Nitro Rallycross marked both the halfway point of its season and the end of the 2022 races with a pair of full championship rounds in Phoenix, Arizona.
Double the races, double the chances to put in a good showing, but also double the chances to slip up.
Six rounds into the 2022-23 season, Dominik Wilde delivers his verdict on how the drivers are shaping up so far:
10. Niclas Grönholm
Still absent, but remaining in the top 10 after a strong showing earlier in the year, I’m eager for his return to the series.
9. Oliver Bennett
Oliver Bennett began the weekend superbly by making the battle bracket final for the first time, beating heavy hitters Kevin Eriksson and Robin Larsson along the way, but he couldn’t find a way into the final once multi-car races started.
A few too many scrapes on Sunday somewhat compounded a weekend that began with so much promise but ultimately underdelivered.
8. Kevin Eriksson
Things just couldn’t go right for Kevin Eriksson in Phoenix. Fast and never far from the front in the heat races, the Olsbergs driver was on the receiving end of either unfortunate or unnecessary contact on too many occasions.
While younger brother Oliver was upsetting the championship challengers at the head of the field, Kevin was left scratching his head and wondering what might have been.
7. Conner Martell
Finally, a podium finish for Conner Martell! He overcame a less-than-ideal qualifying on Friday to follow home team-mate Travis Pastrana to record Vermont SportCar’s first 1-2 finish.
Sadly, on Saturday and Sunday, VSC’s typical bad luck reared its ugly head once again. The pace was definitely there but the results weren’t for Martell, and damage from contact on more than one occasion further scuppered his hopes of back-to-back strong finishes.
6. Kris Meeke
Kris Meeke finally returned to Nitro Rallycross in Phoenix, and while the first event looked to be more of the same for the five-time World Rally winner – immense pace coupled with rotten luck – he was able to fight through it on Sunday.
There he scored his and Xite Energy Racing’s first podium result in Nitro Rallycross. A welcome result for not just him, but the team that has both shown flashes of brilliance this year, but hasn’t had much to show for it until now
5. Travis Pastrana
While Saturday and Sunday might not have gone his way, Travis Pastrana very much showed us why he is the reigning Nitro Rallycross champion on Friday.
Seeding heat win? Check. Battle domination? Check. Heat win? Check. And the final? Well, he disappeared into the night with team-mate Conner Martell in tow to record a comprehensive and historic victory as Vermont SportsCar took a 1-2 finish for the first time in Group E.
4. Andreas Bakkerud
Andreas Bakkerud didn’t exactly have a bad weekend in Phoenix – well, except for Sunday’s final, but more on that in a sec – but he didn’t look like a key figure in the victory fight in both rounds, either.
A podium under the lights on Friday keeps him in the championship hunt, but Phoenix will forever be remembered for being the site of his second big flip in the space of four rounds. The tumble stopped him from scoring in what was an ultra-competitive second final of the weekend, a place that could’ve made all the difference for him had his car remained upright.
3. Fraser McConnell
It was a bit of a quiet weekend for Fraser McConnell, who arrived in Phoenix riding a wave of momentum after sweeping qualifying and winning the final in California a couple of weeks ago.
Starting Friday on the back foot after losing out to the Olsbergs MSE pair of Oliver and Kevin Eriksson in the opening heat, and Kris Meeke in the bracket, he then retired from the final after making unlucky, unavoidable contact with Kevin Eriksson.
He turned things around in the second part of the weekend though to take a seeding heat and semifinal win, but a tense final and hard-fought battle with Travis Pastrana there failed to bring in more hardware.
2. Oliver Eriksson
It was a solid weekend for the younger Eriksson brother who ought to have come home with two podium finishes, or perhaps even more.
After a battle with Andreas Bakkerud on Friday, in which he momentarily held the upperhand, he had to settle for fourth, but a stellar top qualifying performance on Saturday set him on course for victory on Sunday.
He was three laps away from that too, until Robin Larsson somehow found a way past. Second, of course, is still a good result, and going into the Christmas period as the holder of the qualifying belt definitely makes him the envy of some in the paddock, but that missing overall win was painfully close this time.
1. Robin Larsson
Had we been one and done in Phoenix, there’s a very good chance that Larsson could’ve slipped from the top spot after he finished outside the top two for the first time this season.
But he was able to redeem himself on Sunday, overhauling a strong Oliver Eriksson to claim a second win of the season and extend his championship lead as we head into the winter break.