This past offseason has been one for the record books. It seems every single day, there has been news about driver changes, rules packages, sponsors entering and exiting the sport. It would be easy to forget an announcement about the formation of a brand new team among all of that. I think this team is possibly the most intriguing in the whole series right now. There’s everything you’d want in this story. The mystery of where this team came from and what their end goal is, the young European hot shot looking to break into American stock car racing. Let’s not forget the crafty old veteran who’s won everything there is to win in motorsports across the world, but hasn’t yet made the Daytona 500. Don’t forget this is a new era in NASCAR. If you aren’t watching Team Hezeberg at least with passing interest, you’re missing out on an exciting and unique story that our sport has never really seen before.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Season is on track to be the most intriguing season in the history of the sport. This season brings with it a brand new, technical marvel disguised as a race car. The so-called “Next Gen” car or “Gen 7” is supposedly going to level the playing field, as it requires teams to assemble parts provided by the sanctioning body and not allowing teams to build cars from the ground up.
The car has undoubtedly brought an air of hope to small and new teams alike to be able to compete with Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and the rest of NASCAR’s top teams. To me, the absolute most intriguing new team that is hitting the track this season is one that isn’t even running the full schedule. The team doesn’t have backing from the elite teams from NASCAR’s upper crust, heck I’m not really even sure how to properly pronounce the name of this race team. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely fascinated by what they’ve got going on at Team Hezeberg.
It all began in 2019, when NASCAR Euro Series Champion Loris Hezemans made a trip to the NASCAR Awards Ceremony from his home in The Netherlands. Loris is the son of 24 Hour of Le Mans winner Toine Hezemans, and has been racing sports cars and various other forms of road racing since 2014 in Europe. The Hezemans name is very prominent in the Netherlands and really all over Europe due to Toine’s sports car accomplishments. Loris was shown a very early model of the “Next Gen” car, noting various similarities between this car and the cars he had been racing in Europe in the Euro Series. Hezemans took what he had seen back to his team and they immediately began exploring the possibilities.
The 2020 NASCAR season went by, and most of the 2021 season did too. On October 9, 2021, Loris and Toine Hezemans, Dutch businessman Ernst Berg, and Reaume Brothers Racing from the Camping World Trucks Series announced the arrival of Team Hezeberg. It’s unclear what took the group so long to announce the team, but I assume they were waiting for the final version of the Next Gen Car. During the announcement, RACER Magazine quoted Toine as saying, “The introduction of the Next Gen car by NASCAR is at the core of our decision to build a team and join the NASCAR Cup Series.This new concept is the perfect challenge for us, and the model NASCAR built around the Next Gen car makes the American market even more interesting, generating opportunities for a team to prosper.” The Dutch Orange and Black number twenty seven Ford Mustang was going to run a part time schedule in 2022, running all the road courses and some additional short tracks. The hope is to get Loris approved by NASCAR to run intermediate ovals in 2023. Speaking with NASCAR.com on the day of the announcement Loris excitedly commented, “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.”
Trying to find information on the financial backer of this deal proved to be very difficult, but from what I’ve been able to find on Reaume Brothers’ website, Ernst Berg is a former sports car driver who raced against Toine in the 1970s. The two struck up a friendship, and went into business together in the 1980s, and formed Hezeberg Systems. Their company has built and supplied engines and cars to European race teams in the United States. They began sponsoring F1 race teams during this time, like the #33 Ford driven by Jan Lammers in 1982. Of course on the other side of the deal is Reaume Brothers Racing, which has been fielding Truck Series entries full-time since 2018.
