Bakkerud, Eriksson and a Title on the Line

On the front row sat arguably two of the best rallycross drivers in the world. One, the current points leader, looking to become next Nitrocross champion. The other, a driver that possesses the skills to snatch the champagne right out of his opponents hands. It was Friday night in Phoenix and in less than five minutes, catastrophe would strike for both and tempers would flare. 

This all occurred on the final lap of the second semifinal. The winner would automatically advance to the main and gain points, crucial with how tight the championship has become amongst the top three. Kevin Eriksson has a narrow lead over defending champion Robin Larsson who leads his teammate, Andreas Bakkerud, by a slim margin as well. With five rounds left, every point is absolutely essential, and as such, I would expect everyone on the grid to be going flat out, hoping to get just a little bit closer to that coveted championship. And that brings us to lap four.

An early joker lap had put Bakkerud out front, tasking the Top Qualifier, Eriksson, with having to make up ground in order to cover the leader’s move. By lap four, Eriksson had closed. He entered into the joker and as he merged on the track, there was the leader, Bakkerud. Eriksson had closed, but only enough to exit door-to-door. Bakkerud had a solid line on the standard lap, there was room for Eriksson to merge, but he was in standard Kevin Eriksson form and was in full send mode. He almost pulled it off. He pushed towards Bakkerud just a little too much, causing their tires to touch and breaking something in Bakkerud’s car that sent him left into a tire barrier causing him to rebound back into the track while spinning. Eriksson had to slow to gather his car and by the time he did so, the track was covered in dust from Bakkerud’s spin. Kevin t-boned Bakkerud and Travis Pastrana snuck by for the win. This was incident number one. 

The second incident came in the main, after Larsson experienced a puncture and could not manage to hold off Eriksson on the final lap. As Eriksson made the overtake, Pastrana dove into the corner, driving him to the outside, allowing Bakkerud to move to an inside position heading the right hander cutting through the gap jump. Bakkerud may – or may not have – braked too late, depending on who you ask, causing his car to break traction in the front. At the same time, Eriksson, on the outside, turns in to rotate his car driving his front right into Bakkerud’s front left. Thus, resulting in both of them climbing the inside of the gap jump and costing them valuable positions. Pastrana would go on to win but be DQ’d for his divebomb move. 

In the wake of all of this, tempers flared. Things were said. Things were taken back. More things were said. I’m not going to go into a replay of all of that, if you’re interested in that, you can rewatch the broadcast and watch Robin Larsson awkwardly sit on the couch while Eriksson delivered his final assessment of the events of the evening. You can even visit Bakkerud’s YouTube channel and watch him break it all down in slow motion. However, what it all comes down to in the end is that there is a championship at stake and everyone is willing to do whatever is necessary to take possession. Taking risks is nothing new in a sport where door-to-door contact is perfectly legal and occurs in nearly every race. 

The question I was left with was were we seeing an old school rivalry take root in the world of Nitrocross? I honestly don’t think so. Both drivers have competed on the same grids for years and at the highest levels of rallycross. These weren’t the first – and certainly won’t be the last – times they find each other on the track. Just for clarification, I reached out to Andreas Bakkerud to get his thoughts about the incident. When asked about any past on-track incidents and how this might carry forward into Glen Helen, Bakkerud had this to say: 

“Well, me and Kevin came together last year in Phoenix as well. I got penalised in something I wasn’t agreeing with at all. We shake hands after it and agreed to disagree. This season we haven’t had many incidents, but since there’s only a handful of drivers in the field it’s hard not to meet. Both fighting for the title so stuff happens.”

I tend to agree with his statement. Rallycross isn’t like most forms of racing. The races are quick, with only a few laps to make something happen. In oval racing, the races are long and teams and drivers have time to make adjustments and formulate strategies. In rallycross, you have what you have when you get on the grid and the only strategy involves when to take the joker. So, in a championship fight this tight, fenders will get crumpled and emotions will run high, but only one driver will walk away with the grand prize. My money is on the driver that will lay it all on the line to walk away with the crown. Which, in this field, is quite a few drivers. Needless to say, though, expect carnage.

Copyright © 2022 Allen Keith  – All Rights Reserved.