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Devon rallycross star Rooke hoping to build on successful first year on the world stage

DEVON rallycross driver Dan Rooke cannot wait for the 2018 season after an impressive debut year at world level.

Having become the youngest winner of the MSA British Supercar Championship at just 19 years-old in 2016, Rooke moved on to the international stage and finished runner-up in the FIA 2017 RX2 World Rallycross Championship.

The West Country youngster’s second-placed finished totally surpassed his expectations and has given him confidence that he can fulfil his dream of competing at the top level WRX Supercar World Championship.

“The year did turn out better than I thought,” said Rooke. “Going into it I just wanted to get one podium placing by the end of the season, but I came straight out with a podium in my first event.

“It was after round one (in Belgium) that I realised we were going to do better than I expected.”

He added: “It is only now that I have taken a step back that I realise what I have achieved in 2017. I can say I finished second in the world. It does make me feel more confident about the future.”

Rooke had been struggling for funding to compete in the RX2 World Championship. He had only intended to do the European legs, but he soon found himself challenging for the series title and managed to raise extra funds at the last minute to complete the entire series, which included events in Canada and South Africa.

“I pushed on to try and win the title,” said Rooke. “I came quite close, but a few mistakes and some bad races meant I wasn’t able to quite challenge for the title. I still finished second, which was a lot better than I expected at the start of the year.

“It was my first time competing internationally, so I didn’t know what to expect. To be one of the pace-setters straight from the off was a massive confidence boost. It has given me more determination for 2018 to try and go one better.

“The plan is to stay in the RX2 class and try and win it and then make the most of that.

“Going forward, I want to try and get a seat with a manufacture – that’s the plan. I want to try and become a fully professional driver.”

Rooke admitted it was quite tough not knowing if he could compete in the entire series due to funding.

“It was quite stressful and challenging trying to get more funds to be able to do the other races,” he said. “We ended up having a fund-raising event to get me to the last round. It was good to end up doing the full year and get the chance to travel to different continents.

“Maybe sometimes I was thinking about how much things were going to cost, which is not ideal for a driver. I think I was at a disadvantage to everyone else. A lot of people are well-backed by their families and can afford to do it.”

Rooke, now 20, admits his success in 2017 had led to some interest in him.

“I have had a few people interested, but it is still very early days for me because of my age and because I have only done one year at this level,” said the Devonian, who began his motorsport career in go-karts at the age of eight.

“A lot of people have said I need to get a few more years’ experience in this class or a different one before stepping up to the professional level.”

He added: “The general progression is that you go into the European Series in the supercar class, but there have been cases where people have skipped that.”

As part of his prize for finishing second in the RX2 World Championship, Rooke will get the opportunity to do some supercar test driving.

“For me it is slightly different to the other guys in the class because I have already raced one of these cars in the British Championship,” said Rooke. “For a lot of others in the class it is an incentive just to get to drive one of these cars, but for me I am going to use it as development for myself.

“I think the way it works is I go out and do a few runs in it and then come back in and people are going to coach me and they want to see improvement and that I listen. There is the potential to get picked up by someone on the back of a test if it goes well.”

On what were his highlights of 2017, Rooke said: “I have got two. One was racing at home (Lydden Hill) and getting a podium finish. I had lots of support down there. I think there were about 20,000 spectators and I had a massive round of applause when I went across the line and when I was on the podium. That was great.

“The other highlight was my win in Sweden. They are huge on rallycross over there and I think there were around 60,000 spectators. There is so much passion for the sport out there and it is probably one of the best tracks in the world. To win at that event was great.”

Rooke is hoping his success in the last couple of years in winning the British Championships and finishing as runner-up in the RX2 World Championship will help him attract more sponsors and backing for 2018. Rallycross is the fastest-growing motorsport and in some countries is more popular than Formula One.

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