Despite the disappointment of the collision that prematurely curtailed his challenge in Hungary last month, Sivert Svardal left Nyirád feeling confident that – for the first time in his career – he can truly ‘take the fight’ to Euro RX1’s leading lights in 2023.
The Cooper Tires ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 2021 – his maiden campaign in the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s top tier – Svardal leapt up the title table from 15th to fourth last season, advancing to the final in half of the rounds behind the wheel of his ageing Volkswagen Polo and coming within just four points of a top three overall finish.
This year, the Norwegian has an upgraded Polo to play with, and he immediately demonstrated the potential of his ‘new whip’ in the Nyirád curtain-raiser. Traffic restricted him to just 11th place in the high-calibre field in the opening heat, but Svardal took advantage of improving track conditions and a flawless run in heat two to go second-quickest, missing out on topping a session for the first time by a scant 19 thousandths-of-a-second.
The demanding Hungarian circuit was referred to as a ‘rollercoaster’ by drivers over the course of the weekend due to its fast and undulating nature, and from the highs of heat two, the Konsmo native then slumped to a major low in heat three.
Defending champion Anton Marklund found himself spun by a rival on the exit of Turn One, and his Ford Fiesta was subsequently ploughed into by the unsighted Svardal, causing significant damage to both cars. Notwithstanding his small family-run team’s best efforts, the 23-year-old was unable to make it out again in time for hear four, spelling a sad end to a weekend that had promised so much more.
“I was sat on the starting grid alongside all the quick drivers in heat three and remember thinking, ‘there’s a chance we can do something special here’,” he revealed. “I’d never previously felt like I could challenge those guys on pure pace; I’ve always tried my hardest to keep up with them before and learn from them, but we felt like we did the maximum we could last year with the car we had – taking the fight to them was a step too far.
“I didn’t get a great initial launch, with too much wheelspin, and there was a lot of contact into Turn One. I dropped down a gear to second and went full power and I could only see [Tamás] Kárai ahead of me. He suddenly turned left on the exit of the corner, which is a blind crest, and that was when I saw another car broadside across the track right in front of me. It all happened so quickly and there was literally nothing I could do...”
It was a classic case of wrong place, wrong time for both drivers, and the failure to score has unquestionably dealt an early blow to Svardal’s stated objective of securing a top three championship finish this year. He is, however, determined to immediately bounce back next weekend (3-4 June) in the second round of the campaign at Montalegre in Portugal, where he will be aiming to finish the job he started in Hungary...
“Naturally, I was very disappointed at first,” the rising star reflected. “Fighting for a top three championship finish was our dream for this season and that now feels like a long shot, so our focus has to switch to taking every round as it comes.
“Montalegre is an awesome track! I raced there for the first time last year and I love its combination of corners, and the gravel section is just amazing; it really encourages you to drive the car the way it should be driven – full-send! It’s super-fun. We had good pace there in 2022 and were third-quickest in heat three, so I’m hoping we will be even faster this season and I really want to take that next step up onto the podium.
“We were really happy with the performance of the new car at Nyirád – it’s still not the quickest on the grid, but it’s definitely a step forward and the best feeling I’ve ever had in a rallycross Supercar. I obviously have more experience now too, which gives me the confidence to push harder.
“If things go well, I honestly believe we can compete with the top guys this year and cause them some trouble. It’s a really strong field in Euro RX1 and the leading four drivers in the championship will all be in Portugal, but my goal is to get through to the final – and from there, anything is possible...”