Eriksson has the Speed to win RX2 at Silverstone

The Speedmachine Festival at Silverstone over the late May Bank Holiday weekend was going to be history making for many reasons, as first ever International World Championship RX event at the new circuit, the debut of the brand new American Rallycross Championship (ARX) and lastly an opportunity for the future stars to shine in RX2. Since being launched as the main stepping stone into the World Rallycross Championship, the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires has seen more and more talent do battle in the specification Ford Fiesta RX. The Speedmachine Festival would see seventeen drivers compete in round two of seven and after a thriller in Belgium to open the year; the target is on Norwegian Ben-Philip Gundersen, who led on twenty-seven points. His closest challengers in the standings were Latvian Vasiliy Gryazin and fellow Norwegian Sondre Evjen, with Evjen ending on the podium alongside Gundersen in Belgium. In terms of Latvian Gryazin he could have easily been championship leader if it hadn’t been for a spin in the final, as after qualification he led the standings collecting a decent point haul of twenty-four.  For a majority of the drivers competing in RX2, this would be their first trip to Silverstone and therefore throw up uncertainty for many. This would mean free practice prior to Qualification heats would be crucial; however, there are three drivers with knowledge of the circuit, due to the World Rallycross Media day. Olsbergs MSE team-mates Guillaume De Ridder and Oliver Eriksson took part in the Media day in March and both shown potential in round one to score podiums. Unfortunately for the pair they are down in seventh and eighth in the standings after retiring in the semi-finals in Belgium. The other drier with knowledge of Silverstone is 2017 British Rallycross Champion Nathan Heathcote, who competed in the RX Buggies during the 2018 season opener at Silverstone. In his debut season on the international stage, Heathcote did look quick in RX2 and pace is expected to be good at Silverstone. In front of home crowd, he will be hoping to go better than round one, where a roll in the last qualifying heat resulted in him missing out on a semi-final spot. With plenty of talent in a field mixed of rookies and experience, picking a winner was going to be tricky but their opening test would be Friday afternoon’s free practice session to set the Fiesta’s in preparation for the opening two qualifying races taking place Saturday. Sunday would see the all-important remaining two qualifiers, the tense semi-finals and lastly the final, which would be shown live on TV and replayed by Freesports.

Close at the top after Qualifiers

Divided up into four races within each qualifier, the action for the RX2 field would get underway Saturday morning in perfect conditions for racing and attention was on pace setter Guillaume De Ridder, as the Belgium had dominated free practice and adapted to the technical circuit well in his Olsbergs MSE prepared Fiesta. De Ridder continued his form through into Q1 and set a blistering time to top the times and take first batch of points to lead the classification. In a qualifying heat that included title contenders Vasiliy Gryazin and Sondre Evjen, De Ridder had to be forceful to gain track position which he did to perfection. His closest challenger in terms of overall times was team mate Oliver Eriksson and the Swede showed pace in his race of Q1 to take victory, but it was in Q2 where he excelled to take spot in the classification. By beating De Ridder in his qualifying Heat, the team mates were in control of the RX2 field, tied on 95 points heading for Sunday’s Q3, but Evjen and Gryazin had done enough to be right on their tails. The driver to keep an eye on was RX2 rookie Sami-Matti Trogen, as two impressive qualifiers for the Finn, including a race win in Q2 pushed him up to fifth in the overall classification and he was well in the hunt for semi-final spot and had the pace to make the final. The rest of the top ten was made up of five Scandinavians, with Trogen’s team mate Henrik Krogstad surprisingly lying seventh after suffering a roll in Q2. Just outside the top ten was American’s Conner Martell and Cole Keatts, split by RX2 regular Simon Syversen, who held the final semi-final spot at this stage being twelfth. For championship leader Ben-Philip Gundersen, the Norwegian was down in fifteenth position, struggling for pace in his Fiesta. Q1 ended badly due to an oil pressure failure before in Q2 he found himself delayed by Brit Nathan Heathcote. Speaking of Heathcote, the former British Rallycross Champion was having a nightmare home round, lying last after Q1 and Q2 due to problems with his Fiesta. Q1 saw Heathcote involved in contact with another car during a first corner tussle which lost him time, before losing even more due to a heavy landing over the jump. Q2 was even more disastrous as an electrical failure forced the car to come to a halt as Heathcote searched to improve his position in front of the home crowd.

