Thu 24 Aug 2023

Four-time champion Marklund pays tribute to ‘special’ team effort

Anton Marklund has hailed the effort put in by his SET Promotion crew after clinching a fourth FIA European Rallycross Championship crown at Germany’s Estering last weekend.

Anton Marklund has hailed the effort put in by his SET Promotion crew after clinching a fourth FIA European Rallycross Championship crown at Germany’s Estering last weekend (19-20 August).

Marklund might have only won once behind the wheel of his ten-year-old Ford Fiesta in 2023, but he was unquestionably the driver to beat throughout, and he arrived at the Estering holding a commanding 20-point advantage over his closest pursuer at the summit of the standings, knowing that qualification for the semi-finals would be sufficient to seal the deal.

A demon start from fourth on the grid in heat one catapulted him to the top of the times for that session by the narrowest of margins, but contact with season-long nemesis Patrick O’Donovan restricted the Swede to the fifth-fastest run in heat two.

Another lightning launch in heat three the next morning saw Marklund vault immediately from fifth to first, before the action was halted due to Ulrik Linnemann’s roll. He didn’t get away quite so well at the second time of asking and found himself staring at the back of Jānis Baumanis’ Peugeot all the way to the chequered flag, prior to dominating heat four to secure top qualifier honours – as well as the championship trophy.

From there, the gloves were off, but his semi-final did not last long, as contact with Peter Hedström into Turn One pitched the Fiesta into the wall and out of the race. No matter. By then, the job was already done...

“We tried to play it a bit safe in the first three heats,” the 30-year-old explained. “We knew a top 12 position would put us in good shape to win the title, but when we got to heat four, I said to the team, ‘if we can make a great launch from here and we are first out of Turn One, I will just go for it’.

“We had strong pace and managed to finish as top qualifier, so it felt like we were onto something really good for the rest of the weekend, but like so many times this year, it didn’t really go our way. It was a racing incident in the semi-final, but it ended our race.”

That he is a deserving champion cannot be questioned. Out of 24 heats in 2023, Marklund set the pace on 11 occasions – almost a 50 per cent strike rate – and was in the top three 15 times. Out of six semi-finals, he won four. And all with a car that he wasn’t even sure would be ready for the beginning of the campaign...

“I said to my closest family when I made the decision to go for it this season, that I would not be disappointed if we finished second or third in the championship, because we knew it would be incredibly difficult to bring a ten-year-old car and compete in Euro RX1, where the level is so high right now,” the Boliden native reflected.

“It felt like it would be a tough task, and when the first round was then brought forward, we didn’t know if the car would be ready in time! The team managed somehow to pull it off, build the car and get in two days of testing. That was something special, and to set the pace in Hungary was just an incredible feeling.

“I thought the first title would always be the most special, then the second came and it felt almost more special, but now with the fourth, I think this is really the one, because the performance that both myself and the team have been able to produce throughout the season has been pretty amazing.

“I’m so proud and grateful for the effort that everyone at SET Promotion has put into this project. We just tried to stay cool, not do anything stupid and simply collect as many points as possible from every event. That’s why we are here now.”

As to the future, Marklund is non-committal, though he does not rule out returning to do battle for a fifth European crown in 2024.

“I have no plans at all for next year yet,” he revealed. “To be honest, there are many things in life I want to do. Rallycross is for sure one of them, but there is also a family back home and some family companies I’m involved in. But there is also rallycross, like I say, so we will see. Nothing is planned. Let’s see what comes up over the winter...”

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