ERIKSSON SPEEDS TO TOP OF RX2 TABLE WITH SILVERSTONE SUCCESS
(Header photo: Eriksson and Olsbergs MSE team-mate Guillaume De Ridder were the class of the field all weekend, but the Belgian's bid was again undone by ill-fortune)
Oliver Eriksson won every race he started at Silverstone this weekend (26/27 May), to speed into the lead of the 2018 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires in front of more than 27,000 enthusiastic fans at the inaugural Speedmachine festival.
Eriksson arrived at the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ aiming to kick-start his season, after a misfire had denied him a spot in the final in the Mettet curtain-raiser a fortnight earlier. Fast out-of-the-blocks, the young Swede topped the timesheets in three of the four qualifying races and then dominated both his semi-final and the final to complete a maximum points haul. Eriksson’s path to victory was significantly eased when his main rival – Olsbergs MSE team-mate Guillaume De Ridder – was eliminated from contention by an electrical problem while well on-course to win the other semi-final. That paved the way for Conner Martell and Sondre Evjen to join the race-winner up on the rostrum – the former reaching the podium in only his second RX2 start. On a weekend full of thrills and spills, Anders Michalak, Glenn Haug and Vasiliy Gryazin rounded out the overall top six. Qualifying Races Eriksson and De Ridder shared the spoils between them through the qualifying stages. The Belgian struck first with an assertive performance to fight his way to the front in Q1, before the Swede took advantage of sluggish starts by his OMSE stablemate to seize the initiative heading into the semi-finals. Mettet pace-setter Vasiliy Gryazin was again on the pace and produced a quartet of consistently strong showings to snatch third in the intermediate classification, chased hard by RX2 rookie Henrik Krogstad, building upon the impressive form he displayed in Belgium and even finding time to fit in a roll in Q2 – incredibly, for the loss of just a handful of seconds. Finnish teenager Jami Kalliomäki vaulted up to fifth with a stellar drive in Q4 behind the wheel of his SET Promotion car, ahead of Krogstad’s JC Raceteknik team-mate Evjen – a podium-finisher at Mettet. Anders Michalak placed seventh as he enjoyed arguably his best RX2 weekend to-date, with Martell reprising his round-the-outside Belgian heroics to slot into eighth. Topping the title table arriving at Speedmachine, Ben-Philip Gundersen had to battle back from a torrid opening day – plagued by technical issues – to haul himself into the reckoning in ninth, with series newcomer Sami-Matti Trogen, fellow young gun William Nilsson and Glenn Haug completing the semi-final line-up. Home hero Nathan Heathcote, by contrast, was a notable casualty, as electrical woes and a roll – from which he thankfully emerged unscathed – saw the reigning MSA British Rallycross Champion progress no further than Q4. Semi-Finals From pole position, Eriksson got the jump on fellow front row-sitter Gryazin at lights-out, with Kalliomäki finding himself boxed in on the inside and forced to concede third to a fast-starting Michalak. As the top two swiftly made their escape, the race leader gradually inched away from his Latvian pursuer. Those positions would remain unchanged throughout, while Kalliomäki went on a charge in an effort to overhaul early joker Michalak, even getting his car up onto two wheels in evidence of how hard he was pushing. Ultimately, it was not quite enough, with Michalak sealing the last of the three final berths. Gundersen wound up a subdued fifth, with JC Raceteknik team-mate Nilsson slowed by electrical gremlins. In a bruising second semi-final, De Ridder grabbed the lead from pole before confidently pulling away, until ignition troubles grounded the luckless Belgian on lap four. His misfortune promoted Evjen into the lead from Martell, with the pair having earlier duelled energetically and traded paint around the course of the opening lap. Both sporting battle scars and flailing bodywork, the Norwegian and American held station all the way to the chequered flag, while Haug benefitted from a brace of clashes between Trogen and Krogstad to clinch the remaining final spot. Final Eriksson held the lead at the start of the final, with Martell making a superb getaway to storm around the outside of Evjen and Gryazin into second. The American thought about challenging the Swede, too, before backing out of the move and slotting in just behind. The gap between the top three ebbed-and-flowed for a while, Evjen initially pressuring Martell until the Team Färén ace edged away – briefly even threatening to close in on the leader. The Vermont native shadowed Eriksson throughout in an impressive performance, but he ultimately had no answer to his OMSE rival’s prodigious pace and was happy to settle for the runner-up spoils.
