Wed 19 Jul 2023

Hvaal holds his nerve for rostrum return at Höljes

Jens Hvaal entered Euro RX3 with a bang when he finished second at the Nürburgring last year. Until recently, he had struggled to replicate that rostrum form. Until Höljes, that is...

Jens Hvaal entered the FIA European Rallycross Championship with a bang when he finished second at the Nürburgring at the end of last year. Until recently, he had struggled to replicate that rostrum form. Until Höljes, that is...

He might come from a rallycross family, but the Norwegian arrived in Euro RX3 lacking experience compared to most of his rivals – which only went to make his scene-stealing debut all the more remarkable. The result was, however, something of a double-edged sword.

“It set people’s expectations really high – unrealistically high,” he reflects. “I’m still a rookie in Euro RX3 and I haven’t been competing for that long in general, and I really felt a lot of pressure after the Nürburgring. The first few rounds this year were difficult – I struggled for consistency and to settle into a flow.”

While he claimed a brace of fourth-place finishes in the curtain-raising contest at Nyirád and on home soil in Hell, on neither occasion did Hvaal look likely to challenge for the podium, and at Montalegre, he exited proceedings at the semi-final stage. Höljes, however, would be a turning-point.

Despite having only raced at the Swedish circuit once before – in CrossCar competition – the Škoda star defeated championship leader Damian Litwinowicz to post the second-fastest time in heat one, less than two thirds-of-a-second adrift of the outright benchmark in the session.

He led the early phases of his race in heat two as well, after pole-sitter Espen Isaksætre got out of shape through Turn One, and then hit the front again in heat three prior to conceding to countryman Martin Kjær and Litwinowicz.

On a wet track surface the following day, Hvaal dominated his heat four race to secure fourth spot and ‘best non-Audi’ honours in the intermediate classification. That earned him a front row grid position for the second semi-final, but a tag from brother-in-law Kjær at the start left him needing to fight back. He did so with aplomb, and looked set to win after passing Nils Volland on the last lap, only for the opportunistic Kjær to pip the pair of them.

In the final, the 18-year-old Larvik native seemed poised to take the fight to Litwinowicz for the runner-up spoils until a slide in the slippery conditions cost him some momentum, and he subsequently had to turn his attentions to fending off Audi duo João Ribeiro and Volland behind. A gritty effort enabled him to cling on all the way to the chequered flag – in so doing, cementing the second rostrum finish of his burgeoning international career.

“Höljes was the first round this season where I felt like I was genuinely on the pace, in both the dry and the wet,” he reveals. “I’ve got to say, I’ve never driven in such slippery conditions as on the second day.

“On the last lap of the semi-final, Volland hit the wall exiting the joker and I saw a gap, but Martin [Kjær] out-smarted both of us to gain two positions! Still, that wasn’t the end of the world because it was clear that the front row of the grid wasn’t a great place to start in the wet.

“Then in the final, I think everybody was making mistakes. When I saw Litwinowicz clip the barrier and Ribeiro spin, I knew it wasn’t over and there was a big battle on the last lap, but my spotter kept telling me to stay calm.

“A podium was definitely a good way to go into the summer break, and hopefully we can do it again at the Estering next month. Volland Racing has a lot of data to compare between its drivers whereas we’re just a one-car team so we’re always on the back foot to an extent, but my shoulders are lowering now and Germany was obviously good to me last year. The Audis will clearly be very fast again, but I promise I’ll give it my very best to take them down...”

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