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JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
Suzuka International Racing Course. 24 September 2019
February 24, 2015
Published on tags: Superleague General

 

With just a few days until the start of the GPVWC's flagship competition, Ollie Woods looks at where each team stands in the pecking order.

Another year, another exciting Superleague season. The 2015 season promises to be one of the most competitive we've seen thanks to new regulations, a change in development rules and an incredible spread of strong drivers across the teams. It's already been a pre-season laced with controversy too, mostly down to the aforementioned development changes; that said, when has a Superleague season not attracted controversy? As we get closer to the first race in Melbourne it's time to examine the field and have a go at predicting their chances.

CSG Racing: #13 Lukas Euler, #24 Lewis Redshaw

At the start of the 2014 season the whispers around the paddock were mostly aimed at CSG. Would they be as good as the 2010 season, when Lee Morris sensationally won five races in a row? Could they recreate their early form from the previous Supercup season? Surely a new team couldn't win the Superleague? Could they?

All of these questions were answered with a sensationally dominant display from the team in Melbourne and despite their form tailing off slightly towards the end of the season, CSG Racing were crowned champions with David Fidock taking the drivers title. The hard work and gambles of the early season paid off spectacularly.

Fast forward to 2015 and change is afoot. David Fidock, the reigning champion, has left the team. The reasons for his departure aren't clear apart from a statement explaining the need for "a new challenge", but while I'm sure he'll be missed the team have wasted little time in signing up a driver with even more plaudits to his name. Lukas Euler, champion in 2012 and 2013, is back full time after playing a cameo role in 2014. Lukas won every race that he entered in 2014 and it's safe to assume he'll be fighting for the championship once again if the car is good. Lewis Redshaw is back for another year - rumours of him courting other teams were clearly unfounded - and after a revelatory year in 2014 he'll expect to be fighting at the sharp end again. Don't expect team orders here! Tom Parker is the team's test driver and has bags of potential as long as his emotions or luck don't get in the way.

The only question mark here is whether CSG have the R&D points and monetary resources to mount a serious challenge for the title after last year's fight; they won't be at too much of an R&D disadvantage given the new carry-over rules that pretty much equalise the points taken from 2014 to 2015 across the teams, but we don't know how much money they have compared to their nearest rivals Midnight. The Potentia engine will no doubt be good again, though it won't be the 2014 engine as originally planned. This change may also affect the CSG bank account as they went from their original bid to the same as the highest 2015 bid for Potentia. Nonetheless, it is clear that CSG is a slick operation and if they put anywhere near as much effort into setups and testing this season as they did last year then they'll be the team to beat.

Prediction: Constructors Champions, Euler wins Drivers Championship


Simcraft Midnight Motorsport: #7 Alex Cooper, #25 Nick Rowland

2014 was the first year without a championship win for Midnight since 2011, and the writing was probably on the wall from the start when it was announced that reigning double-champion Lukas Euler was to miss the season. The team hired the reigning Supercup champion, Giuseppe Rainieri, to bolster the lineup alongside team principal Nick Rowland, but comments made in the heat of the moment after the Austrian Grand Prix led to his contract being terminated. Euler, Rowland and the returning Alex Cooper did their best to chase CSG down, scoring five wins in the last six races, but the early consistency of CSG was just too much to beat. Still, finishing with 200 points more than the next team isn't bad?

It's strange to see Euler at a different team but that's what happened with him joining CSG, though it could be argued that CSG isn't a massive step away. Nick Rowland returns for another season and we all know his pedigree, even if he didn't win a race last year. Alex Cooper did win a race last year and returns from a mixed year in Supercup that gleaned a win and three podiums among other results; we know he's capable of good results but it remains to be seen if he's got the consistency to challenge for a championship. Tom van der Voort is a new arrival as test driver; it's a shame he's decided to step back as he's definitely capable of hanging with the best, but I guess the lure of being part of such a marquee team (and a run in Supercup) is greater than a moderate year in Superleague. Expect him to be around the top five or six if he features in a race.

