Dan Rooke ignited the title fight in the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires at Höljes this weekend (30 June – 2 July), becoming the second different winner of 2017 as fresh faces joined him on the podium in Sweden.
Rooke has been a thorn in the side of defending champion Cyril Raymond season-long, but heading to Scandinavia, he had yet to get the better of the Frenchman. That all changed on lap two of the final today, as the pressure applied by the reigning MSA British Rallycross Champion forced his rival into a rare error and opened the door for a new name at the top of the pecking order.
The young Brit did not have it all his own way, however, as he was pushed hard throughout by Guillaume De Ridder and home hero William Nilsson, both of whom deservedly ascended the rostrum for the first time at the end of a breathless three days of on and off-track entertainment. Once again, Höljes delivered a truly magic weekend – and it did so in style.
As has often been the case this year, Raymond was a class above during the qualifying stages, and the championship leader duly claimed a full house of victories behind the wheel of his OlsbergsMSE-prepared car, leaving his adversaries to squabble over the scraps in his wake.
After finding himself knocked out of Q2, Rooke languished down in an uncharacteristic 13th place on Friday night but a determined effort hauled the Team Färén ace up the classification into second the following day, earning him pole position for Semi-Final 2.
Raymond’s team-mate Andreas Bäckman was arguably the major star turn in third, with the Swede – who only graduated from karting into cars this year – proving just how rapidly he is getting to grips with rallycross with an impressively quick and confident performance.
Countrymen Stein-Fredrik Akre and Nilsson were next in-line, followed by De Ridder, Simon Syversen – the Norwegian enjoying his most competitive weekend of the campaign to-date – Marcus Höglund, Thomas Holmen, local favourite Linus Östlund, Simon Olofsson and Glenn Haug.
With a record 22-car entry, however, there were always likely to be some high-profile casualties, and Sondre Evjen and title protagonist Tanner Whitten were amongst those who failed to make the cut.
From pole position, Raymond stole an early march over the sister OMSE car of Bäckman in the first of the semi-finals, with Olofsson slotting into third and Nilsson emerging as the best of the early jokers in fourth. As Raymond inched away at the front of the pack, all eyes were on Nilsson, who was on a mission and leapfrogged both of his fellow Swedes when they completed their own joker laps.
Raymond went on to take the chequered flag just under two seconds ahead of the hard-charging Nilsson, with Bäckman similarly advancing to the final for the second event in succession. Holmen wound up fourth after gaining the upper hand over compatriot Syversen and team-mate Olofsson, who found himself battling engine dramas as the race progressed.
Rooke and De Ridder reacted quickest to the start lights in the second semi-final, with the former converting pole into the lead and the latter darting straight for the joker lap. On-track, the pursuit was led by Akre ahead of Haug and Östlund, although all three would fall prey to De Ridder when they served their own respective jokers.
The tussle over the last spot in the final was fought out between Akre and Höglund, but the latter came off worse when they tangled just past the joker lap exit, sending the Swede into a spin and retirement. His countryman survived the collision to make it through in third place – narrowly holding off a fast-closing Östlund – behind De Ridder and Rooke, who motored on to an untroubled victory.
In front of a record crowd of 45,100 enthusiastic spectators, the RX2 stars of the future put on a sensational show, with a breathtaking battle bringing everybody to their feet. Raymond grabbed the initial lead from Rooke and De Ridder, but a bad landing on lap two resulted in a puncture for the championship leader – and as Rooke found himself baulked in his efforts to get past, the opportunistic De Ridder snatched two positions for the price of one.
Rooke almost immediately redressed the balance by diving down the inside of his Belgian rival into the last corner, and as the Englishman edged away, the focus shifted to the scrap for second between De Ridder and early jokers Nilsson and Bäckman, the latter having fought his way boldly past Akre with a great move on the opening lap.
Nilsson and Bäckman very nearly traded places when the JC Raceteknik driver made a mistake, but Nilsson held on and proceeded to pile the pressure on De Ridder ahead, with the trio flashing across the finish line in barely the blink of an eye.
By that stage, Rooke was already celebrating his breakthrough RX2 triumph with an exuberant driving display after taking the chequered flag. De Ridder and Nilsson were similarly elated with their own maiden rostrum finishes in the FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series, with Bäckman’s fourth place underlining his eye-catching progress. Akre ultimately wound up fifth, with Raymond fading to a disappointed sixth.
The Frenchman continues to top the title standings, albeit now by the significantly reduced margin of just six points over Rooke, with De Ridder jumping up to third. Next on the schedule for the RX2 contenders is a transatlantic trip to Trois-Rivières in Québec, Canada on 5/6 August – where the battle for the coveted crown looks set to intensify.
