Kobe Pauwels was unquestionably one of the revelations of the 2021 rallycross season, as he belied his comparative lack of experience to put together a title challenge at the first time of asking in Euro RX3 – a standout performance that earned him the coveted ‘Rookie of the Year’ accolade from the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB).
Off the back of a stellar formative career in karting and CrossCar competition, Pauwels embarked upon his maiden campaign of car racing last year in the FIA European Rallycross Championship – but you would have been hard-pressed to tell.
Immediately on the front-running pace behind the wheel of his Volland Racing Audi A1, the Belgian was a thorn in the side of team-mate Yury Belevskiy throughout and the Russian’s closest challenger – racing to a spectacular breakthrough victory in France and similarly reaching the rostrum in both Sweden and Portugal. Commendably consistent, Pauwels never finished lower than fourth, in so doing securing the runner-up spoils in the championship standings.
Only turning 17 in October, the Diest native – son of former World RX finalist Koen Pauwels – went on to make his debut in the all-electric FIA RX2e Championship at the Nürburgring a month later and again excelled, matching the series regulars for pace and taking the chequered flag fourth, a mere whisker away from the podium.
That secured him a spot on the shortlist for the RACB’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ – voted for by a panel of high-profile Belgian journalists – and from there, he was overwhelmingly selected as the winner.
“To receive such a prestigious award from Belgium’s motorsport governing body really was the cherry on top of a fantastic season and means a lot to me,” acknowledged Pauwels, who dovetails his racing with his ongoing studies. “It’s a real honour to see my name on the same list as some incredibly talented Belgian drivers and to hopefully be following in their footsteps.
“We worked very hard last year, and that was reflected in our results. You don’t really have the time to take it all in during the season, but now I look back, I feel very proud of what we achieved and I learnt so much along the way.
“Going into 2021, I could never have expected to finish second overall in Euro RX3 and then almost reach the podium in RX2e at the Nürburgring with next to no prior experience in the car – particularly in those conditions! That was a completely new adventure for me, and we ended up posting the second-fastest lap time in the final.
“Winning at Lohéac was clearly the biggest highlight, though. I’ll never forget the feeling when I crossed the finish line there – I just went crazy and was shouting so much inside my helmet. That memory will live with me forever.
“For 2022, we’re still deciding between Euro RX3 and RX2e. It’s a very important year for my career, so we will take a bit of time to ensure we make the right choice – but whatever we end up doing, the aim has to be the title...”
The awards ceremony took place on the 125th anniversary of the RACB, which was founded back in 1896. Inaugural RX2e Champion Guillaume De Ridder placed third in the headlining ‘Driver of the Year’ category, just behind FIA World Rally Championship star Thierry Neuville and ahead of former Formula 1 racer and Formula E championship runner-up Stoffel Vandoorne.