Winners rise against the elements at dramatic BNL Kick-Off in Belgium

Columns: Races
In the lead-up to the 17th edition of the BNL Karting Series, the BNL Kick-Off launched the year with another successful running of the annual season opener in Belgium at Karting Genk ‘Home of Champions’ over the weekend. The racing lived up to the expectations of the international event, while the weather threw almost everything at it – rain, hail and wind! On the top step of the podium, the deserving champions had excelled against the competition in tough conditions.

Stormy weather hammered the Karting Genk circuit, including hail on a few occasions, adding to the challenge of the closely-fought competition at the 1,360-metre-long ‘Home of Champions’. The drivers, teams and organisation persisted to race in difficult circumstances, while the spectators watched on under cover or via the livestream. The sun came out at times on Finals Day and the track began to dry, as the pressure rose and the drama continued to unfold. At the prize-giving ceremony, the deserving winners celebrated their success in the six Rotax classes: Ryan Rampadarath, Vince Vanderhallen, Max Sadurski, Jayden Thien, Frederik Zebis Christensen and Priit Sei. The 2024 BNL Karting Series will now follow with a double-header format over four race weekends, beginning next month at the same Belgian circuit. There are RMC Grand Finals tickets to be won by five of the series champions who will represent their national team in Italy this October.

Mini MAX Rookies
The quickest on track during qualifying in the youngest group was Ryan Rampadarath of the Netherlands, then Yesse Moonen (BEL) and Albert Pharoah (GBR). In the Ranking after Heats, it was Moonen finishing mid-field amongst 28 Minis who scored best of the Rookies Saturday. However, another rising star came through to lead the class in the Super Heat, when Theo Steindal (NOR) beat Rampadarath to the flag in the 8-lapper. Tristan Abeels was the third-placed Mini MAX Rookie. In the Final classification Rampadarath celebrated as the winner, starting out of row 8 for the last race Sunday. The young SP Motorsport driver was rewarded for his efforts with the victory after some really tough conditions for all the drivers. Steindal and Pharoah completed the podium ceremony. 

Rotax Mini MAX 
SP Motorsport’s Victor Ruyts (BEL) set the pace in official timed practice and won two from three heats to top the rankings Saturday. Former Rookie Senn Lindemann (NED) won Heat 2 for Paauwer Kart Racing. The start grid for the Final was decided following an action-packed Super Heat that was won by Vic van Campenhout. He was fastest Saturday morning and led by nearly four seconds on a wet track, after another deluge of rain and hail. This boosted the Belgian to the top of the Intermediate Classification ahead of pole-sitter Ruyts, who finished P5, so they would line up on the front row in the afternoon. In P2 it was the Dutchman Aj Burggraaff and Lithuania’s Majus Mazinas. At the start of the Final, Van Campenhout lost ground and had to join the cut-throat contest in the chasing group for the duration of the 12 laps. It was the recent Champions Winter Trophy winner at Genk, Vince Vanderhallen (BEL), who grabbed the lead and stretched the gap to more than three seconds by the end. In a superb race with nothing separating the remainder of the front-runners, Van Campenhout pushed through in the last moments to take second from Ruyts, who posted the quickest race lap. Next was Burggraaff in P4 then Jack Freeman (GBR) P5 in the dash to the line. 

Rotax Junior MAX
There were some new-comers on the entry list with some very promising junior talent preparing for the upcoming season. Posting the best time in qualifying, Thomas Verheyen (BEL) also took a double victory in the Heats to follow and claim P1 for Sunday’s Super Heat. UK driver Cameron Nelson had won the initial Heat. Ranking second overall Saturday was next best qualifier Noah Janssen (GER) and Max Sadurski (NED) third. The Super Heat proved to be a letdown for Verheyen, going in favour of Janssen when provisional winner Luka Scelles (FRA) was handed a five-second penalty for starting out of position and dropped to P3. Nelson was then promoted to P2 and the only driver to break the 1:06 mark on the slippery circuit. The Final saw Janssen on pole alongside Verheyen, while on row 2 Nelson, just a point off the Belgian, had Sadurski starting beside him. In the showdown to crown the BNL Kick-Off champion, a shower of rain arrived just before the chequered flag, yet nobody could catch pacesetter Sadurski who led from just over two minutes to go. He had already been one to watch after finishing runner-up at the new Champions Winter Trophy at Genk in February. However, it was a disappointing end for Janssen running in P2, sliding off the track in the last lap and coming to a stop in the mud. Boaz Maximov, former RMC Euro Trophy Mini MAX title-holder, made the most of the squabble in the early stages to climb from P9, up to second behind his countryman. Nelson drove a great race to third ahead of Lars Lambers, who was relegated post-race to P7, so it was Rayane Bourguignon (FRA) and Bran Vanderveken (BEL) rounding out the top 5.

