Fri 07 Jul 2023

Giant-killing Östlund ‘over the moon’ with ‘Magic Weekend’ heroics

Linus Östlund might be a bit of a specialist around Höljes, having grown up just 30km down the road, but even he didn’t rate his chances of taking on the Euro RX1 big guns last weekend. He was wrong...

Linus Östlund might be a bit of a specialist around Höljes, having grown up just 30km down the road from the Värmland circuit, but still, even he didn’t rate his chances of taking on the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s big guns last weekend (1-2 July). He was wrong...

Prior to the ‘Magic Weekend’, Östlund had not competed in anger since World RX of Norway last August in Hell, where he had placed 11th in the 18-car Euro RX1 field. He returned behind the wheel of the same Ford Fiesta with which Sebastian Eriksson famously won in World RX at Höljes in 2019 – but having been away from the grid for so long, the Swede was keeping his expectations firmly in-check.

Not only that, but the bumper, 24-car grid featured some of the biggest names in the sport, from Andreas Bakkerud and Anton Marklund to Jānis Baumanis and Robin Larsson. Not many offered Östlund much hope of standing out at the weekend. They, too, were wrong.

In the first heat, the 23-year-old was glued to Baumanis’ rear bumper until a puncture and boost issue scuppered his challenge and restricted him to 12th place. The Latvian ended up second.

A bright start in heat two elevated Östlund into the lead of his race, and he went on to seal a popular win – good enough for the second-best time overall, ahead of defending title-holder Marklund. Had it not been for a sideways slide along the way, he may very well have topped the session.

In the fastest race in heat three, the local hero pressurised Marklund but lost time in traffic, before similarly giving chase to Enzo Ide on a damp track in heat four, despite his comparative lack of prior running in a Supercar in wet conditions.

His results earned Östlund fifth spot in the intermediate classification, behind only Larsson, Marklund, Bakkerud and Ide – three of them multiple European champions, the other the championship leader heading into the weekend.

An early joker tactic in the semi-final looked set to pay dividends, but then the Sysslebäck native came up behind a puncture-plagued Bakkerud, and there his charge was halted. He subsequently found himself pushed wide in the Velodrome section of the lap by eventual winner Patrick O’Donovan, ending his hopes of a dream final appearance on home soil – but that did not take the shine off what was by any measure an exceptional performance.

“The weekend was something special,” Östlund acknowledged. “Having not driven in almost a year and only done a short shakedown test in the Fiesta, I didn’t have any big expectations, to be honest. I felt pretty rusty when I first got into the car for the shakedown, and while I began to feel more comfortable after a few laps, we still had no idea how we would shape up against the other guys.

“The competition was really tough. I don’t think the level in Euro RX has been as high as that for many years, which made for a fun challenge. Heat one was obviously frustrating, but also really promising at the same time as it showed us that we really did have the pace, and then to be faster than Anton [Marklund] in heat two was kind of unreal. He has been so quick all year, and I don’t think anybody in the team thought we would be able to beat him.

“I felt so nervous going up against the really quick guys in heat three, but I just got my head down and drove as fast as I could, and then I struggled a bit with visibility in heat four. I had a big blind spot right in my line of sight and whenever I got close to Enzo [Ide] ahead, I couldn’t see a thing. That led to some mistakes and cost me some time.

“We had a great joker strategy in the semi-final, and we caught the leading pack really quickly. I felt like we were in a good position to progress, but then Bakkerud picked up a puncture and I got stuck behind him. O’Donovan gave me a little push to get past, and obviously he went on to win the final, which shows just how small the margins were.

“Being a competitive person, I always want more and I was obviously disappointed not to make the final after coming so close, but I was over the moon with my performance overall – especially after a year out. The Fiesta really seems to suit me, and to be able to almost match the top guys for pace was a big confidence boost.

“We had a tough time getting the budget together to be able to compete at Höljes and while right now, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to do any further races this year, this has definitely whetted my appetite for more...”

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