Monday 23 August 2021

Kallio claims stunning victory at Höljes in thrilling showdown with McConnell.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Jesse Kallio emerged triumphant after an enthralling battle with Fraser McConnell as Round 2 of the FIA RX2e Championship at the World RX of Sweden produced scintillating action at Höljes.

The Finn bounced back from a disappointing Saturday to storm into contention with consecutive qualifying session wins before showing blistering pace in both the semi-finals and final to claim the overall spoils.

McConnell was a narrow second after impressing throughout the weekend at the iconic Värmland circuit, while Isak Sjökvist notched third on his RX2e debut after a frenetic final.

Guillaume De Ridder remains top of the Drivers' Standings after finishing fourth, but the Belgian is just a point ahead of Kallio and two clear of McConnell as the first-ever FIA electric rallycross championship now turns its attention to Lohéac in France for Round 3.

Kallio started the weekend in fine fashion, winning his Q1 race and posting the third-fastest time of the opening session behind McConnell and De Ridder.

However, things unravelled in Q2 as a slow puncture saw him slip down the order while McConnell doubled up – holding off the rapid Swedish duo of Linus Östlund and Nils Andersson to take control at the end of Saturday.

Sat fifth at the halfway stage of qualifying, Kallio had it all to do in order to catch McConnell but a blistering display in Q3 produced the fastest time of the weekend so far and set the 22-year-old on the comeback trail.

He backed that up with a dominant Q4 win, getting the holeshot and putting the hammer down to cover an early joker from McConnell – although victory was still not enough to prevent the Jamaican from claiming Top Qualifier honours.

While Kallio and McConnell were pushing the pace at the front, standings leader De Ridder was having a tougher time after a dream clean sweep in Barcelona and could only manage fourth in the intermediate standings following damage and a puncture on a frustrating Sunday.

McConnell laid down a marker in the opening semi-final, taking victory ahead of Östlund and the ever-entertaining Patrick O'Donovan after Andersson suffered a mechanical failure which dashed his hopes of a home victory.

Kallio responded to McConnell in his semi-final, leading from turn one to the flag while De Ridder took second and Sjökvist booked his spot in the final with third – making the most of a half-spin from rapid EKS JC youngster Isak Reiersen on the opening lap.

That put the two old RX2 rivals on the front row for the final, and it was Kallio who reached turn one first while pole-sitter McConnell slotted in behind and De Ridder headed for the joker.

Östlund followed suit on the next tour but couldn't leapfrog the Belgian, while a combative O'Donovan was snapping at McConnell's heels before taking his own compulsory joker.

Kallio continued to stretch his lead at the head of the pack and, while McConnell and Sjökvist both went for an alternative joker strategy, there was no stopping the Finn as he pumped in consistency rapid lap times to secure his first win in the pioneering new RX2e category.

McConnell and Sjökvist, who showed consistent improvement throughout the weekend as he continues to adapt in his maiden season of rallycross competition, completed the rostrum while De Ridder suffered a late puncture but still finished fourth and Östlund came out on top in a robust final-lap battle with O'Donovan.

It was a frustrating day for the local driver, who posted the third-quickest times in both Q2 and Q3, and fellow new-boys Andersson and Reiersen were also left thinking what might have been after their semi-final misfortunes.

Damien Meunier will be desperate for another chance to realise his potential after the pacy Frenchman produced a competitive display on an unfamiliar circuit, while it was a similar story for Pablo Suárez as the popular Spaniard lodged improving times with every session around Höljes – having never raced at the legendary venue before.

"Today has been a perfect day. Yesterday wasn't so good, but today has been brilliant. It is so tight when everyone is in the same cars. The driver makes all the difference, and that makes it really enjoyable," Kallio said.

The 22-year-old hopes to return to the championship. "I am trying to find the budget to do more races, as I am hungry for more success," he said.

A haul of 29 points for Kallio leaves him just one behind Drivers' Standings leader De Ridder ahead of Round 3, while McConnell's 27 puts him a solitary point further back. O'Donovan moves into fourth after another strong display while Suárez and Meunier complete the top six in the table.

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