Driver

SWEDISH ROOKIE SIBLINGS FULL OF PRAISE FOR 'ACCESSIBLE' RX2

Brother and sister Andreas and Jessica Bäckman have reflected upon their maiden season of car racing competition after moving straight from karting into the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires in 2017 – describing it as the perfect first step into rallycross for rookies.

The Bäckmans graduated into RX2 off the back of successful, title-strewn karting careers, and while both acknowledge that it was a significant leap to begin with, the progress they made over the course of the campaign turned heads the length and breadth of the paddock.

Up against stiff opposition in the FIA World Rallycross Championship’s official feeder series, Andreas first progressed through to the semi-final stage at Hell in Norway in June – going on to finish fifth in the final later the same day.

Underscoring his abilities as a quick learner, the 22-year-old would subsequently not miss a semi-final and came within barely a quarter-of-a-second of a popular first podium on home turf at Höljes after placing an excellent third in the intermediate rankings. At the same event, he also became the only driver other than Cyril Raymond to post a fastest lap in 2017.

Hauling himself up into the top ten in the overall standings at season’s end, Andreas was deservedly presented with the ‘Performance Clothing Most-Improved Driver’ accolade at the inaugural RX2 Awards Gala in South Africa last month.

“Making the step up from karting to rallycross was quite challenging to begin with, but at the same time they do have some similarities,” he said. “The most difficult part for me was getting used to driving on gravel and learning how to drive a ‘big car’, which behaves very differently to a kart in many ways. Adapting to shorter and more intense races was also something I had to learn.

“I’m happy with the progress I made, from not being able to reach the semi-finals at the beginning of the year to fighting for podiums and finals by the end. Receiving the ‘Most-Improved Driver’ award was a big honour, and it was great to know that other people have recognised my performance too. For 2018, my aim is to push for race victories!

“I think rallycross is very accessible for up-and-coming drivers, because today it’s one of the fastest-growing forms of motorsport. Being a discipline that borrows elements from every area of the sport, you find yourself competing against people from very different backgrounds. That means you can come from basically any prior motorsport background and quickly be competitive.”

Two years younger than Andreas, Jessica dovetailed her nascent rallycross career with another tilt at the Swedish karting title in 2017 – proving her versatility by impressively clinching her third domestic crown.

In Canada, she cracked the RX2 semi-final stage for the first time – beating her big brother in the process – and she weathered more than her fair share of bad luck over the course of the season. Being tipped into a roll at Lohéac in France and rejoining the track – to tremendous applause from the appreciative crowd – bore testament to her eye-catching grit and determination.

“The step from karting to rallycross was very big for me considering I had only raced karts without gears,” the 20-year-old revealed. “So for me, it was hard at the beginning simply to learn how and when to change gears, and to be honest, I am still finding that challenging. To get the maximum speed out of the car, it’s important to change gears at the right time and to be in the correct gear through the corners.

“Being used to racing on tarmac, the gravel aspect was also difficult and I was perhaps too cautious, but I’m glad I took the step-up to cars even if it has been a challenging year without too many good results. I learned a lot throughout and I feel more confident every time I get into the car.

“At the moment, I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to be driving next year, but I certainly hope to reach the podium. I came so close at Strängnäs in the last round of RallyX Nordic when I was second with only two corners to go but ended up rolling, so I know I can do it.

“I think RX2 is a good step for young drivers, considering it’s just one level below Supercars, and with all the cars being the same, it’s perfect for newcomers as it allows them to focus solely on driving rather than putting too much energy into worrying about the equipment. I highly recommend it.”

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