Oliver Eriksson re-established his advantage at the top of the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires standings as the championship sped across the Atlantic to Trois-Rivières in Canada this weekend (4/5 August), leading home an historic Olsbergs MSE one-two-three.
Having had to give best to his OMSE team-mate Guillaume De Ridder in Hell and on home turf at Höljes, Eriksson was determined to redress the balance – and redress the balance he did. Quickest from Q2 onwards, the championship leader’s success was assisted by lightning starts that meant he invariably reached the first corner at the front of the field – and from there on, he did not look back.
De Ridder was ultimately Eriksson’s closest rival around the fastest track on the calendar, coming home second to keep the title fight very much alive heading into the remaining two rounds of the 2018 campaign. To crown OMSE’s joy, Cole Keatts – competing in his ‘home’ event – not only made the final for the first time but went on to join his two team-mates on the podium in a brilliant breakthrough performance.
It was De Ridder that struck first in the qualifying races with a hard-fought win in Q1, but from there on, Eriksson entered his stride and duly stole the top spot in the intermediate classification. The Belgian had to dig deep to secure second place – and with it pole position for the other semi-final – after retiring from Q3 with broken steering, the legacy of a joker lap clash with Henrik Krogstad.
Conner Martell was fast and feisty throughout on his way to third position, as the American continues to go from strength-to-strength in his maiden season in RX2, with Ben-Philip Gundersen surviving a Q4 brush with the wall to slot into fourth.
Finnish teenager Sami-Matti Trogen – the youngest competitor in the series at just 16 – impressed with both his pace and racecraft to take fifth, ahead of Sports Racing Technologies’ Vasiliy Gryazin, JC Raceteknik ace Krogstad and the Norwegian’s team-mate William Nilsson, who had to battle back from a difficult opening day.
SET Promotion’s Jami Kalliomäki and Keatts rounded out the top ten, with Sondre Evjen – the innocent victim of a hefty start-line shunt in Q3 – and Simon Syversen completing the semi-final protagonists, as the luckless Nathan Heathcote missed out following a torrid run.
Pole-sitter Eriksson fended off an early attack from Martell to stand his ground at the start of the first semi-final, with Krogstad settling into third. The American and Norwegian kept the pressure on the race leader as the top three pulled away, but Trogen replicated the same early joker tactic he had employed to good effect in the qualifying races to overhaul Krogstad on the penultimate lap.
Eriksson held firm to win from the hard-charging Martell, as Trogen staved off Krogstad to reach the final for the first time in his fledgling RX2 career. Kalliomäki and Evjen completed the finishers a little further back.
As the front row-sitters squabbled into Turn One at the start of semi-final two, Keatts – from the back of the grid – left his braking as late as he dared and spectacularly swept around the outside to snatch the lead, ahead of Gundersen and Nilsson, with pole-sitter De Ridder finding himself shuffled down to fourth.
As his pursuers scrapped amongst themselves – Nilsson and De Ridder taking advantage of a mistake by Gundersen at the end of the opening lap to move up to second and third – Keatts held sway at the head of the order, but an early joker from Gryazin allowed the Latvian to leapfrog them all.
De Ridder similarly jumped Keatts to steal second from his OMSE team-mate, with Nilsson narrowly failing to progress and Syversen and Gundersen – who came together in the joker – rounding out the result.
Eriksson converted pole position into the lead at lights-out, with De Ridder also making a sprightly getaway to dive up the inside of the slow-starting Gryazin – but both were outfoxed by Martell, who pulled off his trademark manoeuvre by storming around the outside and up to second.
Trogen’s challenge ended abruptly in the Turn Two tyres as he came unstuck while trying to relieve Keatts of fourth, and the next to fall was Martell, who was really beginning to turn up the wick on Eriksson when an ill-judged overtaking attempt at Turn Five saw the Team Färén ace clip the tyre stack, spinning him broadside across the track.
That delayed the pursuing De Ridder and Keatts – albeit not enough to drop them into the clutches of Gryazin – and the pair duly went on to follow Eriksson home in second and third to secure a famous podium lock-out for OMSE.
