Fri 14 Jul 2023

Svardal: It was important to prove I’m no one-hit wonder

Sivert Svardal’s emotional maiden Euro RX1 victory on home soil in Hell was the undisputed feel-good story of the season so far, but he went to Höljes feeling the pressure of showing he’s not ‘a one-hit wonder’. He need not have worried...

Sivert Svardal’s emotional maiden Euro RX1 victory on home soil in Hell last month was the undisputed feel-good story of the season so far, but he went to Höljes feeling the pressure of showing that he’s not ‘a one-hit wonder’. He need not have worried...

In a high-calibre, 24-strong field at the ‘Magic Weekend’ – including multiple European champions Andreas Bakkerud, Anton Marklund and Robin Larsson – Svardal was a front-runner throughout. In heat one, he kept Larsson honest to go seventh-quickest overall, before losing time in heat two when he found himself wrong-footed by experienced campaigner Ulrik Linnemann and ended up inadvertently following the Dane into the joker.

In heat three, the Norwegian chased his childhood hero Bakkerud to the flag, with a hard-charging effort yielding the fourth-fastest run, before the next day presented a new challenge – rain.

Having never driven his Volkswagen Polo in the wet before, there was plenty to learn, and engine issues in the morning warm-up did not aid Svardal’s task. He was then held up by Jānis Baumanis, eventually leapfrogging the Latvian on the run to the finish line by the narrowest of margins.

His results secured the Konsmo native – the 2021 Cooper Tires ‘Rookie of the Year’ – seventh spot in the intermediate classification, putting him fourth on the grid for the first semi-final, a race featuring Larsson, Bakkerud, local specialist Linus Östlund, Tamás Kárai and Patrick O’Donovan.

A lightning launch – a surefire candidate for start of the season – catapulted Svardal immediately to the head of the order, after which he artfully withstood the threat of Larsson breathing down his neck as the leading duo edged clear. It was almost inevitable that the 2014 and 2019 title-holder – the weekend pace-setter in Sweden – would get past after the jokers, but to his immense credit, the Hell winner stuck with his JC Raceteknik rival to the end.

The 23-year-old rising star made another bright getaway in the final, but his bid to climb to second was undone when he was tagged sideways into Turn One. From that point on, he was boxed in behind slower cars, ultimately missing out on a fifth-place finish by a scant 25 thousandths-of-a-second. Still, he had already done more than enough to prove that his form in the previous round had been no flash in the pan.

“I’ve always liked racing at Höljes,” Svardal reflected. “I’ve probably done a couple of thousand laps of the circuit on the sim, and the Polo as a car has historically gone well there.

“I felt we were in with a decent chance and I had the extra confidence from winning in Hell, but at the same time, I was feeling the pressure of needing to prove that I’m not a one-hit wonder and it was such a strong entry list. Drivers like Bakkerud and Larsson are the absolute benchmark at this level – it was pretty much a World Championship-calibre field.

“We knew that even reaching the semi-finals would be a challenge, although my dream was to make it into the final – being in the final at Höljes is always special.

“Right from the outset, our speed was good and I was able to quickly settle into a consistent groove. I’ve been used to being a bit behind the top guys, whereas at Höljes, I really felt like I could take the fight to them, which was amazing. Bakkerud has been my hero since I was about 11-years-old, and it was awesome to show that I could almost match him when we were in the same race in heat three.

“The line-up in my semi-final was as strong as you’d expect for a final, and I knew it was going to be tough to get through. I felt like the JC Raceteknik guys were pretty much out-of-reach, so my aim was to gain one position to finish third. We tried something new at the start, and it was crazy to get to the first corner in the lead.

“After that, I focussed on driving within myself and finding the grip, which is one of my strengths – as the leader, you’re always the first to explore the conditions and when it’s greasy like that, it’s a balance between pushing but not pushing too hard. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake in the Velodrome on the lap Robin jokered, which allowed him to get past.

“In hindsight, after getting hit at the start of the final, I should have jokered straightaway because I lost a lot of time behind Linnemann, and when I did joker, I then came out behind Marklund who was struggling with broken wipers. That cost me even more time, which was frustrating as I really felt like we had the pace to be on the podium again. That’s rallycross, though – sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Next up, it’s Mettet. I’ve raced there before in TouringCar, and I’m really looking forward to going back. It’s a fun track with enthusiastic fans, and there’s another strong entry list – but if we can make the final again, anything is possible...”

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