I teamed up with two of our circuit racing new generation stars, brothers Bianca and Eduard Anton, for a three-hour resilience test around Motor Park Romania and here’s how it went.
In 2015, 15-year old Eduard Anton claimed the inaugural Romanian touring cars title, winning the Volkswagen Lupo class ahead of his sister. Aged 18, Bianca retaliated the following season by succeeding Eduard as national touring car champion, aboard her Lupo that took Peter Terting towards the spec-series title during DTM weekends back in 2002. Their titles were a mark of graduation towards international challenges, with Eduard taking the first step at the end of 2016, by partnering Sergiu Nicolae at the GT4 European Series finale in Zandvoort, where the Romanian pair claimed podiums in Am class in both races.
This year, Eduard teamed up with his sister Bianca for a full season in GT4, racing against the likes of veteran Duncan Huisman, ex-WTCC Frenchman Gregoire Demoustier and the familiar presence of Peter Terting, now running his own team. Points were up for grabs in Misano and Magny-Cours, before Bianca had to focus on her final highschool exams. Her brother made up for the absence, racing brilliantly at the Red Bull Ring, where he claimed the first Am class victory for a Romanian driver in GT racing. Further tests and appearances with KTM cemented Eduard’s position as one of the fastest drivers in the class, being praised by ex-F1 racer Tomas Enge.
Meanwhile, both Eduard and Bianca had a clear aim to broaden their horizons in their racing careers, beyond the 30-minute sprints from touring cars and GT4. Endurance racing didn’t exist in Romania, so it had to be created: the first two-hour cup took place at the end of 2015, where Eduard Anton registered with his familiar Lupo. His partner was none other then the humble writer of these lines – I had no previous experience in car racing and I had never completed a lap of Motor Park Romania before that weekend. The learning process went smooth, with expert guidance from Eduard to help me define some good lines through the most challenging turns, but the race ended abruptly with a technical gremlin.
2016 brought more interest in Romania for the field of endurance racing, prompting the creation of a full championship comprised of 2, 3 and 4-hour contests. The first one took place in April – this time, Eduard and Bianca were sharing the Lupo, while I was racing with a close friend in another car. We were (obviously) no match for them in terms of pure speed, proving just how big the gap is between amateurs and dedicated racers, but disaster struck the Anton brothers once again and their car was sidelined. We soldiered on to finish, nursing our own gearbox issues, while Bianca and Eduard had their redemption in Race 2 of the season, where they finally saw the chequered flag to win their class and claim P2 overall.
I followed their GT4 progress in 2017, with Pitstops being the only website that covered the programme in a country that still focusses only on rally and hillclimb races despite being no major international presence during the past 30 years in those branches. It was an honour when I got the call to join the Anton brothers for a full assault on the Romanian Endurance Series this year, but I missed the start in spring, due to media commitments. Eduard got the bit between his teeth and completed a remarkable solo effort of 120+ minutes to win the A1 (under 1600cc) class by a huge margin of six laps, while I was in the commentary booth, giving insights on GP3 and Formula 2 in Barcelona.
The second opportunity came along in late September, when both Bianca and I were free of other duties, so we joined Eduard for a three-hour contest. I had only about 10 laps of Motor Park under my belt in the previous 17 months, half of those being completed in a road-legal Alfa Giulia, while the other half had been no more than an evaluation run of another racing car. Thus, I needed all the laps I could squeeze in the open trackday ahead of Sunday’s event. I had at my disposal three Lupos: the 1400cc car that I raced at the 2016 event and the two 1600cc cars that Eduard and Bianca drove towards the touring car titles in 2015 & 2016.
The first one felt precise, yet logically underpowered: by giving it all, Eduard lost no more than a second per lap compared to the ones that have 200cc more. But the gap was bigger in my case, as the switch to the more punchy cars gave me a clear boost. Laptimes dropped and I felt more at ease with Eduard’s orange racer, but I had to agree with the team that 3 hours is a long time and it would make sense to mitigate the risk of not finishing by opting for the best all-rounder. Bianca’s prized possession was on the verge of being shared the next day and I have to thank her for trusting me on that.
Sunday’s free practice sessions made me feel even more confident, as I finally broke the 2:10 margin. Bianca took over and slashed another two seconds with ease, but I knew well enough how high both her and Eduard can set the bar. My clear aim was none other than avoiding to embarrass myself, so I had defined a more risk-averse approach, compared to my previous races where I clearly pushed more and more to find my limits. Given the difference between various cars in the field, our team had clear objectives: P1 in 1600cc class and a close fight with the Aquila Synergy prototype for P3 overall, behind the Ginetta and Porsche crews that had the power to lap below the two-minute mark.
Eduard drove the first stint that included three attempts to complete the rolling start and a first caution period. As the race entered its second hour, the Aquila prototype was sidelined with terminal damage, which prompted a shift of balance more on the side of caution. There was a big gap separating our car from the fleet of Dacia Logan models, so the main concern was to make sure that the Lupo lasts for the whole distance, which was not a given. Soon, the theory was thrown out, as we experienced a refuelling issue when Bianca took over from Eduard after 28 laps. Her stint was shortened to just 30 minutes before having to come back in for more fuel. I suffered the same fate and had to cut my stint down to just 7 laps, bringing the car into the pits for thorough checks and a patient top-up.
The pursuing two cars caught up, but Eduard and Bianca responded with some blistering laps to stretch out the advantage once again. The peloton was bunched up following the final caution of the day and the final 9-lap sprint saw the Lupo confortably below 2:10 on each lap to seal the overall podium spot and the class triumph. This kept the record alive for Eduard and Bianca: they won the 1600cc class in the Romanian Endurance Series everytime they finished. Win or bust!
It’s easy to speculate that a perfect run, with absolutely no issue, would have brought us in the fight with ToMa Racing for P2, given their unscheduled stop for a puncture and fading pace due to extreme tyre wear in the end. But endurance racing is always about coping with every issue that the race throws at you. The overall podium had three teams that managed to get on top of their problems by working together – drivers, mechanics and team managers at once.
Thus, despite my limited contribution to this result, I felt that my presence was pivotal to make them commit to this race. The Romanian racing scene needs Eduard and Bianca on the grid as often as they can, no matter how further up the ladder they rise on the international field. They are a clear benchmark for upcoming drivers, both in terms of raw speed and strategy implementation, while also keeping the bar high in terms of their academic development. This race was their homecoming in 2017, one that I had the privilege to witness in the closest way – by sharing the ride towards victory.