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  • Writer's pictureMihai Fira

Alex Cascatău wins in Prototype Challenge return at Spa-Francorchamps

Outright victory highlights Alex Cascatău’s return to the famed home of the Belgian Grand Prix as he pushes the new Nova Proto NP02 to its maiden win in the GT & Prototype Challenge ahead of CN, PX, and LMP3 machinery.

Alex Cascatău last scored a victory at Spa racing during his stint in the Van Der Horst Racing-entered BMW in the Belcar Series. Now, four years down the road, Alex returned to the daunting track nestled in the Ardennes forest and conquered it once more. It was also the Romanian’s first start in the GT & Prototype Challenge in over a year as the 2020 outright and CN class champion accepted the challenge to try out the new Nova Proto NP02 together with Deldicheracing.

The Belgian team, known for its many victories in both the Belcar Series and the GT & Prototype Challenge, decided to gauge the potential of a new, V8-engined, closed-cockpit prototype conceived by Nova Proto, the same manufacturer behind the M20 FC Turbo CN-spec cars that Deldicheracing has been putting to good use for years. The team first shook down the car during Wednesday’s private test sessions and, with Alex still away from Spa, it soon became apparent that the car lacked pace in the dry. However, the weather forecast suggested that rain would arrive by Friday.

For once, the weatherman was right and, like clockwork, the weather got increasingly bad with Friday’s Free Practice sessions and the sole Qualifying sessions held in damp and wet conditions. The car ran convincing lap times during FP1, edging ever closer to the pace of the Racing Experience-entered Duqueine LMP3. By FP2, Alex was able to match the Duqueine’s FP1 2:43-second lap times despite heavy traffic, but important set-up improvements had been achieved at that point.

Qualifying saw Alex follow Sam Dejonghe’s Deldicheracing Norma as the team watched on from the pits, in a bid to compare the two cars for the future. In the end, Dejonghe reeled in a 2:34.922 while Alex was about half a second back with a personal best lap time of 1:35.476. The Mauer and Hauser-driven Duqueine qualified third-quickest (2:36.6) while Max Aschoff’s Ginetta-Nissan G58 was fourth (2:38.5). Considering the NP02's struggles in the dry compared to the CN's pace, this was a very good result.

The two races were held in quite rather different conditions. First up, Saturday’s race would see the cars go out in full wet conditions similar to what Alex had already faced during FP2. In essence, this was the best-case scenario for Deldicheracing’s NP02 that loved the wet conditions but was far off the pace in the dry – some 10 seconds off during Wednesday’s dry settings compared to the turbocharged Norma M20 FC.

As such, it was no surprise that Alex took over the lead from Sam Dejonghe diving into Turn 1 and never looked back during his stint. However, the pressure from behind was relentless, Hauser jumping Dejonghe as well in an attempt to play catch-up. Alex still managed to build a three-second gap during the first part of his stint but was never more than three tenths quicker per lap compared to the P3 car. Then, one of the many Funyo prototypes found its way into the kitty litter and this triggered a Full-Course Yellow (FCY) procedure that allowed Hauser to close the gap right up, even allowing himself to run side-by-side with Alex at times; despite the fact that the rules clearly state that there’s an 80 kph speed limit during any and all caution periods.

Shortly after the green flags were finally displayed once more, it was time for Alex to pit and give the car over to his team-mate, Thomas Piessens. Since Thomas had already scored some wins during the 2022 season, the No. 502 car’s pit stop had to be longer than that of the Racing Experience Duqueine. This is part of the championship’s own system meant to ‘even out’ the chances by mandating “success penalties” just like in British GT for instance.

Happily, Piessens quickly reeled the Duqueine in and went for the pass on Mauer. With the move done, the Belgian never looked back and crossed the line nearly 40 seconds ahead of the LMP3 car after completing 21 laps.

With race 2 came a drying track and some added worries for Deldicheracing. The team’s NP02, which had never run on Hankook rubber before last weekend, had began to act up during the latter stages of the first race, Piessens telling the team that there was a problem with the accelerator pedal which the team traced back to a sensor issue.

Alex took the start but couldn’t repeat the pass on Dejonghe who kept his lead through the first couple of corners, but Cascatău’s second attempt through Les Combes seemed to be successful, but the Norma quickly sneaked right back past the blue NP02 to retake the lead. Merely seconds later, while going down Speakers’ Corner, Cascatău understeered off the road and lost several spots which dropped him down to sixth overall. Luckily, a caution period followed right after the Romanian’s quick off-track excursion.

But the luck would eventually run out with the car developing some sort of mechanical problem and stopping at the side of the road during the FCY period. Alex tried to a complete system reset a number of times but the car kept cutting out. The fuel pump was the culprit and before the team could switch to the secondary pump for Piessens’ stint, the car had dropped back three laps.

Thomas ultimately managed to bring it home running on the secondary pump but was far off the pace as he too complained that the car simply refused to bring any heat into the front tires. To make matters worse, the front axle was struggling to maintain any sort of warmth even in the dry, let alone in the wet. In the end, after another 60 minutes of racing, it was a runner-up finish in the Prototype (PT) class for Cascatău and Piessens who benefitted from Aschoff’s even more significant trouble.

While the weekend wasn’t spotless, Alex learned a lot working with former rivals Deldicheracing and looks ahead to the future as some opportunities still lie ahead before the end of the 2022 season.

Photography by Rob Blank and Roel Louwers

Race results

Alex Cascatău: „To come back at Spa, a track I hadn't raced on since 2019 and one which had changed quite a lot since my last visit, is amazing by itself. To also be able to say that I've walked away with an overall win is extremely satisfying given how new the car is and considering a tough 2022. It was a real pleasure working with Deldicheracing and my team mate Thomas, and I hope to be able to jump back in the Nova Proto NP02 very soon!”
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