The fifth season of the Infinity Euro Nitro Series kicks off this weekend with the high profile Onroad Nitro championship travelling to the Netherlands for the first time in its 16 race history. Rucphen is the venue for the first of the four events over which the World’s best drivers will do battle to become the overall champion, with reigning champion Simon Kurzbuch going after a third 1:8 title in a row. In 1:10, a class that has crowned a new champion at the end of every ENS season, that pattern looks set to continue. Last year Bruno Coelho added the ENS title his ETS and EOS titles but, as one of the most versatile and therefore busiest drivers in the sport, his schedule prevents him from defending his title. The competition will still be fierce however, given it is a World Championship year for 1:10, and with the ENS a title that has eluded current World Champion Dominic Greiner he goes into Season #5 as the firm title favourite.
For Kurzbuch, the main challenge for the Shepherd driver is expected to come from World Champion Dario Balestri. The Infinity driver took the World title from his great Swiss rival in France last year and is the only other driver apart from Kurzbuch to have been crowned 1:8 ENS Champion. Despite this, Balestri has only once taken an ENS victory in 1:8 compared to Kurzbuch’s impressive tally of 9 wins. Next best on the championship’s roll of honour is Balestri’s team-mate Lamberto Collari, who has been on the top step of the podium three times.
Third in the championship standings last season, behind Round 1 winner Coelho, Robert Pietsch will be aiming to put Mugen in this year’s title hunt. The former World Champion is one of only 6 drivers to enjoy an ENS win in R/C racing’s premiere class and can always be counted on to be in the mix for the podium. For the only other 1:8 race winner in attendance, this weekend is a home race with ARC’s John Ermen hoping he can put local track knowledge to good use and give himself an extra reason to put on a party come Sunday evening.
Having debuted in 1:8 Onroad last season and shown he clearly has the outright speed, Naoto Matsukura will be aiming to translate that pace into a maiden victory. The multiple electric World Champion is spectacular to watch and now that he has more experience of running longer, strategy based nitro finals, he should be able to mix it with Kurzbuch and Balestri for the full 45-minutes. Another Japanese driver to debut in the ENS last season was Matsukura’s team-mate Takaaki Shimo. The highly respected onroad nitro driver just missed the podium at the Season #4 opener and will be looking to get his second season with Infinity underway with at least a podium result.
While racing the first 3 rounds of last year’s championship in the 1:8 class as preparations for the World Championships, Greiner returned to his favourite class in style winning the season finale in Fiorano from the TQ. The Serpent driver is full-on 1:10 again for 2018 and starts out as the clear title favourite. While sharing the honour of the greatest number of 1:10 ENS wins, with 3, but holding a clear lead in his TQ tally, 6, the German’s main rival is going to be one of those with whom he shares the same number of wins. Champion in 2016, Teemu Leino leads a strong Infinity challenge that also includes 2015 Champion Jilles Groskamp. Interestingly, Rucphen will mark 9-time 1:8 World Champion Collari’s 1:10 race debut. Without Coelho in the ENS, Xray will be pinning their hopes on Alessio Mazzeo. The Italian is a former ENS race winner, finishing runner-up to his team-mate last season, and will relish the opportunity to lead the team in the 2018 title fight.
Elsewhere in 1:10, Shepherd’s efforts will be led by Thilo Tödtmann and Eduardo Escandon who finished 3rd & 4th respectively in last year’s points standings. Spaniard Escandon was one of the revelations of last season on joining Shepherd and he’ll be hoping continuity will help him reap the rewards in the season ahead.