Wednesday, 10 October 2018

PREVIEW: The ‘Gloves are off’ in Germany as four drivers battle for the runners-up spot.

PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver Johan Kristoffersson clinched his second consecutive drivers’ championship in the USA last time out, and now all sights are firmly turned towards the fight for second in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, as Germany’s Estering welcomes the penultimate round of the 2018 season.

The Buxtehude track is the oldest on the World RX calendar – having hosted international events since 1973 – and while one of the shortest laps on the schedule, it is also one of the fastest with a long downhill run between turns one and two. The 2014 edition witnessed the closest finish in rallycross history, with just five thousandths-of-a-second separating the top two at the chequered flag.

The 2014 round was won by two-time World RX Champion Petter Solberg, who is one of four drivers currently in a tight tussle for the overall runner-up spot. The PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver and team owner – who has two further podium finishes to his credit at the Estering – was on fine form in Texas just over a week ago, topping the intermediate classification, winning his semi-final and only narrowly missing out on victory to team-mate Kristoffersson.

Solberg was similarly Top Qualifier in Germany [Hockenheimring] 12 months ago, meaning the Norwegian is one of the pre-event favourites, while a number of his rivals also have cause to fancy their chances at World RX of Germany.

Last year’s winner Mattias Ekstrom is two points ahead of Solberg in the title table and has been consistent this season. The other two contenders in the fight for second -  Andreas Bakkerud and Sebastien Loeb – have tallied 11 podiums between them this year so can never be discounted, although the Frenchman has yet to reach the final at the Estering. 

Just nine points cover second-placed Ekstrom down to fifth-placed Loeb in the overall standings – setting the stage for a battle royale.

Intriguingly, newly-crowned champion Kristoffersson has never reached the podium in Germany in four previous starts, with the Buxtehude event the only one on the current calendar he has yet to win – and the only one last year in which he didn’t progress through to the final. The Swede will be determined to overturn that trend this weekend – while his adversaries will be eager to capitalise at what could be regarded as the Volkswagen driver’s ‘bogey’ track.

Swedish siblings Timmy and Kevin Hansen – both competing for Team Peugeot Total, the latter as an individual entry – have been evenly-matched in recent rounds, although Timmy has fallen out of contention for the second-place battle due to engine change penalties that he received in Latvia and the USA. Timmy finished second in Germany last year, and will require a similarly big result this time out and a significant slice of bad luck for his rivals if he is to keep his runner-up hopes alive. Younger brother Kevin has made it into the final in both of his previous World RX of Germany starts and will be targeting a hat-trick.

GRX Taneco Team’s Niclas Gronholm finished fifth in the World RX of Germany last season and has been one of the stars of 2018, sitting seventh in the standings, while team-mate and former Euro RX Champion Timur Timerzyanov is keen to conclude the campaign on a high note over the remaining two events.

GC Kompetition will field a three-strong stable of Renault Megane Supercars for the first time in World RX, with team owner Guerlain Chicherit joined by both Liam Doran and Anton Marklund, who debuted for the team in Texas last month. Doran boasts the best record of the trio in Germany, winning there in 2012 on his way to the runner-up spoils in Euro RX.

Two other drivers with excellent form at the Estering are Olsbergs MSE pairing Kevin Eriksson and Robin Larsson. Eriksson produced a spectacular ‘round the outside’ first corner move to snatch his maiden World RX victory there two years ago, while Larsson took the chequered flag third in 2014.

“Germany two years ago was without doubt the best moment of my World RX career to-date. It’s always special to win, but to do so at the absolute pinnacle of the sport and against the very best drivers in the business is an incredible feeling," said Eriksson. "The first corner was the key for me. I had visualised the start in my head so many times, and when it came to it, I swallowed some brave pills and just went for it – and it paid off!"

The 20-strong entry list is completed by Team STARD’s Janis Baumanis, Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Gregoire Demoustier, Briton Oliver Bennett in his unique MINI, home hero Rene Muennich for ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport, Norway’s Kjetil Larsen and reigning RX2 International Series Champion Cyril Raymond.


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