Nightmare Weekend For Alex Cascatău at Hockenheim
The season-opening round of the GT & Prototype Challenge got off to a rough start for defending champions Alex Cascatău and Alain Berg with things only getting worse for the Baticonsult Racing crew that endured a forgettable outing which was cut short by a big accident.
First things first, Alain is thankfully alright. Having said that, the team’s naturally aspirated Norma M20 FC fairs a lot worse after taking the brunt of the 160 km/h (100 mph) smack into the wall. It was that sudden impact that curtailed the running for Cascatău and Berg who, up until that point, were fighting hard against Deldiche Racing’s turbocharged Normas. Before all that, though, there was the whole build-up to the first of what should’ve been two one-hour sprint races.
Practice and Qualifying
As planned, team Baticonsult Racing made the trip to Germany to attend the opening round of the GT & Prototype Challenge, the series dedicated to the fastest Grand Touring and Prototype models in the Netherlands and beyond. The CN class was to be hotly contested as Deldiche Racing brought three turbocharged Norma that would do battle with Baticonsult Racing’s sole N/A example. The car that Alex and Alain took to the track in wasn’t, however, their title-winning machine.
The unexpected engine failure that occurred during the pre-season test day at Spa-Francorchamps forced the team to rent a car from one of the Belcar competitors that were also there at Hockenheim to race during the busy weekend. Thus, Alex had to make do with Krafft Racing’s car which, to the team’s dismay, didn’t handle as well as expected. In spite of the bucketloads of understeer, Alex reeled in a 1:42.4 to lead the CN class at the end of FP1 with Alain barely two seconds back in the 1:44 seconds bracket – on par with Krafft’s regular drivers, including long-time FIA GT man Bert Longin.
With Deldiche’s own Tom Boonen also unable to go below 1:44.4, all seemed to go according to plan for Baticonsult Racing. But then, the pressures started to go up in the turbochargers. The De Cock/Dejonghe car drew first blood by putting an impressive 1:40.2 on the board in the second free practice session followed by a 1:40.9 by Boonen. Cascatău slotted right in between the two Deldiche cars curtesy of a 1:40.8 but that was about as fast as the Baticonsult Racing car would go all weekend-long.
De Cock’s car expired before the official qualifying session commenced meaning that Deldiche’s gun now only had two bullets but both hit their target in qualifying. While nobody could touch Max Aschoff’s Corvette-engined Ginetta G58, the Joosen/van Bellingen duo in the #621 car was second-quickest with a CN-topping 1:38.7. Boonen was up next with a 1:39.7 while Alex went even slower than he had done in practice, partly because the team sent him out late in the session and he had to make his way through traffic in each of his flying laps.
Come the first race of the weekend – on Saturday, May 22nd – it was quite clear for everyone at Baticonsult Racing that this would be a damage limitation round given that the Krafft Norma with its Euro-spec N/A engine was no match on the ultra-fast first two sectors for Deldiche’s turbocharged cars. And so the race got underway, Alex in fifth overall, right next to Bob Herber’s Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo. Veteran Herber enjoyed a nice scrap with Alex but, by the time that the Romanian was preparing to pit the #614 car had moved all the way up to third overall and second in class respectively.
The team elected to maximize Cascatău’s drive time and thus Berg jumped in at the last possible moment, the Luxembourg native having to drive a 25-minute stint to bring the car home. With the difference in race pace between Deldiche and Baticonsult not being particularly big – some 0.7 seconds – the team hoped for a close third-place finish by the race’s end as Alain settled into a rhythm. His laps in the 1:44-1:43 bracket kept the car in the overall top 5 positions for a while but it was all for nothing.
As a result of an unknown mechanical failure – most likely something breaking on the rear left or rear right – Alain was sent into the inside wall on the approach to the Spitzkehre hairpin. He was a passenger while the car almost disintegrated around him following the almighty hit into the unprotected concrete wall.
Walking away from the wreckage unaided, Alain was shaken but uninjured. The car, though, was in a sorry state and the fact that the team was classified third in class at the end of the race (behind Joosen/van Bellingen in second and Boonen in first) came as little consolation to the mechanics who were about to put in an all-nighter to try and piece it all back together.
The titanic work yielded no meaningful results. Longin took the car out for the Belcar race on Sunday but a water pump failure put paid to Krafft’s efforts and it also signalled the end to Baticonsult Racing’s weekend as well, Berg and Cascatău not racing in the second Supercar & GT Challenge sprint that was won by Joosen/van Bellingen after Boonen encountered some mechanical gremlins.
Up next on the calendar is the mythical Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps which hosts round two of the championship on June 4-6, a mere two weeks away. That means the team has very little time at its disposal to put the Norma back together and ready for racing. Only time will tell if Baticonsult Racing will be able to contest the next round at Spa or if the team will re-emerge at Zolder for round three.
I'm quite speechless and not sure what to say after such a stressful two week period. To say we had no luck at all this year is an understatement but thankfully we're all here to still tell the story. It was a titanic effort to race in Hockenheim and I respect the team greatly in how they pulled that off last-minute. The decision not to race on Sunday was the toughest I had to make in my career but I think it was the right one after a mentally draining period for everyone involved, including myself. We plan to come back this year but it will have to be with our own car so we'll just have to see how we can be best prepared to bounce back.
2021 GT & Prototype Challenge Calendar
1. 21-23 May – Hockenheim
2. 4-6 June – Spa-Francorchamps
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: Rob Blank
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