Wednesday 22 April 2020

World RX calls upon star racers to join next FIA World Rallycross Esports invitational

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World Rallycross Esport Invitational Broadcast Images
A day that should have seen the start of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship, after a highly entertaining and competitive 2019 season, rather saw a few of its main championship contenders compete with a star-studded Esport line-up.

Eight World RX drivers including the defending (2019 champion) and 2017/2018 World Champion joined 12 Esport drivers and racers from other motorsport disciplines. Timmy Hansen, Kevin Hansen, Johan Kristoffersson, Andreas Bakkerud, Oliver Eriksson, Kevin Abbring, Oliver Bennett and Timo Scheider signed up for the challenge to race the likes of Nicki Thiim, Henrik Krogstad, Cohete Suárez and Esport sensations, Killian Dall’olmo (the 2019 DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series Rallycross Champion), Quentin Dall’olmo, Alex ‘FailRace’ Day, and Jon Armstrong.

Racing in a mixture of dry and wet races, the Dall’olmo brothers managed to top the timing sheets in the qualifying heats. While the Hansen brothers would also use their wealth of racing experience, and time in the simulator practicing to good use when they competed at the head of the field with Timmy Hansen claiming a fifth-place finish in the final.

Kevin Abbring, who recently joined GCK, also made a promising start. The Renault Clio driver has been kept very busy in the last few weeks, building and selling racing simulators, and with minimal practice on the DiRT 2.0 game, he impressed many displaying strong pace from the get-go. 

The Dutchman managed to beat Kevin Hansen in the penultimate corner of their semi-final to progress to the final. It was Swedish rally driver Mattias Adielsson, who claimed a fantastic win. Racing in Mattias Ekström’s 2019 Belgium RX livery. The Swede had arguably one of the best simulator rigs, a full-motion simulator.

Commenting after the final, Adielsson said: “It means a lot to win this race. It’s the first time that I have competed in esports rallycross and it’s the first time that I’ve raced in a World Rallycross event. I am super stoked to be honest it was a big fight all the way up to the top.” 

While the inaugural FIA World RX Esports Invitational event lasted just shy of 3 hours, it certainly entertained many YouTube and Facebook viewers and bringing with it, the same culture, found during traditional World RX race weekends.

Yogi joins World RX eSports Invitational Coverage. 
PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World Rallycross Esport Invitational Broadcast Images
The reason for this is simple. Not only did Andrew Coley (World RX commentator), once again entertain the fans with stellar commentary, but he was also joined by the ever-entertaining Neil Cole. From Coley turning nostalgic with a special appearance of Yogi his dog to the appearance of his Lego Millennium Falcon, to Cole having a banana live on-air and keeping the realism with regards to race penalties; the race had it all.

It must be said that the inaugural World RX eSports Invitational can be regarded as a success with a combined audience of 250,000 views on the various FIA World Rallycross Championship platforms – YouTube channel and Facebook pages. 

Keeping its realism, the World RX race felt very similar to a real race weekend. Similarly, it also kept its competitive edge as each of the 19 drivers delivered action, a key characteristic which many other series’ miss.

Several racing series’ have been trying to keep the fans entertained during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some being more successful than others. NASCAR, IndyCar, and Australian Supercars base there eSports series around the iRacing platform, while Formula 1 and World RX are using the Codemasters developed games. And, while iRacing is a better platform for realism, the Codemasters Dirt 2.0 game offers a similar form of realism. 

What set the FIA World Rallycross eSports Invitational apart from the others was the involvement of the top 3 drivers from the 2019 season, as well as the double World RX champion Johan Kristoffersson. 
PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World Rallycross Esport Invitational Broadcast Images

2019 World RX runner-up Andreas Bakkerud said, “The production was good (of World RX eSports Invitational). It was a lot of fun, crazy weather both dry and wet. Very, very competitive and all the guys did a great job. I think everybody enjoyed it quite a lot. I found it very, very hard because I didn’t have much practice but if there is going to be anymore races then I am definitely going to practice more.”

Whilst being a “fun” event, it was also dealt with in a professional manner. This surely creates the feeling of more realism.

