Wed 18 Jan 2023

Linnemann: Big results with small team and small budget fuel my motivation

Ulrik Linnemann is aiming to return to the FIA European Rallycross Championship this year, saying he ‘still has something to give in this sport’ after a giant-killing display in 2022 yielded a brace of podium finishes in Euro RX1.

Ulrik Linnemann is aiming to return to the FIA European Rallycross Championship this year, saying he ‘still has something to give in this sport’ after a giant-killing display in 2022 yielded a brace of podium finishes in Euro RX1.

Linnemann rejoined the Euro RX fray last season for the first time since 2018, describing it as one last roll of the dice – sink or swim. His Linnemann Promotion Ford Fiesta Mk7 might not have been of the same calibre as some of the ex-World RX cars in the field, but 11 career wins at Super1600 (now Euro RX3) level bore testament to the Dane’s ability to extract the very most out of the machinery at his disposal.

He needed to draw upon all of that skill in the Nyirád curtain-raiser in Hungary, when a troubled opening day left him languishing down in 18th position. With characteristic never-say-die determination, he hauled himself into the semi-finals 24 hours later, executed the start of the weekend to leap from fifth on the grid into the lead to progress through to the final – and then kept his head to reach the rostrum.

“That was just unbelievable,” he reflected. “We really looked to be down-and-out on the Saturday night. I was happy simply to be in the final because we never expected to get that far after the way the weekend had begun, and while we benefitted from some other drivers’ issues to make the podium, I think we were due a bit of good luck by that point...”

Linnemann repeated the feat in Portugal, where he was on the leading pace throughout and artfully withstood the pressure of champion-elect Anton Marklund in the final to seal another third-place finish.

“That was even more rewarding and something special,” he acknowledged. “I knew Anton was faster, so I just had to focus on keeping it clean and not making any mistakes. The ex-World RX cars are obviously a step above ours – and there were plenty of them out there last year – but we showed that even with a small team and small budget, big results are achievable, and I felt like we got more out of the Fiesta than should have been possible sometimes.

“At the end of the day, we’re a small, family-run team and my mechanics are all unpaid and do this for fun. It’s a big commitment for them, needing to balance all the travelling with their home lives and regular jobs while using their holiday allowance to attend race weekends. That means we really celebrate the good results, because we know how hard everybody in the team has had to work for them. I’m very proud and owe a huge debt of gratitude to them all.”

If the highs were particularly high, then the lows were conversely very low, with slim pickings elsewhere as Linnemann’s efforts to keep pace with rivals in faster cars perhaps inevitably resulted in errors that kept him out of the final for the rest of the season.

In Rīga, he gambled big as the first Euro RX1 driver to bolt on slick tyres in heat three as the rain eased off. Had his race been just ten minutes later, that bravery might have paid off handsomely; as it was, he ended up pointing the wrong way after a damaging impact with the circuit barriers.

That was typical of the 34-year-old’s gritty approach throughout the campaign, knowing he needed to really grab the bull by the horns and seize every opportunity if he was to prevail in his David vs. Goliath battle. It didn’t always work, but when it did, he produced some superb performances, twice earning him the Cooper Tires ‘Racer of the Weekend’ accolade. He hopes he will not need to dig quite so deep in 2023...

“I think we will be stronger this year,” Linnemann asserted. “We had some problems in 2022, but given it was our first full season with the Fiesta, that was only to be expected and we’ve been testing on the dyno a lot over the winter and have found some more torque from the engine.

“Our starts and corner exit speed were definitely our Achilles’ heel last year; my reaction times were amongst the best in the field, but by the time we got to the first corner, the others had pulled ahead – and in rallycross, track position is so often key.

“I said that 2022 was kind of make-or-break for my career, and I’ve proved to myself that I’m still capable of competing at a high level – I feel like I still have something to give in this sport, and that motivates me to keep racing.

“Times are difficult right now and prices are obviously rising across the board, but I’m trying as hard as I can to get the budget together to return. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do the full season at the moment, but I want to be on the grid in Hungary. I’ll be at Höljes no matter what and the Estering is the closest track to home and has suited me well in the past, so those three at least are definitely on my radar – and hopefully we can fight more regularly up at the front.”

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM