Andreas Bakkerud has said there is ‘more to come’ from his partnership with ESmotorsport, after clinching the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s Euro RX1 crown with the Lithuanian outfit on his 30th birthday at Benelux World RX of Spa-Francorchamps last weekend (9-10 October).
It has been an up-and-down season for Bakkerud in his first campaign of European competition since 2013, having spent the intervening eight years racing on the World Championship stage, accruing seven victories at the highest level and only narrowly missing out on the Drivers’ title in 2019.
A last-minute deal to contest the Höljes curtain-raiser resulted in third position behind the wheel of ESmotorsport’s Škoda Fabia, and he was leading the final at Lohéac with barely a lap to go when an engine issue dropped him to fourth place.
In Riga, the Bergen native was again amongst the Euro RX1 pace-setters but failed to make the final for the first time in 2021 following Turn One contact at the semi-final stage. That meant he arrived at Spa trailing new championship leader Fabien Pailler by two points, but right from the outset in the Ardennes, he was very much the driver to beat.
Setting the pace in three of the four qualifying sessions earned Bakkerud Top Qualifier (TQ) status, and after both he and Pailler won their respective semi-finals, the pair entered the all-important final separated by a single point – this time in the Norwegian’s favour.
Going on to control the race from lights-to-flag, Bakkerud’s 11th career Euro RX triumph yielded his third title – but that, he insists, is merely the start...
“This is pretty unbelievable given how things looked for me just a few months ago,” he confessed. “I owe ESmotorsport a big ‘thank you’ for giving me the opportunity to compete with them in Euro RX1. Everybody in the team has done such a great job, and I’m very proud of them all.
“It’s been a short but very intense season, and Fabien didn’t make it easy for me by any means – he’s been a great rival all year. I felt pretty nervous before the final at Spa, but I also knew we were in a strong position and it was absolutely crazy to win on my 30th birthday. Hopefully ESmotorsport and I have an even brighter future together – there’s definitely more to come.”
Pailler, for his part, was gracious in defeat, and there was no shame at all in finishing runner-up to a competitor of Bakkerud’s calibre. The Frenchman was on the back foot in Belgium after a 20-second penalty for an accident at the start of Q2 dropped him down the order, but to his immense credit, he dug deep to secure a front row grid slot for his semi-final, which he duly dominated to set up a winner-takes-all final.
Despite not quite having enough pace to challenge Bakkerud in the last race of the campaign, second in the standings marked comfortably Pailler’s best championship finish to-date in European competition – and he has laid down a powerful marker that he will be a title favourite right from the outset should he return in 2022.
“It was a difficult weekend for us at Spa, but we never gave up and battled back to win our semi-final, which set the scene for a straight fight with Andreas in the final,” he reflected. “It was close in the end, but Andreas was really quick and made no mistakes and he deserved to win. We were happy to finish second and with our season overall. Congratulations to Andreas and ESmotorsport!”
To re-live the title-deciding Euro RX1 final, click here