Oliver Eriksson continued to set the pace in the 2019 RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires as it made its annual visit to Hell in Norway this weekend (15/16 June), with the championship leader narrowly defeating home hero Ben-Philip Gundersen to seal a fourth consecutive triumph.
By his own high standards, Eriksson made a slow start in Hell – ‘only’ placing second in the first qualifying round – but from that stage on, the defending title-holder was never headed, winning every remaining qualifier, his semi-final and the final. The Swede might have been feeling somewhat under the weather today, but it failed to slow him down and the result means he has dropped just a single point from four events this year – an ominous statistic indeed.
Second-placed Gundersen sent the partisan crowd away happy by securing his best result of what has been a topsy-turvy season to-date, while Jesse Kallio maintained his unbroken run of podium finishes in the official FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series in third, back at the scene of his victory in EuroRX’s Super1600 class last year.
Eriksson dominated the qualifying stages in Hell, taking three fastest times out of four to top the intermediate standings. The man that pipped him to P1 in Q1 was local favourite Gundersen, who got his weekend off to the perfect start around a track that has not always been kind to him, but thereafter the JC Raceteknik man had to give best to his Olsbergs MSE rival.
On his Hell debut, Fraser McConnell was impressively never outside the top four throughout the qualifiers, shadowing Eriksson to the chequered flag in Q4 as he rapidly got to grips with the demanding Lånkebanen circuit. The Jamaican placed third overall ahead of fellow OMSE ace Kallio, who couldn’t quite find the ultimate pace to challenge his two team-mates.
Marcus Höglund was a fast and feisty fifth on his seasonal RX2 bow with Team Färén, followed by JC Raceteknik’s Jimmie Walfridson, the Swede returning to action after missing the previous round at Silverstone. SET Promotion teenager Sami-Matti Trogen battled back from a troubled start to vault up to seventh with a rapid run in Q4, with Steve Volders in eighth – the reigning EuroRX TouringCar champion increasingly finding his feet in RX2 – and Simon Olofsson surviving a few ragged moments on his way to ninth.
Norway’s Morten Asklund had to overcome a degree of adversity to secure his own place in the semi-finals, while countryman Petter Leirhol and Sweden’s Anders Michalak – who collided at the start of Q4, leaving the former nursing a damaged car and the latter out on the spot – both similarly made the cut.
On his most competitive weekend to-date in the series, Albert Llovera narrowly fell short, as did Vasiliy Gryazin, the Sports Racing Technologies star twice finding himself pitched out of contention at the first corner – once into a spin, and once into a spectacular roll.
Eriksson led the first of the two semi-finals from lights-to-flag, with McConnell’s early joker paying off as the Jamaican slotted into second – but behind, all eyes were on the duel for third between Höglund and Trogen. The Finn’s efforts to get past culminated in contact into the downhill left-hander after the joker, sending bodywork flying. While Höglund held on to clinch the remaining final slot, Trogen was subsequently disqualified, promoting Olofsson to fourth and Asklund to fifth.
The second semi-final was a calmer affair, as Gundersen controlled the pace throughout, with Kallio copying team-mate McConnell’s early joker tactic to secure second and Volders reaching the final for the first time in his fledgling RX2 career at a track where he had previously finished on the podium in TouringCar. Walfridson, Michalak and Leirhol completed the finishers a little further back.
Eriksson converted pole position into the lead when the lights changed as Gundersen tucked into second, with Kallio darting for the joker. A late decision by McConnell to follow suit, however, cost the Jamaican time – and with it, arguably, a shot at the podium.
There was brief drama when Eriksson tapped the wall towards the end of the opening lap, but the Swede escaped without damage and thereafter went on to pull away from his pursuers, ultimately taking the chequered flag just over two seconds clear of Gundersen, who himself had seven tenths in-hand over Kallio. Höglund gave Team Färén its best result of the season to-date in fourth, ahead of Volders and the frustrated McConnell.
Following a three-week break, the RX2 campaign will resume at Höljes on 6/7 July, with a bumper grid anticipated for the ‘Magic Weekend’ at the iconic Swedish circuit.