Guillaume De Ridder claimed an overdue maiden victory in the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires in Hell, Norway today (10 June), after getting the better of team-mate Oliver Eriksson and home hero Henrik Krogstad in a pulsating, crowd-pleasing final.
De Ridder’s triumph came as the result of a determined drive on a weekend when Eriksson had looked set to make it back-to-back wins following his Speedmachine success. It was the Swede that dominated the qualifying stages, but when it came to the all-important final, the Belgian unleashed scintillating speed to turn the tables.
The Olsbergs MSE pair were pushed right to the ragged edge by JC Raceteknik ace Krogstad, whose prodigious early pace forced Eriksson to modify his strategy mid-race – but the 20-year-old would ultimately fall just short of clinching a popular home victory only three rounds into his RX2 rookie campaign.
Eriksson took a clean sweep of the qualifying race wins in Hell, with a flawless effort to top all four timesheets and earn the prime starting spot for the first semi-final. As at Silverstone a fortnight ago, the Swede’s closest rival was his OMSE team-mate De Ridder, who had to fight hard for second place in the intermediate rankings after finding himself caught up in traffic in both of Saturday’s contests. The Belgian needed to get his elbows out in Q3, and his reward was pole position for semi-final two.
Sondre Evjen kept the home fans happy by placing third in the table courtesy of a solid and consistent run, with countryman and JC Raceteknik stablemate Krogstad right behind in fourth. The latter’s performance was particularly noteworthy, given that he had languished at the very bottom of the order following Q1 due to engine failure. Thereafter, he was never outside the top three.
Vasiliy Gryazin placed fifth for Sports Racing Technologies, ahead of Swedish teenager William Nilsson (JC Raceteknik), while SET Promotion’s Simon Syversen and Ben-Philip Gundersen – in the fourth JC Raceteknik car to reach the semi-finals – made it four Norwegians inside the top eight on a good weekend for the home nation.
SET Promotion’s teenage duo Sami-Matti Trogen and Jami Kalliomäki similarly made the cut in ninth and tenth, with the elder of the two Finns battling back from a missed joker in Q1 that had left him at virtually the foot of the standings. Team Färén pairing Nathan Heathcote and Conner Martell completed the semi-final line-up, the Brit advancing through for the first time – although the American had a late scare when gear linkage issues precipitated an early bath in Q4.
Eriksson bolted away from pole position at lights-out to immediately grab the initiative in the first of the two semi-finals, with Gryazin, Trogen and Syversen giving chase while Evjen and Heathcote opted to take the joker early. As the leader made good his escape, Gryazin focussed on fending off the SET Promotion duo behind – but Evjen was the real threat, and once the jokers had all played out, the Norwegian duly leapfrogged all three of them.
Eriksson remained unchallenged to the chequered flag, with Evjen a comfortable second and Gryazin keeping Trogen at bay to secure the third final spot.
In semi-final two, De Ridder produced a similarly sprightly getaway to launch into the lead, pursued by Nilsson, Kalliomäki and Martell, as JC Raceteknik team-mates Krogstad and Gundersen gambled on an opening lap joker. De Ridder, by contrast, waited until the last lap to serve his, only to see the charging Krogstad flash past and on to victory.
Behind them, Kalliomäki did his best to try to unseat Nilsson, but the Swede remained unflustered and his reward was a berth in the all-important final for the second time this season. Gundersen and Martell came home fifth and sixth.
If the semi-finals had been uncharacteristically subdued by all-action RX2 standards, then the final was anything but. Eriksson made a textbook start from pole, as De Ridder slotted in behind and Gryazin snatched third, with those on the outside of the grid – Krogstad, Evjen and Nilsson – all electing to take the joker straightaway.
As the evenly-matched Eriksson and De Ridder pulled clear of the pursuing Gryazin, all eyes were on Krogstad, who was fairly flying in fourth – so much so, that the leader felt obliged to joker earlier than planned to cover his JC Raceteknik rival. The tactic worked – just – but it also released De Ridder, and a small mistake by Eriksson under pressure from Krogstad enabled the Belgian to eke out his advantage to over four seconds, almost exactly the time required to complete the joker…
When De Ridder dived for the joker on the last lap, he knew he needed to be inch-perfect, and as he rejoined the track, Eriksson was right alongside – but crucially, on the outside line for the next corner. Although the Swede tried to switch to the inside, his OMSE stablemate boldly held his nerve and refused to yield all the way to the chequered flag.
The 25-year-old’s superb fighting performance made him the third different winner from as many rounds in 2018 and vaulted him up the title table from seventh into fourth. Despite having to narrowly give best on this occasion, Eriksson nonetheless increased his advantage in the overall standings from two points to nine heading next to his home event at Höljes in three weeks’ time (30 June – 1 July).
Krogstad crossed the finish line less than a second adrift of the race-winner in another hugely impressive effort in his maiden RX2 campaign to put a Norwegian on the podium in Norway, with Evjen, Gryazin and Nilsson – the latter slowed by a puncture – rounding out the result.
