The idea of a cartel is for two or more sides to band together in order to limit the competition. So far in Nitro Rallycross, the RX Cartel is sticking to that script.
Of course, Nitro Rallycross’ premier class is a single-make affair these days, with a field full of top teams running the purpose-built FC1-X. However, it’s the RX Cartel that’s stolen the march, enjoying a 180-degree reversal of fortunes compared to last year when the entry struggled with the venerable Audi S1.
Between Robin Larsson and Liam Doran, it notched up only a single top-five finish in 2021 courtesy of Larsson, with Doran scoring only one point all year.
By comparison, the energy drink-fuelled outfit has a pair of one-two finishes courtesy of Robin Larsson and Andreas Bakkerud in the first two rounds of 2022. At the season opener in the UK, it was Larsson who came home first, while in Sweden, the roles were reversed.
But there was no pre-planned formation flying here, just like there wasn’t at Lydden Hill. Larsson pressured Bakkerud hard in the final, all while Bakkerud had his own issues to contend with.
“I got pushed very hard into turn one and two and I was sideways all the way through, and on lap three I felt like I had a puncture,” Bakkerud explained to DirtFish. “I was so nervous, I took down the risk a little bit knowing Robin was catching me.
“I also saved the Nitro boost until the last few laps and I knew that when he went to joker, I hoped that he had spent his stuff. So I was all on the boost the last two laps and I felt it, I managed the tires pretty well there so I had more to come with.”
Speaking of his own run in the main event, Larsson – who insisted there were no negative effects of the injury he sustained between rounds one and two – said that a few small mistakes before the joker ultimately proved costly, eventually falling back once both had taken the longer route.
“I think I was pretty close to Bakkerud on lap three or something, then I made some mistakes when I was supposed to go into the joker and I couldn’t catch up after that,” he said. “Then he did a really good joker lap. So it’s small margins, and if you make some mistakes you shouldn’t be up there trying to take the win.”
Larsson’s second allowed him to retain the points lead, but it came after having to fight back from a puncture on Saturday that ended his qualifying run early, and a steering issue at the start of Sunday which left him with a longer route to the main event.
“It looked pretty dark after the first heat, knowing that I was going to start way back in the semi-final,” Larsson conceded. “So I tried to do maybe top three, top two in the semi-final but coming out after two corners and leading and [being able to] control the semi, all laps, it was really good. Then to start [the final] P3 was really good also.”
That semi-final win put Larsson in a position to challenge for the overall event victory, and challenge he did, although Bakkerud revealed that while the RX Cartel duo’s battles on track may appear fierce, there is a mutual understanding between both to not overdo it, for now.
“We kind of have a gentlemen’s agreement between us that we don’t race very rough against each other until half the season is done, or kind of when we see it’s only me and him fighting for a championship,” Bakkerud said, “because it’s a long championship and we need to respect each other.
JC Raceteknik and DRR are doing a great job keeping the cars together. They’re changing things as soon as they see glitchesAndreas Bakkerud
“But when he takes the joker, the hammer needs to go down,” he added, referring back to how he bettered Larsson in the final. “So it was all in for that one lap, he had his chance, I needed to defend and go hard and luckily I got out in front.”
The RX’s Cartel’s domination may well be one of the key storylines in this early part of the season, but there’s a wider take on that, too. While Bakkerud and Larsson may be entered as one team, their cars are run by the aligned Dreyer & Reinbold and JC Raceteknik powerhouse, which ran five of the 11 starters in Group E in Sweden, as well as a smattering of cars in the support classes too.
Strength in numbers was very much a thing for the team on home soil, too, as it took an unprecedented 1-2-3-4-5 finish in the final; wildcard driver Johan Kristoffersson, Fraser McConnell, and Ole Christian Veiby had joined in on the whitewash.
“Obviously JC Raceteknik and DRR are doing a great job keeping the cars together. They’re changing things as soon as they see glitches,” said Bakkerud, who also formed a part of Subaru Motorsports USA’s historic 1-2-3 finish at Glen Helen last year.
“I know the crew very well, they have so much experience from Lites, RX2e, Supercar [in the] European championship, World championship, CrossKarts – they ran eight or nine cars here this weekend, it’s the biggest team in Nitro Rallycross now, and as well managing five Group E cars, that’s wild.
“And all of them 1-2-3-4-5, [it’s] a bit boring for the championship, but I dig it at the same time!”