Anton Marklund displayed no sign of slowing down as the 2023 FIA European Rallycross Championship gets underway. The three-time and reigning champion is top of the leaderboard after the first heat at at Nyirád, Hungary.
Due to minimal time to become familiar with his Ford Fiesta RX, having only unveiled it on Tuesday, Marklund is quoted as saying that it is “the worst car I have ever driven” after the first practice session. The new car, being raced in honour of Ken Block who passed away earlier this year, has only been tested in Latvia so far, where the smooth track did not prepare the SET Promotion team for the gruelling undulations and distinctive red gravel of the so-called “Red Cauldron” at Nyirád.
Despite this, Marklund and the team showed their class. There is, after all, a reason why they were so dominant in 2022. By the time of their first heat race, Marklund was fired up and ready for action. After taking an early joker, he stormed to victory a full 2.5 seconds ahead of his nearest on track rival, Tamás Kárai.
Alarmingly for his rivals, the Swedish superstar has much more to extract from his car. Commenting after his race, he said “I almost lost the Fiesta a few times – twice on the run downhill, which was a bit sketchy – but that’s just the way it is sometimes when you are getting used to a different car”. Once he gets those issues under control, he may prove to be unstoppable.
Elsewhere in the field, there were familiar faces making up the closest competitors. Enzo Ide once again demonstrated scintillating pace and excellent racecraft, managing to finish the day just shy of Marklund in second. Jānis Baumanis, driving for a new team this year, finished in third ahead of Andreas Bakkerud. Reigning British rallycross champion Patrick O’Donovan impressed with a clean run in his heat race, slotting his Peugeot 208 into fifth, with Hungarian Kárai delighting the local fans by finishing sixth.
There is much more to come this weekend, with the bulk of the racing taking place on Sunday 30 April. Can Marklund maintain this amazing pace, or, as so often happens in rallycross, will something unexpected occur to snatch the win from him?