Wednesday 1 August 2018

PREVIEW: World RX drivers' are set to unleash street fighting skills in Canada.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sutton Images.
The FIA World Rallycross Championship will resume after its summer break this weekend (4/5 August) with its first long-haul trip of 2018, to World RX of Canada at the popular Trois-Rivieres street circuit.

Since the most recent outing at Holjes in Sweden at the beginning of July, the World RX drivers and teams have spent a month recharging their batteries in preparation for the second half of the campaign and a renewed push for glory.

Trois-Rivieres has hosted high-profile international motorsport events since 1967, with the rallycross circuit – combining a section of the original street course with the nearby hippodrome – inaugurated in 2014.

Defending champion Johan Kristoffersson leads the way as a 15-strong field heads across the Atlantic for round seven of 12, and the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver has form in Canada, having won there last year en route to his first world title. The Swede returns as the man to beat, but with his rivals redoubling their efforts to rein him in, he will need to remain firmly at the top of his game if he is to maintain his current championship charge.

EKS Audi Sport’s Andreas Bakkerud is Kristoffersson’s closest pursuer in the points table following a consistent run over the opening half of the season, during which the Norwegian made the final in every event and tallied a trio of podium finishes. He also placed second at Trois-Rivieres in 2016, so knows his way around the challenging 1370 metre track.

Two-time champion Petter Solberg (PSRX Volkswagen Sweden), Team Peugeot Total’s Sebastien Loeb and Timmy Hansen and Bakkerud’s EKS team-mate Mattias Ekstrom are blanketed by just five points from third to sixth in the standings, and all four have reason to fancy their chances this weekend.

Solberg won the inaugural World RX of Canada and returned to the podium there last year. Having seen his scintillating speed all too often undone by ill-fortune in 2018, the Norwegian will be determined to break into the winners’ circle for the first time this season.

Loeb is sure to enjoy plenty of support from the partisan French-speaking crowd, while Hansen triumphed at Trois-Rivieres two years ago and has looked increasingly strong in recent rounds as – like Solberg – he bids to score his first victory of the campaign. Much the same can be said for 2016 title-winner Ekstrom, who can be counted upon to be a leading contender wherever the championship travels.

Hansen’s younger brother Kevin will be behind the wheel of a third Peugeot 208 WRX and will be competing in Canada for only the second time, but the young Swede has been quietly impressive thus far this season and has reached the final in each of the last three events.

GRX Taneco Team pairing Niclas Gronholm and Timur Timerzyanov have been going from strength-to-strength in the Hyundai i20 and both looked to be potential podium threats four weeks ago at Holjes before punctures scuppered their challenge. Notably, the Russian placed third at Trois-Rivieres in 2014.

The World RX Supercar field is completed by Team Stard’s Janis Baumanis, Olsbergs MSE duo Robin Larsson and Kevin Eriksson, Gregoire Demoustier for Sebastien Loeb Racing and GC Kompetition team-mates Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin, with the latter having claimed the Renault Megane RS’ first trophy with third place in Sweden.

As was the case at Silverstone in May, the World RX competitors will be joined this weekend by their Americas Rallycross Championship counterparts, including heavy-hitters of the discipline Ken Block, Scott Speed and Tanner Foust and former Formula 1 World Champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve.

The French-Canadian – who contested a part-season of World RX in 2014 – was born less than 200km from the track and is the son of the late Gilles Villeneuve, whose legendary exploits earned him hero status both in his native Quebec and all around the world. Trois-Rivieres was where Gilles made his name in Formula Atlantic back in the mid-1970s – and the springboard that shot him towards F1 superstardom.

Jacques Villeneuve, 1997 Formula 1 World Champion, said: “Trois-Rivieres has always felt like my motorsport home, so it’s once again a pleasure to be back. Rallycross has grown exponentially since I last raced these amazing cars, and it’s good to be part of a sport on the rise. I am grateful for the opportunity to be racing a works Subaru and will do everything in my power to help the team in its Americas Rallycross endeavour.”

James Taylor, Vice President, Rallycross at IMG, commented: “After the summer break, I think it’s fair to say everybody is ready to go racing again and kick-start the second half of the season in style. There is no better place to do that than Trois-Rivieres, which has been a consistently popular fixture on the calendar since the World Championship was launched in 2014. As a venue, it is steeped in motorsport heritage, and the knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans really appreciate the spectacular show that World RX brings to town. With the addition of the third round of the Americas Rallycross Championship – and its star drivers like Jacques Villeneuve and Ken Block – there’s no question that we are in for another fantastic weekend of motorsport entertainment.”

Paul Coates, General Manager – Motorsport, Cooper Tire Europe, said: “The tyres really do go from the rough to the smooth here, with a jump added in for even more action. The quick Tarmac sections really work the tread compound and we can easily see temperatures in excess of 100°C in the tread, but the quick transition to a fine dirt helps to keep the temperatures under control.”

Americas Rallycross Championship (ARX)
The tantalising title fight in the inaugural Americas Rallycross Championship (ARX) is set to intensify at Trois-Rivieres, as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team-mates Scott Speed and Tanner Foust lock horns for the third time this season. Foust drew first blood in the series curtain-raiser at Silverstone, before Speed fought back last time out at Circuit of The Americas to leave the pair separated by a single point in the classification. Other leading protagonists will be Hoonigan Racing superstar Ken Block and Subaru Rally Team USA stablemates Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson – while former Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve will undoubtedly be the crowd’s favourite as he makes his ARX debut in a third Subaru WRX STI. Steve Arpin (Loenbro Motorsports Ford Focus RS RX), Rene Muennich (Team Stard Ford Fiesta) and Oliver Bennett (XITE Racing BMW MINI Cooper) round out the entries.

RX2 International Series
The scrap for supremacy in the RX2 International Series is reaching fever pitch, after Guillaume De Ridder cut early-season championship leader Oliver Eriksson’s advantage at the summit of the standings to just six points at Holjes with his second victory from four rounds in 2018. The Olsbergs MSE pairing have been the class of the field to-date this year, but impressive rookie Henrik Krogstad is keeping them very honest in third, as is his JC Raceteknik team-mate Ben-Philip Gundersen, who won the Mettet curtain-raiser. Fifteen drivers will take to the track this weekend, and with eight of them podium-finishers in the World RX feeder series, the scene is set for a spectacularly close battle.

Joining the World RX support package for the first time, the ARX2 field at Trois-Rivieres will be headlined by round one podium-finishers Conner Martell (Dirtfish Motorsports), Christian Brooks (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) and Cole Keatts (Peters & Keatts Racing). The Canadian event takes the form of a big points-paying double-header, with separate rounds on Saturday and Sunday.

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