Thu 23 Feb 2023

Svardal targeting top three championship finish

Former Cooper Tires ‘Rookie of the Year’ Sivert Svardal has a top three overall finish in his sights in the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s headlining Euro RX1 category in 2023, after consistently taking the fight to some of the series’ biggest names last season with his small, ‘dad-and-lad’ team.

Former Cooper Tires ‘Rookie of the Year’ Sivert Svardal has a top three overall finish in his sights in the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s headlining Euro RX1 category in 2023, after consistently taking the fight to some of the series’ biggest names last season with his small, ‘dad-and-lad’ team.

The ex-TouringCar class front-runner rejoined European competition in 2021 following two seasons away, advancing to the final in Latvia en route to 15th in the standings in his maiden campaign in Euro RX1’s top flight. He entered 2022 eyeing a significant step forward behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Polo – and he delivered in spades.

In the Hungarian curtain-raiser at Nyirád – a circuit he had never previously visited – Svardal was immediately in the mix. Fifth-quickest in two of the three heats amongst the 20 protagonists, he went on to secure the same position in the intermediate ranking, and then also in the final.

“I think we showed some glimpses of pace in 2021, like when we finished fifth in Rīga, so we knew we had it in us to achieve good results,” he reflected. “That said, the calibre of competition was so high, and guys like [Anton] Marklund and [Jānis] Baumanis have years of experience under their belts, whereas I’d done just a handful of events in a Supercar prior to the 2022 season.

“It’s been a learning curve, in terms of how the car behaves and handles in different situations, but I felt a lot more confident in the Polo last year from the get-go. We weren’t able to do much pre-season testing due to some difficulties, which meant it wasn’t the most stress-free lead-up to Nyirád, but we were in the hunt pretty much straightaway, and that obviously helps to build that confidence.”

In round two at Höljes, in a capacity, World Championship-spec field including guest entries from the likes of Johan Kristoffersson, Andreas Bakkerud and Oliver Solberg, the young Norwegian overcame broken steering in heat one to post the fourth-fastest time in heat three, with only a slow start in his semi-final denying him a shot at a second consecutive final. Still, to say that tenth position was his worst result of the season is testament to the strength of Svardal’s performances in 2022.

Following a luckless weekend on home soil in Hell, the 22-year-old Konsmo native returned to Rīga – scene of his finest display from 12 months earlier – and was never outside the top six during the heats, matching his fifth spot in the ranking from Nyirád, which he then replicated in the final.

Svardal battled back from a troubled opening day in Portugal to showcase his potential with the third-quickest run in heat three at Montalegre, before saving his best until last at Spa-Francorchamps with a brace of top five heat efforts and a third final appearance of the campaign, missing out on a breakthrough podium finish by barely half-a-second.

“We are just a small family-and-friends team of rallycross enthusiasts from southern Norway, and I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he acknowledged. “In Belgium, it was actually only myself, my dad and my mechanic and spotter Atle Vik, who works so hard and does it all, really. It was just the three of us, working out of a small tent, and we came away with our best result of the season.

“We went to Spa simply aiming to have fun, and I felt like I could challenge pretty much anyone that weekend. That was awesome and definitely the biggest highlight.

“Looking back at the season as a whole, I honestly don’t think it could have gone any better. It was the consistency that made the difference. We had some problems along the way, but we still managed to finish inside the top ten in every round, and while we weren’t often able to match the top guys for out-and-out speed, we showed sometimes that if we got a good start, it was not impossible to beat them.”

‘The top guys’ to whom Svardal refers included not only former World RX racers Marklund, Baumanis and Enzo Ide, but also their teams – respectively SET Promotion, #YellowSquad and EKS, each boasting World Championship credentials themselves.

In such lofty company, to place inside the top six in half of the heats with his ageing Polo – the car that Tommy Rustad piloted to the 2015 European crown – was no mean feat at all, as was reaching the final three times out of six and coming within a whisker of pipping Ide to a top three spot in the title table, marking a considerable improvement over his 2021 result.

This year, the giant-killing privateer is aiming even higher, having traded his Polo in for a newer, 2017 model, once driven by World Championship star Klara Andersson’s older sister, Magda and famously barrel-rolled by Marklund at Höljes just under two years ago. He is optimistic the switch will allow him to take the next step.

“We are normal people with normal jobs and salaries – we don’t have the opportunity to go racing every weekend due to the cost, but we are going all-in for a full campaign in Euro RX1 in 2023,” Svardal asserted.

“One of the things I’m most excited about is seeing the entry list when it comes out, because right now, we don’t know who will be on it. There are a lot of fast drivers and fast cars out there, but I really think we can be quicker both on the track and off the line than before. We lacked a bit of power last year, so the upgraded engine should certainly help in that respect.

“It’s still not a top-notch car, but it should hopefully allow us to fight even closer to the front. Of course it’s going to be tough, but we wouldn’t be committing to the full season if we didn’t think a top three championship finish was achievable. We’ll need the stars to align and to be ‘on it’ from the first heat right the way through to the last final, but if we have a good and consistent run, we truly believe we can be in the fight.”

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