Q&A with ERC Junior champion Emil Bergkvist

Opel works driver Emil Bergkvist became 2015 FIA European Junior Rally Champion with his second-place finish at the auto24 Rally Estonia. We asked the 21-year-old Swede about his sensational season in the Adam R2.

Congratulations on winning the ERC Junior title. How does it feel to be European Champion?

“Absolutely fantastic! When I drove into our service park [in Estonia] after crossing the finish line and saw the team members beaming with joy – that was a very special moment. At least as great was waking up the next morning and really realising for the first time that we achieved our big goal.”

What was the key to success?

“There were a few. First of all, the car, which was super-competitive across the board on all surfaces. I have no doubt that the Opel Adam R2 is currently the best car in its category. Then of course the entire ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team that was incredibly professional with its passionate dedication and fantastic team spirit. And last but certainly not least, my co-driver Jocke Sjöberg – without perfect work from the right seat a success like this is simply not possible.”

But the guy in the left seat wasn’t bad either…

“Thank you! I am happy with my performance. At this high level, we managed to stay at the front of the field while making very few mistakes. This can only be done when you are comfortable in the cockpit and in your team.”

You created a solid foundation right at the start of the season by scoring the maximum points at the first two rounds in Latvia and Ireland. 

“Yes, that was of course a big boost for our confidence. The wintry conditions in Latvia were certainly right up my alley. But when you win again a few weeks later on asphalt, it shows how good the whole package is. We had a strong starting point at all the rallies and always found a good rhythm very quickly. That way you don’t lose time trying to identify the problems, you can dedicate yourself to settle up good pace notes and find the limit.”

The level within the ERC Junior is extremely high, making consistency all the more important.

“Exactly. There were always rivals who were very strong at a given rally – Jon Armstrong in Ireland, Chris Ingram in the Azores and Ralfs Sirmacis in Estonia. We were at the front of the field with the Adam R2 under all weather and track conditions. Not only does the car deliver superb performance, it also has very predictable driving behaviour. And it reacts very precisely and logically to changes to its set-up, which really builds trust.”

Not everything went according to plan in the Azores and in Ypres. No reason to be nervous?

“Not even a little bit. Both defects were disappointing because in both cases we again had a good shot at a podium finish. In the Azores we still came in fourth. But that’s what happens in motorsport: you prepare yourself as best you can, consider everything, and ultimately something goes wrong anyway. Who should I have blamed? If I go off and damage the car, no one will take me to task for that as long as I don’t do it too often. Win together and lose together, that’s how it works. You try to find out what went wrong and do everything you can so that it doesn’t happen again. Brooding over it doesn’t get you ahead here.”

In Ypres the man to beat was your team colleague, Marijan Griebel.

“Not only there. But Mari was just phenomenal in Belgium. And then a tyre puncture in the very last stage cost him the victory. I really felt for him. But the triple victory for Opel was of course fantastic.”

How do you and your German team-mate work together?

“Perfectly! Marijan is a professional who leaves nothing to chance. At the same time, he’s a real team player. When you ask him something, you get an honest answer. Especially when it comes to driving on asphalt, I really learned a lot from him.”

At the season finale in the Czech Republic on the last weekend in August, Marijan can still take second place. What role can you play in that?

“First of all, for me Mari is absolutely a top candidate to win the Barum Rally – after all, last year he came in second there. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be as strong as in Ypres. I hope I can support him by stealing points from the opponents. But to avoid any misunderstanding: I’d like to win the Barum Rally myself. We’ll go there and see where we stand. I’m really looking forward to being able to drive in this terrific asphalt rally without any pressure. But before then, we have two great opportunities to perform as European Champion in front of German fans at the ADAC Cosmo Rallye Wartburg and the ADAC Rallye Deutschland in August.”

In 2014 you came to Germany and the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup to optimize your asphalt driving. That sure worked out well…

“Yes, I couldn’t have made a better choice. The ADAC Opel Rallye Cup offers young drivers the ideal environment where they can further develop themselves. I knew I could learn a lot there, especially on asphalt.  And of course the chance to advance into the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team was very tempting. But naturally you can’t count on that at the very beginning. Next to the title in the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup 2014, managing the jump into the Junior Team was like a dream come true for me.”

Opel …

“… is the perfect partner for me. I owe them so much. They believed in me from the very beginning and supported me in every conceivable way. You feel how much professionalism, passion and ambition every single team member brings into the whole big picture. I hope we can keep working together for a long time.”