“I’m really happy," exclaimed Martell. "I felt more prepared coming here after getting the ‘first weekend jitters’ out of the way in Belgium and I knew a bit more what to expect. For me, the hardest thing compared to racing in the US is getting the car set-up right for the European tracks, particularly when that track is constantly changing. I tried to stay consistent and drive as hard as I could, and going around the outside into the first corner seems to be becoming my signature move – sometimes, you’ve just gotta’ send it! I gave it my best shot in the final and braked as late as I dared; for a while, I couldn’t see where Oliver [Eriksson] was and thought I might have a chance, but then he appeared and I had to back out of it. After that, I settled into a good rhythm and there genuinely wasn’t that much to choose between us – to be on almost the same pace as him was huge for me. Now I’ve got a couple of rounds under my belt, I think I’ve shown I can be a factor this year and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Let’s see if we can carry this momentum forward to Hell.” Evjen rounded out the podium – his third top three finish in swift succession – with Michalak completing an excellent weekend in fourth, ahead of Haug and Gryazin, whose rostrum hopes were undone by a jump-start that obliged the Sports Racing Technologies star to serve two joker laps. Eriksson’s triumph – in only his second RX2 start – has catapulted the 19-year-old into the championship lead, two points clear of Gryazin in second with Evjen a further two points back in third. Next, the series travels to the Norwegian’s home event at Hell on 9/10 June – with everything to play for. “To come away with the win and maximum points makes this a pretty perfect weekend," exclaimed Oliver. " Having been quick in Belgium but left with nothing to show for it, I was really hungry coming here and above all, I needed a good result for my championship push and to repay my sponsors for their amazing support. Speedmachine has been a lot of fun – the track produced great racing and having so many spectators generated a really good atmosphere. The starts were key, and luckily enough, I seemed to nail every one of them and my car was spot-on throughout – the only time I wasn’t fastest was Q1. I so feel bad for my team-mate Guillaume [De Ridder], though – he was quick all weekend and we were looking good for a one-two, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Hopefully his luck will turn in Norway. It’s quite clear that we’re in for an intensely competitive season. With the points situation as close as it is, every single race will count and even the smallest of mistakes will prove costly but leading the championship is the best position to be in going to the two Scandinavian rounds – we’re back in the game!” Final Result 1. Oliver ERIKSSON (SWE) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps 2. Conner MARTELL (USA) Team Färén +2.163s 3. Sondre EVJEN (NOR) JC Raceteknik +4.392s 4. Anders MICHALAK (SWE) Anders Michalak +6.687s 5. Glenn HAUG (NOR) Glenn Haug +8.479s 6. Vasiliy GRYAZIN (LVA) Sports Racing Technologies +9.742s Championship Standings 1. Oliver Eriksson (SWE) 46 points 2. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 44 points 3. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 42 points 4. Ben-Philip Gundersen (NOR) 37 points 5. Henrik Krogstad (NOR) 34 points 6. Jami Kalliomäki (FIN) 32 points 7. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 31 points 8. Conner Martell (USA) 28 points 9. William Nilsson (SWE) 24 points 10. Anders Michalak (SWE) 21 points The 2018 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires will take in seven rounds across three continents in support of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, visiting Belgium, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Canada, France and South Africa. 2018 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires Calendar May 12/13 Mettet, Belgium May 26/27 Silverstone, Great Britain June 09/10 Hell, Norway June 30/July 01 Höljes, Sweden August 04/05 Trois-Rivières, Canada September 01/02 Lohéac, France November 24/25 Cape Town, South Africa
The 2018 calendar takes in seven rounds across three continents as follows: May 12-13: Mettet, Belgium May 26-27: Silverstone, Great Britain June 9-10: Hell, Norway June 30 - July 1: Höljes, Sweden August 4-5: Trois-Rivières, Canada September 1-2: Lohéac, France November 24-25: Cape Town, South Africa
Photo Credit: RX2 Media