Patrick O’Donovan has reflected upon an ‘amazing’ full-time Euro RX1 debut last month (29-30 April) at Nyirád Racing Center, where the reigning British Rallycross Champion saw off some of the biggest names on the European scene to deservedly reach the rostrum.
O’Donovan had previously starred during a one-off appearance at Nyirád 11 months earlier, when he competed up at the sharp end throughout in an ageing Ford Fiesta and was on course to advance to the final first time out in the FIA European Rallycross Championship prior to picking up a puncture at the semi-final stage.
Since then, the talented British teenager has lifted the laurels in the UK domestic series – in which he currently leads the way again courtesy of back-to-back triumphs in the opening two rounds of the 2023 season at Lydden Hill – and claimed a brace of victories in the all-electric FIA RX2e Championship.
He rejoined the Euro RX1 fray in Hungary to begin his maiden full campaign in the headlining category, now with a potent, Hansen Motorsport-built Peugeot 208 WRX at his disposal – and he made excellent use of it.
In a high-calibre, 19-strong field featuring experienced former European title-winners and rapid local specialists, O’Donovan produced a clean and faultless run in the opening heat to post the fifth-fastest time, and despite not benefitting from the best of the track conditions in heat two the next morning, he valiantly fought his way past an ailing Andreas Bakkerud to place eighth.
After surviving first corner contact from a rival in heat three, a subsequent brush with a barrier broke the Peugeot’s front-right suspension and prompted what the 19-year-old quipped were ‘pre-celebratory donuts’ as he spun heading onto the penultimate lap.
Having dragged the car to the end of the race, his Team RX Racing crew then worked hard to repair the damage, and their driver rewarded them in heat four by topping the Euro RX1 timesheets for the first time in his burgeoning career.
That earned O’Donovan fourth place in the intermediate classification and a front row grid slot for semi-final two. Despite losing ground at the start due to being pushed wide through Turn One, he deployed an early joker tactic and styled out a long slide down the hill on the last lap to fight back to second and duly book his spot in the all-important final.
In the last race of the weekend, a bright launch saw him dive up the inside of Enzo Ide into the first corner, but the Londoner ran wide on the exit of Turn Two to concede the position again. Undeterred, he unleashed an impressive turn-of-speed to get back ahead of the Belgian once the jokers had all played out, and while forced to give best to a charging Anton Marklund, he went on to take the chequered flag third to get his 2023 challenge off to a superb start.
“Absolutely amazing!” O’Donovan enthused. “Last year, it was like a childhood dream to line up on the Euro RX1 grid, but we knew the Fiesta wasn’t really capable of scoring good results. This year is another level altogether. Racing the Peugeot prepared by our family team with some support from #YellowSquad and the Hansens is really special. I’m in a car and situation where I really feel I can excel, and having an opportunity like this is just incredible.
“We struggled slightly with understeer and had some problems in the heats, like the track conditions in heat two and then me damaging the car in heat three, but the team did an amazing job to get it repaired in time for heat four and that fastest time was for them! They pulled a really big shift and there’s a bit of a tradition in the team that when we have a tough day, everybody gets ice cream, so I think I owe them all an ice cream for that!
“In the semi-final and final, I just kept my head down. David [Mansfield] on the radio was brilliant and we can be very pleased with both the result and how close we were to the front, which is encouraging for the rest of the season.
“Even though I obviously want to win every time I go out, it was still a very good first weekend for us and now I’m really looking forward to Montalegre, which is obviously a completely different kind of circuit to Nyirád. It looks like the quickest way through the corners there is either sideways or backwards, so bring it on!”
“I’m delighted for Patrick – he didn’t have an easy weekend but he came out with a good result in the end,” added Team RX Racing owner, Ollie O’Donovan, who was also competing at Nyirád and similarly ascended the Euro RX rostrum in the 2017 season-opener in Catalunya. “He’s here to achieve and to learn at the same time, and I think he did both of those things, and to finish on the podium in round one is a very good start to the year. The team worked very well together and we are heading in the right direction.”