After overnight rain and thunderstorms, the conditions that faced the RX2 drivers on Sunday were mixed, as tarmac sections saw damp patches and the dirt had become mud and full of puddles. Morning warm up gave the drivers a chance to test conditions before crucial Q3 and Q4, but similar to Saturday Eriksson and De Ridder looked unfazed by anything, pushing hard to keep Olsbergs MSE on top of proceedings, but it was the Swede who was getting more and more quicker than his Belgian team mate. Championship contender Vasiliy Gryazin continued his form on Sunday, moving into third just ahead of RX2 rookie Henrik Krogstad, who bounced back from a roll in Q2 to secure a front row semi-final spot. Sondre Evjen lost out in Q3 and Q4 to drop down to sixth, behind Finland’s Jami Kalliomaki but ahead of Andreas Michalak and American Conner Martell, who promoted himself from outside the top ten after Q2. Championship leader Gundersen found his feet in Q3 and started to show why he topped the standings after Belgium, climbing from fifteenth to ninth, with Sami-Matti Trogen completing the top ten.  William Nilsson and Glenn Haug were the last to qualify for the semi-finals with Haug feeling lucky after destroying the rear wheel in Q4 and limping across the line. For Brit Nathan Heathcote, his weekend technically ended in Q3 as after coming over the jump, the car touched the tyre wall and sent Heathcote into a roll. Landing upside down on its roof, Heathcote would remain in the car for the duration of the race, recovering uninjured and would unfortunately progress no further than Q4.

Unbeaten throughout rewards Eriksson

The first semi-final saw Oliver Eriksson and Vasiliy Gryazin line up on the front row and with the lights going green, Eriksson got the better of Gryazin into turn one to lead whilst behind there was action between Anders Michalak and Jami Kalliomaki for third and fourth. The race settled pretty quickly compared to early action of Q4 and Eriksson would remain out-front ahead of Gryazin. Michalak would originally hold third until serving an early joker lap but timed it right to retake Kalliomaki, with the Finn displaying a push for third, even lifting up on two wheels around the kerbs in an effort to repass Michalak. Championship leader Gundersen efforts of improving his weekend faded as the best the Norwegian could do was fifth, ahead of William Nilsson who suffered electrical gremlins to end the race sixth.

With the first semi being pretty relaxed in terms of drama the second was anything but as whilst De Ridder got away quicker than the rest, American Martell and Norwegian Evjen came to blows on the opening lap, trading plenty of paintwork in a battle to be second. Evjen got the better of Martell in the scrap and soon inherited the lead, as De Ridder’s perfect weekend came to a halt before the jump on lap four. With two laps remaining Evjen led Martell with three further back fighting for the last final spot. Trogen and Krogstad were the closest going into the final lap but contact promoted Glenn Haug into third spot and the Norwegian took the flag in his rebuilt Fiesta, which earlier only had three working wheels in Q4.

In the final Eriksson had pole position but while tension built on the start line awaiting the lights, Gryazin made an error, dropped the clutch and jumped the start. The Latvian was penalised by having to serve two joker laps, but the mistake meant the field had to line up again and refocus on the green lights. When the lights went green Oliver Eriksson made no mistake and blasted down the straight into turn one with the field closely behind. American Conner Martell sneaked into second by taking Sondre Evjen and Gryazin around the outside but when looked at Eriksson thought better of it with the impeding danger of the wall. Once the opening lap settled down, Eriksson found his rhythm and broke away comfortably, as Martell was under pressure from Evjen. The top three each applied similar strategies and the joker worked in their favour each time, meaning positions were unchanged all the way to the chequered flag and Eriksson recorded his first ever RX2 win in only his second RX2 race meeting. Outside the podium places, Gryazin fell towards the rear of the field in having to serve two joker laps, promoting Anders Michalak to fourth, two seconds ahead of Glenn Haug.

RX2 International Speedmachine Final:

  1. Oliver Eriksson (SWE – Olsbergs MSE) = 6 laps
  2. Conner Martell (USA – Team Faren) = +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

The wait to the next round for the RX2 competitors would only be a few weeks as the series moved to Norway and the famous Hell circuit on the 9th June. With victory at the Speedmachine Festival, OIiver Eriksson was the new championship leader on forty-six points, but its tight at the top as only two points separate the Swede from Latvian Vasiliy Gryazin, whilst Norwegian Sondre Evjen sits third on forty-two points. For previous championship leader Ben-Philip Gundersen, a difficult weekend left the Norwegian down in fourth on thirty-seven points and nine adrift of Eriksson. In a championship consisting of seven rounds and five remaining, there was plenty of action anticipated, all which can be followed at www.fiaworldrallycross.com/rx2.

RX2 International Championship Standings after Two Rounds:

  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 Kalliomaki (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

To see more photos from the first ever Silverstone Speedmachine Festival, please click here.

Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.

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