Guillaume De Ridder (1st): “What an amazing feeling! I’m a bit speechless. We struggled to begin with this weekend and perhaps didn’t adopt the best strategy on Saturday, which left me stuck in traffic and even in the semi-final, I was missing a little bit of pace compared to Krogstad. In the final, Oli and I worked hard to build up a gap over the others and then when he went for the joker, my spotter told me, ‘we need a little bit more’ so I gave it everything I had and pushed like hell. When I took my own joker a couple of laps later, I braked as late as I dared and downshifted as quickly as possible and it was incredibly close with Oli as I rejoined. I shut the door when he tried to attack and after that, it was a question of keeping it all clean and hitting every apex so as not to offer him even the slightest opportunity. When I took the chequered flag, I screamed so loud inside my helmet that I think the whole crowd must have heard me! It’s fantastic to finally win, and I honestly think the bad luck we had at Mettet and Silverstone has only made me stronger. We’ve had the speed to do this all season, so to finally achieve it is really special – particularly when we had to fight so hard. I want to thank OMSE for giving me such an awesome car – especially my mechanics Joseph and Sebastian. These guys never stop striving to improve, so this victory is for them – and now I’ve won once, I want to do it again and again.”
Oliver Eriksson (2nd): “Almost the perfect weekend! After winning all my qualifying races and my semi-final, things were looking good. We knew Krogstad was quick, and we had to adapt our strategy in the final to make sure we covered off that threat, which meant jokering earlier than we had intended. My spotter was really on it; he told me Henrik was beginning to close the gap, and it was definitely the correct call to go early because he was right there when I rejoined – if we’d waited another lap, it could have been a different outcome. Unfortunately, I then made a small mistake that cost me a bit of time, which allowed Guillaume to gain the overlap when he played his own joker later on and he was just able to pip me. I tried to get back past him on the last lap, but he kept it all neat and tidy and there was no way through. We needed a tiny bit more this time, but we certainly put on a show for all the fans and it was a lot of fun. Congratulations to Guillaume; he’s a great rival and a great team-mate, and we had a hell of a fight out there. He really deserved the win, and to bring back a one-two finish for OMSE is an excellent result.”
Henrik Krogstad (3rd): “After what happened in Q1, if you’d told me I would finish inside the top three, I would have grabbed it with both hands! It’s obviously nice to be on the podium at your home event, in front of sponsors, family and friends, but I still can’t help but feel disappointed because we had the pace to win here. The weekend didn’t start off very well for us. The oil pump belt went in free practice on Saturday, and we didn’t have time to carry out a proper fix before Q1, which is what led to the engine failure. That put us on the back foot and we knew we were in for an uphill battle from that point on, but we managed it and to then win the semi-final left me really pumped up for the final. There was nothing between Guillaume, Oliver and myself, and it’s fun when the racing is that close. I pushed as hard as I could, but the level is so high in RX2 that you need to be absolutely at the top of your game all the time and I didn’t settle into a rhythm quickly enough, which ultimately cost us. I’m always frustrated when I don’t win, but I’m sure I will feel better about it tomorrow and I’m already looking forward to Höljes. We’ve had great pace all season, and I’m feeling more ready than ever!”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “Wow! That was a hell of a scrap in the final! It was impossible to second-guess which way it was going to go, with Oliver leading early on, Henrik pumping in the fast laps after his joker and Guillaume coming on strong at the end. Any one of them would have been a worthy winner, but Guillaume thoroughly deserved to stand on the top step of the podium after a phenomenal performance. His first RX2 victory is long overdue, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. Speaking more generally, the racing amongst our ‘stars of the future’ was once again first-class and brought the huge crowd to its feet, and the drivers can all be very proud of the spectacular show they put on for the enthusiastic Norwegian fans. Next up, it’s Höljes; the ‘Magic Weekend’ is invariably one of the most popular and exciting events of the season, and the way the RX2 title fight is shaping up this year, I have no doubt we’ll bring plenty of magic of our own…”
1. Guillaume DE RIDDER (BEL) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
2. Oliver ERIKSSON (SWE) Olsbergs MSE +0.734s
3. Henrik KROGSTAD (NOR) JC Raceteknik +0.882s
4. Sondre EVJEN (NOR) JC Raceteknik +1.997s
5. Vasiliy GRYAZIN (LVA) Sports Racing Technologies +2.912s
6. William NILSSON (SWE) JC Raceteknik +10.675s
1. Oliver Eriksson (SWE) 73 points
2. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 64 points
3. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 62 points
4. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 59 points
5. Henrik Krogstad (NOR) 57 points
6. Ben-Philip Gundersen (NOR) 48 points
7. Jami Kalliomäki (FIN) 42 points
8. William Nilsson (SWE) 40 points
9. Conner Martell (USA) 34 points
10. Glenn Haug (NOR) 25 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.