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Tue 21 Nov 2023

O’Donovan: Hong Kong podium ‘unquestionably my career highlight’

He had already proven himself as a two-time British Champion, an event-winner in Euro RX1 and a podium-finisher in the French series, but World RX, Patrick O’Donovan acknowledged on the eve of his top flight debut in Hong Kong, was a different proposition altogether. And then he went and pipped a world champion to the podium...

He had already proven himself as a two-time British Rallycross Champion, an event-winner in the FIA European Rallycross Championship and a podium-finisher in the French Rallycross Championship, but the FIA World Rallycross Championship, Patrick O’Donovan acknowledged on the eve of his top flight debut in Hong Kong, was a different proposition altogether. And then he went and pipped a world champion to the podium...

O’Donovan is indisputably one of the sport’s brightest rising stars, but even so, he knew that taking on the likes of Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Niclas Grönholm – who between them have won more than half of the 105 World RX rounds to-date – would be his greatest challenge so far. It was also, arguably, his greatest success.

After settling in during free practice on Saturday morning, the British teenager threaded his ZEROID X1 artfully between the unforgiving circuit walls to go an excellent third-quickest in qualifying practice on the opening day – showcasing all the skills he learned on his way up the rallycross ladder in the same car in the FIA RX2e Championship as he offered an early indication of his potential.

In mixed conditions, the heat races proved to be a trickier affair, with a bright start in the second of them undone by a brush with the wall, and O’Donovan then gambled on slick tyres in the semi-final as all of his rivals opted to stay on wets. His bold strategy looked like it might pay off, but a side-by-side duel with Hansen World RX Team stablemate Timmy Hansen cost both drivers time – and the 19-year-old a spot in the final.

The next day, O’Donovan held his own against Kevin Hansen, Kristoffersson and Timo Scheider in heat one before overhauling the German with a hard-charging effort to claim his first race win in heat two.

He showed good speed again in heat three and beat Scheider in the second semi-final to book his berth in the final, where from the back row of the grid, the Londoner vaulted immediately up to third and then covered off team-mate Timmy Hansen with a lap three joker to maintain position.

Thereafter, he produced a mature performance to keep the 2019 world champion at bay right the way to the chequered flag, yielding a deserved and tremendously popular rostrum finish on his maiden weekend at the highest level.

“Just to be in Hong Kong in the first place was absolutely amazing,” O’Donovan enthused. “What a place to make my debut, against that skyline and in front of such an awesome crowd, and it was probably one of the busiest events I’ve ever had the pleasure to race at.

“It was a weekend full of ups-and-downs and I struggled a little bit at times, but my pace kept improving throughout and it was fantastic to finish on the podium on the Sunday.

“I had better speed than on the Saturday, and from the back of the grid in the final, to go up the inside into third at the start and then hold on to the finish was just incredible. After the first few corners, the suspension wasn’t in the best condition and the handling wasn’t perfect, but I pushed as hard as I could to keep Timmy [Hansen] behind me.

“It was an absolutely amazing feeling to be up there alongside some of my childhood heroes. I’ve been watching Timmy and Johan [Kristoffersson] compete since I was about seven or eight-years-old, so to be able to race against them was truly something special.

“The European, French and British Championships are all brilliant, but the World Championship is the best-of-the-best. There were two world champions in Sunday’s final, and to beat one of them and finish only a few seconds behind Johan was unquestionably my career highlight. I’m absolutely over-the-moon – I couldn’t ask for anything better.”