It’s been over two years since I was able to attend a national racing event – which was also in Sweden, at Gelleråsen Arena for the 2019 Kanonloppet – so the chance to visit Mantorp Park last weekend was a rare treat.
Formula 1 is obviously a big departure from national racing but it’s not entirely for the better. Having grown up on national racing in the UK, primarily going to rallycross events at Lydden Hill and then spending years racing in karts, it was also where my career started. Way before I was adding grand prix tracks to my list, I was camping overnight at Pembrey in Wales or Cadwell Park in the Lincolnshire Wolds, to report on club racing. I spent three years covering the British Touring Car Championship and its support categories like Formula Ford and the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain.
There’s a lot less ego in a national racing paddock and a great deal more enthusiasm. Everything’s more accessible, all the teams and championships are sort of piled on top of one another in relatively cramped surroundings. And with all that there’s a different feeling to driving through the circuit gates.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience that again last weekend, having spent Friday and Saturday at Mantorp Park primarily focusing on the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia and the new-for-2021 Sprint Challenge – although it never ceases to amuse me that moving from England to Sweden has not allowed me to escape the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, which seems about as popular and entertaining here as in its country of origin.
Mantorp was a new circuit for me, the 47th I’ve been to. I won’t lie and pretend it’s on the same level as, let’s say, Donington Park or Brands Hatch. Those tracks, owned in the UK by MotorSport Vision, have a level of investment put into them that I understand is simply not possible at Mantorp, to use a specific example. But it’s not a track devoid of love and care, and it’s a good standard of circuit. If I ignored the Swedish signage, I could have traded the experience for one at many of the UK’s smaller but immensely popular tracks. Croft or Knockhill came to mind. Put a decent grid of cars on a trick track with no run-off, throw in a bit of a weather variable, and what’s not to love?
As I mentioned before, my attention was mainly on the two Porsche categories. The Carrera Cup is a strong national championship – I know from my time reporting on the British variant how good the leading drivers can be, they become specialists in the discipline, and it’s no exception here. Having a guest driver of Felix Rosenqvist’s calibre also promised an interesting test for the championship regulars. When Felix appeared as a guest driver back in 2017 he won three of the four races he competed in. I wasn’t surprised he scored a pole position because he’s a very good driver and over one lap he can pull off something special. But equally I wasn’t surprised he didn’t turn that into a win – in fact, in race two, he was only on the third step of the podium.
Two years ago, I was impressed by Lukas Sundahl. I knew very little about the series but he was clearly a good driver. I’ve followed it more closely since then and his run of titles has obviously been impressive but watching trackside at Mantorp showed why he’s a four-time champion. His consistency is on another level now. He’s an expert in this car. If Rosenqvist’s guest appearance had come a year or two ago I think he would have won but Sundahl’s too good for that now. If I had to guess who is most likely to dethrone Sundahl I’d punt on Hampus Ericsson or maybe Pontus Fredricsson, and I’d be surprised if guys like Edvin Hellsten and Emil Persson don’t win more races if they return in the future.
Drivers like Ericsson don’t have Sundahl’s consistency but that can change. He will get more experience and a new car coming into the mix is always an interesting variable. How Porsche manages the transition to the new car will be important for the health of the series but from what I heard at Mantorp, the signs are good. In addition to getting a good number of type-992 orders, rolling over the existing car for the Porsche Approved Cup helps support the grid. These cars have to be seen as worthwhile investments and being able to use them for longer is an important part of that. Having the two generations of car in the Carrera Cup next year combines nicely with the entry-level Sprint Challenge, which has clearly been a popular and successful creation.
In my experience, the best national championships and packages work around a pyramid. It makes it a lot easier to get started and then progress. Porsche seems to be creating exactly that kind of path here and it’s going to be very interesting to watch that develop next year.
Having this kind of commitment from a major brand to a local series really isn’t common. It’s only Porsche that does it, and to have a Scandinavian series within that portfolio is of great value to Swedish motorsport.