With just two rounds remaining in the 2017 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires, anticipation is high as the title battle between Cyril Raymond and Dan Rooke intensifies – and the former will be aiming to use home support to his advantage at Lohéac in France this weekend (2/3 September).
Arriving in Canada three weeks ago separated by barely a handful of points in the championship standings, there was similarly little to choose between Raymond and Rooke throughout the qualifying stages at Trois-Rivières. The pair topped the timesheets twice apiece, wound up tied on points in the intermediate rankings and each won their semi-final with comparative ease.
Something had to give, and ultimately, their duel came to a head when neither was willing to yield into the first corner in the all-important final – and it was the Englishman that came off worse. Rooke’s error was subsequently compounded by a failed overtaking attempt later in the race that sent him into the wall – leaving him 14 points adrift of Raymond travelling to Lohéac and determined to prevent an early coronation for the Frenchman on home turf.
The championship leader, for his part, sailed on serenely to his fourth victory from five starts this season in Canada. Whilst not willing to take anything for granted in a series as competitive and unpredictable as RX2, he is hopeful of giving his partisan fans reason to cheer next weekend.
“It’s always special for me to compete in France, and to go to Lohéac as championship leader gives me even more motivation to put on a real show for all the spectators – and believe me when I tell you there will be lots of spectators!” the Olsbergs MSE ace opined.
“Being honest, though, I’m not even thinking about the championship at the moment. My goal and approach will be the same as always – to go out there and aim to win every single race I start. Dan will clearly be fired-up to bounce back after Canada and he has proved to be a quick learner at every circuit so far this year, which means I will need to be absolutely on top of my game to beat him. It’s a challenge I’m relishing.”
Raymond was joined on the podium on the other side of the Pond by rallying convert Guillaume De Ridder and OMSE team-mate Tanner Whitten, who have established themselves as consistent front-runners in the fiercely-disputed FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series in 2017. The Belgian and American are both eager to reach the top step of the rostrum before the season is out – could Lohéac be their time to shine?
Swedish young guns William Nilsson and Simon Olofsson have shown scintillating raw speed on occasion this year, with the former claiming a popular top three finish at Höljes and the latter dominating the Mettet curtain-raiser until he found himself out-of-luck in the final. Both will be dark horses in France, as will Norwegians Glenn Haug and Sondre Evjen, who have been on the pace everywhere but remain in search of that standout result to add to their burgeoning CVs.
Vasiliy Gryazin enjoyed arguably his most competitive outing of the campaign in Canada, only to see his challenge undone by engine issues in the final. Andreas Bäckman, for his part, has made impressive progress over the course of his first season out-of-karts – to the extent where he is now a bona fide contender at every circuit the championship visits.
Thomas Holmen slipped outside of the top ten in the standings following a torrid time at Trois-Rivières – but placing third in Q4 demonstrated what the Norwegian teenager is capable of when he has a trouble-free run. Lady Luck similarly neglected to smile upon compatriot Simon Syversen earlier this month, although the 24-year-old can invariably be depended upon to produce a consistent performance.
Anders Michalak arrives in France targeting a change of fortunes, as the oldest driver in the field aims to prove that age is just a number. Meanwhile, fast females Jessica Bäckman and Sandra Hultgren both made it into the semi-final for the first time in Canada, giving them a welcome injection of confidence ahead of the remaining two rounds.
The Lohéac RX2 action will begin with practice on Saturday morning, followed by the opening three qualifying races the same day and the remaining qualifiers, semi-finals and televised final on Sunday.
From a Cooper Tires Point-of-View
Paul Coates, General Manager – Motorsport, Cooper Tire Europe:
“Lohéac is a popular venue, and with rallycross having a strong following in France, there is always a big crowd. This track has one of the shortest start straights into the first corner, which – combined with one of the longest joker laps – means there is lots of action. We have seen previously that tyre strategy is important in helping to knock those valuable extra tenths-of-a-second off lap times. That will be important next weekend, because the nature of the dirt on this track makes it a particularly abrasive circuit. The impact on wear rate for the smaller RX2 tyres is likely to be bigger than on the World RX tyres, making that a critical factor here.”
2017 RX2 France Entry List
6 William Nilsson SWE
8 Simon Wågø Syversen NOR
9 Glenn Haug NOR
11 Tanner Whitten USA
12 Anders Michalak SWE
13 Cyril Raymond FRA
19 Andreas Bäckman SWE
26 Jessica Bäckman SWE
40 Dan Rooke GBR
51 Sandra Hultgren SWE
52 Simon Olofsson SWE
55 Vasiliy Gryazin LVA
56 Thomas Holmen NOR
69 Sondre Evjen NOR
96 Guillame De Ridder BEL
1. Cyril Raymond (FRA) 138 points
2. Dan Rooke (GBR) 124 points
3. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 89 points
4. Tanner Whitten (USA) 83 points
5. William Nilsson (SWE) 75 points
6. Simon Olofsson (SWE) 72 points
7. Glenn Haug (NOR) 63 points
8. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 59 points
9. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 51 points
10. Andreas Bäckman (SWE) 49 points