Alex Cascatău & Alain Berg Edge Closer To Victory, Pick Up Podium In Zolder Rollercoaster
Alex Cascatău’s return to Circuit Zolder yielded a podium in the first race of the weekend but Baticonsult Racing’s hard work wasn’t fully rewarded in the second round of the GT & Prototype Challenge season.
Changing weather conditions, a packed grid, and a number of caution periods all contributed to a topsy-turvy couple of days for Baticonsult Racing’s Alex Cascatău and Alain Berg who travelled to Belgium for the third round of the 2021 GT & Prototype Challenge. The toughest sportscar series of the Lowlands once again delivered on its promise with a pair of entertaining races that saw the Norma M20 FC contingent reign supreme.
As ever, the action kicked off with the first free practice session, Alain taking to the track in the wet 50-minute session. He proceeded to run the brand-new, 2.0-liter Honda engine in and make sure everything operates as it should. As such, the lap times were of no interest to the team.
The second free practice session saw Alex get his first taste of the rebuilt Baticonsult Racing Norma, the Romanian immediately getting up to pace in what was a dry session throughout. With a 1:29.904, the grey-red-and-blue Norma ended the session fourth fastest, a mere half a second behind pace-setting de Jonghe/Piessens No. 610 car entered by Deldiche Racing. Tom Boonen posted the second-fastest lap time while the McDonald’s Racing (originally entered as Norma Benelux) car was third.
By the end of the second free practice session, Alex was brought back into the pits by slow punctures on the left-hand-side tires. While that particular set of slicks was by no means new, the team hadn’t, up until then, faced punctures of any kind on the Norma. Luckily, this situation wouldn’t repeat itself throughout the rest of the weekend.
Alex was sent out in the 20-minute, rapid-fire qualifying session to put the car on the grid for both the two races that were scheduled as part of round two. The rule remained the same: your fastest lap in the session would determine your starting position in Race 1 while your second-fastest lap would seal your grid position for Race 2. With this rule in mind, the Constanța native set out to complete some banker laps before coming right back in.
His two laps in 1:29 matched his pace in FP2 but weren’t going to set the timing sheets on fire as the faster, turbocharged Normas of Deldiche and McDonald’s Racing edged ahead thanks to their advantage down the straight. Going back out, Alex noticed the battery warning light blinking on the instrument panel but pressed on regardless setting a personal best flyer of 1:28.397.
On his second fast lap since coming back out again, Alex felt he was faster by a few tenths but he never managed to cross the finish line as the battery went flat and he had to pull over at the hairpin (Turn 8). As his second-best effort was a 1:29.085, Baticonsult Racing had to start both races from fourth on the grid, 1.6 seconds slower in absolute pace than the Piessens/de Jonghe Norma which was on pole both Saturday and Sunday.
The start of Saturday’s race was action-packed, Bob Herber initially edging ahead of Cascatău who took the start aboard Baticonsult Racing’s No. 614 Norma. The Romanian, however, made sure to jump on the brakes later for turns 1&2 and got the better of Herber’s GT-class Huracan Super Trofeo. From then on, it was all about hunting down the three Deldiche Normas since McDonald’s Racing’s example struggled with a variety of mechanical problems throughout both races.
Joosen was Alex’s next victim following a slight misjudgement under braking by the Deldiche driver heading into the last chicane. Boonen and Piessens were sitting ducks as well despite their noticeable power advantage as Cascatău once again demonstrated his prowess in negotiating the slower traffic around the tight, 10-turn course. All said and done, by the time Cascatău pitted to hand the car over to Berg at the 35th minute mark, Baticonsult Racing was first, and with a comfortable 10 second lead. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The faster de Jonghe caught up with Berg with mere laps to spare and passed the Luxembourg native to win the first race, Baticonsult Racing having to settle for second in a race that almost went its way.
The second race of the weekend was a lot more frustrating for Alex and Alain as a pair of safety car periods added some twists to the tale. If Saturday’s off-course excursions were dealt with via Full-Course Yellows, on Sunday, the race officials decided to allow the safety car to increase its mileage and that meant Alex’s magnificent run couldn’t be replicated at the second time of asking. With the safety car bunching up the field, there was no traffic to speak of meaning that the Baticonsult car remained stuck in fourth overall in the middle of a genuine train of Normas.
To add insult to injury, another safety car period was deployed around the time the pit window opened and that caught the team off guard. Alex had no team radio to make use of meaning he dove into the pits a lap too late, sending Alain back out towards the rear of the safety car queue. Lost somewhere in the 35-car field, Berg fought his way through, while also negotiating some gearbox issues, before crossing the finish line in 10th overall, fourth in class respectively.
While the results of the second race were lackluster, Berg and Cascatău now hold third place in the standings and are closing to the two Deldiche line-ups ahead, that of Joosen and that of Boonen. The next round of the season will take place at Assen, between the 6-8 August.
Considering how we started the season I'm actually quite happy with how we bounced back at Zolder. This was always going to be a big challenge, as it's our rivals' home track, and we had no time to do any testing beforehand. Saturday was hugely enjoyable, and the battles through the field show that the pace is still there. We managed to identify some areas we can improve for the next race, especially in regards to engine performance, which was definitely our main drawback here. I'm very motivated and optimistic to return to Assen, a track I love and have had good results last year.
2021 GT & Prototype Challenge Calendar
1. 21-23 May – Hockenheim
2. 4-6 June – Spa-Francorchamps (cancelled)
3. 16-18 July – Zolder
4. 6-8 August – Assen
5. 17-19 September – Assen
6. 16-17 October – Spa-Francorchamps
7. 29-31 October – Assen
Photo credit: Federico Vecchio / Supercar Challenge
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