Of all the storylines at Euro RX of Hungary last month – from Anton Marklund and SET Promotion’s remarkable comeback to Damian Litwinowicz’s breakthrough victory in Euro RX3 – arguably the most inspirational was that of a local hero in his first event at international level, going wheel-to-wheel with the best in the business and fighting his way to the final.
Máté Benyó was a total unknown on the European stage heading into the weekend, although he had firmly established himself in his home country, with no fewer than five national titles to his credit in rallycross and Speedcar disciplines. Still, as he prepared to make his debut in a high-calibre, 19-strong Euro RX1 field at Nyirád Racing Center, he admitted he had no real idea what to expect.
“It was a big opportunity for me to race against the best drivers in Europe,” the Budapest native acknowledged. “Nyirád is my home track and I know it very well, and I had already competed against some of my opponents in the Hungarian and Central European Zone championships, but aside from that, everything else was new for me.
“It was a higher level compared to what I had experienced before, with very fast drivers and everybody so close in terms of lap times. My goal was to put in a respectable performance against them and to finish inside the top ten.”
Right from the outset, Benyó did rather better than that. Fourth-quickest in free practice behind only Marklund, Andreas Bakkerud and Jānis Baumanis – European champions all – he maintained that impressive form throughout the heat races, never placing lower than seventh and posting the second-best time in heat three as he continued to confidently mix it with the series’ grandees in his ageing Peugeot 208.
His giant-killing performances secured the Korda Racing ace a superb third position in the intermediate standings – and a front row grid slot for the first semi-final. From there, Benyó comfortably booked his place in the all-important final along with Baumanis and Bakkerud, going on to take the chequered flag fifth to cap a sensational maiden appearance in Euro RX1 and deservedly scoop the Cooper Tires ‘Racer of the Weekend’ accolade.
“I never thought reaching the final was realistic because of the names in the field and knowing I had less experience than them,” he candidly reflected. “I just tried to race smart without any major contact, and I think that was the key to my results. It was fantastic to be in the top three in the intermediate classification and definitely a surprise. That was when I realised I had a chance against these guys and could achieve something big for the first time ever.
“To progress to the final was for us already like a win. I was over the moon with that. Only in my wildest dreams could I have dreamt about such a debut in Euro RX – it felt like all of our hard work was starting to pay off.
“I’ve got to say, the fans were absolutely amazing. They created an unbelievable atmosphere around the track and gave me a lot of motivation over the weekend. I want to thank them for believing in me.”
Since his star turn on home soil, Benyó has subsequently thrown his hat into the ring to contest the next three rounds of the 2023 Euro RX1 campaign. While remaining modest about his ambitions given his lack of prior knowledge of the forthcoming circuits, he is nonetheless eager to build upon his promising start.
“It was good to know where I stand in the line-up, but I have to keep in mind that I already had experience at Nyirád, in contrast to the other tracks coming up during the season,” the 21-year-old mused. “My goal is to learn them as quickly as I can and perform as well as I can. I would like to reach the final again, and if I can finish on the podium, that would be unforgettable.
“It’s a huge honour for me to compete against such strong drivers. These guys are amongst the best in 21st century rallycross, and I would like to learn from them as much as possible both on and off the track. I have huge respect for them and it is a pleasure to have the chance to race against them – but in the future, my aim is to beat them...”