Rotax Senior MAX
After heading the timesheets in Qualifying Practice, twice BNL champion Tommie van den Struijs (NED) went on to take the chequered flag in the third Heat. The other races saw different winners; the first was last season’s British Junior MAX champion Macauley Bishop and Heat 2 Germany’s Jake Beselbecke. In the total points tally Saturday, it was Bishop, who had qualified 12, ranked highest ahead of Van der Struijs. On a drying track, the Super Heat was won by Thien, having initially led by lap 6, where the significance of the slipstream at Karting Genk came into play. Both Bishop and Van der Struijs took turns with Thien at the front; the latter eventually the fastest, but his fellow Dutch rival collected the most points to join Bishop, in third, on the front row for the afternoon Final. Alongside Van der Struijs on the second row was his Bouvin Power teammate who incidentally qualified in 19, Lawrence Herbots. In the Final Bishop led at the start, but it was only short-lived, as his Dan Holland Racing teammate Jayden Thien (NED) shot up to P1. With pace-setter Van der Struijs putting pressure on the pair, the trio managed to pull a gap to the rest of the field fighting it out over the 17 laps. They were out in a class of their own with almost identical lap times, where it was hard, fair racing. Bishop reclaimed the lead as Thien fell to third, yet soon after lost P1 to the Bouvin Power driver. They swapped again, but a move from Van der Struijs at the end of lap 9 saw him overshoot the apex in turn 12, leaving the door open for Thien to claim the lead. The newly-crowned 2024 RMCET Winter Cup champion collected another title in a close race that could have gone to any one of the first three, with less than two-tenths for the win at the line. The Belgian duo of Sverre Ubben and multiple champion, now senior rookie, Mateja Radenkovic made up the top 5.

Rotax DD2 
Devin Sagadi (EST) was the man to beat from qualifying, until the experience of Paul Fourquemin (FRA) showed as he crossed the line in P1 for the first Heats in the two-speed category. This would be enough to give him pole position for Sunday morning’s Super Heat. Battling the elements in the deciding race for points Saturday afternoon, Noa Hipp stormed home to outshine his countryman. 
Cousin won the Super Heat in 12 laps, while his Daems Racing teammate Fourquemin picked up second, after a front fairing penalty dropped Kylian Guerin down to third. Teammates again were fighting it out for the lead in the DD2 class from the front row. Cousin was able to snatch the leading position in the early stages of the Final from Fourquemin, although they traded placed once more. Nicolas Guillaume moved in for the challenge and secured P2, until the very fast Frederik Zebis Christensen (DEN) surged through from start grid 12 for the lead with five minutes left on the clock. The Dane lengthened the gap to nearly three seconds ahead of Fourquemin and Guerin. The dice for minor placings was won by Hipp over Cousin, giving the French drivers four of the first five positions. 

Rotax DD2 Masters
Another Estonian hit the spotlight in the Qualifying Practice session when Priit Sei snatched pole, but he was penalised for missing the start grid gate later in the day and had to start from the back. Twice Heat winner Christophe Capitaine made it a second French driver on top of the leaderboard by the end of the program on Day 1. Michael Becker (GER) was the best in the Masters field in the last session. The Super Heat brought the pole-sitter back into the leading position, in fact, running inside the first 5 in the combined DD2 class field. Not too far behind, were the seasoned international DD2 Masters Capitaine and Carl Cleirbaut (BEL) – also within the top 10 overall. Once more, Sei showed his pace and the Final was no exception, as the Estonian competed for the podium amongst the younger drivers from the onset, at one stage sitting in P3 as the leading over 32-year-old. By the end of the 17 laps, Capitaine and Cleirbaut were right behind the AGS Racing entry in a close finish to decide the podium. The two-speed gearbox category is shaping up to be a fantastic competition.

Brenda Swennen, Series Organiser and Circuit Manager at Karting Genk ‘Home of Champions’ looks back on what was a somewhat challenging, yet successful BNL Kick-Off, “The weather conditions we cannot change, but I think considering this, the event went quite well. We managed to keep the race program running to time too. Although there were several Rotax events that coincided with the BNL Kick-Off this weekend, our aim is to have full grids for the championship. Obviously the BNL is an international series and we look forward once again to welcome competitors from around the world to participate. It’s going to be a busy month here at Karting Genk in April; we begin with the opening round of the BNL Karting Series followed by Round 1 of the RMC Euro Trophy the next weekend. For anyone who has not checked out the 2024 BNL Calendar as yet, along with Mariembourg, we will visit another famous track at Kerpen in Germany, which will be a new venue for many competitors.” 

BNL Karting Series Calendar 2024
Round 1 – April 6-7        Genk, BEL
Round 2 – May 25-26        Mariembourg, BEL
Round 3 – August 24-25        Kerpen, GER
Round 4 – September 28-29    Genk, BEL


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(Text Jen Wade & Photo

Created by: abruno - 25/03/24

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