Reaume Brothers hasn’t made much of an impact in almost three full time seasons, but has been growing and expanding operations to the Xfinity Series in 2020. This season will be the biggest leap yet for RBR, as they try to make a splash into the Cup Series in 2022. After getting into the background of all of these players in the ownership of the race team, I have to say that I’m even more fascinated than before. This is a team built by racers; ultra competitive and ambitious guys who above all want to compete. In my opinion, Berg puts it best when he says, “NASCAR is huge! It doesn’t matter what part of the motorsport’s world you’re in, everyone in the world has a huge respect for NASCAR. The NEXT Gen car is very attractive, and we are excited to be a part of it. We are looking forward to the challenge of learning the new car and all its technicalities. Being a part of the NASCAR Cup series is a very special opportunity and we will be ready for next season.” I completely believe him.
Admittedly, I forgot about Team Hezeberg, thinking that this would just be another exotic European flop. I grew up in the era of NASCAR in which you had drivers like Dario Franchitti and Christian Fittipaldi come over from open wheel and sports car racing and promptly achieve little to no success. Reaume Brothers is not an elite NASCAR team and by no means did I think they were ready to go Cup racing. The most positive take away I had from the initial announcement was that I thought the Dutch Orange was a nice touch giving me real Max Verstappen at the 2021 Dutch Grand Prix vibes. But during 2022 pre-season testing at Daytona, I realized that I was absolutely incorrect in my assumptions.
To the surprise of many people, myself included, Team Hezeberg arrived at Daytona earlier this month with 1997 Formula One World Champion Jacques Villeneuve as its test driver, someone I hadn’t seen since the early 2010s. I have a soft spot in my heart for Villeneuve, because I absolutely adore Formula One. I think it’s vastly technical and nuanced racing is the perfectly entertaining opposite of NASCAR’s current product. I consider those guys to be the very best in the world, and to be honest, they don’t come around this sport often enough. I remember when Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon and later on, Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart traded cars at Indianapolis. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, even though I wasn’t much of a fan of F1 back then. Villeneuve’s mere presence at Daytona gave me those feelings again.
To me, Jacques Villeneuve has the likeability of a Canadian Mark Martin and the family prestige of Dale Earnhardt Jr. You can’t help but cheer for the guy. I remember way back in 2011 and that valiant effort he gave at Road America in the Nationwide Series driving Brad Keselowski’s Penske Dodge, he kept me on the edge of my seat from the green flag to the checkers. Jacques has driven almost everything in the world, from Le Mans to IndyCars. Including the Formula One World Championship he won in 1997, Jaques Villeneuve is a winner.
The son of a famous European racer himself, Jacques won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 as well as the 1995 IndyCar Championship. He had a very successful career in Formula One after that. After falling out with a few race teams along the way in F1, Villeneuve retired from F1 in 2006. He then bounced around different series, starting twenty races across NASCAR’s top series scoring four top fives and six top tens in the Xfinity Series according to Racing Reference.. Recently, he won his first two NASCAR-sanctioned events in the Euro Series in 2021. He only seems to be getting better at driving stock cars. He’s going to provide so much information for Loris to take advantage of, not to mention all the publicity and coverage this team gained by just having him test the car. Villeneuve in that car this season is nothing but a good thing each time he’s in it.
Time will tell how the story of Team Hezeberg ends. Unfortunately, there have been many upstart teams that have fallen by the wayside in the history of NASCAR due to financial collapse, bad business deals, and lack of sponsorship. They already are at a huge disadvantage without a charter, meaning they’ll have to get into every race they attempt based on qualifying time. I truly hope that they can dodge all of these pitfalls and one day be successful. Do I think they have a real shot to contend in 2022 or even 2023? No, I don’t. I’m more interested to see how this team runs once it gets a few seasons of research and development under its belt. I think it would certainly benefit from a larger technical alliance down the road, perhaps with Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Racing. Even a manufacturer switch, like what Rick Ware Racing did this offseason could be in the cards in order to get the manufacturer support that they now share with Stewart-Haas. Whatever the future holds, I’ll be here watching, with great interest. One last note to leave you on, I think Villeneuve races his way into his very first Daytona 500. He’s waited long enough.
Featured photo from @TeamHezeberg on Twitter.