Tue 07 Feb 2023

Pauwels: Euro RX3 prepared me well for career progression

Having recently announced his move into circuit racing in 2023, reigning Euro RX3 champion Kobe Pauwels has paid tribute to his two seasons spent in the FIA European Rallycross Championship, affirming that the dual-surface discipline ‘will always be in my heart’.

Having recently announced his move into circuit racing in 2023, reigning Euro RX3 champion Kobe Pauwels has paid tribute to his two seasons spent in the FIA European Rallycross Championship, affirming that the dual-surface discipline ‘will always be in my heart’.

The standout rookie of the 2021 Euro RX3 campaign – rapidly emerging as Volland Racing team-mate Yury Belevskiy’s closest challenger for glory and winning in France en route to second in the standings – Pauwels headed into his sophomore season as the indisputable title favourite, and he delivered in style.

Four victories from five rounds – and the runner-up spoils at Höljes – saw the Belgian teenager tally an almost perfect score and wrap up the crown with a round to spare at Montalegre in September. Now, he is poised to take the next step in his burgeoning career in TCR Europe with Comtoyou Racing, fortified by the knowledge he has gained over the past two years.

“My time in Euro RX3 was super-important,” Pauwels acknowledged. “I came into rallycross with practically no prior experience in a car – I didn’t even have my road driving licence at the start, and had only competed in karting and CrossCar.

“We always said if we went into rallycross, we would only do so with a top team because I wanted to perform at the highest level possible, and thankfully, that’s exactly what we found in Volland Racing. It was a highly competitive field, but straightaway in the first round in Barcelona [in 2021], I was able to showcase my speed and racecraft.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it was very important for me that everyone was like, ‘woah, this kid is fast’. Throughout the season I proved that although I was a rookie, I was there to fight for wins, not just to be in the final – and that the other guys needed to take me into account.

“Having finished second in my first year without any experience, there was then a lot of pressure on me right from the beginning of last season because everybody expected me to win the championship and I was expecting to win it too. I think that showing I could also perform with the pressure on was the biggest confirmation for Comtoyou and other teams we were in contact with, because they saw that I could handle it. I’m pretty sure that without the last two years, Comtoyou wouldn’t have been so interested in me...”

Key to Pauwels’ progression were the transferable skills he honed and developed in Euro RX3 behind the wheel of Volland’s Audi A1, with which he gelled almost immediately. More than that, however, the 18-year-old is keen to stress everything he learned outside of the car, from tactics to mental training, helping him to reach and remain at the top of his game season-long.

“Moving into TCR in another front wheel-drive car, it will be a huge benefit having two years’ experience in Euro RX3,” he stated. “Working with such a professional team as Volland Racing, I learned how to analyse the data and set-up in a very precise way, and how to express what I was feeling from the car. It’s the small details that make the difference in the end.

“Not only that, but I’m used to high-tension situations now too, such as when I had to really push after making a bad start or not coming out of the first corner in the lead. Usually, I had just one lap to try to make the difference, like in the final in Hungary against Jan [Černý] or with [João] Ribeiro at Höljes, and it was so important to absolutely nail it. It’s the same in TCR. Of course, there won’t be joker laps but there is qualifying, where single-lap pace is vital to securing a good grid position.

“I also learned how to accept things when you are fast but the results don’t go your way; many times last year, we had the pace but were held up by traffic or something else, and I initially found that super-difficult but I had a great team around me to calm me down and that will be hugely beneficial moving forward.

“I’ll be back to being a rookie again like two years ago so there will inevitably be highs and lows, and I will need to manage them both equally and be able to quickly clear my mind after a bad result to go again full focus for the next race – but thanks to my time in Euro RX3, I’m more mature now and know more about racing and how to handle different situations.”

Pauwels is eager to point out, finally, that despite his new career path, the door is not closed to a potential return to a discipline that has been in his veins since birth.

“Of course I would love to come back one day, as my father and grandfather also competed in rallycross,” the Diest native reflected. “I’m really looking forward to the challenge of circuit racing, but rallycross will always be in my heart and we’ll see what happens in the future. Time will tell...”

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