Killian Dall’olmo, the 2019 DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series Rallycross Champion finished second behind the event winner Mattias Adielsson but feels that he deserved the race win in Barcelona. “I am happy because I preserved myself in the qualifying rounds with a victory in semi-final 1,” he said. “Finishing second doesn’t bother me because despite being World Champion, I completely forgot about my title and I was as concentrated as possible. However, I am a little disappointed because I think that I deserved the (overall) victory. But this does not matter because I am already focused on the second event and I aim to achieve a good result for the team.”

More importantly, the current e-racing platforms, which give us a level playing field for different racers across the board. One race might see drivers/riders from Formula 1, endurance racing, Nascar, Indycar, rallying, and even MotoGP. Only “The race of champions” tests this on an annual basis. Apart from this, we don’t see different racers compete on a level playing field.

It is for this reason then that Coley and Cole called out on the likes of Max Verstappen, Valentino Rossi, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, Sheldon- and Kelvin van der Linde, Jenson Button, and Fernando Alonso, to join the second round of the World RX eSports Invitational at Montalegre, Portugal in a weeks’ time.

The World RX Esports Invitational has opened a new challenge and one which might be very interesting for any motorsport fan. Will we see an even more star-studded race line-up in Montalegre?

Written By - Franco Theron and Junaid Samodien

Monday 20 April 2020

FIA postpones World RX electric switch to 2022

The FIA has today announced its decision to postpone the electrification implementation plan for the FIA World Rallycross Championship by one year to 2022, due to the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Motor Sport Council approved the decision by an e-vote, with full support from IMG, the promoter of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, as well as the approved suppliers of the electrification kit Kreisel Electric and GCK Energy, the supplier of energy. 

"While the current situation has made it necessary to defer the switch to electric by one year to allow competitors further time to adapt and to invest, the FIA remains committed to a new horizon for World RX," said FIA President Jean Todt. "This will create the most cost-effective environment and demonstrate the rapidly developing performance capabilities of electric road cars in this FIA championship."

The FIA World Rallycross Championship was set for a phased-in introduction running electric and ICE cars together, to begin with before switching to fully electric cars by 2022. Instead of a phased-in approach which had initially been announced, we are likely to see the full implementation of the electrification plan in 2022. 

The FIA Junior eRX Championship, which is set to also begin in 2021 will go ahead according to plan.

"At this stage, plans for the new FIA eRX Junior championship remain unaffected by this decision and work towards the electrification of this category will continue for 2021, with a complete car supply and championship organisation on an all-inclusive arrive and drive format," said Paul Bellamy, Senior Vice President of Motorsports Events at IMG. 

Kreisel Electric the official supplier of the electrification kit was set to unveil the first prototype in March (this year), with the first kits going on sale by 17 April.

The electrification kit includes two 250kW motors on each axle, two inverters and a 52.62kWh battery with an innovative cooling system, which is capable of producing 680 horsepower

Philipp Kreisel, CEO of Kreisel Electric supports the decision to postpone the first World RX electric racing season to 2022.

Having officially been announced as the electrification kit supplier for the FIA World Rallycross Championship, Kreisel Electric is nearing completion of its electric rallycross kits. 

"We have nearly completed the development of the electric race kit, and have put a lot of energy and passion into this project, it is disappointing that we won't be able to see the electrified World RX cars next year," Kreisel said. "Nevertheless, we are absolutely convinced that by remaining unified we can make the electrification of World RX a huge success when it does happen."

Saturday 18 April 2020

World RX goes virtual at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was set to host the opening round of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship this weekend, but instead, it will be the venue for the inaugural World RX Esports Invitational on Sunday, 19 April 2020 (tomorrow). 

The opening round of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship was postponed due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. 

In collaboration with Codemasters, using the DiRT Rally 2.0 game, the World RX promoters will stage the World RX Esports Invitational which will feature a host of star names in World Rallycross, GT and WRC races, including YouTubers and some of the biggest names in Esports. 

The 2019 World RX Champion Timmy Hansen would have preferred to go racing in Barcelona this weekend but feels that esports is better than nothing. 

"I think starting the season with esports isn’t exactly what we hoped for," he said. "I wanted to be in Barcelona this weekend, but esports is better than no racing at all! The excitement of racing and being on the start line is nice."

