RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires trio Henrik Krogstad, Fraser McConnell and Martin Enlund all produced starring performances in the opening round of the new World RX Esports Series in Abu Dhabi yesterday (31 May), as the Norwegian fought back from a dramatic start in the final to clinch his first podium finish of the year.

Following the success of invitational events at Catalunya and Montalegre, the FIA World Rallycross Championship recently launched a four-round esports schedule beginning at Yas Marina Circuit, run on DiRT Rally 2.0™ in partnership with leading esports specialist Motorsport Games and DiRT video game publisher, Codemasters.

In addition to Krogstad, McConnell and Enlund, the high-calibre, 20-strong field featured a number of notable names indeed, including reigning World RX champion Timmy Hansen, his race-winning younger brother Kevin Hansen, 2019 title protagonist Andreas Bakkerud, FIA World Touring Car Cup front-runner Esteban Guerrieri, Australian Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen and a certain Ferrari Formula 1 driver called Charles Leclerc…

Going into the event, Krogstad had vowed to avenge his Montalegre disappointment, when a mis-timed joker lap had cost him a spot in the final. Four rapid qualifying races behind the wheel of his #YellowSquad Peugeot 208 were only slightly blemished by a jump-start penalty in Q4, but the RX2 returnee nonetheless did enough to seal sixth position in the intermediate standings.

A difficult start to his semi-final left Krogstad with work to do, but a scarcely believable last lap overtake – as he went all the way around the outside of YouTuber ‘FailRace’ through the second chicane – booked the 22-year-old’s berth in the all-important final.

From there, Krogstad survived a first corner skirmish in which he inadvertently tipped #YellowSquad Team Principal Kevin Hansen into a spin, as well as a spin of his own that dropped him to the back of the pack and a roll in the joker – all over the course of a single lap – to claim the final place on the podium and install himself in fourth position in the championship table.

McConnell similarly turned heads as he took to the track in Olsbergs MSE’s Ford Fiesta – the same car that so famously won last summer’s ‘Magic Weekend’ at Höljes. After spectacularly rolling into the lead at the start of Q2, the Jamaican quickly showed his pace – and a clean pair of heels to his pursuers – only to fall foul of a post-race track limits penalty for his Turn One somersault.

An energetic and entertaining doorhandle-to-doorhandle duel with Leclerc followed in Q4, with no quarter given on either side, and the result placed McConnell seventh in the intermediate standings. Under the semi-final spotlights, he boldly snatched the lead on the opening lap, before his second roll of the event unfortunately put paid to any hopes of reaching the final on his World RX Esports debut.

Enlund, meanwhile, was an 11th-hour addition to the line-up as he was called in to deputise for an unwell Oliver Bennett in the Briton’s XITE Racing Mini Cooper. Despite lacking seat time, lightning getaways saw the Swede storm into the lead in both his Q1 and Q2 races as he fought confidently side-by-side with some of the sport’s biggest names and more than held his own in such illustrious company.

Even an unruly boot lid was unable to dent Enlund’s composure as he impressed by racing closely against both Hansen brothers and beating the likes of Bakkerud, Leclerc, Guerrieri and World RX regular Timo Scheider to a coveted semi-final spot. Although he was subsequently ‘roughed-up’ by his rivals somewhat and consequently did not reach the final, the OMSE teenager had nonetheless made his mark.

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Henrik Krogstad (3rd, Final): “That all got a bit hectic! I was pretty fired-up after Montalegre, and I felt confident on the Abu Dhabi track from the word ‘go’ – it suited me much better than Portugal did. I had good speed all the way through qualifying, which put me in a solid position for the semi-final where I had a big fight with [Rokas] Baciuška early on and then pulled off my ‘move of the weekend’ to get past Fail Race. I had no idea if it was going to work, but I just trusted my instinct and came out ahead! I actually thought it was for third place at the time, so I was a bit shocked to cross the finish line in second. What happened at the start of the final was such a shame. There was a big squeeze into Turn One and I did everything I could to avoid hitting Kevin, but I just had nowhere to go. I talked to him afterwards, though, and we’re all cool. After that, I was a bit too close behind Timmy going into the chicane for the first time and had to decide between hitting him or the barrier, so I chose the barrier and then of course there was the roll in the joker, but I’ve got experience of rolling and quickly rejoining from Silverstone a couple of years ago! If somebody had told me at that stage that I would go on to finish third, I would never have believed them. I’m very happy with the result – I felt like I really had to work for it, and there were obviously some pretty big names behind me on the overall results sheet. Hopefully we can continue competing in the next event at Hell – it’s my home track, so I should be even faster there…”

Fraser McConnell (5th, Semi-Final 1): “That was great fun! I was a little nervous before Q1, going immediately up against the world champion and just getting those ‘first race jitters’ out of the way, but I felt great by the time Q2 came around, and starting alongside Charles Leclerc was awesome – apparently he was talking about me on his stream, which is pretty cool. He and I had some good battles through the qualifying stages, and I can now say I beat him in a race, which is not something many people can claim! I unfortunately picked up a penalty in Q2, which I kind of knew was coming – those kerbs really know how to put the car on its roof, and they got the better of me – and although I’m super bummed about what happened in the semi-final, at least I went out in style! Overall, I could definitely have done with a few more hours’ practice – the other guys are so consistent and don’t make many mistakes, so there’s not much room for error. A big shout-out to Martin and Henrik – it was a great showing from all the RX2 guys, and I was happy to be a part of it.”

Martin Enlund (5th, Semi-Final 2): “That was so much fun! I received a last-minute call-up to compete, and I’d never driven the Yas Marina Circuit before. When I got told I was in the field, I called a friend who had the track on a game and managed to get 20 laps in, but that was literally the only preparation I had so you could definitely say I was the underdog and on the back foot a little… I was pleased with my pace, though, and I felt I improved throughout the qualifying races. By the semi-final, my lap times were pretty good and it was satisfying to reach that stage of the competition, particularly when you look at the calibre of some of the guys that didn’t make it – we all know Leclerc is really fast in esports, and Bakkerud is obviously a rallycross legend. I unfortunately got caught up in too many other drivers’ incidents in the semi-final to go any further, but it was great to be given the opportunity to show what I can do and I’d like to thank World RX for extending the invite to me. Hopefully I can come back and do it again – only ideally with a bit more notice next time!”