When the chequered flag fell on heat three at Nyirád Racing Center last weekend (29-30 April), Anton Marklund was out of Euro RX of Hungary, no question, the damage inflicted to his Ford Fiesta RX by a first corner accident seemingly too great to repair in the short timeframe available. Thanks to a herculean effort by his SET Promotion crew and a never-say-die determination behind the wheel, come the end of the final, the defending champion climbed up onto the second step of the podium, crowning a zero-to-hero story for the rallycross record books.
Marklund entered the 2023 FIA European Rallycross Championship curtain-raiser in the ‘Red Cauldron’ unsure of his prospects, with the Fiesta RX – ‘the ‘old lady’, as he christened her – giving away years to much of the opposition, albeit benefitting from a raft of recent updates.
After FP1 on Saturday morning, the Swede described it as ‘the worst car he had ever driven’, but set-up tweaks enabled him to top the Euro RX1 timesheets in FP2 and similarly lead the way in the opening heat.
He followed that up with the fifth-quickest time in heat two – a session whose conditions favoured drivers running in the later races – to remain at the summit of the standings, but then in heat three, his weekend threatened to completely unravel.
Having been tipped into a half-spin on the exit of Turn One, the Fiesta was collected by an unsighted Sivert Svardal, causing hefty front-end damage to both cars. With the tight turnaround before heat four, it appeared to be game over, but a heroic repair job by the SET Promotion mechanics allowed Marklund to return to the track just in time for the semi-finals, for which he had narrowly qualified courtesy of his earlier results.
From the rear of the grid, and well aware that only a top three finish would prolong his weekend, the 30-year-old Boliden native went immediately on the attack, finding himself delayed by a minor clash with home hero Tamás Kárai but battling back to secure third place at the flag.
In the final, he similarly made up ground early on as he climbed to fourth. An early joker strategy and strong turn-of-speed subsequently enabled him to leapfrog both Enzo Ide and Patrick O’Donovan and salvage an emotional rostrum finish with the runner-up spoils, less than a second behind winner Jānis Baumanis and posting the race’s fastest lap along the way in evidence of what might have been.
“The weekend was a rollercoaster,” Marklund reflected. “To be honest, I still can’t really believe what we did. We decided that we could not continue with the damage after heat three – it shouldn’t have been possible to repair the car in that timeframe – but then there was a moment, where we sat and discussed and everyone stood up to at least try.
“The guys worked flat-out. I think the team was surprised too that we got out again, but they did it, and this P2 is like a victory for all of us. It was exhausting and a tough couple of days, but we did what we needed to do.”
“I think from zero to hero sums up the weekend,” echoed SET Promotion Euro RX1 Team Manager, Aleksi Koskinen. “We were so disappointed with what happened in heat three, and we actually thought we could not continue with the damage.
“I have never, ever seen guys work as hard as they did to get the car somehow pulled together – it was actually so bad we need to now go home and fix it properly. A massive ‘thank you’ has to go to all of the guys for such a big effort to get back to the grid.”