Saturday | 21 May 2022

Marklund lives up to pre-season favourite tag on opening day of campaign

Former title-winner Anton Marklund handled the heat in his stride on the opening day of the 2022 FIA European Rallycross Championship campaign at Nyirád today (21 May), as the Swede set the pace in each of the first two Heats to throw down the gauntlet to his rivals.

Former title-winner Anton Marklund handled the heat in his stride on the opening day of the 2022 FIA European Rallycross Championship campaign at Nyirád today (21 May), as the Swede set the pace in each of the first two Heats to throw down the gauntlet to his rivals.

Having lifted the Euro RX Supercar (now Euro RX1) laurels in 2017 and dominated his only appearance of last year at Höljes until his weekend ended in a spectacular barrel-roll, Marklund was arguably the pre-season favourite heading into this weekend – and in front of a huge and hugely enthusiastic Hungarian crowd, the SET Promotion star delivered a virtuoso performance.

“This track is something special,” he enthused. “It’s a lot of fun to drive. I’m with a new team this year and I’m starting to get used to the Hyundai now. I’m really enjoying driving the car and I feel quite relaxed, which is always a good thing.

“With the new racing format this year, you have to be a bit cleverer. The Heats aren’t quite as crucial as they were before, whereas with all the points being awarded after the final, it’ll be very important to avoid punctures or anything like that tomorrow. You obviously have to push hard to get through, but at the same time, you’ve got to be careful not to push too hard, as that might mean leaving empty-handed...”

Peerless in both Heats, Marklund raced to a maximum score to top the intermediate classification ahead of closest challenger Enzo Ide, the Belgian putting to good use everything he learned alongside multiple world champion Johan Kristoffersson in World RX in 2021.

That enabled the EKS driver to pip Jānis Baumanis to second spot in the overnight standings, with the Latvian – the highest-placed returning driver from last season – swiftly settling into his new surroundings in #YellowSquad’s Peugeot 208.

The reigning Cooper Tires ‘Rookie of the Year’ – Norway’s Sivert Svardal – occupies fourth position ahead of impressive newcomer Patrick O’Donovan in his striking Gulf-coloured Ford Fiesta, but a number of other leading protagonists had a more difficult day.

Home hero Tamás Kárai is down in eighth after contact into the first corner in Heat Two pitched him into the tyre barriers and left the door hanging off his Audi S1, while six-time Andros Trophy ice-racing champion Jean Baptiste ‘JB’ Dubourg spun away a commanding advantage in Heat Two and consequently slipped to 14th in the ranking.

Perennial Euro RX front-runner Ulrik Linnemann, meanwhile, was even more unfortunate, hampered by a slow start in Heat One and propshaft issues in Heat Two. From 18th place, the Dane will have plenty of work to do in his last Heat tomorrow morning.

In Euro RX3, Škoda star Jan Černý – relishing the challenge posed by Nyirád’s spectacular loose gravel sections and ‘old-school’ nature – lived up to his pre-season promise to take the fight to the hitherto all-conquering Audis. In his little Citigo, the Czech ace set the pace in Heat One, before going second-quickest in Heat Two to top the intermediate table.

“I’m really happy to be in first place overnight for the first time,” he reflected. “We had good speed right from the start and I’m very happy with the car. The pace is there and this track is incredible to drive – being a rally driver as well, I think it suits me and our little car quite well.”

Last year’s championship runner-up Kobe Pauwels recovered from a disappointing Heat One to lead the way in Heat Two and run Černý closest, with fellow Audi driver Damian Litwinowicz a consistent threat just behind in third. Despite being tipped into a race-ending spin in the second Heat, Jiří Šusta made it two Škodas inside the overall top four following an excellent run earlier on in the day.

The high-speed action continues tomorrow, with Heat Three followed by the live-broadcast Progression races, Semi-Finals and all-important Finals on RX+.