For a seasoned driver, returning to the track at which they experienced the biggest accident of their career can bring back bad memories. Imagine that feeling for a driver in only the third rallycross race of their career.
Nathalie Petersson was tipped into a frightening barrel-roll during the opening round of the RallyX Nordic season only 12 months ago, forcing an expensive and lengthy repair job and a substantial knock to the 23-year-old’s confidence.
Returning to Höljes as part of an all-female ‘Girl Power’ Supercar Lites operation at the Magic Weekend and making it through both rounds damage-free was some recompense for the mammoth effort put in.
“It was a success for me and the whole team, although in terms of the results, I am not happy of course,” Petersson tells DirtFish.
“But overall, we did great because we were able to find a lot of time over the weekend.
“Last season was tough, because we rolled in the first weekend, with a little help from my on-track opponents. It was a big rebuild but the guys at Hedströms Motorsport did a great job to get it back as fast as it was before the accident.”
Seat time, Petersson explains, is perhaps the most important part of getting back into the swing of things, particularly following an accident as dramatic as hers.
The confidence associated with driving close to your limit is a necessity to unlocking more speed, which is boosted further the longer you’re in the car.
It’s no wonder then that Petersson – who was assisted by her friends, mechanic pair Lisa Jonasson and Sandra Nyström – described the Magic Weekend as “a huge learning curve”.
“I have spent so much time in the car over the weekend which was amazing. We tried a lot of things with the set-up and all kinds of things,” Petersson says.
“We had so much to learn because the car is different [for the mechanics] and to other cars, so there were a lot of set-ups that we didn’t know, but we learned a lot about them and we also got some help from other teams as well which was great.
“I had two mechanics with me for the weekend, Lisa and Sandra, plus my mum and dad but we were just five people really taking care of the car so it was quite tough I have to say.”
With a team of two mechanics plus mum Mikaela and dad Fredrik – the designated team chauffeur for the weekend – it was a far cry from what the start of the 2020 RallyX Nordic season was supposed to look like, having teamed up with Latvian squad Sport Racing Technologies (SRT).
Under normal circumstances, Petersson would have had the full support of SRT and with it, a full complement of mechanics, technicians and her driver coach. But travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19 meant an alternative arrangement was sought.
“The team is based in Riga, so they couldn’t get the cars here, and they couldn’t get here either, so I contacted my best friends and asked them if they wanted to join up with me for the Magic Weekend and they said: ‘yes, but we have never worked on [that type of] rallycross car before’.
“I convinced them that it was like any other car, so thankfully they agreed to it!”
For Petersson, friendship was not the only reason she requested the services of Jonasson. The latter’s experience on the World Touring Car Cup stage with Swedish team PWR Racing as well as a year in World RX with Team Hansen in 2017 certainly came to good use with team personnel across the paddock heavily restricted.
“That’s why I asked Lisa first, because she knows what the car is, she knows all the technical things around rallycross cars too,” Petersson explains.
“For sure it’s a lot more difficult to work with fewer people, and also the fact that I didn’t have my driver coach with me this weekend either, that made it a bit harder.
“But I have to say, it was a good thing to learn how to deal with because it might be like this for the rest of the season and having people who know the cars was a big help.”
A driver is never happy when they’re not winning, so Petersson naturally reflects on the Magic Weekend with mixed emotions, but the bigger triumph was bringing the car home and furthering her education of a Supercar Lites machine which remains comparatively new to her.
Such is the competition across the Supercar Lites field, Petersson struggled to match the pace of round-winners Jesse Kallio and Simon Olofsson but made the finish of every race bar the final race of Q4, which she admits she parked in order to protect the car.
“I used to love driving in the rain, but this weekend it was not like that, I struggled with the conditions,” Petersson adds.
“But at the same time, we are in a better position than last year, we didn’t damage the car and I learned a lot for the rest of the season.
“I was not feeling so good with the car in my final race and felt like I didn’t have so much control on the throttle so I chose to DNF to protect the car. I was so far behind the other guys so it was not worth it to risk it.”
As for the remainder of 2020, it’s just the start of what Petersson hopes can be a step up in her rallycross apprenticeship.
“It was a very busy weekend and I found that I had a lot more work to do and to stay concentrated.
“I definitely learned a lot from this weekend and I hope to be back out in RallyX Nordic this season, with more people to help me!
As it stands, RallyX Nordic is due to visit Finnskog in Norway and Nysum in Denmark, but exactly when those rounds will take place is uncertain given the border closures between the two countries and Sweden.
September’s season-finale at the Tierp Arena, some 70-plus miles north of Stockholm is the next time the championship will be on Swedish soil. And whatever happens in between, Petersson is prepared for the challenge ahead after a trouble-free weekend.
“Right now, the borders with Norway and Denmark are closed, you can go if you have business but if you don’t then you cannot, so it’s difficult to know when we will [be able].
“But I will make sure I’m ready for Tierp in September!”