Cole Keatts, Guerlain Chicherit to join RX2 grid in Canada


An action-packed shot from the last RX2 round in Höljes, Sweden - Credit: RX2 International Series

The RX2 International Series is getting ready for its first overseas race of the season, next weekend (5-6 August) as a support to the eighth round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Trois-Rivières, Canada.

Reigning RX Lites champion Cyril Raymond of France still leads the standings, after winning the first three rounds in Belgium, Great Britain and Norway, although on all occasions, Britain’s Dan Rooke showed to be on his rival’s pace: on the last event in Sweden, the young Brit took advantage of a rare mistake by Raymond, and claimed his maiden win at international level, further reducing his gap in the Championship to just six points behind the Frenchman.

The Canadian race, though, might once again change the tables, as Raymond is one of only three drivers on the grid to have previous knowledge of the Trois-Rivières circuit: Rooke is nevertheless a very quick learner, and he’s determined to take the title fight all the way down to the wire.

The rest of the field, meanwhile, is increasing the fight to threaten the two leaders: Belgian rallyist Guillaume de Ridder also clinched his maiden podium at Höljes, just like young Swede William Nilsson who finished a very good third in front of his home fans.

From across the pond, 24-year-old Tanner Whitten is currently fifth overall in the standings, and the Illinois native has his sights firmly set on a third-overall place on his maiden season at international level.

“Our results so far have way exceeded expectations,” Whitten says.

“To have come away with two podiums from the first four events has been great for both myself and the team. Saying that, it has been a bit up-and-down, so the goal for the second half of the season has to be to establish some consistency and build some momentum – and if we can do that, maybe we can start to challenge Cyril a little bit more.
 
“I’ve not competed at Trois-Rivières before, but I have made a point of watching all the races there from previous years so I think I have a pretty good understanding of how it flows. On paper, it should represent one of my best opportunities to push for a win this season, and being relatively close to home, it’s the first time my family will be able to come and see me in action in RX2, which is cool.”

The other American driver to join the RX2 grid is Cole Keatts: the 16-year-old from Idaho also competes in the US-based Global RallyCross Championship‘s GRC Lites class, which uses the exact same cars as RX2, and hopes to turn his previous knowledge of the GP3R circuit into success.

“I’m really excited, if also a little apprehensive,” he acknowledged. “I raced at Trois-Rivières last year and it’s an amazing circuit. It’s fast and technical in equal measure, with a couple of particularly tight corners that make it a real challenge – but the calibre is so high in RX2 that I have no doubt the regular drivers will pick it up very quickly.
 
“The competition is clearly going to be fierce. I’ve watched all the RX2 races this season, and it’s crazy how close it is out there, so I’ll definitely have my work cut out. By the time practice is over, the gloves will well-and-truly be off…”

The other non-permanent entry to star in Canada will be French EuroRX Supercar competitor Guerlain Chicherit, for the first time at the wheel of a RX2 machine.

Returning to the regular competitors, Norway’s Glenn Haug has kept showing his amazing consistency, although he hasn’t reached the podium yet, a situation he is looking to overturn next weekend. Sweden’s Simon Olofsson has also proved very fast, but also unlucky, and hopes to make it to the headlines in Canada, just like Norwegian Sondre Evjen.

Andreas Bäckman, on his maiden season in cars after a lengthy karting career, is gradually improving his skills, proving on the last two races that the podium isn’t that far away; Thomas Holmen has already experienced the honours of the podium this year, and hopes to return there this time across the Atlantic.

Latvian-Russian Vasiliy Gryazin and Norwegian Simon Syversen are both looking for better luck on this second half of the season, while Swede Anders Michalak, despite being the oldest competitor on the grid, has on more than one occasion shown that he is more than able to keep up with the younger contenders.

Finally, Sweden’s fast females Jessica Bäckman (Andreas’ younger sister) and Sandra Hultgren haven’t yet been so lucky to make it to a final this season: Hultgren also hopes to capitalise on her seventh-place finish last season here at Trois-Rivières.

RX2 action in Canada starts on Saturday morning, 5 August, with the first practice session, followed by the first two qualifying round on the same day in the afternoon. Q3, Q4, the semi-finals and the final will instead take place the following day, with the final also being shown live on TV.