Round two of the 2017 RX2 International Series, the one-make support class to the FIA World Rallycross Championship, took place last weekend, 27-28 May, at the historic Lydden Hill Race Circuit near Canterbury, Kent.
It’s been quite an emotional weekend, both for the drivers and the fans, since it marked the last time World Rallycross is likely to race at this venue in the southeast of England: although the sport of rallycross was actually born there, back in 1967, the World Championship will move, starting from next season and until further notice, to an all-new RX layout at Silverstone, inaugurated just a few days ago.
Under the sunny skies of Kent, the World RX of Great Britain attracted as many as 25,000 spectators this year, and the action proved exciting as always: in the RX2 races, reigning RX Lites (RX2’s previous name) champion, Frenchman Cyril Raymond, once again claimed the top step of the podium, as he did last time in Belgium.
Local hero Dan Rooke worked hard to clinch the runner-up spoils in front of his home fans, while Norway’s Thomas Holmen scored his maiden podium, meaning he hopes to keep his momentum for his home round next weekend.
Cyril Raymond immediately emerged as the man to beat, showing the fastest pace throughout the qualifying phase. Rooke pushed hard to ensure he didn’t disappoint his fans, and entered the semi-final stage in second place. American hotshot Tanner Whitten looked set to claim P3 overall, until he sustained suspension damage in Q4, dropping one place in favour of Belgian Guillaume De Ridder, whose consistency ultimately paid off. Norwegians Glenn Haug and Sondre Evjen, meanwhile, completed the top six.
The remainder of the semi-final spots went to Sweden’s Simon Olofsson, Holmen, William Nilsson again from Sweden, Russia’s Vasiliy Gryazin, Swede Anders Michalak and Norwegian Simon Syversen.
Raymond immediately turned his semi-final 1 pole into a lead, while Nilsson immediately went into attack mode, relieving Haug of second into lap two. De Ridder’s early joker lap strategy paid off, as he closed the race behind the runaway leader, while all the spectators’ eyes were on the three-way battle for third between Olofsson, Nilsson and Haug. Despite a couple of wild, two-wheel moments on the final lap, the remaining spot on the grid for the final would go Olofsson’s way.
Dan Rooke set the pace for semi-final 2, Evjen would settle behind him while Holmen battled wheel-to-wheel with Gryazin for third place. Soon Rooke found his lead threatened by Evjen and Holmen’s attack, but the Brit held on. Holmen rejoined the track from his joker alongside Whitten, crucially finding himself on the inside line for Devil’s Corner, pipping second place. A lap later, Evjen completed the line-up for the final.
Raymond and Rooke were practically inseparable at the start: the reigning MSA British Rallycross Champion tried a round-the-outside move at Chesson’s Drift in order to gain the inside line for Devil’s Elbow, although he couldn’t make his move stick. The French-British leading duo were closely followed by De Ridder and Evjen, while Holmen and Olofsson went for early joker laps. As the race progressed, De Ridder’s pace faded, letting Holmen to leapfrog both the Belgian and his compatriot Evjen into third as they jokered.
Raymond and Rooke took their jokers together, and the chequered flag in first and second place, respectively – thus repeating the same feat as in Mettet a fortnight ago. Holmen thought about diving on the inside of Rooke at North Bend, but eventually realised that settling for a discreet, third-place finish would be just as good: the second-youngest competitor on the grid, at just 17 years of age, scored his first-ever podium. De Ridder, Evjen and Olofsson rounded out the result, all within five seconds of the winner.
IN THE COMPETITORS’ OWN WORDS…
Cyril Raymond (First place): “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 Olsbergs MSE 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 (Second place): “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 (Third place): “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!”
The RX2 Series returns on 10-11 June, as a support to the sixth WorldRX round in Hell, Norway.