Oliver Eriksson won every race he started at Silverstone this weekend (26/27 May), to speed into the lead of the 2018 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires in front of more than 27,000 enthusiastic fans at the inaugural Speedmachine festival.
Eriksson arrived at the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ aiming to kick-start his season, after a misfire had denied him a spot in the final in the Mettet curtain-raiser a fortnight earlier. Fast out-of-the-blocks, the young Swede topped the timesheets in three of the four qualifying races and then dominated both his semi-final and the final to complete a maximum points haul.
Eriksson’s path to victory was significantly eased when his main rival – Olsbergs MSE team-mate Guillaume De Ridder – was eliminated from contention by an electrical problem while well on-course to win the other semi-final. That paved the way for Conner Martell and Sondre Evjen to join the race-winner up on the rostrum – the former reaching the podium in only his second RX2 start. On a weekend full of thrills and spills, Anders Michalak, Glenn Haug and Vasiliy Gryazin rounded out the overall top six.
Eriksson and De Ridder shared the spoils between them through the qualifying stages. The Belgian struck first with an assertive performance to fight his way to the front in Q1, before the Swede took advantage of sluggish starts by his OMSE stablemate to seize the initiative heading into the semi-finals.
Mettet pace-setter Vasiliy Gryazin was again on the pace and produced a quartet of consistently strong showings to snatch third in the intermediate classification, chased hard by RX2 rookie Henrik Krogstad, building upon the impressive form he displayed in Belgium and even finding time to fit in a roll in Q2 – incredibly, for the loss of just a handful of seconds.
Finnish teenager Jami Kalliomäki vaulted up to fifth with a stellar drive in Q4 behind the wheel of his SET Promotion car, ahead of Krogstad’s JC Raceteknik team-mate Evjen – a podium-finisher at Mettet. Anders Michalak placed seventh as he enjoyed arguably his best RX2 weekend to-date, with Martell reprising his round-the-outside Belgian heroics to slot into eighth.
Topping the title table arriving at Speedmachine, Ben-Philip Gundersen had to battle back from a torrid opening day – plagued by technical issues – to haul himself into the reckoning in ninth, with series newcomer Sami-Matti Trogen, fellow young gun William Nilsson and Glenn Haug completing the semi-final line-up.
Home hero Nathan Heathcote, by contrast, was a notable casualty, as electrical woes and a roll – from which he thankfully emerged unscathed – saw the reigning MSA British Rallycross Champion progress no further than Q4.
From pole position, Eriksson got the jump on fellow front row-sitter Gryazin at lights-out, with Kalliomäki finding himself boxed in on the inside and forced to concede third to a fast-starting Michalak. As the top two swiftly made their escape, the race leader gradually inched away from his Latvian pursuer.
Those positions would remain unchanged throughout, while Kalliomäki went on a charge in an effort to overhaul early joker Michalak, even getting his car up onto two wheels in evidence of how hard he was pushing. Ultimately, it was not quite enough, with Michalak sealing the last of the three final berths. Gundersen wound up a subdued fifth, with JC Raceteknik team-mate Nilsson slowed by electrical gremlins.
In a bruising second semi-final, De Ridder grabbed the lead from pole before confidently pulling away, until ignition troubles grounded the luckless Belgian on lap four. His misfortune promoted Evjen into the lead from Martell, with the pair having earlier duelled energetically and traded paint around the course of the opening lap.
Both sporting battle scars and flailing bodywork, the Norwegian and American held station all the way to the chequered flag, while Haug benefitted from a brace of clashes between Trogen and Krogstad to clinch the remaining final spot.
Eriksson held the lead at the start of the final, with Martell making a superb getaway to storm around the outside of Evjen and Gryazin into second. The American thought about challenging the Swede, too, before backing out of the move and slotting in just behind.
The gap between the top three ebbed-and-flowed for a while, Evjen initially pressurising Martell until the Team Färén ace edged away – briefly even threatening to close in on the leader. The Vermont native shadowed Eriksson throughout in an impressive performance, but he ultimately had no answer to his OMSE rival’s prodigious pace and was happy to settle for the runner-up spoils.
