Newly-crowned Euro RX1 champion Anton Marklund has paid tribute to his SET Promotion team after racing to his third FIA European Rallycross Championship title at Montalegre last weekend (17-18 September) – before predicting that there ‘won’t be any front bumpers spared’ in the final round of the season at Spa-Francorchamps next month.
Marklund travelled to Lusorecursos World RX of Portugal with – on paper – a relatively simple job. Win the event, and he would be champion. Finish within six points of arch-rival Jānis Baumanis, and he would be champion. Except in rallycross, of course, nothing is ever quite that simple.
A stall at the start of heat one and a spectacular joker merge collision with Baumanis in heat two – for which the Latvian received an official reprimand – were certainly not in the Swede’s pre-event plan, but despite not being happy with his driving, he bounced back to set the fastest time in heat three the next morning and with it, earn pole position for the second progression race.
After fending off some early pressure from Baumanis behind, Marklund turned up the wick when required to finish just under 1.5 seconds clear, before electing to settle for second behind Enzo Ide in his semi-final as he admitted to ‘playing it safe’.
Beginning the all-important final from the middle of the grid was never going to be the easiest of tasks, and notwithstanding a rapid launch, the 29-year-old found himself bundled back to fifth in the first corner crush. Opting to joker straightaway, he then ran wide and narrowly avoided the barriers, with the combined delay cementing his position at the back of the pack.
After pulling off a committed overtake on Marcin Gagacki, Marklund proceeded to hassle Ulrik Linnemann all the way to the chequered flag, and while unable to pass the Dane, with Baumanis only finishing second, fourth place was enough to seal the deal – adding a third European trophy to those he had already conquered in 2012 (TouringCar) and 2017 (Supercar).
“This is a big relief!” reflected the Boliden native. “A lot of people were telling me I was already champion before coming here, but I’ve been in this sport for too long to celebrate before the job is done so we just tried to stay focussed.
“It was certainly one of the tougher weekends for us. We were struggling a bit for pace and to get the car working how I wanted it to, and there were obviously a few incidents on-track as well.
“In the final, going through Turn One, the steering wheel locked and we came out last and then I made a big mistake in the joker, which cost me a lot of time and dropped me behind Gagacki and Linnemann. It was more than a bit nerve-wracking, and you’re always walking on nails until it’s actually done. It’s never over until the fat lady sings, but now it’s finally over and I honestly can’t thank all the guys in the team enough.
“It’s been an awesome year. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with such good guys – if I ever have, indeed. It’s just amazing. They do everything down to the very smallest detail and have given me the right tools to do the job, and I think we have treated those tools well. I’m extremely lucky.
“I brought some of my own guys with me, too. Laurent Fedacou has been my engineer since 2016 – he knows my way of thinking and has the same philosophy towards the car as SET Promotion do – and my spotter, Adam Johansson, never makes a wrong call.
“My long-time mechanic Johan Thoresson combined the wealth of his experience with that of the SET mechanics Henrik and Tommi and wider crew Aleksi, Tapani and Rami to really make a complete team, and it’s been such a pleasure to work with them all. I’m usually a bit of a control freak, but as soon as I come into the tent, I can leave the car to them because I trust exactly what they are doing – and that in-turn helps me to perform.”
Marklund has certainly performed impeccably this year. Back-to-back victories in the opening two rounds in Hungary and on home soil in Sweden set the tone, with strong drives in Norway and Latvia then consolidating that early advantage. Having now put the coveted crown beyond reach of any of his rivals, he has promised to leave nothing on the table in the season finale in Belgium.
“The goal was to secure the title at Montalegre so we could really enjoy Spa, and now we can!” he acknowledged. “Going there with no pressure on our shoulders anymore will be amazing – win or lose in Belgium, we are champions now so we can celebrate. I’m quite sure Enzo, Jānis and the others will make it a hard job for me as everybody wants to win the last round of the season to carry into the winter, but so do we! There won’t be any front bumpers spared...”