|PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World RX Media.|
The Swede topped the qualifying heats with a dominant performance in Q4, after finishing fourth overall on the opening day. He would start on pole position for semi-final one but was beaten off the line by title-rival Andreas Bakkerud, who won the semi-final and would secure pole position for the final.
In the final, Bakkerud had a good start but Niclas Gronholm edged the Norwegian into turn one. The two collided after pushing and shoving for position leading to the pair both running wide.
That allowed Timmy to claim the lead from Rokas Baciuska, Anton Markland and Kevin Hansen. Timmy took his joker on lap four and claimed his third win of the season leading home GC Kompeition’s Anton Marklund with younger brother Kevin Hansen in third.
The overall results from the weekend meant that Andreas Bakkerud has moved into the championship lead, two points ahead of the Hansen brothers who are tied on 158 points.
Timmy’s victory was a dramatic response after he missed the semi-finals in the previous round in Canada. The Swede also left the opening round in Abu Dhabi a low points tally after heavy contact with Bakkerud in qualifying.
"This weekend has been amazing. From a championship perspective I’ve taken two big hits with nearly no points from two races – Abu Dhabi and Canada – so I’m very happy with the result and that it's actually this close (championship fight) after having those two moments, but coming here we have had so much support, we are getting so much love from them and I can feel it when going out on track," he said. "We can feel that the Peugeot is very comfortable around these corners (the circuit)."
"I was feeling very comfortable this weekend. It was a had race I must say - I needed a perfect Q4 to get into the race and I got it just when we needed it, and we got pole which was very important for the weekend (pole in the semi-final), then Andreas (Bakkerud) had new tyres for semi (final) and I couldn't beat him there, but then in the final I knew he didn't have any new tyres left in fact, nobody did. So, it was a more equal playing field. I was all-in for the final and I was going to push very hard and then Andreas and Niclas (Gronholm) opened the door for me and I snuck by, and then after that, it was so nice to come out in front and do my own driving - because that is what we have been looking for all weekend. It was six brilliant laps."
"It’s going to be an interesting end to the year. It is me, Kevin and Andreas all racing for our first world championship. Who grabs it is down to whoever is able to put it all together for the last two rounds and perform best under this pressure"
Fellow-Swede Anton Marklund was delighted to claim a podium finish at GC Kompetition's home race in France. "I know how much this race means for the team to have a good result here (Loheac). They really put there heads down and they gave us the car that we needed to perform," he said.
"The Renault Megane has been strong all weekend - already from the first practice session, we were showing great pace. I think we as a team were struggling a bit with starts and getting off the line as well as being in traffic. That made it a bit of a struggle to perform in the qualifying heats but when we have clean air and a clear track ahead of us then we have a really good pace. For sure, the Renault Megane was really quick."
Marklund's claimed a third-place finish in Silverstone, and despite crossing the line first in Hell, Norway the Swede was deprived of the win due to a technical infringement.
"I really wanted a win here. On the first two laps of the final, I had the pace. I was screaming to my spotter on the radio that 'I need to joker, I need to joker... we are quicker than him' and then I got a 'NO!' on the radio because we would come out in traffic. So, we couldn't really joker. On lap 3, I made a mistake at Turn 2 and then I left a small gap to Timmy [Hansen] and went into the joker [lap] and came out behind Kevin and that was when I had to realize that 'okay, I will just have to keep myself cool' and I will hang onto second place when Kevin [Hansen] takes the joker lap," he said.
"At the end of the day, very pleased that we are getting a podium because starting from the back row of the grid in the final is not easy."
Kevin Hansen, who led the drivers’ championship by five points over Bakkerud ahead of Loheac, had a difficult opening day in 11th place overall. The young Swede only just scraped through to the final after a brilliant recovery drive in the semi-final.
"I have no idea how I got into the final or even the semi-final," he said. "It was a tough weekend for me. I had a lot of bad luck in the qualifying rounds. I was really fast and just took the lap record and I think Timmy took it from me ten minutes later. I had really good speed. In the semi-final, I was on the last lap that I was going to make it to the final. Then I saw Rokas [Baciuska] overtake Timo [Scheider] and Timo lost a lot of time and that was when I knew that we could make it.
"In the final, I didn’t quite have the pace to keep up with the other two Swedes. But then I just sent it completely in the joker lap in the end and managed to just get out ahead of Rokas (Baciuska) and I was just as shocked as everyone else to finish third. This is my strong point I am a rallycrosser and I am not a perfect man in every condition, but I get through it and I never give up. I think this is why I am in the championship fight."
Kevin Hansen says he will focus on all the details to improve for the remaining two rounds in Riga and Cape Town, and believes that working with his older brother Timmy, they will be able to gain a competitive edge over Andreas Bakkerud.
"On my side, I am going to work a lot on the details to the last tenth. Timmy [Hansen] has been really strong in the last two events - so this can be very good for us to work very closely together as a team to gain that edge on Andreas, but I just have to do my own thing and hope that it is enough."
|Gronholm and Bakkerud running wide, while Timmy Hansen takes the lead at Turn 1.|
PHOTO CREDIT: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
En route to fourth place in the final Rokas Baciuska became the first driver from GC Kompetition to win a qualifying session with the fastest time in Q2 on day one.
GC Kompetition team boss Guerlain Chicherit was delighted with the team’s overall performance – with both Marklund and Baciuska making the final. "This was the second time in a row we have put two cars in the final so the team is getting stronger.
"Rokas made a very small mistake on the last lap on turn five which cost him just a few tenths and the chance to put his nose in front of Kevin. We have to acknowledge that the Hansens did an amazing job on the strategy by protecting each other. This is something we still need to learn. We are not at that level yet but we are quick learners."
Chicherit missed out on progressing to the semi-finals by five intermediate points.
"For me personally the weekend was a bit frustrating," he said. "I had the speed but I had some contact in qualifying but that’s motorsport. We have two more races before the end of the season and I really want to be on the podium. I think I have the pace to do it so it is just a question of putting everything together."
Guillaume De Ridder's run of back luck continued in Loheac despite claiming a race win in Q4. "It’s good for the mind to finish with a victory here in Loheac. Now the focus is on the next round in Riga," he said.
Timo Scheider narrowly missed the final after a stunning last-ditch effort in semi-final two placed him fourth ahead of Timur Timerzyanov and Liam Doran.
Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen, showed an impressive turn of speed on his return to World RX in the third GRXHyundai i20. He finished third overall in Q1 after day one but had to settle for fourth in semi-final one. EKS Sport’s Krisztian Szabo and Team STARD’s Janis Baumanis were fifth and sixth respectively in the same semi-final.
It was a torrid weekend for Oliver Bennett. The Briton ended in the gravel trap after a spin in Q2 and he suffered a second DNF in Q4 after heavy contact with Chicherit and finished well down the order in the overall standings.
"It all went downhill from Q2 really where we had the initial contact and ended up in the gravel," he said. "Then in Q4, I thought I was clear into turn one but got a shove from the left side which triggered a catalogue of events and I was a passenger from then on. Luckily, the damage looks worse than it is. Onwards to Latvia now."
TEXT - Junaid Samodien