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‘FLYING FINN’ KALLIO MASTERS MIXED CONDITIONS TO LEAD THE WAY AT SPA

Jesse Kallio became the latest ‘Flying Finn’ to tame Spa-Francorchamps’ fearsome Eau Rouge corner today (11 May), as the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires rookie followed in the wheeltracks of countryman Kimi Räikkönen in setting the pace at the spectacular Belgian Grand Prix venue.

The official FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series is making its first appearance at the iconic Ardennes circuit – a new addition to the calendar this season – and the stars of the show kept the thousands of enthusiastic spectators happy with a dazzling display of crowd-pleasing racing and precision driving, as the region’s famously unpredictable weather lived up to its reputation.

Come rain or shine, Kallio wasn’t worried, and he shrugged off the showers in Q1 to post the fastest time – having never previously driven the Supercar Lites car in the wet. The second-quickest time in Q2 cemented the Olsbergs MSE new boy’s position as overnight leader for the first time in RX2.

“We already got off to a great start in RX2 in Barcelona, and it feels like we have taken another step forward here,” the 19-year-old reflected. “It’s a great feeling to be at the top of the intermediate standings in only my second weekend in the series.

“The rain was a bit of a leap into the unknown for me in this car, but I seemed to adapt to it pretty well and I’m really enjoying this track. There’s a lot of tough competition in RX2, so nobody’s going to make my life easy tomorrow but if we can keep this form going all the way through to the final, I’ll be very happy.”

The only man able to beat Kallio in Q2 was Ben-Philip Gundersen, who is bidding to fight back this weekend after enduring a disappointing start to the season in Barcelona a fortnight ago. Right in the mix from the outset, the practice pace-setter sits second overall as he focusses firmly on clawing back vital championship points.

Gundersen’s JC Raceteknik team-mate William Nilsson – still recovering from his semi-final-ending accident in Spain – occupies third spot following a heroic effort in Q2. The Swedish teenager muscled his way into second at the start and went on to pip Sports Racing Technologies rival Vasiliy Gryazin to the chequered flag by barely five hundredths-of-a-second in a thrilling photo-finish.

“It’s been a positive vibe day,” Nilsson acknowledged. “To come back from the crash in Barcelona with this kind pf performance is great. I haven’t had so much time to recover and am still feeling a little bit stiff, but adrenaline is always the best medicine.

“I had a little too much traffic in Q1, which meant the result didn’t accurately reflect the speed we had, but in Q2, I just pushed, pushed, pushed, because I felt we were a little bit faster than Vasiliy [Gryazin], and that paid off – just! It’s clearly going to be an extremely tough battle tomorrow, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

Latvia’s Gryazin is fourth overnight – tied on points with Nilsson, as are OMSE duo Fraser McConnell and Oliver Eriksson in fifth and sixth places respectively. The Jamaican had to contend with power steering failure in Q1, whilst championship leader Eriksson suffered a rare ‘off day’, from a malfunctioning windscreen wiper in free practice to a joker lap mistake in Q2 and a double puncture in Q3, which he artfully managed to ensure minimal time loss.

Just one point further back in seventh is Simon Olofsson, who produced a commanding performance to lead from lights-to-flag in Q1 despite not being happy with the set-up on his car, while countryman Anders Michalak immediately behind in eighth makes it six drivers separated by just two points in an incredibly close tussle for third.

SET Promotion’s Sami-Matt Trogen sits ninth following an uncharacteristically subdued run in Q1, ahead of Damien Meunier (Team Färén), Jimmie Walfridson (JC Raceteknik), local favourite Steve Volders and Albert Llovera.

The RX2 action continues at Spa tomorrow (Sunday), with Q3, Q4, two semi-finals and the all-important final. The remaining two qualifiers can be watched LIVE on the series Facebook page (www.facebook.com/RX2Series), with semi-final highlights and the final forming part of the live World RX television broadcast.

Intermediate Classification:

  1. Jesse Kallio FIN Olsbergs MSE 95 points
  2. Ben-Philip Gundersen NOR JC Raceteknik 92 points
  3. William Nilsson SWE JC Raceteknik 77 points
  4. Vasiliy Gryazin LVA Sports Racing Technologies 77 points
  5. Fraser McConnell JAM Olsbergs MSE 77 points
  6. Oliver Eriksson SWE Olsbergs MSE 77 points
  7. Simon Olofsson SWE Simon Olofsson 76 points
  8. Anders Michalak SWE Anders Michalak 75 points
  9. Sami-Matti Trogen FIN SET Promotion 72 points
  10. Damien Meunier FRA Team Färén 69 points
  11. Jimmie Walfridson SWE JC Raceteknik 67 points
  12. Steve Volders BEL Nationale Renstal Trommelke 66 points
  13. Albert Llovera AND Albert Llovera 64 points