For Eriksson, it completed a perfect weekend’s score that has opened his championship lead back out to 11 points, with a total of 60 remaining in play – at Lohéac in France on 1/2 September and Cape Town in South Africa on 24/25 November.
Oliver Eriksson (1st): “It’s been an almost perfect weekend. I missed out on a completely clean sweep by only one tenth-of-a-second – it was seven tenths at Silverstone, so I’m getting closer! My starts were quick and consistent throughout, and that was key to the end result, I think, in a one-make series where everyone is so competitive on lap times. It meant I could always control the pace and focus on driving my own race. The track was cutting up a bit by the time the final came round, so I decided to adopt a more cautious approach and just tried to keep it clean and bring the car home in one piece. That obviously worked out pretty well, and it’s great to have re-extended my championship lead – it was important for me to get back on the top step of the podium again after missing out in Norway and Sweden. Better still, to achieve an OMSE one-two-three was amazing and really rewards all the guys in the team for the long hours they put in at the circuit and back at base. This result is for all of them.”
Guillaume De Ridder (2nd): “The weekend started off great for me with a win in Q1, but after that, things got a bit more complicated. There was more grip down on the grid than I’m used to, and I think my lack of experience in that respect showed compared to Oliver [Eriksson]. I struggled slightly to get the car off the line, which kept leaving me in traffic and made it difficult to settle into my own rhythm. After the DNF in Q3, it was such a relief to end up still second in the intermediate classification. That put me on pole for the semi-final, where I got caught out by how early Gundersen braked for the first corner, which allowed a few people to go around the outside and once again we had to battle through. It took me until the final to get the start properly nailed, and then I was compromised by Martell’s spin! When we were in clear air, we had really good pace, but to come home second was disappointing when victory had been our goal. We’ve lost a little bit of ground in the championship, but we’re still very much in the mix and we’ll come back fighting in France!”
Cole Keatts (3rd): “I was optimistic we could take a step forward this weekend. Trois-Rivières is kind of my ‘home’ round on the RX2 calendar and where I made my debut in the series last year, and to finally come to a track where I’ve raced before made a huge difference. It meant I could hit the ground running right from the start unlike every other circuit where I have to play catch-up, and I think that showed as we were quick from the word ‘go’ and competitive in every qualifier. In the semi-final, I knew I had to get to the front somehow, so I threw caution to the wind at the start and thought, ‘let’s give it a go round the outside’ – and it came off! I was really pleased with my driving in both that race and the final, and to finish on the podium alongside my two team-mates and see the OMSE mechanics all cheering was such a sweet ending. We’ve worked so hard for this, and it really is the best feeling in the world.”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “We always receive a warm welcome from the enthusiastic Canadian fans when we come to Trois-Rivières, and I think it’s safe to say our RX2 drivers rewarded them with some incredible on-track entertainment. There was exciting action throughout the field in every single race, and watching the drivers thread the needle between the circuit’s unforgiving walls – with very little margin for error – truly showcases the talent they possess behind the wheel. They are very much the stars of the future. It was also great to see so many people lining the streets for the popular downtown parade on Friday night – bringing rallycross closer to the public like that is the perfect way to keep growing our spectacular sport.”
1. Oliver ERIKSSON (SWE) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
2. Guillaume DE RIDDER (BEL) Olsbergs MSE +2.721s
3. Cole KEATTS (USA) Olsbergs MSE +4.636s
4. Vasiliy GRYAZIN (LVA) Sports Racing Technologies +6.170s
5. Sami-Matti TROGEN (FIN) SET Promotion +43.137s
6. Conner MARTELL (USA) Team Färén +4 laps
1. Oliver Eriksson (SWE) 125 points
2. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 114 points
3. Henrik Krogstad (NOR) 89 points
4. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 85 points
5. Ben-Philip Gundersen (NOR) 83 points
6. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 71 points
7. William Nilsson (SWE) 66 points
8. Jami Kalliomäki (FIN) 59 points
9. Conner Martell (USA) 54 points
10. Sami-Matti Trogen (FIN) 41 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