Guillaume De Ridder set the 2018 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires title fight ablaze this weekend (29 June – 1 July), with a peerless performance at Höljes in Sweden to claim a second consecutive victory in the official FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series.
Under bright blue skies and in front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 50,000 enthusiastic spectators, rallycross’ ‘Magic Weekend’ more than lived up to its famous moniker as the largest-ever field of RX2 contenders put on a spellbinding show.
The action was breathless from the first lights-out to the final chequered flag, but De Ridder put not so much as a wheel out-of-place to take away a maximum score and close to within just six points of the championship lead. Not only that, but the Olsbergs MSE ace became the first double winner of RX2’s compelling sophomore season, with Henrik Krogstad continuing to enhance his fast-growing reputation in second and Simon Olofsson sending the home fans away happy with a well-deserved maiden rostrum result in third.
Buoyed by his breakthrough RX2 success three weeks earlier in Norway, De Ridder was the man to beat during the qualifying races at Höljes, featuring either at or towards the summit of the standings throughout and duly claiming the top spot in the Intermediate Classification.
Second place was perhaps more of a surprise, as American teenager Christian Brooks – making both his RX2 and indeed European rallycross debut – stunned with his scintillating raw speed and marked himself out as indubitably a star of the future.
Erstwhile championship leader Ben-Philip Gundersen was a consistently strong threat in third, with the man currently at the top of the title table – Oliver Eriksson – fourth. Fellow Swedes William Nilsson, Jimmie Walfridson and Marcus Höglund filled fifth, sixth and seventh positions respectively – the former topping the timesheets in Q3 following an inspired effort – with their JC Raceteknik stablemate Krogstad just behind in eighth.
Olofsson ended the preliminary phase of competition in ninth, ahead of Team Färén’s Nathan Heathcote – the reigning MSA British Rallycross Champion grabbing the headlines by going fastest outright in Q4 to reach the semi-finals for the first time – Jami Kalliomäki in the sole SET Promotion car to make the cut on a tough weekend for the Finnish outfit and Norway’s Petter Leirhol.
The qualifying races would prove to be bruising, however, for a number of big names. The highest-profile casualties were undoubtedly Sondre Evjen (JC Raceteknik) and Vasiliy Gryazin (Sports Racing Technologies), who had arrived at Höljes sitting respectively second and third in the chase for the crown.
The Norwegian didn’t score a single point on a torrid weekend that included a spectacular barrel-roll in Q2, while his Latvian rival saw his challenge extinguished by first corner contact in Q4. Conner Martell – a podium-finisher five weeks ago at Silverstone – local specialist Linus Östlund and SET Promotion team-mates Sami-Matti Trogen and Simon Syversen were all similarly knocked out before the semi-final stage.
From pole position, De Ridder led throughout the first semi-final, pursued by the ever-present Gundersen. Those two positions remained unchanged to the chequered flag, but behind them, the action was relentless. Kalliomäki initially held third, but a puncture saw the Finn fall back into the clutches of Höglund and early jokers Nilsson and Olofsson.
Höglund’s joker elevated his fellow Swedes to fourth and fifth, which became third and fourth as they overhauled the ailing Kalliomäki. Nilsson was making inroads into second-placed Gundersen when a puncture cruelly curtailed his charge, too, with barely a lap-and-a-half remaining.
That misfortune benefitted Olofsson and Höglund, whose scrap subsequently came to a head at the last corner when the JC Raceteknik driver attempted a late lunge, tagging the STS car sideways. It made for a dramatic finish, with Olofsson narrowly holding on to secure the coveted final berth.
The second of the two semi-finals was a slightly less animated affair, with Eriksson out-dragging pole-sitter Brooks away from the line and Krogstad slotting into third. The trio’s scrap for supremacy would ebb-and-flow over the course of the race, and it was ultimately an earlier joker by Krogstad that enabled the Norwegian to jump past Brooks into second.
Eriksson held his nerve out front to seal a front row starting spot for the all-important final alongside OMSE team-mate De Ridder, with Krogstad and Brooks joining them in second and third and fourth-placed Walfridson fending off Heathcote all the way to the line. On his series bow, Leirhol wound up sixth.
De Ridder maintained his advantage over Eriksson when the lights went out, as a fast-starting Krogstad could find no way past the OMSE duo. The top three circulated as one until the JC Raceteknik ace broke the symmetry by darting for the joker on lap three, rejoining the fray ahead of earlier jokers Gundersen, Olofsson and Brooks, with the latter pair soon swapping positions.
The departure of Krogstad from his mirrors enabled Eriksson to focus on sizing up his team-mate in the lead, and he bolted for the joker next time round in an effort to gain the undercut on De Ridder. Whether it would have worked or not, he never discovered, as the Swede unexpectedly slowed going down the hill with two laps to go when his gear lever stuck, and by the time he had resolved the issue, he was plum last.
Eriksson’s misfortune relieved the pressure on De Ridder, and the Belgian duly completed a textbook weekend by speeding on to a second consecutive victory to strengthen his burgeoning title bid. Krogstad was similarly comfortable in second, but behind them, all manner of drama was about to unfold.
Eriksson’s problems had delayed Gundersen and allowed Brooks and Olofsson to leapfrog the Norwegian, but the trio remained close together and when the American picked up a puncture on the last lap, Olofsson pounced. Unwilling to give up without a fight, Brooks re-attacked with a last-of-the-late-brakers move into the final corner, with contact sending the Swede sideways.
