This story didn’t make big news on this side of the pond, so to speak, so we’re just learning about it now.
But make no mistake about it: the ramifications could spell potential major changes on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit in the future.
In an ironic twist of fate, hours before NASCAR called last Sunday’s rain-postponed (from last Saturday night) Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the first-ever NASCAR series oval race was contested under what was described as “torrential rain” at Tours Speedway in Tours, France.
In other words, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race went the full distance under the wet stuff, unlike the Sprint Cup race in Daytona, which was cut short 48 laps from the scheduled distance due to rain.
According to sanctioning body officials, this is the first time a NASCAR-sanctioned paved oval track race – on any level – has ever been run and completed in rain.
And in almost storybook fashion, Mathias Lauda – son of three-time Formula One champion Niki Lauda – took the checkered flag in a Chevrolet SS.
“I’m very happy for my first win in NASCAR,” Lauda said, according to a Whelan Euro Series media release.
It wasn’t easy for the younger Lauda. With 10 laps left in the “Michelin 75” race, he was forced to twice pass on the outside – not the best of places to do so given the conditions – but his car held true and won by a thin margin of 0.677 seconds.
“I felt good in the rain and I got more and more confident,” Lauda said in a Michelin media release. “I tried to save my tires in the first half of the race, which was a good decision because when I moved to the outside at the end I realized at once that I was faster than the guys ahead of me.”
Lauda beat points leader Ander Vilarino to the checkered flag. And with the win, Lauda moved up from fifth to third place in the Euro Series standings, just 21 points behind Vilarino.
Up to last Sunday’s race at Tours, only the NASCAR Nationwide Series had contested three races in rain, twice in Montreal and the most recent last month at Road America in Wisconsin, won by Brendan Gaughan.
Check out the video interview with Lauda and Vilarino, followed by a highlight reel of the rainy race:
Michelin officials bragged about the feat with a press release issued Friday, calling it a “landmark victory” in “torrential rain” on the half-mile paved Tours oval.
Phillippe Mussati, manager of Michelin’s customer competition programs, was obviously rather proud of both Lauda and the job the Michelin tires on his race car did.
“The win of Mathias Lauda and his team DF1 Racing by 66 was an historic one for a number of reasons,” Mussati said. “In addition to the victory itself, his Michelin P2E tires fulfilled their mission to the letter and contributed to some outstanding lap times. In the rain, the fastest laps on these tires were only 1.5 seconds short of the fastest laps posted in the dry.”
The Whelen Euro Series concludes its regular season at Germany’s famed Nurburgring on July 19-20.
The series’ playoffs begin on Sept. 20-21 at Italy’s Autodromo dell’Umbria di Magione.
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