Oliver Eriksson completed an early-season hat-trick at Silverstone’s SpeedMachine Festival this weekend (25/26 May), as the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires championship leader saw off all comers and survived a drama-fuelled final to maintain his perfect start to the 2019 campaign.
The third consecutive Formula 1 venue on the RX2 calendar, Silverstone produced world-class entertainment from the first lights-out to the final chequered flag – to the evident delight of the tens of thousands of enthusiastic spectators that flocked to the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’.
Eriksson was quickest out of the blocks and maintained that advantage throughout, with Olsbergs MSE stablemate Jesse Kallio and Sports Racing Technologies star Vasiliy Gryazin similarly steering clear of the chaos to join the Swede on the rostrum in second and third positions respectively.
Imperious from the outset, Eriksson took a clean sweep of fastest times through the qualifying races, occasionally aided by his closest rivals either tripping each other up or slowing each other down. As in Belgium a fortnight ago, the Swede was pushed hardest by team-mate Kallio, with JC Raceteknik’s Ben-Philip Gundersen once more a thorn in the OMSE duo’s side, albeit losing ground when he got stuck in traffic in Q3 and Q4.
Sami-Matti Trogen showed well for SET Promotion in fourth, ahead of the third OMSE entry of Fraser McConnell, who admitted to overdriving on Saturday as he got to grips with the track. The Jamaican rapidly put that sluggish start behind him, however, to fire up the order with the second-best time in Q4, perhaps inspired by words of support from countryman Sean Paul on Saturday night, as the global rap superstar and SpeedMachine stage headliner tried out the Supercar Lites cockpit for size.
William Nilsson placed sixth for JC Raceteknik – winning the plaudits for highest jump and mastering the Turn One switchback – with fellow Swede Anders Michalak a solid seventh at the scene of his finest RX2 finish to-date in 2018.
Gryazin was similarly well in the mix in eighth, ahead of reigning EuroRX TouringCar champion Steve Volders. Simon Olofsson – who was tipped into a dramatic roll at the beginning of Q2 following a first corner squeeze, thankfully emerging unharmed – and record-breaking former Olympic skier Albert Llovera brought up the order.
From pole position, Eriksson was untroubled as he led the first of the two semi-finals from start to finish – although a demon getaway from Michalak saw the Swede momentarily nose in front from the second row of the grid as he braved the wide outside line through Turn One, before being muscled down to third by Gundersen.
The top two remained safe throughout, but behind, Michalak had his hands full staving off a fired-up McConnell, whose early joker strategy failed to pay off as he lost time behind Volders. A staunch and determined defence ultimately saw Michalak progress through to the final at Silverstone for the second successive season.
Like team-mate Eriksson, Kallio faced little real opposition in semi-final two, although the fast-starting Nilsson briefly threatened to sneak between the two front row sitters at lights-out before tucking into second ahead of Trogen. The Swede, however, would eventually lose out to early jokers Trogen and Gryazin – who enjoyed a crowd-pleasing side-by-side duel along the way – as the Finn and Latvian both advanced to the final, with their disappointed JC Raceteknik rival ruing a tactical error in leaving his own joker too late.
The final was a dramatic affair, to say the least – requiring three attempts to safely navigate beyond Turn One. At the first time of asking, a coming-together between Gryazin and Michalak squeezed the latter into the tyres, and with the STS RX-run car stranded, there was no option but to red-flag the race.
A few minutes later, they tried again, but this time, Gundersen aimed his JC Raceteknik car down the inside of Kallio into an ever-decreasing gap – with much the same outcome. Trogen’s SET Promotion car was also innocently caught up in the contact, leaving him with a damaged wheel and although the Finn lined up for the third effort to get the race underway, he did not go far.
That left a three-car shoot-out for glory, with Eriksson duly commanding proceedings after shaking off the early attentions of team-mate Kallio, as the OMSE stablemates replicated their one-two finish from Spa-Francorchamps a fortnight ago and the Finn maintained his record of finishing on the podium in every event he has started. Gryazin’s third place marked the Latvian’s first visit to the rostrum in 2019.
Next for the RX2 contenders will be Hell in Norway in three weeks’ time (15/16 June), the first of three traditional rallycross tracks on the series’ calendar – and the opening leg of an eagerly-anticipated Scandinavian double-header.