Emil Axelsson is next Ostberg codriver

Emil Axelsson is next Ostberg codriverFrom Chris Biewer [ 02/08/2017 ].
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Emil Axelsson will be codriver to Mads Ostberg at the ADAC Rallye Deutschland. It appears Mads Ostberg is already in full preparation for 2018. His 2017 season can't have been satisfactory so far with a couple of 7th places as his best results to date. So far it is already known to fans that Ostberg split from his codriver Ola Floene and that he will start Rallye Deutschland with an R5 car rather than his 2017 spec WRC car. What seems to be giving up on his season turns out to actually be a very clever tactical move in preparation for 2018 already!

It has been reported by several sources that Patrick Barth will be codriving for Ostberg in the ERC round in Poland as well as Rallye Deutschland. But now we have received confirmation that in fact Emil Axelsson will be Mads Ostberg's codriver in the ADAC Rallye Deutschland. While previous news suggested Torstein Eriksen and Patrick Barth would share duties alongside Ostberg, the Emil Axelsson move now makes it clear this is far more an interesting shuffle in sight of the future.

Let's first look at the cars: Ostberg still did Rally Finland in his Fiesta WRC'17. Here once again he was briefly in a podium overall position during leg1 before bad luck struck again and demoted him to a disappointing 10th at the finish. That Ostberg's agenda sees him in a guest appearance in the ERC this coming weekend, driving an R5 car, followed by taking his R5 car as a WRC2 contender to the next round of the WRC, strongly hints that Ostberg is in an evaluation process for his 2018 campaign.

And in this context it becomes clear why Emil Axelsson at Rallye Deutschland will be Mads Ostberg's fourth navigator in as many events!

And all seems a bit like a family affair:

Ola Floene:
Poland, the WRC round that is, was Floene's last start alongside Ostberg. The Ostberg management promised Ola Floene was still a good friend and would still be involved with the team in a management capacity. However meanwhile Floene seems to have found a new home as navigator. This does not mean that Floene has to quit duties in Ostberg management, but it seems to be overlooked in all these news that Floene is now codriver to former ERC Junior Champion and now Citroen test driver Emil Bergkvist. Interestingly Bergkvist started a historic rally sprint recently with Emil Axelsson alongside him, but in Rallye Deutschland Bergkvist will start with Floene.

Torstein Eriksen:
Was the first new codriver for Mads Ostberg in last week's Rally Finland. However already before the start it was announced that this was a one-off solution. Torstein Eriksen is the long time navigator to Frank-Tore Larsen, a star of the Norwegian rally championship. However for 2017 Eriksen's main program is the British Rally Championship, which he currently leads alongside Frederik Ahlin. Some reports suggested that his commitments to Ahlin's BRC program prevented Eriksen to take further starts with Ostberg after Rally Finland. And indeed the next BRC round, the Ulster Rally in Northern Ireland, clashes with Rallye Deutschland. But the truth seems to be deeper than this.

Patrick Barth:
He was originally announced (at least by several media sources) to do several events with Mads Ostberg once Rally Finland was out of the way. And Barth will indeed start ERC Poland with Ostberg. But right now this again seems to be a one-off. Patrick Barth is an interesting choice in this family affair. This may sound confusing, but we love a bit of intrigue. Patrick Barth so far is regular codriver to Oscar Solberg. Don't confuse Oscar Solberg with the son of Petter Solberg, that will be Oliver Solberg! Oscar Solberg is the son to Henning Solberg, so Oscar and Oliver are cousins. Oh, and to make it even more curious: Oscar Solberg and Pontus Tidemand share the same mum with older Pontus being Henning's step son. (Never mind the different nationalities, Henning is married to a Swedish lady, so is Petter for that matter!) Oh and Pontus Tidemand's permanent codriver is Jonas Andersson, who sat alongside Mads Ostberg again before Ola Floene!

Emil Axelsson:
One of the most interesting navigators, I think. Axelsson is most famous for his long time partnership with PG Andersson. However Axelsson came first into the WRC with Patrick Sandell. The pair won the Junior-WRC on their first attempt in a Renault Clio S1600 back in 2006. But even this success didn't help Sandell to a big career. Still, the Sandell-Axelsson partnership lasted for another four years before Axelsson joined PG Andersson.

Did I say we love the odd intrigue? Well, Per-Gunnar Andersson the rally driver is in no way related to Per-Gunnar Andersson, the European Touring Car winning Volvo team works driver.

PG Andersson's biggest WRC program was as a works driver in the Suzuki SX4 WRC. Curiously in those days PG Andersson's navigator was Jonas Andersson (no relation to PG) before Jonas became regular codriver to Mads Ostberg again. The Suzuki SX4 however was one of the worst WRC cars in history it must be said and PG's career seemed to go round circles thereafter with a variation of navigators and cars, including even groupN Mitsubishi Lancer, historic Escort Mk1, Fiesta R2, Focus WRC, Skoda S2000. Only in 2011 PG was chosen for a full works drive in the rare, characterful Proton Satria Neo S2000. From this moment Emil Axelsson became PG's permanent navigator in an exciting and diverse program with starts in the IRC, in WRC2 (which they finished 2nd in 2012) and Asia-Pacific Championship (where Proton won the manufacturers title).

Emil Axelsson and PG Andersson found together because Proton wanted a permanent navigator for PG. And it turned out to be a very good move, as PG Andersson & Emil Axelsson became the most successful drivers team in Proton's S2000 project, never mind having drivers of the quality as Giandomenico Basso, Alistair McRae and Chris Atkinson on board. A season with Pontus Tidemand (2015) aside, Emil Axelsson stayed loyal to PG Andersson, even though PG mainly did national events at their home in Sweden. This however included winning the Swedish rally Championship 2016. So undoubtedly PG and Emil are great names with great talents!

A big shame really that PG Andersson seems largely forgotten in the international scene. Meanwhile, talking of Mads Ostberg and family affair, Emil Axelsson seems to be a less obvious choice for Ostberg. But at the same time Emil Axelsson is a very nice, loyal and super talented guy and I can't stop feeling he is a bit of an underrated jewel who deserves another crack at a career.

We don't know what Mads Ostberg's plans are for the future. Well, Ostberg himself doesn't know, that's the point of his current strategy. But Ostberg's shuffling around with codrivers, WRC & R5 cars, dropping in ERC and WRC2 events is an interesting way of identifying the best for seasons to come. It is important that driver and codriver are a perfectly working team. Therefore it is very odd indeed that a driver chooses to use four different navigators in as many events and still counting. But in all this Ostberg chose very interesting codrivers so far. And his latest choice, Emil Axelsson, seems to be a far from obvious choice, but one with the potential of turning the most surprising and most promising for things to come.