May 2008,Lanke, Norway. Two aspirating 16-year-old rallycross drivers go head-to-head on their debut in the Norwegian Junior Rallycross Championship. Move on five years to March 2013, those two kids now have three European titles between them and will face each other again this year, Supercar rookie Andreas Bakkerud joining his compatriot Mats Lysen at the top of the tree in the FIA European Rallycross Championship.
Now 21, Bakkerud is making his debut in the Supercar category at Lydden Hill, while Lysen (also 21) is entering his fourth season at the top level. Soon after that race in Lanke, Lysen entered five European Championship races in Super1600 in an aging Citroen Saxo, finishing ninth in his first event in Norway and then climbing onto the podium in third place at Höljes before going on to make the final a further three times. For the following year Lysen switched to a Renault Clio S1600, victory at the first round at Lydden Hill was followed by a dominant run through the championship and, by the penultimate round in Poland, he was the youngest ever champion.
For 2010, Lysen moved to Supercar in an OMSE Ford Fiesta, run by his own team. “The car was very good,” said Lysen “But my driving wasn’t so developed. I wasn’t hard enough with the car coming from Super1600 where you have to be smooth, and I struggled with confidence to set the car up. When I did start to get the set-up right it was great, and we finished third in Germany towards the end of the season.”
Realising that running a car in his family team alone was an uphill battle, Lysen joined forces with experienced Swede Stig-Olov Walfridson at the start of 2011, driving a Renault Clio III. Success didn’t take long, Lysen putting in an incredible performance at his home event in Norway to win in front of rivals with far greater experience and budget. “Winning in Norway was an incredible moment in front of my home crowd. Nothing has been better than that!” said Lysen. “Being in the same team as Stig-Olov [Walfridson] is really good, they have years of experience and are really nice people. We share all the information and push each other as much as we can; we just want us both to do better and better.”
Running as a team on events, Lysen and Walfridson prepare the cars separately in between, in workshops based 70kms from each other. “My team are working really, really hard at the moment. We have a new car for this year and that is just back from being painted, we hope to do at least one day of testing before Lydden. We wanted to do more but I don’t think there will be time, and of course we will have to go south to Southern Sweden or France anyway, it’s still -11 degrees here and lots of snow!” said Lysen. “I don’t work on the car myself as much as I would like, when I am not studying I spend all my time hunting for budget.”
The new cars being built by the pair will be aesthetically similar but very different under the skin from the older versions, using a new five-cylinder engine, with the transmission coming from Unic in Sweden. “The new cars are exciting. If we can get the potential from both the car and me we can be really, really fast! I have struggled with the starts and first laps in races in the past, but I have worked on that a lot and the changes should improve that too, I want to be fighting at the top all year. I have the experience and the speed,” said the young Norwegian. “I think there will be 15 guys at every event who are a threat, and there could be some surprise results. [Petter] Solberg is one of the best in the world and will be hard to beat, but so will be all of the Hansen [Motorsport] team, as well as Davey Jeaney, Bakkerud, [Liam] Doran … everyone really. IMG have made it into something new and they look really serious. I think they want the best for Rallycross and it’s really good that it will be so competitive.”
As well as racing the new Clio himself this season, Lysen is hoping to rent out his 2012 car on an arrive-and-drive basis for one-off or multiple events. “The car will be available with the same support as if I was racing it myself. It is still a very good car and can still win races no problem. I will offer a full package for someone to hire it, with driver coaching too if they want it. The car will be a lot cheaper to rent than a Ford Fiesta or Citroen Ds3 from our rival teams, that is for sure!”
As with all the permanent drivers, Lysen opens his season account at Lydden Hill on March 31 – April 1, and on a track where he has been historically quick, things look good for the hard-working youngster.
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