Dan Rooke (1st): “Yes! I’m so happy – we’ve finally got the win! Cyril [Raymond] has dominated RX2 all season, so this victory means so much to all of us. Team Färén is new to the series and we don’t have any previous data to go on, but everybody is doing a fantastic job and I owe all the boys a massive thank you. We were on the back foot after Friday, so we really had to pull it back and that’s exactly what we did yesterday. I then kept the pressure on Cyril in the final until he cracked. He ran a bit wide through the second corner which sent him into a slide, and as he corrected the car over the crest he landed badly, which left him with a puncture. I went to his inside but he shut the door, so I had to back off and that allowed Guillaume [De Ridder] to sneak past. I was determined to get the position back again, so I braked as late as I dared into the last corner and that paid off. I think my experience in Supercars in Britain really helped me here because Höljes seems to reward an aggressive driving style. It’s definitely my favourite track I’ve been to – flat-out the whole way and you never get a single moment to breathe! What a result. It’s game on in the championship now, so let’s push on from here!”
Guillaume De Ridder (2nd): “This is an unbelievable result! I’m speechless. We struggled a bit on the set-up side for most of the weekend, but we found a solution in the warm-up this morning and that enabled us to fight our way through to the final. We obviously got a bit of luck when Cyril [Raymond] had his issue, but that’s all part of the game. It was brilliant to take the lead briefly until I made a small mistake, and Dan pulled a really clean move on me to get past – all credit to him for a great drive. We’ve been quick all season and have come close to finishing on the podium before this year, so it’s great to finally achieve it and it underscores the progress we are making. I’m also short on kilometres compared to most of the other drivers, many of whom compete in other championships as well as RX2, but I’m learning more with every weekend. This was only my fourth rallycross event, so to come here with 17 Scandinavian drivers in the field – all of whom know this track like the back of their hand – and finish second is amazing, especially when the racing was as close as it was. I must pay tribute to all the fans, too – I think it was the craziest crowd I’ve ever seen! It’s just been a magic weekend.”
William Nilsson (3rd): “It feels great to be on the podium in RX2 for the first time, especially in my home country in front of family, friends and sponsors – it’s nice to be able to share this result with them. The atmosphere in Höljes is always incredible – I took a walk down ‘Happy Street’ and it was great to see the fans all having so much fun. Most importantly, I’m really satisfied with my performance here. We’ve been fast everywhere this year, but for various reasons, the weekends haven’t quite come together properly until now. Höljes was the toughest field we’ve seen all season, and the qualifying races reflected that. I was a long way down the order at the end of the first day, but to set the ninth-quickest time in Q1 even with having to take a double joker for a jump-start proved we had good pace and we were consistently amongst the quickest drivers the whole way through. This result makes me even hungrier to move further up the podium and score my first win in RX2. There are a lot of drivers out there with more experience than me, but that doesn’t intimidate me – indeed, it gives me even more motivation to try to beat them. My goal is to be the best – and though I’m still young, that’s what I’m working towards!”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “As ever, Höljes more than lived up to its legendary reputation as rallycross’ ‘magic weekend’. This is always a popular event, and this year was busier than ever with record numbers of fans enjoying the racing – and our RX2 drivers certainly kept them on the edge of their seats! Congratulations to Dan on taking his first win – he has been threatening this kind of result all season, and he delivered in style. There were exceptional performances, too, from Guillaume De Ridder and William Nilsson, and I am sure that both will become regular podium visitors. Andreas Bäckman similarly excelled. With three rounds to go, the title fight is well-and-truly on – the second half of the season can’t come soon enough!”
1. Dan ROOKE (GBR) Team Färén 6 laps
2. Guillaume DE RIDDER (BEL) JC Raceteknik +1.437s
3. William NILSSON (SWE) JC Raceteknik +1.724s
4. Andreas BACKMAN (SWE) Olsbergs MSE +1.979s
5. Stein-Fredrik AKRE (SWE) Stein-Fredrik Akre +20.368s
6. Cyril RAYMOND (FRA) Olsbergs MSE +44.991
1. Cyril Raymond (FRA) 108 points
2. Dan Rooke (GBR) 102 points
3. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 68 points
4. William Nilsson (SWE) 63 points
5. Tanner Whitten (USA) 60 points
6. Glenn Haug (NOR) 59 points
7. Simon Olofsson (SWE) 57 points
8. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 45 points
9. Andreas Bäckman (SWE) 40 points
10. Thomas Holmen (NOR) 38 points