|PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World RX Media|
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, nestled in the Ardennes mountain range, makes its debut on the World RX calendar this season with a 913m purpose-built rallycross track, a banked final corner, and an intimidating sequence through Eau Rouge.
2016 FIA World RX champion Mattias Ekstrom will make a return this weekend after announcing an end to his full-time World RX career last year. The Swede will be reunited with his title-winning Audi S1 now owned by JC Raceteknik.
Ekstrom admits that watching the first two World RX rounds on television got his competitive juices flowing again. “Being on the sofa at home watching Abu Dhabi, I started to imagine racing again and going through Eau Rouge at 200km sideways. It started to become very tempting,” he said.
The Swede will be partnered by Enzo Ide at JC Raceteknik who have entered a two-car team.
Spa-Francorchamps is set to be a leveler in the playing field as no driver has turned a wheel on the new rallycross circuit.
But the question on many peoples lips heading into this weekend is: Can anyone stop Team Hansen MJP after the dominant start to the season?
Timmy Hansen was unstoppable in Barcelona two weeks' ago, claiming a clean sweep of victories to close the gap to his younger brother Kevin in the drivers’ standings.
Hansen admits that the World RX of Benelux presents unique challenges. “We are racing on the most iconic place in motorsport,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of photos, it looks like a very interesting circuit especially going up through Eau Rouge and the hairpin."
“It’s always a big test going to a brand new circuit but it’s a new circuit for everybody. It’s going to be difficult to learn the layout quickly, so we have to be on our toes,” he added.
Andreas Bakkerud claimed a podium finish last time out in Barcelona behind the Hansen brothers and will be a strong challenger this season along with his team-mate Liam Doran in their Audi S1 Supercars.
Gregoire Demoustier joins the field in Belgium with his Peugeot 208 Supercar.
Finland’s Joni Wiman also returns after last appearing in World RX four years ago. Wiman joins GRX Set in a Hyundai i20. “It’s a big thing to be back in the World RX and I am grateful to the team and sponsors, who made this happen,” he said.
“I have raced many of these World RX drivers in various situations and I know there won’t be any giveaways, but I am confident, that combined with the experience of GRX, I will be up to pace.”
Wiman was set to join a three-car GRX line-up alongside Niclas Gronholm and Timur Timerzyanov. However, Gronholm was forced to withdraw due to an appendicitis operation.
Timerzyanov is relishing competing at Spa. “I’m pretty excited about World RX heading to the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, and the fact that we will go flat out through the legendary Eau Rouge, gives me goose bumps already,” the Russian said.
“But putting the emotional thrill aside – it’s a new venue for everyone and it all will come down to being able to figure out the right set-up in the few Free Practice laps.”
A very late addition to the entry list sees Francois Duval join the ESmotorosport -Labas Gas team replacing Rokas Baciuska. Last weekend Duval claimed a win in the French Rallycross Championship at Chateauroux.
"I am very happy to finally be present for this first world rallycross event on the Spa-Francorchamps track," he said. "All was done at the last minute. I know it will not be easy to be competitive against top teams and top cars but I will drive without pressure, essentially for fun and for my fans."
Briton Oliver Bennett had a series of unfortunate events from an ECU issue on the opening day of the season to rolling his Mini Cooper S1 on day two in Abu Dhabi to front suspension problems in Barcelona. "There was a large pothole on the entrance to the gravel after the start-finish line that was high speed and directly under a braking point,” he explained.
Bennett confirms that they have identified the cause of the suspension failure: “We had a new design arm on for Barcelona, and every time it hit that hole it would bend. It was only a matter of corners before it snapped in Q2 and Q4," he said. "We knew what the issue was in Barcelona, we just had no way of fixing it there, but it’s been sorted for Spa.”
The GCK teams showed improved pace in Barcelona with Cyril Raymond finishing fifth in his first World RX final.
EKS Sport's Krisztian Szabo aims to build on the 10 points he collected in Barcelona while ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider hopes to have put car troubles behind him.
Jani Baumanis lies fourth in the drivers' standings and will be aiming to achieve better results while Pal Try will make his return in Belgium with Team STARD.
Team STARD could receive a 10,000 euro fine this weekend if they fail to enter two cars of the same make and model.
Frenchman Herve Knapick rolled his Citroen DS3 Supercar in Barcelona and could be making his return this weekend.