There is no doubt that Midnight have the resources to mount a serious challenge - completing R&D early last year combined with three of years of prize money means a serious amount of cash in the kitty. Their advantage over the field has been slightly nullified with the new development rules, much to the team's chagrin, but these guys know what they're doing and it's no surprise that their Potentia engine is so sought after. The only things standing in their way are a familiar name, Lukas Euler, and the wealth of really formidable lineups across the board. That said, they'll still be near the top this year and I wouldn't be surprised if they win the championship despite my prediction.

Prediction: 2nd


Nijo Racing: #5 Kenney Lybeer #10 Mikael Tuomaala

After running Midnight so close in 2013 it was inevitable that Nijo wouldn't have quite as good a year in 2014. They took the sole non-Midnight or CSG win in Malaysia but stayed around the middle of the points scorers after a double retirement at the Canadian Grand Prix. Ruud Heesterbeek was still "best of the rest" in fourth place with Tom van der Voort slightly further down the order; third was nonetheless a great achievement when faced with the knowledge and might of CSG and Midnight.

It's all change for Nijo with a drastically different lineup for 2015. Gone are Heesterbeek and van der Voort, both preferring a year dominating Supercup to another year around the upper end of Superleague. Kenny Lybeer is drafted into the team from Vod:Bul after a good year that saw him moved aside for big hitting names. He impressed in 2014 with a high finish of fourth but need to be a little more consistent. Mikael Tuomaala also impressed the community with the way he took a midfield Green Stripes car to as high as fifth and was high on many teams' shortlists; he is bound to flourish at Nijo but will also need to work a bit more on consistency. Morten Wernersen is the team's test driver, having also been dislodged at Vod:Bul, and will score decent points if brought into action.

Nijo are no strangers to putting together a good package and should have a decent amount of money saved from holding off on upgrades compared to some of their rivals. They remain Trinity's most loyal customer and the knowledge gleaned from Kenney and Morten's stint at Vod:Bul may help them further. I don't think the team will be third again - there are just too many good drivers this year - but expect them to spring some surprises.

Prediction: around the top 5


Red Archer VRT: #6 Deividas Misiulis, #21 Dovydas Petravicius

The 2011 champions were somewhat under the radar in 2014. They made it to a creditable fourth place in the championship by driving consistently, with Deividas Misiulis finishing in the points every time he raced on the way to seventh in the drivers' championship. Tommy Hagen was a bit less consistent but reached a high of sixth position in Hungary.

The driver merry-go-round has already been whirling and Tommy Hagen has already been replaced by Dovydas Petravicius to complete an all-Lithuanian lineup while long-time test driver Ben Horrill has jumped at the chance of a Superleague berth at Green Stripes. Misiulis was Mr Consistent last year and could give those at the top a run for their money at times if the car delivers. Little is known about Petravicius but he has been mid-table in the tests held so far which bodes well for someone with only a year's experience of simracing. Hagen appears to be staying on as test driver, at least for the pre-season, and his experience from last year will be invaluable should he be called into action.

It will be interesting to see what Red Archer do this season, both in terms of drivers and development. They shocked everyone by appearing in Spain with the second fastest car and then ceased development entirely, meaning some R&D points should be in the bank (though with how much money remains to be seen). Nikos Evangelidakis is known to be very clever with number crunching so expect another good car, and good feedback will no doubt be given to the new Valiant engine team. The drivers are capable of decent finishes but I don't think they're quite strong enough together to warrant another fourth place finish in this year's field - it's certainly a pairing to watch in years to come.

Prediction: Slightly lower than last year, around sixth or seventh


Hawkeye Racing: #1 David Fidock, #3 Gergo Baldi

Hawkeye deserved so much more than they ended up with last year. A strong pairing of Harley Hamnett and Gergo Baldi was doing really well until the league was rocked by Hamnett's disqualification from the league for cheating. Hamnett's results all the way from the start of the season until Belgium were expunged, wiping out Hawkeye's championship place. To finish fifth despite this was a pretty awesome achievement helped by Supercup top guns Sven de Vries and Oskari Kantonen towards the end of the season.

