FIA European Rallycross Championship returnee Ulrik Linnemann admitted to wondering if he still had what it takes after ending the opening day of the campaign well down the order at Nyirád last weekend – but a significant upturn in form and a lightning launch in his Semi-Final propelled the Dane to a podium finish the following day at the beginning of what he calls a make-or-break season.
Three times a championship runner-up at Super1600 (now Euro RX3) level, Linnemann has rejoined the fray in the headlining Euro RX1 category in 2022 following a three-year absence from European competition – but Saturday in Hungary did not mark an auspicious start.
Off the pace in Heat One, the Linnemann Promotion ace subsequently suffered propshaft failure in Heat Two, leaving him languishing in 18th position overnight amongst the 20 protagonists. The 11th-fastest time in Heat Three the next morning elevated him to 13th in the intermediate Ranking, and he went on to take the chequered flag third in his Progression race behind Anton Marklund and Jean Baptise ‘JB’ Dubourg, in so doing cementing a spot in the Semi-Finals.
A demon getaway from fifth on the grid then catapulted Linnemann’s Ford Fiesta around the outside of all of his rivals and into the lead – one that he would retain until the last lap, when a small mistake allowed Jānis Baumanis to overhaul him in the joker.
Still, second place was sufficient to secure the 33-year-old safe passage through to the all-important Final – something that had looked to be a pipe dream less than 24 hours earlier – and he took full advantage of it to reach the rostrum, benefitting from Baumanis’ loss of power to cross the finish line in third place.
“That was a real rollercoaster ride!” Linnemann candidly reflected. “Saturday was mostly downhill, but things began to improve in the Progression round. I had to get used to starting on the outside line, because we seemed to be there in nearly every race, and I gave it everything into the first corner in the Semi-Final since I knew that was my best chance of advancing to the Final.
“I was really surprised to keep Baumanis behind me for four laps, because he is in a proper World RX-spec car which is a step in front of mine, and whilst I made a little mistake on the last lap that allowed him to get ahead, ultimately, it didn’t matter as second place was good enough.
“I got a good start again from P5 in the Final, but I was pushed wide through the first corner and had to fight back from there. Luckily for me, Baumanis had a problem and I was really pleased to finish third.
“This year is my last chance to really prove myself at the highest level in rallycross, so it’s all or nothing. After struggling with the car and not being able to produce the lap times on Saturday, I was wondering if maybe I didn’t have it in me anymore, but Sunday was a good day...”