Niclas Gronholm has claimed the overnight top qualifiers spot at the 2019 SABAT World Rallycross of South Africa
Gronholm just about made the grid in Q1 after a gearbox issue in Free Practice, but did not let that slow him down. He claimed a third-place finish overall in that session. In Q2, the Finn lead the way in the first race of the session and comfortably hung on to win ahead of the World RX Championship contenders – Timmy Hansen, Kevin Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud.
“It’s been a good day. The car has been feeling okay, not perfect, but we have had good launches and clean races. So, I think that has been key that we have been in front and not in the dust. I am hoping to continue with this form tomorrow, but as we know it's not that easy,” said Gronholm. “We need to keep our heads down and let’s see what we can do… There are a few tenths that we can gain on pure race speed compared to a few guys in front.”
“Having a day like this here, it's a bit sad that we aren’t involved in the championship fight, it would have been nice to join the top 3 and be in the fight, but that’s how it is. The only thing that we can do is win this race. Its been a tough season, but I think we have shown good pace that we can continue here. The only thing that we can win is this race, so we will work hard on that.”
Timmy Hansen took top honors in Q1 after setting the fastest time of the session, however, the Swede wasn’t able to match the pace due to track watering (wet gravel). In Q2, Hansen only managed to claim a ninth-place finish and he is second in overall overnight standings.
“I have had a lot of bad Saturdays lately. For me, it's a great result for me to be in the top 3 again (on Saturday) because it means that I have had a solid start to the weekend, which is exactly what I have hoped for,” Hansen said. “We have had great speed in practice on a dry track when its super high grip and we struggled a bit in Q2 with the watering (of the track). Niclas [Gronholm] put in a super impressive run and although he was in the same race as me there was lots of water and track dried outright at the end and he still managed to be faster. I struggled – I came ninth.”
“Overall, I am happy about the day and the car is feeling fantastic. I am relieved that it started well, but its really tough because I am focusing so hard on what I am going to do and that is tough, but I am doing it again tomorrow – and I will take it race-by-race. That is how I intend to tackle this weekend, and I am sure that it's going to take everything that I have – all my energy. I am super focused.”
Timur Timerzyanov made it a GRX Taneco one-two in Q2 with a race win, which sees the Russian slot into third overall after day one.
“I didn’t expect this because practice went well. We tried to find some adjustments to the car. It was like the speed was going up-and-down,” the Russian said. “In Q1, I was fourth after the first corner and it was really disappointing - it was a really tough fight because the guys in front of me was not a clear fight and I just tried to follow them.”
“I think that I need to focus on the start more. In Q2, there was action in the first corner and then there was a clear run for me. It would be better to have someone driving in front of you as a reference because they will know the situation on the track, which helps you in terms of water in some corners and that helped me on the first lap and then from there I need to improve,” he added. “That information helped me a lot on this track. I just have to improve myself. We are in the top 3 overall, and we need to continue to fight for the win tomorrow. We await a party on Sunday.”
Championship contenders’ Kevin Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud ended day one in fifth and sixth respectively. The younger of the two Hansen brothers, Kevin claimed a fourth-place finish in Q1, while title rival Andreas Bakkerud claimed a second-place finish, but Q2 was a different story. The Norwegian finished behind the Hansen brothers and ended the session in eleventh place.
Bakkerud will have to launch an all-mighty fightback on day two, as he currently trails the Gronholm (TQ) by 14 points, but we have seen that before, and we are guaranteed to see a fightback.
The Norwegian’s team-mate Liam Doran has had a day to forget after he failed to make it the grid in Q1 due to engine issues. The engine issue returned in Q2, with the Brit struggling to get it off the line and keep up with those ahead. RX Cartel will work overnight to solve the issue before Q3 tomorrow morning.
Doran had one target this weekend and that was to perform in order to assist Andreas Bakkerud in claiming the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship.
Further down the grid, Xite Racing has had a lot to contend with this weekend. From saltwater damage and replacing a number of mechanical components to losing 10 championship points for a change of a turbo seal.
|The overnight top qualifiers press conference - Timmy Hansen (left), Niclas Gronholm (middle) and Timur Timerzyanov (left)|
While GCK’s Guerlain Chicherit has also had a nightmare start to day one after suffering from a loss of power in Q1 and gearbox issues in Q2.
“It’s been a tricky day with technical issues putting us on the back foot and keeping us from being able to join the battle properly," Chicherit said. “The guys are working hard now to try fix the gearbox issues overnight, so we can get off the start line and retain consistent power and speed through the gear changes tomorrow.”
It did not get any better for the GCK squad, as Cyril Raymond (GCK Academy driver) was disqualified in Q2 for a track marker infringement.
“I’m frustrated because we put down really competitive pace but I got a 5-second penalty in Q1 and then was disqualified from Q2 for making the same mistake - hitting the track markers,” Cyril Raymond said. “It’s hard because the Clio is running well and showing great speed but we still have one more day to go, so tomorrow I will give my best and try to reach the top 12 to be in the semi-finals. Despite today’s results, I really enjoyed racing Killarney race track and I think we have shown good potential.”
While Timmy Hansen leads the way in the drivers’ standings and has a strong footing for day two. The question on many people lips is: 'Who will be the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Champion?'
Written By - Junaid Samodien