Sivert Svardal was presented with the inaugural Cooper Tires ‘Rookie of the Year’ prize by former Formula 1 star David Coulthard at the Nürburgring last month, and as he reflects upon an eye-catching maiden campaign at Euro RX1 level, the Norwegian is already setting his sights even higher for 2022.
Svardal is not a newcomer to the FIA European Rallycross Championship scene – having disputed the crown in the final season of the now defunct TouringCar category in 2018 – but this year marked his first in the headlining Euro RX1 class, following an abortive attempt to step up in 2020.
Behind the wheel of his ex-Marklund Motorsport Volkswagen Polo, the 21-year-old was instantly on the pace, lapping seventh and third-fastest amongst the 24 high-calibre contenders in free practice in the Höljes curtain-raiser – only to see his hopes quite literally go up in smoke with fiery engine issues in Q1 and Q2.
He immediately bounced back by posting the fifth-quickest time in Q3 and ninth in Q4, and although by that stage the damage had been done with regard to his semi-final chances, he had certainly proved his potential.
Svardal backed that up with another top ten effort in Q1 at the less familiar French circuit of Lohéac, before truly breaking through in Riga – impressively, on his first visit to the challenging Biķernieki track.
Third-fastest behind only ESmotorsport heavy-hitters Andreas Bakkerud and Jānis Baumanis in free practice, the two-time Norwegian Rallycross Champion and 2019 Bilsport ‘Talent of the Year’ outpaced the high-profile pair to place fifth in Q2 – a result he replicated in both Q3 and Q4 to secure sixth spot in the intermediate standings.
From there, Svardal chased title protagonist Fabien Pailler home in the first semi-final – despite finding himself delayed along the way by a spinning Thomas Bryntesson – before finishing fifth in the final, a scant seven tenths-of-a-second shy of the rostrum. Whilst contact with the barriers in Q1 at Spa-Francorchamps three weeks later spelt an early end to his weekend – and season – he had already more than made his mark.
Seven top ten qualifying performances – four of them inside the top five – bore testament to an excellent rookie campaign, for which the Konsmo native was deservedly presented with two new sets of Cooper Tires by 13-time grand prix-winner Coulthard in Germany.
“This means a lot,” Svardal acknowledged. “We are just normal people – a real family-and-friends team – and that’s a lot of money for us.
“I was really surprised firstly even to be nominated for ‘Rookie of the Year’ – that was really cool – and then when I was told I had won, I was just ecstatic. It was awesome to attend the Nürburgring for the last World RX event of the year as a fan, and to be surprised by David Coulthard was a real honour. I was a bit star-struck. I’ve only seen him on television before at Formula 1 races – and now, he knows who I am!
“I had some expectations ahead of the season, but it was a typical rookie season, I would say, with plenty of ups-and-downs. The pace was better than I initially anticipated, but it took a while for everything to ‘click’. Riga was a really strong event for me – to be able to fight for the final and finish in the top five there was really good.
“Overall, I’m really happy and the plan is to return to Euro RX1 next year. I will keep on learning and try to make even more progress while working on my consistency so that we can hopefully regularly reach the final and push for some podiums. That’s my goal for 2022 – and now we already have the tyres ready for the first event...”
“Tyres are the most important part of going racing,” added Cooper Tire Europe ambassador, Coulthard. “By the time you get on the actual start-line, your car is set, and making the right tyre choice can mean the difference between success or not.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity in anyone’s career to be recognised as an up-and-coming talent. If I look back to my single-seater days, right at the beginning, I won a rookie award that really helped to put me front-and-centre with the teams I wanted to drive for. This Cooper Tires award is partly voted for by the fans, and for that, you have to be doing something spectacular which shows you are a future talent.”