Fri 14 Jul 2023

Öhman: Driving is the best rehabilitation in the world

Mats Öhman is well-accustomed to defying the odds. At Höljes earlier this month, he did it again...

Mats Öhman is well-accustomed to defying the odds. After a spinal cord injury in a snowmobile accident left him paralysed from the waist down in 1998 – ending his successful snowcross career – he returned to action in car racing. At Höljes earlier this month, he defied the odds again...

In May, having not competed in almost three years, Öhman dominated RallyX Nordic’s Supercar Pro-Am class at Kouvola in Finland – twice.

Just a handful of weeks later, he rejoined the FIA European Rallycross Championship on home soil at Höljes. Teaming up with series superstars and double champions Andreas Bakkerud and Robin Larsson at JC Raceteknik, he took to the track in an Audi S1 specially adapted with hand and arm controls.

In the high-calibre, 24-strong Euro RX1 field, the Swede immediately impressed with the tenth-quickest run in heat one, despite losing time in traffic, and his combined heat results proved sufficient for him to advance to the semi-final stage for the fastest 12 competitors.

Unfortunately, that was where his challenge ended as a spin over the jump in the slippery conditions dropped him to the tail of the pack, but Öhman was nonetheless justifiably proud of his performance and pace in such esteemed company.

“What a Magic Weekend!” enthused the 58-year-old, a former European, Swedish and Nordic champion in snowcross. “It’s always a highlight to compete at Höljes. You don’t want to miss Höljes if you drive rallycross, with such a good atmosphere created by all the fans in the crowd.

I’m the kind of person who is never completely satisfied – there are always details to adjust and improve – but I’ve barely driven a car in recent years so realistically, it was a damn good weekend for me.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and the starts have always been a big problem for me. We have probably tested everything that can be tested and have changed the starting procedure many times. I still have to work on my reactions, but the starts have become more consistent now and through the corners at Höljes, I kept the same pace as Robin [Larsson] and Andreas [Bakkerud].

“During the Sunday morning warm-up in the rain, I felt like a beginner and was thinking, ‘now it’s over’. Then came heat four and it wasn’t too bad with the 11th-best time. We struggled a bit on the wet track in the semi-final, but just making it to the semis in such a tough field with so many fast European Championship drivers was like a victory in itself. It was an incredible weekend – driving is the best rehabilitation in the world.”

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