Mon 10 Jul 2023

“I really wanted to show Anton who’s boss...”

It was the most unlikely of triumphs. On Saturday night at Höljes, Patrick O’Donovan was one bad race away from an early exit from World RX of Sweden. The next day, the rising British star climbed onto the highest step of the Euro RX1 podium...

It was the most unlikely of triumphs. On Saturday night at Höljes, Patrick O’Donovan was one bad race away from an early exit from the Euro RX1 competition at World RX of Sweden. The next day, the rising British star climbed onto the highest step of the podium...

In his first full season in the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s top-tier – having previously established himself as an event-winner in RX2e – O’Donovan has been a front-runner from the outset. A rostrum-finisher in the Hungarian curtain-raiser as he impressed with his raw speed, he was similarly well in the mix in both Portugal and Norway.

The latter, however, left a bitter taste in his mouth as his bid for glory was crushed when – after taking the lead at the start of the final from second on the grid – he was hit from behind by defending champion Anton Marklund, breaking the suspension of his ex-Hansen Motorsport Peugeot 208.

“My aim going to Höljes was to win,” O’Donovan asserted. “What happened in Hell made me even hungrier than before and gave me extra motivation – I was in no mood to let Anton [Marklund] push me around again, and I really wanted to show him who’s boss and that the underdog can come out on top. Not for a moment did I think I would be sitting just 16th after three heats...”

Indeed, Saturday was not a successful day for the reigning British Rallycross Champion, as the combination of a puncture, damage and old tyres left him languishing well down the order in the 24-strong field and in genuine danger of failing to make the semi-final cut. Conscious that any further issue would mean game over for his ‘Magic Weekend’ hopes, he needed a clean run in heat four on Sunday morning – and that is precisely what he got.

“I felt pretty deflated on Saturday evening, if I’m honest, but David [Mansfield – spotter] and Sam [Clennell – lead mechanic] cheered me up and convinced me that it wasn’t over, even if mentally, our approach became more about damage limitation,” he explained.

“Thankfully, the rain on Sunday levelled the playing field – I won’t deny, I was doing a bit of a rain dance! When I heard it coming down, I shouted to David, ‘it’s raining – let’s gooooo!’ That was definitely the turning-point of my weekend.

“Still, we knew we needed to be smart with the strategy and I went into heat four treating it like a final, because if I didn’t come away with a good time, we were going home. It was a high-pressure, high-intensity situation – real make-or-break stuff.”

Boxing clever, a straightforward race – his first of what he describes as a ‘pretty crazy and eventful weekend’ – secured O’Donovan the fifth-quickest time of the session and a berth at the back of the staggered six-car grid for the first of the two semi-finals. From there, a rapid launch and audacious overtake on local specialist Linus Östlund catapulted him into the all-important final, at which point, it was game on...

“I really didn’t expect to make it into the final from the back of the semi-final grid, and when I went into the joker on the penultimate lap, I dropped it slightly under braking and swiped the wall, which meant I came out behind [Andreas] Bakkerud and Östlund,” he recalled. “I knew Andreas still needed to joker, but Linus didn’t so I had to overtake him, and David was on the radio encouraging me to give it everything.”

That he did, and the final witnessed another bold, never-say-die display of controlled aggression. There were two key moments in the race – the start, where he vaulted immediately from sixth up to second, and his pass for the lead on Ulrik Linnemann on lap two. With the rest of the pack remaining bunched up behind the Dane, the Team RX Racing ace was able to stretch his legs and still emerge from his last lap joker narrowly ahead.

“Everything just seemed to fall into place perfectly,” O’Donovan reflected. “The lap before I jokered, I got my head down and tried to pull out as much of a gap as I could. It was a real balance between risk and reward, as pushing too hard in conditions like that can be costly if you get it wrong so I needed to be inch-perfect. I knew I couldn’t afford to run too deep anywhere or be too eager on the throttle and I think it was probably the only good joker I did all weekend, but it proved to be just enough.

“After crossing the finish line, it took me a few moments to process what we’d actually just achieved. I’m a massive rallycross fan and to win at Höljes is the dream – it’s as big as it gets, like when a Formula 1 driver wins in Monaco. When it started to sink in, that’s when the emotions began flooding out...”

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