New Zealander Sloan Cox came away from the third round of his RX Academy campaign in Finland having made further performance gains.
The rally-turned-rallycross driver from Rotorua took a race win during the qualifying rounds of the 11 August event at the Jalasjärvi national rallycross circuit, his first win in this series. While he didn’t make the top four for the round final, Cox was feeling encouraged by his improved speed against the other young drivers competing in this year’s RX Academy programme.
The first New Zealander to contest the RX Academy which includes five rounds and a comprehensive coaching programme, Cox is enjoying the challenges of learning a new form of motorsport
“The racing didn’t go as I wanted it to but I’m not looking at that negatively as I definitely learnt a lot over the weekend,” said Cox at the conclusion of Saturday’s competition. “I feel I got more from this event than I probably have from the first two.”
Having converted his New Zealand four-wheel-drive Evo X rally car into front-wheel-drive (FWD) specifically for the purpose of learning more about the specifics of being fast in a FWD before this round, Cox said: “Coming into it I knew it would be interesting after the second round results and the work I’ve done in our FWD. To win my first race in the qualifying heats was good. I didn’t necessarily have the speed, but managed to get out in front and keep the lead. I knew I should have had more speed, perhaps I was being too cautious.”
After each heat or race, competitors can review their performance with the Academy driving coaches. “We looked at what I needed to work on, and the second race felt a lot better, with better speed, although having started with the less favourable outside starting position and not having the best start, I was last in the field of four, so I jokered early to try and catch the pack, but with identical cars, we’re all so even that I struggled to pass.”
Cox has been soaking up all the information he can on rallycross strategies. With the short five-lap races and the requirement that each driver must do one ‘joker’ lap around a usually longer course in each race, he says it’s not all about being the quickest driver. “Each time I learn more about where to make the most of passing opportunities.”
On the back row for the semi-final, Cox says he choose to joker on the first lap. “But I was right behind another guy for all five laps and couldn’t quite find that opportunity to pass – I almost did, but it’s hard to make the passing moves stick. Compared to round two when I fell away behind the pack, this weekend I was right there up with the others, giving it everything I could, watching in case one of the others made a mistake.
“It was a cool feeling to be that close, and even though I didn’t make it through to the final, I feel positive. I know what I need to do for the next round – you’ve got to qualify well to get a front row start for the semi – most of the time the guys in those positions make it to the final. You’ve really got to be on the money from the start.”
One of the challenges of the Jalasjärvi round, which was run under Finnish series rules, was that the official practice sessions were just two runs of two laps each. “So it’s not long to learn the circuit before you’re right into the heats. I really liked the track; it had a short joker lap so that made for good racing with different strategies to the other tracks we’ve raced on. The next two rounds are run under Nordic series rules which have more practice laps.”
The next round takes place on 26 August at Kouvola. Cox is staying in Europe and will use some of this time to review in-car footage before the Academy’s next test and coaching day on 23 August. “I’ll focus on what I can improve, how to get off the mark faster. Perhaps I need to not be too afraid to make a mistake and to push harder from that first qualifying.”
He adds: “The time I had in our new FWD car at home made a big difference, I was more relaxed and the speed is coming more naturally. Each time I felt I knew what I needed to improve on. So it’s been a really good step forward.”
The five-round 2018 RX Academy wraps up with the final on 7 October at Tierps in Sweden. The winner of RX Academy 2018 will claim a free drive in the 2019 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600, or the chance to compete in the five European-based rounds of the RX2 International Series, the support category to the FIA World Rallycross Championship.
Cox’s 2018 rallycross campaign is supported by Taslo Engineering, AJ’s Emporium, Driveline Automotive, Signedge and Teng Tools.