The team have pulled off something of a coup in signing the reigning champion, David Fidock, from CSG Racing. He has a wealth of experience in the league and especially has the knowledge of the way the two top teams in the Superleague work which will be invaluable. He also happens to be extremely quick. Gergo Baldi is also quick and extremely consistent, finishing only between fourth and sixth during the year. He'll be hoping for a maiden Superleague podium this year. Jason Muscat is the team's test driver and has speed and experience in spades, powering to third in Supercup last year.

Hawkeye have an extremely formidable lineup and just need the car to back it up. The Potentia engine in their car is the same as the frontrunners so the car has to be that little bit more special to ensure an advantage. The team stopped developing slightly later than Midnight which may be to their disadvantage; we'll see how much this is negated by the new development rules. It would be rude not to consider Hawkeye in the top echelons for this season, but I think CSG and probably Midnight will prove too much for them with their well-drilled teamwork unless Hawkeye's car is an absolute dream.

Prediction: 3rd


Vod:Bul Racing: #14 Philip Puschke, #15 Oskari Kantonen

Vod:Bul returned to a lot of fanfare for the 2014 Superleague season, six years since they last took to the Superleague grid. They immediately made their mark on the competition with an audacious bid for Potentia engines and then launched an aggressive development plan which saw them score consistent points on their way to sixth in the championship.

Mike Pitman, team principal, is known for his ruthless streak and it's already been out in force. The team signed Midnight's chief designer at great expense in order to send a clear message about their intentions for the year and they've sent a similar message with their driver lineup. Kenney Lybeer and Morten Wernersen have been unceremoniously replaced after impressing last season and in their place stand two simracing heavyweights. Philipp Puschke is the reigning Supercup champion and thoroughly deserves the accolade despite the late-season withdrawal of one of his biggest competitors. He won a shedload of races last year so expect him to thrive against even better opposition. Oscar Kantonen is no slouch either and won four Supercup races last year, albeit with a lack of consistency towards the end of the season; he knows the Vod:Bul setup well which will undoubtedly help. Douwe Tapper, another proven speedy driver, joins in as reserve driver but no doubt VB will find strength in the crazy depth of their roster - rather a lot of teams on the Supercut and Formula Challenge grid last year had drivers supplied from their stable.

New for this year is the team's Valiant engine which will give the team something new to ponder. Pitman was quick to entice other teams to join him but the advantage of this was negated by the rules changing. Pitman is known for his aggressive approach and has definitely made a splash with the lineup and the poaching - the question is whether the money it took to do this was worth it, but the money raised from engine sales may well make up for it. Don't rule Vod:Bul out of anything, but I think they still need to prove themselves against the might of CSG and Midnight.

Prediction: 4th


Nordsjoen Racing: #19 Agustin Canapino, #27 Florian Geier

The newly-Norwegian team had another mediocre year by their standards in 2014. There were most definitely some high points, notably a 4-5 finish in Canada, but despite consistent points the team couldn't get further up the field than seventh overall, not helped by a few retirements and no-shows.

The team have rebuilt for 2015 around Agustin Canapino, their lead driver from last year. He had a decent season, consistently finishing around fifth to tenth, but missed a few races which led to him only finishing eleventh overall. He has shown flashes of brilliance over the last couple of years, especially in tin tops, but the dominance of the Potentia-powered cars has stopped him showing what he can really do in Superleague. Maybe this will be the year that changes? Toby Davis has been shown the door after patchy appearances throughout the year and in his place is Florian Geier who has moved over from CSG/Simcraft after a very promising year in Supercup, finishing fourth overall with a win in Monaco in Superleague and a podium for CSG. It's a brave move to leave the bosom of CSG/Simcraft in their prime to pursue a Superleague challenge, especially given the trend of drivers moving the other way, but it's definitely a laudable one which may well pay off. Matt Richards is a useful reserve driver, though his retirement record in Superleague last year wasn't great.

