Previously driving for Praga until their split in 2016, the Belgian, who in the meantime drove for GP Kart as well, will be registered for the weekend with Birel ART KSW, the team run by Friedrich Samhaber and supported by the official Birel ART factory team and TM Racing engines by Franco Drudi.

“After two years of break, I felt like driving again and the opportunity to dispute the World Championship has presented itself, Thonon told The RaceboxBirel ART KSW and I got in touch and we discussed the possibility of racing together. For the last two years, I had been mainly focusing on coaching other drivers. So when this offer came on the table, I simply could not refuse it.”

On July 19th, Thonon was offered a first test at Genk with one of the S9 chassis provided by Birel ART KSW run by Samhaber. Impressed by the pace and reliability of the material, it did not take long for the four-time KZ World Cup winner to make his decision. “The first test on track went well, the feeling was positive, the Belgian confirmed. It convinced me that maybe this is a good time to come back. This is a great opportunity, especially with the event being held on my home soil in Belgium. Remember, this is where I won my last World Cup title (back in 2011, ed.)

A mix of youth and experience

Of course, “The Cannibal” won’t be alone defending the colours of Birel ART at Genk. Among the drivers alongside him, we asked rising Dutchman Marijn Kremers, who ended up second at the final round of the KZ European Championship at Lonato (6th overall), about the Belgian’s comeback to racing. “I have heard a lot of stories about Jonathan as I watched him race many times when I was growing up. Then, I had the chance to race against him. Over the years, we raced plenty of races and my current mechanic used to be working for him for a season. So I already know him a bit. He is a very hard but fair driver who never gives up until the chequered flag, as he showed many times in the past.”

The comparison between the long-experienced Thonon and the promising Kremers will definitely catch everyone’s attention at Genk, a track where the Belgian driver caught one of his most beautiful victories by winning the World Cup KZ1 in the last lap in 2011. “I think that to have Jonathan joining the Birel ART Racing team for Genk is a very valuable addition, adds Kremers, aged 20. He has a ton of experience and he knows a thing or two about winning, especially around Genk. I am sure he will have lots of information for all of us to learn from.  He hasn’t been racing in the European scene for some time now so I’m sure it’s not going to be easy but I know he will get all the help he needs to get a good result.” 

To best prepare, Thonon and Birel ART KSW took part in the DKM German championship’s Belgian round at Genk on August 26th, where he was consistently one of the fastest. The ideal event and practice to get ready for his official comeback a couple of days later for the World Championship on the very same track.

What to expect from “The Cannibal” ?

“When you get the chance to drive for a team like Birel ART, you have to commit yourself at 100% to the task, declares Thonon. But my goal is also to have fun, even though with a competitive spirit like mine, the motivation to win will be there as it always has been. With a team like Birel ART and the TM engines, I feel fully confident.”

Asked by The Racebox if this participation at Genk could lead to further involvement in next year’s championship, he replied: “This is something we haven’t discussed yet.”

Interview and text: Guillaume Alvarez

Photos: Alex Vernardis