Thursday 13 June 2019

PREVIEW: The FIA World Rallycross Championship heads to Hell!

The FIA World Rallycross Championships heads to Hell... The Norwegian Hell or Lånkebanen to be precise.

Hell is a highlight on the World RX calender - the classic rallycross circuit consists of 63 percent asphalt and 37 percent gravel over 1,019 meters of sweeping terrain.

Norway's hopes lay firmly on the shoulders of Monster Energy RX Cartel's Andreas Bakkerud who returns to the scene of World RX's first ever clean sweep in 2016 – the Norwegian won all his four qualifying sessions, the semi-final and final. 

After an event-ending crash with Timmy Hansen in the opening round of 2019 in Abu Dhabi, Bakkerud was third in Barcelona, and second in Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone. 

In Belgium, Bakkerud had “one finger on the trophy” and at the World RX of Great Britain, the Norwegian appeared to be heading for his first win of 2019 but had victory snatched from his grasp due to a temperamental handbrake causing issues in the semi-finals and final.

“Silverstone was four podiums in a row for the Monster RX Cartel, we had both cars in the final at Silverstone but just didn’t get the job done. I almost had it [the win] in my pocket. All I can do is keep on pushing and hopefully the win is nearby,” he said.

"We go to Norway with high expectations. As long as my name is on the entry list, I am there to win."

Bakkerud’s team-mate Liam Doran has also claimed World RX qualifying race wins in Hell  – but is yet to reach the final.

The Brits form this year has been patchy. He started out with a third-place finish in Abu Dhabi, missed the semi-finals in Barcelona and was sixth in the final in both Belgium and Great Britain after promising much in the preceding qualifying and semi-final rounds. He’s seeking an upturn in fortunes at Hell, a circuit he likes.

“I am looking forward to racing in Hell," said Doran. "It is probably my favourite track in the championship even though my last time racing there [2016] ended with a big crash rolling down the start straight.'

"I have done quite well here in the past and it is one of the few tracks left on the calendar that I have a lot of experience at so definitely looking to get a good result.”

The current world championship leader Timmy Hansen has also claimed a win in 2015 (Hell) and was second to Bakkerud in 2016.

Younger brother Kevin will look to put the disappointment of Great Britain behind him. The Swede crashed out of the semi-final after contact with a barrier in the joker section. The mistake meant that he surrendered the championship lead to his brother. 

Niclas Gronholm will return to action in Norway having sat out the Belgian and British rounds after appendicitis surgery.

The Finn’s absence has seen him slip to 10th in the standings having been second overall after a second place in Abu Dhabi and a fourth place in Barcelona.

“It will be very challenging to come back after a six-week illness, so my expectations are not that high, but I will give my maximum and we'll see where it takes me,” said Gronholm.

Timur Timerzyanov had an indifferent British round following the high of a maiden World RX win in Spa-Francorchamps. 

“After a not so successful event in Silverstone, I’m keen to make my way back to the top this weekend,” the Russian said.

Norway will also see the return of Rokas Baciuska to World RX. The Latvian joins the GCK Academy ranks after being dropped by ESmotorsport-Labas Gas due to contractual issues.

Baciuska will race a third Renault Megane RS RX alongside Cyril Raymond and Guillaume De Ridder. “I’m really excited that I’m able to continue my progression in World Rallycross and that I’ve found such an incredible team to be part of,” he said.

GC Kompetition's Anton Marklund will look to build on his third-place finish at Silverstone on a track which is likely to suit his Renault Megane RS RX. “If we keep on doing the starts like we did in the semi-final and final, we should be quick in Norway,” Marklund said.

“The track has fast sweeping corners and hard braking and it should suit our car’s long wheelbase. I’m going there with a lot of self-confidence and I think we can do a good job there.”

Dutchman Kevin Abbring test driver for ESmotorsport-Labas Gas has been promoted and will race the Skoda Fabia in Norway. 

STARD's Janis Baumanis currently fourth place in the overall standings will be partnered by Jani Paasonen in the second Team STARD Ford Fiesta.

Briton Oliver Bennett reached the semi-final for the first time in 2019 at Silverstone, his first full season as a permanent World RX entrant. It is evidence that modifications to the front suspension of the Xite Racing Mini Cooper since Barcelona are bringing rewards. 

“From our increase in performance round by round and our first semi-final at Silverstone, I’m super excited for Hell,” he said.

“The loose and mixed quarry surface and big elevations suit my driving style a lot and reminds me of the great feeling I had at Spa with similar conditions where the Mini is very strong. Our starts are insane which is important at Hell. I have my eyes on the next semi-final.”

After difficult weekends in Barcelona and Spa-Francorchamps, Timo Scheider made the final at Silverstone where he narrowly missed his first podium of the season. 

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