On paper, anything is possible for Nordsjoen this year. Canapino is a seriously quick driver, as shown during testing, and Nordsjoen will hope he can be consistent and show up all year. Geier is a promising talent but may find life a bit harder without the attention to detail that he found at CSG. If he can bring that work ethic to Nordsjoen they've got a good chance of surprising people. The team know how to put a good car together, and with the rule change the only disadvantage to their Martex engine finding no buyers is that the team miss out on making any profits on it.

Prediction: In the dogfight for fifth to tenth


Torrent Motorsports: #88 Petter Kaasa, #99 Mindaugas Klumbis

Torrent are a team capable of much more than they showed in 2014. A sustained push in 2013 led to depleted resources for 2014 and mistakes made during pre-season bids and development resulted in the team giving up any 2014 development after the first race. A fourth place in Melbourne gave way to non-points finishes towards the end of the year as the team went from one of the best developed to easily one of the worst.

Petter Kaasa leads the Torrent charge once again and we saw in 2013 what he's capable of when he only finished once outside of the points. He's one of the fastest drivers on the grid and will be in and around the top five if the car is right. Mindaugas Klumbis moves up from sister team Target; his results were unremarkable last year but the Target was an even worse car than the Torrent, making his points finishes look quite good. Team Principal Simon Melhuish completes the lineup as test driver and can do a decent job if the motivation is there.

Torrent are one of two engine carousel teams on the grid, having moved to Potentia this year after Trinity in 2014 and Martex in 2013. It's strange to see the team working with one of their great enemies, but Potentia are known for their top engines and Torrent could well be playing a blinder (apart from the money it no doubt cost them). They've surely got money from not spending it last year, though the new development rules make their R&D points surplus much less of an advantage. It'll be very interesting to see where they slot in when all is said and done this year.

Prediction: Better than last year


Kernow Sport: #12 Mark Wicks, #83 Bart de Vos

Everything looked rosy at the start of 2014 for Kernow. After landing coups in Simon Cattell in 2012 and Lee Morris in 2013, the team started 2014 with Morris as its star driver hoping for further improvement. Perhaps they should've learned from Nordsjoen in 2013. Morris left in a bad tempered flurry once again, this time after five rounds of the series. Another coup saw Giuseppe Rainieri join the team after his unceremonious sacking from Midnight but he was only around for two races before leaving the Superleague for good. By this time the team were struggling for cash, not helped by a lack of interest in their Krevder engine losing them money and development, and the team only survived to see 2015 by missing the last two races. Sounds a bit like Formula One?

Thankfully the pride of Cornwall are back for another year. Mark Wicks, the GPVWC stalwart and all round good guy, is back in the big time after a self-imposed exile to Formula Challenge last season. His results there were mixed to say the least and it's no secret that he'd like to find someone else if possible to take over; nonetheless he carries all the goodwill in the paddock with him and is more than capable of a good points showing. He's partnered by Bart de Vos, a fellow league stalwart. He did decently if unspectacularly in Supercup last year and filled in to no real fanfare at times in Superleague last year. He's done alright in Superleague over the years, never really hitting the top echelons apart from a few fifth places in 2012, but as a former Supercup champion he remains a decent threat. Interestingly neither driver is signed on a Primary contract at the time of writing, meaning change could be afoot at any point.

Kernow have made it onto the grid, but at a price. The Krevder engine has been given up, taking away possible profit but hopefully giving the team a sniff at staying afloat. Development and personnel won't be great for the same reason but their part of the massive Trinity stable may help if engine development proves to be a factor. The key to their season is to stay consistent - always such a hallmark of Wicks' glory days - and to keep their books balanced by not taking on more driver contracts than they need to. A high finish isn't likely but the odd surprise may be sprung.

