European flavor: Team Hezeberg launches part-time Cup Series effort for 2022

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CONCORD, N.C. — The NASCAR Cup Series will add some European flair for select Cup Series events next season with the formation of Team Hezeberg for 2022.

The organization took the wraps off the Next Gen No. 27 Ford — dressed in orange to reflect the team founders’ roots in The Netherlands — on Saturday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The part-time effort is a joint venture among former sports-car driver Toine Hezemans, Dutch businessman Ernst Berg and Reaume Brothers Racing, which will manage operations from its Mooresville, North Carolina shop.

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NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion and points leader Loris Hezemans will serve as the primary driver, focused on entering the six road-course events on the 2022 schedule. The 24-year-old Dutchman is set to compete in his fourth career Xfinity Series race in Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the Charlotte Roval.

Hezemans said he caught his first glimpse of a Next Gen prototype during a stateside trip to celebrate his 2019 Euro Series championship at the NASCAR Awards ceremonies. Seeing the new Cup Series model in person and noting similarities to his current ride in Europe planted a seed, Hezemans said.

“We got interested in seeing what would be possible,” Hezemans said. “It’s incredible to now finally be here, yesterday finally seeing the car for the first time. I don’t even have words to describe it — a very exciting moment.”

The new team is set to participate in an organizational test Monday and Tuesday on the 2.32-mile Charlotte layout, with Hezemans splitting time with racing veteran Jacques Villeneuve in the two-day session. Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, has spent parts of the last two seasons in the Whelen Euro Series and has made four Cup Series starts — the most recent one coming in 2013.

2021 Oct09 Hezeberg 2 Main Image
2021 Oct09 Hezeberg 2 Main Image

Hezeberg representatives left the door open for adding additional events to the team’s racing schedule, with the possibility that Villeneuve could also share driving duties next year.

Team owner Josh Reaume said Saturday that his group will house the Hezeberg operation alongside his current two-team effort in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He said his Reaume Brothers Racing group has not settled on its 2022 plans in Camping World Trucks, but was bullish about the new partnership.

“Everybody that’s found out that we are dabbling in Cup, they’re like, ‘Get ready, it’s a lot of work,’ ” Reaume said. “It’s a big schedule. Obviously, we’re starting small and we’re growing. I think that’s dynamic at the moment. There’s a lot of factors for us at Reaume Brothers Racing that are still up in the air. We haven’t signed anybody for next year for our trucks, but definitely there’s a big investment here. This is a great opportunity for us to grow and to learn and expand our business.”

It’s also an opportunity for NASCAR’s top division to find new talent, broadening its reach into the sanctioning body’s international circuits. The Whelen Euro Series — along with the Canadian-based Pinty’s Series and the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series — may not be thought of as a traditional development tour for NASCAR’s three national series. Chad Seigler — NASCAR vice president of international business — said he hopes that Saturday’s announcement is a step toward changing that perception.

“I think this obviously, this has definitely made people open their eyes, and it’s going to make our partners in Canada and our partners in Mexico start to look and say there’s a path,” said Seigler, NASCAR vice president of international business. “The big thing for us is really showing a path for the drivers. As I mention, we talk about the Daniel Suarez path (from the Mexico Series to Cup) a lot, but for a driver to be able to compete in the Euro Series and say there’s path for me to get to the U.S., I think that’s the big focus for us right now.”