When the World Rallycross Championship headed to Höljes for the sixth round of the 2019 season, all eyes were on the titanic title battle between Kevin Hansen, his brother Timmy, and Andreas Bakkerud.
Nobody expected a wildcard entry to come in and decimate the competitive order by winning first time out, but that’s exactly what Sebastian Eriksson did.
Eriksson, no relation to the famous family that runs the Olsbergs outfit he drives for, was no stranger to top-level rallycross. In three full years in the US-based Global Rallycross series, he won twice, and was a series runner-up in 2015.
He’d also previously competed in a handful of World RX outings, and nearly did in 2014 what he achieved last year, leading the final until the front-left suspension gave out on his Ford Fiesta and sent him backwards to sixth place.
Last year Olsbergs MSE arrived at its home event having taken the decision to sit out the 2019 World RX season after a tough 2018 campaign. During its time away though, it hadn’t downed tools – far from it. The team continued to work on its latest generation Ford Fiesta ST away from the track, and the difference was noticeable.
“It was better than we could imagine,” Eriksson said of his and Olsbergs winning return to World RX last year. “First of all I was happy to see that we were right on pace, we were fast directly from free practice, so we had pace, which is really important.
“Last year’s race was a bit strange, weather-wise. It was changing up and down the times, it was drying up and starting to rain but I still think generally we had a good qualifying.
“Especially when I won Q4, it made a big difference and I was able to get a front row start for the semi-final.
“From there it just went my way. It was a perfect result for us.”
This year Eriksson is back for two rounds rather than one, thanks to the coronavirus-influenced double header format that will start the year. And with the delayed start to the season, Eriksson’s latest wildcard outing will put him on the same footing as his rivals, rather than him coming in with five rounds already in the books.
“Of course you don’t need to think about points so much, you can just go flat out in all the heats and just go for the win really, but at the same time if you’ve done five races before it, it helps,” Eriksson said of the pros and cons of making a one-off appearance.
“You know the car and it makes it easier with more experience. But this year it’s the same for everyone, no one has raced yet so it’s quite good that it’s round one.”
Another difference is the car he’ll be driving. While the Fiesta ST is still around, being driven by Oliver Eriksson (again, no relation) in European Rallycross and Fraser McConnell in RallyX Nordic, Sebastian Eriksson is running the Honda Civic Coupe on the World stage.
He’s no stranger to the car. He drove it during his final two seasons in the States, claiming Honda’s first rallycross win in Louisville. It’s not a world away from the race-winning Fiesta either, with the car sharing an engine and similar suspension philosophy.
And like with the Fiesta last year, the Honda is arriving at the track with a raft of upgrades under the skin, changes that Eriksson feels will keep the car competitive, although he’s no-less wary of the competition.
“We worked quite hard lately to do many improvements on the car so I’m looking forward to seeing what the pace will be like compared to the others. Obviously we were competitive last year with the Fiesta, we were right on pace directly.
“This year I don’t know. We’ll find out. It feels good anyway, but I think also the other teams have made a step forward.
“I looked at the Nordic race; both Niclas Grönholm and [Robin] Larsson were really quick, [Johan] Kristoffersson for sure will be really quick now he’s back with a real factory car, so we have some good guys there to compare with.
“I hope we can be able to match those guys and fight for the win but I think we will find out quite early in the weekend how the pace will be.”
As it stands this weekend’s two outings are set to be the only World RX appearances for Eriksson and Olsbergs this year. Although the focus is firmly on the future, there could be more appearances if the stars align.
“We don’t really know what’s happening to be honest,” said Eriksson. “They have the calendar but we will see if we’re able to do more races or what’s happening.
“So I think we’ll try to focus on these two races this weekend and then we look forward to next year.”