Prediction: Around tenth


Green Stripes Racing: #11 Ben Horrill, #20 Dewald Nel

2013 was a fall from grace for Green Stripes after the Dave Carr-Smith inspired heights of 2012 and 2014 was no better. Despite a very decent car the team only managed tenth overall, some impressive points hauls from Mikael Tuomaala paired with pretty average finishes and a fair amount of retirements from Tommi Koivunen on the other side of the garage. The team still finished a good fifty points ahead of the next best placed team but should've done more with Tuomaala being absolutely revelatory. It was no surprise that he was in high demand with the rest of the field come the silly season and he unsurprisingly left for Nijo.

Indeed, Tommi Koivunen has now left the team too leaving a completely new lineup. Ben Horrill has finally realised his dream after applying for every Superleague advert of the last couple of years and starts his first full year as a Superleague race driver. Time will tell if this the right step at the right time but he has had decent results at Formula Challenge level and mixed results higher up the Career Ladder. Dewald Nel (not the ex-Kent cricket player, I'm reliably informed) is a bit of an unknown quantity and made two Supercup starts last year, retiring in one and not scoring in the other. Sandeep Chodha is the team's reserve driver and has proved useful so far further down the ladder; he is a bit inexperienced at Superleague level but took part in the Young Driver Test last year.

The team have switched after years of Potentia engines to the new Valiant plant; time will tell if moving from the established market leaders was a good decision. Development was thick and fast last year but ended quite soon after Spain so there may well be resources there, though maybe not as much money as desired. The main problem with the team this year is the inexperienced lineup with a grand total of just five starts between the three drivers in Superleague. The drivers may yet prove to be as good a find as Tuomaala was but for now it looks like the team may struggle. Maybe this year is one for gaining experience?

Prediction: Near the bottom


Woods Racing: #8 Jarl Teien, #9 Roy Schroten

Just when you thought 2013 was enough of a slide down the pecking order for the boys in blue and silver, along came 2014 to prove that things can indeed get worse. Desperate overspending on personnel led to an underdeveloped car and the driver situation wasn't much better. First came Oscar Hardwick's ban before the season had even started, only for Danny Asbury to join the team and leave halfway through the season in a cloud of disagreement about the team's direction while only managing to finish in three races. Roy Schroten tried his best to keep things together, consistently finishing in or near the points, while Asbury's replacement Olli Pelkonen failed to finish any of the four races he took part in. Overall eleven retirements and two missed starts contributed to Woods's worst Superleague finish in many years and it was only an eleventh place finish by Jarl Teien at the penultimate race and a determined drive for one point by Roy Schroten at Brazil that stopped the team falling further.

The driver lineup for 2015 is slightly more hopeful. Jarl Teien joins the team full-time after Wauters Automotive, his original team, didn't make the Superleague cut. Jarl is an incredibly fast driver and backs himself to do well, though the team will be hoping that he doesn't get himself taken out in an early dogfight as in Brazil last year. Roy Schroten was a workhorse last year, trying his hardest to get what he could out of a torrid car in his first year as a full time Superleague driver; if the car is better he'll be around the points. Menno Klont did a decent job when called upon last year for Kernow and a very good job in Supercup, finishing seventh; this year will give him good experience for a future attempt at a Superleague career.

The key to Woods's season - their twelfth in Superleague - is reliability. The team cannot expect to get better if they retire anywhere near the amount of times they retired last year. Money shouldn't be too much of a problem, albeit nowhere near the big boys, and the team have a lot of help with the Trinity engine's development plan from the four other teams they signed in pre-season (even with the development benefits negated). Expect fireworks from Teien as the season starts, and then who knows what will happen as the year progresses. Hopefully this year will be slightly calmer!

Prediction: Better than last year (please?)

