Causeway Chronicle

KOSTAMO, MAURER and DATZER lead European Challenge at 2024 Briggs Equipment North-West 200 

The impressive line-up of British and Irish talent on the grid at this year’s Briggs Equipment North West 200 race week on May 6-11 will be boosted by the inclusion of several leading European road racers who have been making their mark on the sport in recent seasons.

Finland’s Erno Kostamo will be a familiar name to road racing fans following his Macau Grand Prix victory in 2022. The 31 year old has been competing since 2003, winning Finnish championships in the minimoto, 125cc and Supersport classes.

After several seasons racing on Finnish tracks in the Nordic  country’s Superbike series, Kostamo made his road racing debut in 2016 at the famous Imatra course. His podium result “ignited a passion and love for road racing” he says.

Since then Kostamo has been a regular competitor and race winner in Europe’s International Road Racing Championship (IRRC) which features races on closed public roads in Belgium, Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic.

Kostamo’s North West 200 debut came in 2019. Claiming a best finish of 11th on a Rico Penskofer BMWs in the Bayview Superstock race, he returned to the north coast in 2023 to take a trio of top ten placings.

The Finn also made his TT debut in 2023 after dominating the IRRC meetings at Imatra during 2022 and ’23 where he inflicted Superbike race defeats on Peter Hickman and Michael Dunlop in his home event. Kostamo’s biggest success to date came in the 2022 with his Macau Grand Prix triumph albeit ahead of a field that was missing most of the leading British road racers due to ongoing Covid restrictions at the Chinese event.

Kostamo will be mounted on a Penz BMW at this year’s NW200 where he will be joined on the grid by the reigning IRRC Superbike champion, Lukas Maurer. Like Kostamo, the 30 year old Swiss rider made his NW200 debut in 2019 where he stunned the opposition by finishing fifth in the CP Hire Superstock race.

Maurer also notched up a top ten finish on the Heidger Motorsport Kawasaki in the Anchor Bar Superbike event and the following month he claimed the top newcomer honour at the Isle of Man TT.

But the Swiss rider’s North West 200 appearances in 2022 and ’23 were fraught with problems.

“In 2022 I had difficulties with the bike and had a small crash in qualifying which meant I had to start very far back on the grid.” he explained.

“Last year I was really motivated because I had just won the first two IRRC races the weekend before the North West 200. Unfortunately, a big stone hit my right hand and fractured two of my fingers pretty bad during first practice. I was able to participate in the rest of the week but I had really bad pain and no feeling in my braking hand.”

Maurer has made the switch from Kawasaki to Yamaha machinery for 2024 and will be hoping for better fortune come May where he will be joined by fellow Swiss racer, Olivier Lupberger.

Now 54, Lupberger has been competing in endurance racing, hill climbs and on the roads since 2003. His first appearance at the North West 200 came in 2022 aboard a Heidger Motorsport Kawasaki.

“It was very intense but I learned a lot.” the veteran, who has also competed in the Macau Grand Prix, says as he looks forward to returning to Portrush in May.

Germany’s David Datzer is perhaps the most exciting prospect amongst the IRRC riders making the trip to the north coast this May.  A regular in Germany’s IDM Superbike championship and the International Road Racing series, the Bavarian rider was runner-up in the 2022 IRRC Superbike championship after making his TT debut in 2019. The 32 year old’s first NW200 appearance came last May when he made people sit up and pay attention by claiming 7th place in the Anchor Bar Superbike race on a Penz BMW.

Finishing less than a second behind James Hillier and ahead of Mike Browne and Erno Kostamo, that NW200 result paved the way for an even more impressive achievement during last November’s Macau Grand Prix when he led Josh Brookes home to claim the final podium position behind Peter Hickman and Davey Todd.

“I’m really looking forward to the North West 200 because the event was my highlight in 2023.” the German racer says as he aims to make an even greater impression come May.

Causeway Chronicle

Causeway Chronicle