Another race weekend, another new track, another new challenge. Yet DirtFish’s Fraser McConnell took the wild ERX Motor Park in his stride, performing strongly once again to leave the Minnesota venue fifth in the Nitro Rallycross points behind the dominant Peugeot and Subaru runners, and ahead of his much more experienced Olsbergs MSE team-mates.
The weekend began steadily, but like turning up the boost on his 600+ horsepower Ford Fiesta ST, McConnell was able to turn up the heat once he got to grips with his environment.
“To start we were a little off the pace, but that was just me being maybe a little cautious, not wanting to the risk damage on the car,” McConnell told DirtFish. “But when I needed to be faster, I was right there.
“I won my first battle, won the second battle but it was reversed from a penalty, but still very controversial penalty if you ask me, but [the] pace was there.”
That penalty was earned for contact with Kevin Hansen in the pair’s battle.
“I don’t consider myself a dirty driver by any means necessary,” McConnell insists. “I respect everybody out there and I’m not gonna pass someone in a way that I wouldn’t want to be passed.
“If someone passes me with [a] one car length gap on the inside, I’m going to give it to him, fair play you know, nice job of him finding the gap. But at the same time, I’m also not gonna completely sideswipe somebody and take them out, because I wouldn’t want the same thing done to me.
“Like I said in the [TV] interview, I’ll do it 10 times out of 10. There’s no way I would ever see that gap and not go for it.
“I just couldn’t tell you why I actually did get the penalty but it is what it is and you always have to respect the stewards decisions.”
But with Nitro RX still in its infancy, McConnell did express understanding in wanting to get racing under control before it had the opportunity to get out of hand later down the line.
“The penalties are, in a sense, I guess an example of trying to keep the racing under control,” he said. “If something slides then something a little bit more aggressive, will then slide and then you get this kind of snowball effect of very aggressive driving, starting to form.
“Maybe it’s the stewards trying to kill it from early on, you know, cut it right at the stem as it grows. It was a hard pass, but at the same time fair.”
Away from the stewards room, McConnell and the rest of the Olsbergs MSE team had something of a secret weapon in their ranks last weekend. Andrew Carlson joined the team in a second Honda Civic.
Not only is he an accomplished off-road racer, but he co-owns ERX Motor Park, and helped design the track on which Nitro RX raced, and McConnell described his addition to the fold as “priceless”.
“It was my first time racing on that kind of dirt, like clay mixed with sand. It grips a lot differently in different moistures, and to have his expertise, not only on building the track, but dirt [and] dirt surfaces helped a lot.
“He’s very aggressive, throws it in like the truck driving style, and then we, the two Erikssons and myself, kind of have different driving styles as well. We learned from him, he learned from us, and it was great having a fourth team-mate on the track.”
It was my first time racing on that kind of dirt, like clay mixed with sandFraser McConnell
Describing the track, McConnell compared it to a videogame, and praised it for its multiple lines that helped enhance the show but not at the expense of genuine competition, as well as the lack of dust – something that blighted the Utah race weekend.
“For starters dust was not an issue at all. I didn’t see one speck of dust the whole weekend and that always makes it much easier,” he said.
“The Carlsons built the track in such a way that, although there were four different option lines, they were more or less identical. It was up to the driver, which one you wanted to take, whichever one your heart desired you’re going to come out in pretty much the same spot – not even depending on track conditions. If it was wet, if it was dry, it was basically the same all the time, which was really cool.
“And it allowed the drivers to, I guess, in a way express themselves. If you’re a crazy sideways driver and like to send it, you would be fast. And if you were tight, clean and, you know, very smooth driver, you’d also be fast.
“So, it opens up a lot of opportunities for you to do whatever you feel is fastest.”