Olofsson just held on to take third, crossing the finish line still sideways, with the opportunistic Eriksson zipping in-between Brooks and Gundersen – the latter once again in the wrong place at the wrong time – to salvage fourth following his earlier woes. Gundersen wound up fifth, with Brooks coming in sixth.
Olofsson was initially handed a five-second penalty for being deemed to have gained an unfair advantage by leaving the track, but after reviewing the evidence, the stewards ultimately overturned the decision. That re-instated the STS star in third – his maiden RX2 rostrum, and a result that has vaulted the 23-year-old into the overall top ten following a troubled start to the season.
De Ridder’s triumph saw the Belgian more than halve his deficit to Eriksson at the top of the title table from 14 points to six. That sets up the intriguing prospect of a battle royale, as the OMSE pairing prepare to renew their duel and the likes of Gryazin and Evjen bid to haul themselves back into championship contention when RX2 resumes at Trois-Rivières in Canada on 4/5 August.
Guillaume De Ridder (1st): “Absolutely perfect – truly a ‘Magic Weekend’ for me! In my opinion, this is the toughest event of the year, with the highest number of entries and a lot of local specialists in the field who know the track like the back of their hand. Saying that, it’s also my favourite circuit on the calendar – a really technical challenge, and one that rewards experience. With so many spectators, the atmosphere is out-of-this-world and to win here feels very special. I think if you ask any rallycross driver which event they would like to win the most – aside from their home one – it would be Höljes. I have a lot of happy memories of this track, too; it has been the venue for a lot of ‘firsts’ for me – my first rallycross test in RX2 early last year, my first podium 12 months ago and now my first maximum score. After our performance in the semi-final, I felt quite confident going into the final and even without Oliver [Eriksson]’s problem, I think we had the pace to stay ahead. When he slipped back, that took the pressure off a bit and I was able to concentrate on just bringing it home. It was a difficult start to the season for us, but we’re coming good now and it’s fantastic to go into the summer break with the momentum on our side.”
Henrik Krogstad (2nd): “Three podiums from four starts – that’s a pretty good strike rate! It’s not been an easy weekend. This was my first time racing here, and we struggled quite a lot to begin with. Höljes is a tough track to master – the joker in particular – and we were lacking that little bit extra that we needed to be completely on the pace. It took us a while to properly nail the set-up, but we made quite a few changes after the qualifying races and our speed in the semi-final was much better. I then got an unbelievable start in the final, but with the way everybody funnels into the tight first corner here, there was nothing I could do with it. I felt I had the legs on Oliver [Eriksson], but due to his issue, we never found out, which was obviously unfortunate for him. I then set about chasing Guillaume [De Ridder], but he was just slightly too far out-of-reach. Still, several of the leading drivers didn’t score well this weekend, so the points we gained are really important for the championship – and hopefully we can go one step higher in Canada.”
Simon Olofsson (3rd): “It was a fantastic feeling to be up on the podium in front of my family and friends and all the home fans. I had a bumpy start to every qualifying race, but our lap times were quick so we knew we had the pace and with so many cars in the field and a higher price than usual to pay for every setback or mistake, survival was the name of the game. It was important to maintain a level head and fortunately we made it through, when quite a few of our rivals didn’t. We started on the back row for both the semi-final and final, and although I needed a bit of luck with William [Nilsson]’s puncture and Oliver [Eriksson]’s problem, I think we’ve had enough bad luck over the past year-and-a-half to deserve a break at last! I’ve always been a fighter, and we really had to fight for this result. I’ve waited a long time for this podium in RX2, and that only made the experience all-the-sweeter.”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “Höljes is known as the ‘Magic Weekend’ for good reason, and there’s no question that the racing produced by our RX2 drivers was every bit as entertaining as the exhilarating atmosphere off-track. Congratulations to Guillaume De Ridder on a second consecutive victory – he beat the Scandinavians in their own backyard and has set up a thrilling title fight. There is a great deal to look forward to over the second half of the season. Finally, to welcome a record-breaking 29 cars was a very proud moment for our young series and to have been able to assemble the 50th Supercar Lites car on-site on Thursday was a tremendous achievement by all involved. This growing interest is concrete proof that RX2 is going from strength-to-strength as we focus on nurturing the next generation of rallycross stars.”
1. Guillaume DE RIDDER (BEL) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
2. Henrik KROGSTAD (NOR) JC Raceteknik +1.294s
3. Simon OLOFSSON (SWE) Simon Olofsson +5.782s
4. Oliver ERIKSSON (SWE) Olsbergs MSE +6.260s
5. Ben-Philip GUNDERSEN (SWE) JC Raceteknik +6.572s
6. Christian BROOKS (USA) Christian Brooks +7.573s
1. Oliver Eriksson (SWE) 95 points
2. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 89 points
3. Henrik Krogstad (NOR) 76 points
4. Ben-Philip Gundersen (NOR) 69 points
5. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 65 points
6. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 64 points
7. William Nilsson (SWE) 54 points
8. Jami Kalliomäki (FIN) 49 points
9. Conner Martell (USA) 34 points
10. Simon Olofsson (SWE) 26 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.