Rotorua's Sloan Cox completed the fifth and final event of his debut international rallycross season with third place in the RX Academy final at the Tierps Arena in Sweden.
However, it wasn't quite the way Cox would have liked to step up on the podium – placings from the crash-marred, red-flagged final race were decided by event organisers based on the eight academy competitors' standings going into the five-lap final.
Cox demonstrated improved speed throughout the RX Academy's test day last Thursday and both days of action at the 1.4 km rallycross stadium just over 100km north of Stockholm.
He said, initially, he felt a little off the pace.
"After a few runs I was probably more comfortable than I've ever been in the car before, setting the fastest time in the first test session quite easily.
"Second fastest in the first practice, I was pretty happy. Talking with our mentors I knew what I had to work on, and could see in the data where I could make up more time. I focused on those areas for the second session, had one lap 0.8s faster than anyone else and got three really good laps which put me in a good place."
Cox went on to secure a great start to jump into the lead and win his qualifying heat but wasn't quite fastest overall as the newly-surfaced track began to cut up.
He continued as a front-runner through Sunday's qualifying races before starting his semifinal outside of the front row.
"It's always a bonus to be on front row – this was a really important race and I felt like I was in a really good mindset. I didn't have the best first corner, managing to tuck in behind the leader to stay right on his bumper for the whole race. I couldn't quite pull off a move to pass, with the cars being so even, and finished second with the third fastest time among the finalists."
With deteriorating track conditions, the RX Academy final was delayed to allow other rallycross classes to complete their finals. Cox started the five-lap final inside on the second row, getting a good line to the first corner.
"It was intense going into the first corner, I got in right behind the leader as I planned but the guy beside me clipped my wheel. It bent my steering and I locked up, going into the guy in the front of me and together we pushed the others to the outside of the corner, but we all popped out. I was in third and then fourth with hopes of a podium slipping away. It was survival mode then with some big moments hitting bumps and the car not steering right.
"Then in front of me, RX Academy winner Sami-Matti Trogen crashed after landing badly from a jump. His car was smoking so my instinct was to pull over and help him out. The marshals were right behind me and I knew our race would be red-flagged. The track got so bad that they didn't restart the race and the organisers decided to go with our best results going into the final, so that's why I ended up third for the weekend. I was really happy with that, but not the way I wanted to earn it."
Cox doesn't return to New Zealand immediately, having opted to undertake a test day for the Supercar Lites rallycross category which was run at the Tierps Arena.
He said his plan for next year was to move up to Supercar Lites.
"The test was a good chance to get a feel for the car before next year so we can see what series we might contest. It's possible to lease a Supercar Lites from SET Promotions who run the RX Academy, so I'm talking with them. It's quite a big step-up budget-wise so there is a lot of work to get the budget together and I'll be busy working on that when I get home."