Heartbreak moment for Roberts Vitols and all Latvian rallycross fans as Roberts was on his way to claim maiden FIA World Rallycross Championship RX2E win already on his debut race at home in Riga, Bikernieki Race Track as his car stops in penultimate lap with electronic error.
The second day of FIA World Rallycross Championship for RX2E class continued with free practice, remaining 3rd qualification Heat, Progression races and main Finals. Latvian rallycross driver Roberts Vitols was ready to finish the job on day 2 as day 1 looked promising that young Vitols still hasn’t lost his speed and catch for the racing despite being away from everything related to motorsport for almost a year.
In RX2E Warm Up every driver did 2 warm up laps for the day. Roberts set the 3rd fastest lap time with Top 4 drivers finishing within 0,15 seconds starting the day off with a promising pace.
Heat 3 was Robert’s first experience in wet time with his new RX2E car. Roberts struggled to reach the ultimate speed but finished his race close behind the leaders, taking 5th place overall in Heat 3. Despite struggles and dissatisfaction Vitols still managed to set decent lap times to show he is still in battle.
Speed was there but lessons were learned in the wet.
Overall Standings After Qualifications
With bad luck in Heat 1 and new experience in wet in Heat 3, Roberts standed 5th overall after all qualification runs were done. Vitols were not satisfied with his results and struggled to find his top performance as the driver could feel the big pause from racing since last year has left its marks. However lap times were showing that Roberts is still fast, still competitive and still challenging for the top. He just had to put himself back on the right track.
Progression race determined the starting grid for important Semi Finals later on. Track was drying up but still in places the wet parts of the track challenged drivers skill set and focus. Roberts started in Progression Race 1 and finished in 3rd place out of 4 drivers however it turned out to be the faster group than drivers in Progression Race 2, therefore, Roberts stood 3rd overall of 8 drivers.
Semi Finals were cruisual for drivers to earn their place in the Final. Only the first 2 of each Semi Final were guaranteed to progress to Final. As other two Latvian home drivers in Supercar category failed to pass this step, all eyes were on Roberts as a last home crowd hope.
Vitols started from 3rd position on the grid and managed to move up to 2nd before turn 2. The rest of the race Roberts kept his rhythm following the fast Swede Sjökvist as the two managed to get away from followers behind.
Over the finish line Roberts came 2nd securing his spot in his first World RX event Final on home debut.
The beginning of the main Final was full of action. Roberts starting from the outside P5 position managed to have a good getaway and out of the first corner came out in 3rd place. The next two corners drivers shared a lot of bumps and contacts as everyone was fighting for a track position at the drying but at some places still damp track. Roberts managed to overcome hits from behind and keep his position but possibly these contacts were beginning to an electric issue driver met at the end of the race.
Roberts kept a good rhythm and followed the race leaders Patrick O’Donovan and Isak Sjökvist closely. On lap 3 Sjökvist took his Joker lap, leaving Vitols in 2nd. During the lap, Vitols managed to close the gap to leader O’Donovan who took his Joker the following lap to cover off Sjökvist, which left Vitols out on track as a race leader. During this time Vitols had saved his “Push to Pass” option, which other drivers had already used laps before when taking their Joker laps and battling for track position. Vitols launched his “Push To Pass” at the beginning of lap 5 and by the time of the lap’s second split managed to open up the gap to P2 position O’Donovan by 3.5 seconds. This was the necessary gap for Roberts to take the Joker and come back to the main track as a race leader. Robert’s father and spotter for this weekend Ugis Vitols saw this race winning gap and gave Roberts instructions to Joker this lap to cover the lead.
But massive heartbreak occurred when in lap 5 of 6 Robert’s car landed from Bikernieki Race Track big Jump. Car’s software announced an error in the system and reduced Robert’s car’s power to none. Roberts slowly rolled into the Joker lap, stopped, restarted the car and the error disappeared. In the end, Vitols finished in disappointing 4th place, losing 24 seconds to the winner Patrick O’Donovan.
Although the win in home in World RX RX2E debut was more than a possible and almost already in the pocket, Roberts and his family are proud of what they have achieved in these two days. Pointing out that Roberts had not been in a race car since the beginning of the year, didn’t had any prior tests before this weekend, had an absolutely new car to learn (electric) whose driving style is very different from usual experience combustion-engined cars, Roberts still managed to find the speed, fight at the top and set the fastest lap times consistently both days.