Cyril Raymond extended his winning run at Lydden Hill this weekend (27/28 May), with the stars of the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires putting on a captivating show for the 25,000 spectators packed into the sport’s spiritual home as the celebrated circuit bade an emotional farewell to the FIA World Rallycross Championship.
Under sunkissed skies, crowds flocked to the historic Kent venue for a weekend of fast-and-furious action, and the RX2 contingent certainly did not disappoint. The pace was red-hot right from the very first qualifying race, with defending champion Raymond setting the fastest pace of all. His form was such that the Olsbergs MSE ace became the first driver ever to take a clean sweep in the World RX feeder series – but he was pushed hard along the way.
To the delight of the partisan fans, Dan Rooke proved to be Raymond’s closest rival – as at Mettet earlier this month – and the Brit dug deep to secure the runner-up spoils for the second event in succession. Norway’s Thomas Holmen tallied his maiden RX2 podium in third – meaning he will travel next to his home round in Hell with his tail up and eager to maintain his momentum.
Raymond was a man on a mission throughout the qualifying races, with nobody able to hold a candle to the flying Frenchman, who seemed to have an answer to everything his pursuers could throw at him.
Rooke certainly tried his best to bring the fans to their feet and progressed comfortably through to the semi-final stage in second spot, with Guillaume De Ridder placing third in the intermediate rankings following a quick and consistent run.
That position looked like going the way of Tanner Whitten, until suspension damage in Q4 relegated the American to fourth, with Norwegians Glenn Haug and Sondre Evjen quietly impressing again in fifth and sixth respectively – the latter proving to be the master of the late-braking overtaking move at North Bend.
The top 12 were completed by Simon Olofsson (Sweden), Holmen, William Nilsson (Sweden), Vasiliy Gryazin (Latvia), Anders Michalak (Sweden) and Simon Syversen (Norway) – setting the scene for a brace of pulsating semi-finals.
Raymond converted pole position into the lead at the start of the first semi-final and swiftly checked out, as Nilsson immediately went on the attack and relieved Haug of second heading into lap two. An early joker paid dividends for De Ridder, who emerged behind the runaway race leader, leaving all eyes on the three-way tussle for third – and the remaining final berth that accompanied it. Olofsson narrowly got the verdict over Nilsson and Haug, despite a couple of wild two-wheeled moments on the last lap.
Rooke was the early pace-setter in the second of the semi-finals, with Evjen settling in behind the home hero as Holmen got the better of a wheel-to-wheel duel with Gryazin for third. The leader soon found himself under assault from a dual Norwegian threat, however, as Evjen and Holmen went on the attack. With Rooke gamely holding on out front, Holmen rejoined from his joker alongside Whitten but crucially had the inside line for Devil’s Corner to steal second. Evjen slotted back in between the pair a lap later to complete the final line-up.
Raymond and Rooke were inseparable at the start, as the reigning MSA British Rallycross Champion attempted to hang on around the outside of Chesson’s Drift to gain the inside line for Devil’s Elbow but couldn’t quite make the move stick.
Thereafter, Raymond led Rooke, De Ridder and Evjen in close formation, with Holmen and Olofsson the early jokers from fourth and sixth on the grid. As Rooke kept Raymond honest, De Ridder’s pace faded, enabling Holmen to leapfrog both the Belgian and Evjen into third following their respective jokers.
Raymond and Rooke jokered together and reappeared in the same order to take the chequered flag first and second – just as they did at Mettet two weeks ago. Holmen – at 17, the second-youngest competitor in the field – thought about diving up the inside of Rooke into North Bend for the last time before resolving that discretion was the better part of valour and settling for third and a well-deserved breakthrough RX2 rostrum.
De Ridder, Evjen and Olofsson rounded out the result, with less than five seconds ultimately blanketing the entire field. The RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires next moves on to Hell in Norway on 9-11 June, with Raymond having extended his advantage over Rooke to four points in the drivers’ standings.
Cyril Raymond (1st): “It was just the perfect weekend – so far, so good in 2017! This is our second win of the season, and I owe a big thanks to OMSE for providing me with a great car again. I’ve been told it looked easy, but I can promise you it’s never that easy inside the car and I really had to push hard with the strength of the competition in RX2 this year. There were a lot of bumps in the final, which weren’t so easy to see in the dust, and I actually damaged my rear suspension early on so I had to moderate my pace a bit to make sure I got to the end. I really enjoy Lydden Hill – the crowd has been fantastic, and it’s a lot of fun to drive – so I’m sad that we won’t be coming here anymore but at the same time happy to have won the final race.”
Dan Rooke (2nd): “Coming off the back of finishing second in Belgium, I obviously wanted to go one better here, but Cyril was really on it all weekend and we couldn’t quite get the set-up right. We made so many tweaks to try to extract that little bit of extra pace we were lacking but it just kept eluding us. The semi-final was a real struggle, so we went back to basics a bit for the final and I’m happy to finish as best-of-the-rest, particularly given this is the last time we will race at Lydden. There’s been a terrific turnout and I had so many people coming up to wish me well – the support has been fantastic. It’s nice to get a podium for the British fans, and I really wasn’t expecting the reaction I received up there. The history at Lydden Hill is incredible and a lot of drivers have a real soft spot for this track, so there’s no doubt that it will be missed. I hope everybody that came had a great weekend.”
Thomas Holmen (3rd): “I’m really happy with that. It was quite a tough weekend for us to begin with. We were only 11th in the intermediate rankings after I messed up the joker lap a couple of times, but before I went to bed last night, I said to myself ‘it’s not over yet’ and this morning, I woke up ready to fight for my place in the final. The team did a great job and we really turned things around in Q4 with the third-fastest time, which lifted me to eighth overall and then we had a pretty clean run in both the semi-final and final. I knew I had to really push and I almost had a chance to steal second from Dan at the end, but I’m still over-the-moon with third. It’s my first podium in RX2, and I can go home to Norway with a big smile on my face. I’m also delighted to have had the opportunity to drive at Lydden Hill. This is the place where rallycross began, so it was a very special weekend all-round.”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “What a thrill for our RX2 drivers to take part in the final world championship event at the home of rallycross – many of them for the very first time. It was a fitting send-off, with some spectacular racing, a very deserving winner in Cyril Raymond and a popular podium in front of his fans for Dan Rooke. I must also congratulate Thomas Holmen for refusing to give up even when the chips were down and battling his way to his first RX2 rostrum. Now I’m looking forward to seeing what the next round in Norway has in-store. One thing is for sure – the action is going to be hot as Hell!”
1. Cyril RAYMOND (FRA) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
2. Dan ROOKE (GBR) Dan Rooke +1.098s
3. Thomas HOLMEN (NOR) Bard Holmen +1.691s
4. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) Glenn Haug +2.379s
5. Sondre Evjen (NOR) JC Raceteknik +3.368s
6. Simon OLOFSSON (SWE) Simon Olofsson + 4.642s
1. Cyril Raymond (FRA) 55 points
2. Dan Rooke (GBR) 51 points
3. Simon Olofsson (SWE) 39 points
4. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 35 points
5. Glenn Haug (NOR) 34 points
6. Tanner Whitten (USA) 33 points
7. Thomas Holmen (NOR) 27 points
8. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 27 points
9.Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 23 points
10. William Nilsson (SWE) 22 points