Target Racing: #66 Jordan Weekes, #77 Sven Hesse

Target made their Superleague bow last year after a really competitive year in Supercup, but unfortunately they fell foul to the same mistakes as their allies Torrent made in 2014. The team gave up development after one race and were easily the worst developed in the field. Despite this they were somehow able to get points early on but the biggest problem was retirements, with car 27 retiring a ridiculous eleven times just by itself. How many of these were to save fuel remains to be seen. Thirteenth place overall was not what anyone expected.

The team have kept faith with Jordan Weekes and he will hope to do lots better than his run last year. There is no doubt talent there, as his eye-catching pre-season finishes prove, but work needs to be done on consistency and maturity in the light of certain offences that saw him dangerously close to being thrown out of the league. He's partnered by Sven Hesse, a newcomer who has done a very decent job in pre-season testing. Sven de Vries, the team's reserve driver, is known to be fast and probably would've been Supercup champion had he not given up before the end of the season to preserve his place in the second tier for this year.

Target are a bit of an unknown this year. On paper the drivers look really rather good. But we said that last year. They'll have money and a fair amount of R&D points (albeit not as many as expected due to the rule changes) as well as an engine with plenty of team input. But will they make the right choices? Time will tell.

Prediction: Upper midfield, probably


Phoenix F1: #45 Kieran Ryan, #46 Mikko Jakonen

It hasn't really been a triumphant return to Superleague action for Phoenix F1. The team finished in the lower midfield in 2013 and then came in bottom of the pile in 2014, a retirement-strewn season being punctuated with the odd points finish. They flirted dangerously with relegation to the Supercup but in the end ST Racing's results when removing star turns from the top two Supercup contenders saved the Australian team from the drop.

Kieran Ryan returns once again and is now part of the Superleague furniture after so many seasons in the top division. He managed twelve points last year and is capable of more but it's clear that others have overtaken him in this division. On the plus side he seemed less crash-prone than in 2013. He is joined by former champion Mikko Jakonen, ten years after his last Superleague runout. Mikko had an uneventful and slightly retirement-prone Supercup season last year but scored points on a few occasions. They're joined by Ben Willis who hardly set the world alight in Formula Challenge last year but will hope to gain more experience this season.

It's great to see such stalwarts of the league continuing on, though it feels a bit like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus trying to play the Masters years after their victories. The team have no doubt learned from mistakes made in previous seasons and have a contemporary engine this year which will aid their cause. The trouble is that other teams just have a more powerful lineup. If Phoenix want to improve they have to target race finishes; that way they can pick up points when others fail.

Prediction: Lower end of the table


Edonis Engineering: #4 Fran Lopez, #69 James Johnson

This year only one team have been promoted and that's the Supercup champions, Edonis. Jason Muscat's consistency coupled with Oskari Kantonen's early form and cameos from Jonathan Holmes and Jernej Simoncic allowed the team to beat such opposition as Simcraft, Satellite and PB to secure their second consecutive promotion.

After such a great year it's all change at Edonis. Kantonen has been snapped up by Vod:Bul and Muscat remains in Supercup for a shot at the title with Malta Force. Instead the team have hired Fran Lopez and James Johnson. Lopez was consistently in the points throughout 2014 in Supercup but isn't always as consistent in race trim. He has been at the top of the time sheets throughout pre-season testing which augurs well, though variables outside of his control may play a factor in realising these placings throughout the season. Johnson is no slouch and won four Formula Challenge races on his way to fifth in the championship last year; this is a big step up for him. Lewis McGlade is the team's reserve and is unproven in Superleague, though progress has been made recently in his Formula Challenge races.

Edonis are probably the biggest question mark on the grid. Target proved last year that it isn't easy to come up from Supercup and do well; that said, CSG did quite the opposite! The team have strong links to both Vod:Bul (through their engines and James Johnson) and Woods (through team boss Menno Klont's reserve drive) and the experience gleaned from these teams should be invaluable to a rookie manager. Lopez is definitely fast, but it remains to be seen whether the team will put together a strong enough package to challenge high up the grid.

Prediction: Who knows?



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