Eriksson Leads Olsbergs Clean Sweep Under the Spanish Sun
Reigning RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires Champion Oliver Eriksson kick-started the defence of his title in impressive fashion at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend (27/28 April), leading home a commanding Olsbergs MSE one-two-three ahead of RX2 new boys Fraser McConnell and Jesse Kallio. The OMSE trio were on fine form throughout at the iconic Spanish Grand Prix venue, and not even a first corner clash with JC Raceteknik’s Ben-Philip Gundersen in Q3 could derail their charge. Eriksson had to draw upon all of his experience to keep his two rapid team-mates at bay, as both McConnell and Kallio – who waged a fierce duel for second in the final – demonstrated that the Swede will have things far from his own way this season. SET Promotion young gun Sami-Matti Trogen fought back well from a spectacular Q1 roll to place fourth overall, ahead of Sports Racing Technologies ace Vasiliy Gryazin and series debutant Damien Meunier, who shone with sixth position for Team Färén after just a single test day in Supercar Lites machinery. Qualifying Races Eriksson won three of the four qualifying contests in Spain, only missing out in Q3 when a first corner squeeze initiated by Gundersen sent him into the tyre barriers and left Kallio with race-ending damage. The coming-together had serious repercussions for the Norwegian – a pre-season title favourite in his second full campaign in the official FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series – as disqualification for his part in the incident meant he missed out on making it through to the semi-finals. McConnell recovered from a spin into the barriers in Q1 to fight his way to second in the intermediate classification, turning heads with the fastest time in Q3 and second-best time in Q4 on his European racing debut. Kallio was just behind in third after rivalling Eriksson for pace throughout the qualifying stages. Gryazin (Sports Racing Technologies) was a consistent contender in fourth, with Trogen responding well to his Q1 retirement by vaulting back up the order into fifth courtesy of a string of quick times. That placed the Finn ahead of French Rallycross Championship Supercar star Meunier, who impressed more with every race, belying the fact that he had only had one test in Supercar Lites machinery prior to the weekend. Similarly making the semi-finals were Swedish trio Anders Michalak, Simon Olofsson and William Nilsson, the latter despite losing time to damaged steering and brake issues on Saturday. Reigning EuroRX TouringCar Champion Steve Volders rounded out the top ten on his series bow, ahead of Jimmie Walfridson (JC Raceteknik) and ‘home’ hero Albert Llovera, reaching the semi-finals for the first time in his RX2 career to the evident delight of the partisan crowds filling the Barcelona grandstands. Semi-Finals Eriksson withstood the threat posed by Kallio in the first semi-final, with the Finn shadowing his OMSE stablemate from lights-to-flag. Trogen ran third throughout to safely progress to the final, but behind, the action was somewhat livelier. Walfridson missed his braking point into the first corner, clipping JC Raceteknik team-mate Nilsson who was in-turn pushed into Michalak. The latter pair would come together later in the race, too, with light contact at the exit of the joker pitching Nilsson into the gravel and out of contention. Michalak went on to finish fourth, with Walfridson nursing a puncture on his way to fifth. Rivalling his famous countryman, Usain Bolt, for out-and-out speed, McConnell commanded the second semi-final as Gryazin gave chase, but the battle for third – and the last available final spot – was fierce. Olofsson challenged Meunier around the outside of Turn One on the opening lap, but the Frenchman held his ground before the pair came together again moments later, along with Volders. The contact sent Meunier wide and Volders briefly airborne, and whilst Olofsson took the chequered flag third, the Swede was subsequently penalised for the collision, promoting his hard-charging Team Färén rival into the final. Volders placed fifth ahead of Llovera, for whom the result capped his most competitive RX2 weekend to-date. Final Eriksson converted pole position into the race lead at the start and thereafter never looked back, inching away from McConnell to ultimately cross the line just over three seconds clear. He was aided by a sensational duel between the Jamaican and Kallio for the runner-up spoils. The Finn opted to take an early joker, and when McConnell did likewise later in the race, he rejoined practically alongside his OMSE team-mate.
“That was pretty close to the perfect weekend", said Eriksson, "certainly a much better start than last year! The level of competition in RX2 this season is very high – you only have to look at the timesheets to see that and I’ve got two very quick new team-mates, who I was helping out a bit. Fraser [McConnell] and Jesse [Kallio] both did a great job, so all credit to them. Maybe I’ll have to stop giving them quite so much advice considering how close they were! Seriously, though, we’re a very open team at OMSE and we always share data, and as a driver, you always want to be pushed by your team-mates because it makes you raise your own game. That’s what RX2 is all about – developing skills and extracting every last tenth-of-a-second. We had the speed all weekend, and it was important to bounce back quickly after Q3 – it’s all about how you recover in rallycross, and that’s exactly what we did. I drove angry in Q4, and knowing how important pole is in Barcelona given the nature of the first corner, I worked very hard to keep it for every race. Maximum points – I’ll definitely take that!” What followed was a drag race along the back straight, before McConnell boldly drove all the way around the outside of Kallio with a scarcely believable pass that brought the appreciative crowd to their feet. The battle for fourth was settled in similar fashion, as Gryazin attempted the same move on Trogen but narrowly failed to pull it off, instead producing a spectacular save when his SRT car got briefly out-of-shape. Meunier completed the finishers in an excellent sixth place. The action heads next to renowned Belgian Formula 1 venue Spa-Francorchamps in a fortnight’s time (11/12 May), with Eriksson leading the way on 30 points – and the rest of the field firmly focussed on turning the tables.