The China Episode
The year was 2014 and I had just finished my first full season in the Icelandic championship behind the wheel of a couple of Mitsubishi Evo's. I really wanted to look at rallies in other countries since I had step'd up into the overall group in my native rally community this early, but it was always a question wether we would be able to find the budget.
My parents were living in China come the end of the 2014 season and from then on I used to visit them pretty regularly. Their house was located in Beijing, close to a racetrack, so one day me and my father decided to go take a look around. The track had a large service area filled with workshops that stored and modified cars for track use. That's were we met Zieper a friendly local who owned a workshop near the track and also knew a word or two in english.
We met with Zieper a couple of times on the track during races and testing days and we also took a few trips with him to meet with Mr. Lee at his racetrack a few miles from Beijing. I joined Zieper and his friends at track-days and they even let me drive a few laps and I think it's safe to say that they were impressed with my pace and soon enough Mr. Lee himself started taking notice.
Being an outsider in china, particularly a blond Scandinavian was a very interesting experience. I got so much respect from the Chinese people despite being very young (18 y.o.). We went to spectate a local rally once with a few good friends from down under and there were a few people who asked if they could take a picture with me, I almost felt like a celebrity.
After getting to know the Chinese rally scene a bit better, I saw a potential opportunity to go racing in China at a low cost and at the same time get some valuable seat time. Me and my father threw around a few ideas of how we could do this, for example shipping the Evo X over to China and competing in Group N or to buy / rent a cheap r2 car, but none of it seamed to make sense financially. Progress was slow and we were finding it difficult to start competing in China.
Some time later we were invited to a proper test day at Mr. Lee's racetrack (track) with a fully built Group N Mitsubishi Evo IX on a very snowy day. I took this opportunity very seriously because I knew that this could be my big chance to go rallying in China. I sat down with Mr. Lee alongside Zieper, My dad and our translator that we had brought along and discussed my previous experiences and awards, my goals for the future, Mr. Lee's marketing plan and other interesting aspects for a potential partnership. Thereafter I had a go in the car and this is the time that I had to really show him what I got, so I set of into the short rally-circuit. There was very limited grip because we were driving on conventional gravel tyres in the snow but boy what fun! I instantly got to grips with the car and how it handled, I however had to use all of what I had learned from Matt Edwards, The Flying Baker and my dad about throttle and braking management to get everything out of the car. The testing went unbelievably well and we even had dinner afterwards, overall the day went very well.
I was back at home in Iceland when I got the news from my father that Mr. Lee and his team had made a deal with a local car company to build 5 cars for competition in and around China. Their plan was to rent out 3 of the cars to potential customers and hire 2 drivers to compete in the R3 category of the later half of the 2015 CRC (Chinese Rally Championship) season, including the WRC event in September. They already signed a contract with the x- world rally driver, Manfred Stohl and decidet to make me their supporting driver. The next step was to buy a plane ticket to Beijing, test drive the brand new car and sign the contract for 4 rallies in China.
The first rally unfortunately fell through for them because the cars were simply not ready yet, so my first event in china was to be the WRC. That was ok, no pressure...
As you probably already know, the WRC of China in 2016 was not to be. Because of floods and sever damages to a lot of the stages the rally was cancelled. Despite that not being the only reason for cancellation there was nothing to be done, the sponsors of the event pulled out and in result of this the whole Chinese Rally community and clubs suffered a huge loss which led to the cancellation of the rest of the Chinese Championship. In just a few weeks the Chinese Rally scene completely fell flat on its face.
I was so close to being the first ever professional Icelandic rally driver, but it had to wait due to weather... typical.
photos by: 'Dóri Bjöss Photography'