Tough curtain-raiser for pre-season favourite Österberg

  • Troubled start to title bid for highest-placed CrossCar returnee
  • Fourth place in round two gives Swede hope for better days ahead
  • 26-year-old vows to ‘step up’ on home soil at Arvika next time out

Having finished second in the CrossCar standings last year, Jimmie Österberg approached Höljes’ ‘All-Star’ Magic Weekend – the opening event of the 2020 RallyX Nordic presented by Cooper Tires campaign – as the highest-placed returning driver in the 40-strong category and one of the undisputed favourites for glory, but things didn’t go quite to plan…

Österberg looked to be on-course to lift the RallyX Nordic laurels in 2019, until an engine failure in the final round at Tierp Arena scuppered his title charge. He is back this season for another shot at the coveted crown, but gearbox issues in the first free practice session at Höljes immediately hinted that it may not be the most straightforward of weekends.

Those woes continued in Q2, when a track limits penalty dropped the Swede from third to 13th on the timesheets in the fiercely-contested field, and his day ended in the semi-final following a last corner incident.

The weekend dawned brighter, as the third-fastest time in Q1 on Saturday and ninth in Q2 left Österberg fifth overnight. In Q4 on Sunday, a spin resulted in a stall and relegated him to tenth in the intermediate classification, but after chancing an untried set-up in the treacherous conditions, the 26-year-old leapt off the line in his semi-final and went on to take the chequered flag second.

From the back row of the grid in the final, he then produced a solid drive in heavy rain to finish fourth, less than a quarter-of-a-second shy of a place on the podium. Heading next to his home track of Arvika on 7-9 August, he will be aiming to climb the leaderboard from the eighth position that he currently occupies in the title table.

“I have never been through a race weekend with so many ups-and-downs,” Österberg reflected. “It’s so hard to collect points when you are struggling right from the beginning and you just don’t have the speed, but at least I made it through to the semi-finals in both rounds and to the final on Sunday, when our pace seemed to be better.

“To get the news that we will go racing on my home track of Arvika is so nice – it’s a legendary circuit and one of the most fun that I know! I have a lot of hard work in front of me to catch the top three in the standings, so we need to step up. It will clearly be a bigger battle than before, but the chance is not gone yet and I will do my homework and closely analyse everything that happened at Höljes to make sure we are 100 per cent ready for the next one!”