Tanner Whitten and Dan Rooke share podium celebrations
Close and competitive action captivates capacity crowd in Hell
Cyril Raymond produced a devilishly good performance as the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires descended upon Hell in Norway this weekend (9-11 June), with the Frenchman proving unstoppable on the first leg of the championship’s Scandinavian tour.
Raymond was almost unbeatable in the qualifying stages, only for a rare error to send the reigning champion into a spin in Q2 – albeit not enough to depose him from the top of the overall standings. The Olsbergs MSE ace then proceeded to show his pursuers a clean pair of heels in both the semi-final and final to extend his advantage in the points table – but there was no shortage of fast-and-frenetic action behind.
Raymond’s OMSE team-mate Tanner Whitten ultimately emerged as his closest rival, tallying a brace of qualifying race triumphs and surviving a hefty whack in the final to seal the runner-up spoils – his second podium of the season. Dan Rooke, meanwhile, maintained his own rostrum run in a hard-fought third place – battling back from an early mechanical setback in practice to keep his title push on-track.
Aside from his uncharacteristic error in Q2 – as he unsuccessfully attempted to hang on around the outside of William Nilsson exiting the joker on the last lap – Raymond kept a clean copybook through the qualifying races to comfortably top the intermediate rankings.
His team-mate Whitten was arguably every bit as impressive, belying his lack of prior track knowledge to advance progressively up the classification, outpacing all bar Raymond in Q3 and Q4 to vault up to second overall.
Sweden’s William Nilsson was fast and feisty in equal measure on his way to an excellent third – winning two of his four races along the way – with Rooke a solid fourth. Sondre Evjen – the quickest driver of all in Q2 – and Glenn Haug upheld home honours in fifth and sixth respectively, with the ever-consistent Guillaume De Ridder and Simon Olofsson another two of the usual suspects just behind.
Andreas Bäckman (Sweden) made it through to the semi-final stage for the first time in his nascent rallycross career in ninth, with series newcomer Marcus Höglund tenth ahead of Russia’s Vasiliy Gryazin and Simon Syversen, the third Norwegian to return to the track on Sunday.
From pole position, Raymond led away at the lights in the first semi-final from Evjen, De Ridder and Bäckman, with the Frenchman pulling out more than two seconds over his pursuers by the end of the opening lap. Nilsson and Gryazin were the early jokers, with Evjen and De Ridder rejoining between the pair after completing their own joker laps.
With Raymond and Nilsson in the clear, the Evjen-De Ridder duel looked to be the battle for the remaining spot in the final, but their squabbling – allied to a strong turn-of-speed and late joker lap from Bäckman – enabled the young Swede to leapfrog them both and make the top six for the first time.
Whitten made a demon start to seize the early advantage in semi-final two ahead of Haug, Höglund and Syversen, although the order for third would soon switch. The American inched away as Haug held a watching brief, with early joker Rooke emerging in-between them in second after all jokers had been completed.
Syversen just missed out on the final as he fended off Olofsson for fourth, the Swede unleashing scintillating pace but seeing his chances of further progression dashed by a jump-start and consequent double joker.
With Rooke the only man to opt for an early joker, Raymond led on the road from team-mate Whitten, Nilsson, Haug – now alone in carrying the hopes of the home crowd – and Bäckman. As the leader began inching away, Nilsson was eager to find a way past Whitten for second, culminating in the Swede running into the back of his rival heading into lap two.
Whitten artfully saved a half-spin as his assailant played his joker, with Rooke taking advantage to steal a spot at Nilsson’s expense. Whitten returned to the track just ahead of the duelling Rooke and Nilsson, with all three briefly making contact but the status quo remaining unchanged.
All this was of little consequence to Raymond, who motored on untroubled out front to make it three-from-three in 2017, as Whitten and Rooke joined the championship leader on the podium. Fourth fell the way of Haug, with Bäckman in fifth and Nilsson – penalised for the contact with Whitten – demoted to sixth.
The RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires will resume at Höljes in Sweden on 30 June - 2 July, with Raymond having further stretched his margin at the top of the drivers’ standings and a whole host of local heroes – amongst others – increasingly eager to knock him off his perch.
Cyril Raymond (1st): “Third race and third win – a full house so far, I’ll definitely take that! The weekend started off well and we were able to prove our pace in the dry in Friday’s first qualifying race, but the conditions changed completely overnight and I made a small mistake in Q2, which resulted in a spin. We responded in style in the remaining two qualifiers, though, and that gave me the best position going into Sunday. I was a bit surprised at the start of the semi-final, because although the weather was dry, they had wet the track and that made it very slippery. Fortunately, we managed it ok and the final then followed a similar theme – I put my foot on the gas and was able to pull away. We worked well as a team and I think that was the secret to getting three OMSE cars into the final for the first time this year. Tanner [Whitten] did a great job and it was fantastic to see Andreas [Bäckman] there too – I’m sure it will be the first of many for him!”
Tanner Whitten (2nd): “I’m going into every weekend with no prior racing experience on any of these circuits, relying solely on what I’ve seen on Codemasters DiRT, but that at least meant I had an idea of which way the lap went at the start of practice. We had pretty good pace from the outset and then progressively worked our way up the order. Hell is an awesome track with so many different types of corner and both cambered and off-camber sections – it really keeps you on your toes! Given how close it is in RX2, getting your head down in clean air can really pay off – and that’s precisely what I did in my semi-final, which worked out perfectly. That gave me a great starting position for the final, and I decided to play it safe into Turn One. The battle was essentially for second behind Cyril [Raymond], and I took a big hit from behind at one stage that almost spun me round. That made it a little bit touch-and-go when I rejoined from the joker, but I was able to hold on to bring home second place, which feels really good.”
Dan Rooke (3rd): “We had a driveshaft failure fairly early on in practice, which seriously restricted our running and left us on the back foot going into the races. That meant I was still trying to figure my way around the track in Q1, and it’s not an easy one to learn with so many features to it. It was a bit of a struggle to begin with, but we steadily improved the car and I really found my feet in the last two qualifiers, which gave me more confidence for the semi-final and final. I knew Cyril [Raymond] and Tanner [Whitten] would be fast and that I would have to pull out all the stops to stay with them, and we kept pretty close to Tanner in the final. We scored more solid points towards the championship and it’s obviously good to finish on the podium again and keep my 100 per cent record intact. We just need to work out how to knock Cyril off that top step now...”
Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “Once again, our RX2 stars produced a brilliant spectacle for rallycross fans – a Hell of a show, you might say! Congratulations to Cyril on taking his third win in a row – the competition is fierce this year, which only adds even more value to his achievements. Tanner and Dan also produced excellent performances, and the racing in general was first-class – close, hard-fought and above all extremely entertaining, just as it should be. There will be more of the same in Höljes, of that I have no doubt.”
1. Cyril RAYMOND (FRA) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
2. Tanner WHITTEN (USA) Olsbergs MSE +4.880s
3. Dan ROOKE (GBR) Dan Rooke +5.549s
4. Glenn HAUG (NOR) Glenn Haug +7.245s
5. Andreas BACKMAN (SWE) Olsbergs MSE +9.154s
6. William NILSSON (SWE) JC Raceteknik +10.867s
1. Cyril Raymond (FRA) 85 points
2. Dan Rooke (GBR) 73 points
3. Tanner Whitten (USA) 59 points
4. Glenn Haug (NOR) 52 points
5. Simon Olofsson (SWE) 50 points
6. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 47 points
7. William Nilsson (SWE) 42 points
8. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 42 points
9. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 30 points
10. Thomas Holmen (NOR) 27 points