Evjen rounded out the podium – his third top three finish in swift succession – with Michalak completing an excellent weekend in fourth, ahead of Haug and Gryazin, whose rostrum hopes were undone by a jump-start that obliged the Sports Racing Technologies star to serve two joker laps.
Eriksson’s triumph – in only his second RX2 start – has catapulted the 19-year-old into the championship lead, two points clear of Gryazin in second with Evjen a further two points back in third. Next, the series travels to the Norwegian’s home event at Hell on 9/10 June – with everything to play for.
Oliver Eriksson (1st): “To come away with the win and maximum points makes this a pretty perfect weekend. Having been quick in Belgium but left with nothing to show for it, I was really hungry coming here and above all, I needed a good result for my championship push and to repay my sponsors for their amazing support. Speedmachine has been a lot of fun – the track produced great racing and having so many spectators generated a really good atmosphere. The starts were key, and luckily enough, I seemed to nail every one of them and my car was spot-on throughout – the only time I wasn’t fastest was Q1. I so feel bad for my team-mate Guillaume [De Ridder], though – he was quick all weekend and we were looking good for a one-two, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Hopefully his luck will turn in Norway. It’s quite clear that we’re in for an intensely competitive season. With the points situation as close as it is, every single race will count and even the smallest of mistakes will prove costly but leading the championship is the best position to be in going to the two Scandinavian rounds – we’re back in the game!”
Conner Martell (2nd): “I’m really happy. I felt more prepared coming here after getting the ‘first weekend jitters’ out of the way in Belgium and I knew a bit more what to expect. For me, the hardest thing compared to racing in the US is getting the car set-up right for the European tracks, particularly when that track is constantly changing. I tried to stay consistent and drive as hard as I could, and going around the outside into the first corner seems to be becoming my signature move – sometimes, you’ve just gotta’ send it! I gave it my best shot in the final and braked as late as I dared; for a while, I couldn’t see where Oliver [Eriksson] was and thought I might have a chance, but then he appeared and I had to back out of it. After that, I settled into a good rhythm and there genuinely wasn’t that much to choose between us – to be on almost the same pace as him was huge for me. Now I’ve got a couple of rounds under my belt, I think I’ve shown I can be a factor this year and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Let’s see if we can carry this momentum forward to Hell.”
Sondre Evjen (3rd): “I’m really pleased with the weekend overall – Speedmachine has been a great event, with a fantastic stadium atmosphere and some brilliant racing. We lost a few points in the qualifying races again, which we need to work on, but we had an enjoyable battle with Conner [Martell] in the semi-final – hard but fair, I’d say, with neither of us willing to give the position up. Yes, we got lucky with Guillaume [De Ridder]’s retirement and I feel bad for him losing the win that way through no fault of his own, but you need a bit of luck sometimes in this sport. Last year, we really struggled in the first two rounds, so it’s already been a much better start to the season and it’s a big boost to be so close to the championship lead going to my home event at Hell. Conner might have got the better of me in the final this time, but I’m determined to repay the favour in Norway…”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “There was a lot of anticipation surrounding this first Speedmachine festival at Silverstone, and it’s safe to say the event has delivered both on and off-track. The racing was superb, and our RX2 drivers put on a spectacular show for the tens of thousands of spectators – I think there was something to get excited about in pretty much every race. The semi-finals were action-packed from start-to-finish, and we saw excellent performances from Oliver, Conner and Sondre in the final. It was of course a shame for Guillaume to miss out again through no fault of his own after not putting a foot wrong, but he will come back even stronger. One thing is for sure – with so many quick and talented drivers in the field, we’re in for a tremendously competitive season. I hope they’re ready for us in Norway, because it’s going to be one Hell of a battle!”
1. Oliver ERIKSSON (SWE) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
2. Conner MARTELL (USA) Team Färén +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
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 Kalliomäki (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
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