), the steady competitors Vesa Lehtinen and Stefan Malm, and another Brit, Carl Kinsey (Anderson-FPE).

With the added results of the eight races minus each Driver’s least good results, Lee Harpham thus lands a fully deserved title ahead of Marcel Maasmann, Henrik Lilja, Gavin Bennett and Adam Kout. France’s former Champions Damien Payart, absent from Le Mans, and Emmanuel Vinuales just missed the top 5, ahead of Henrik Vejen, Vesa Lehtinen and the young Dutchman Romano De Ruit, one of the discoveries of the season, who was however very unlucky in the Sarthe as he was a victim of the collision at the start of the first race and also forced to retire from the second one. But, just like Lee Harpham, Romano belongs to a new generation determined to aim at the European crown in the next few years. See you in 2013!

Find all the information on the European Superkart Championship at www.cikfia.com

 
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