"When you actually race online it is very different to real racing where you only have one chance and you have to put your four laps together. I’m missing the adrenaline kick and rush that you get from driving a race car."

The 27-year-old Swede is aware of the challenges ahead of his debut in sim-racing.

"I’ve done no sim racing before this and I haven't played much at all so this will be a big challenge for me. I have no idea how competitive I will be," he said. "I'll try to get some practice before the race, but I know a lot of guys have a lot more sim-racing experience than I do. I hope I can qualify for the semi-finals. It will be fun to be racing against fans, but I think the sim racers will most likely be too fast for me."

Timmy will be joined on the Esport grid by younger brother Kevin from the Team Hansen RX team. 

Kevin has modest expectations for his World RX Esports debut. "I’m really excited about Sunday’s race. I have been practicing in the simulator for about a week now and have really enjoyed it. My goal is to be best of the non-gamers!" he said.  

"It's very different from all the games I’ve played, so now I’m trying to do as many races as I can, whether that's racing or rallycross. I’m trying to get into the sim-racing experience and the spirit of that and to be ready for Sunday. Dirt Rally 2.0 is tricky and different from real life in many ways compared to the real 208 WRX."

The Hansen brothers will race a pair of Peugeot 208 RX supercars in the event, which will run to a similar format to real World RX, with four qualifiers, semi-finals, and final format on Sunday. The top 10 drivers at the Intermediate Classification will progress to the semi-finals.

The Peugeot 208 is the car of choice for many participants, with two-time World RX Drivers’ Champion Johan Kristoffersson, making his return to the sport in a Peugeot for his DiRT debut.

Kristoffersson believes that putting in hours and doing some homework will put him and others in good stead for the Esports invitational this weekend. When speaking to Andrew Coley in the official World RX press conference, the Swede admitted that he hasn't improved a lot in practice, however, he has set his sights on beating reigning World RX champion Timmy Hansen. 

"It would be nice to beat the World Champion, but not the World Champion in DiRT. The World Champion in Rallycross," he said.

Super1600 ace Marius Bermingrud will also line up in a Peugeot 208, along with former Esports World Champion and real-world rally driver, Jon Armstrong, and Americas Rallycross podium finisher in 2019, Cabot Bigham will also take the wheel of a 208.

Andreas Bakkerud will compete in the Audi S1 he tied on points at the top of the World RX Drivers’ Championship with last season. One of his 2020 GC Kompetition team-mates, Dutchman Kevin Abbring, will compete in a Renault Clio R.S. RX.

Abbring admits that he has not had a lot of time to practice in his simulator because he is currently building simulators rather than using them. "I have put in some practice but we all miss competition obviously," he said. "I will put in as many laps ahead of the event, as I need to feel confident and to feel comfortable in the simulator."

Oliver Bennett will appear in his regular Xite Racing Mini and RX2 International Series double champion Oliver Eriksson will race an OlsbergsMSE Ford Fiesta MK8. His former RX2 rival, Henrik Krogstad, who will race for Yellow Squad in 2020, will drive a Renault Megane.

Germany’s Timo Scheider has reason to be confident ahead of the inaugural World RX Esports Invitational, he made his World RX debut at the Catalunya circuit in 2015, and took the TQ (top qualifier) position in 2017 on his way to a first World RX podium, in P2.

The former DTM champion is new to sim racing, however. "I never did sim racing before I started with one event recently. I am looking forward to some competition even though I am not an expert at this kind of racing."

Scheider joined the Hansen brothers and Killian Dall'ollmo, DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series Rallycross Champion in a practice session yesterday. 

"Timmy, Kevin (Hansen) and the World Champion (in DiRT) already showed (me) what the benchmark will be, so I am confused a bit about my performance somehow, but there are some issues and that is always the case with racing drivers," he said. "I am getting there and I will spend more hours (on the simulator). I am really looking forward to meeting those guys back on the line even though it's different."

Outside of the World RX contingent, Spanish rally driver Cohete Suarez will race a Renault Megane, and World Endurance Championship driver Nicki Thiim, from Denmark, will drive an Audi S1. Swedish rally driver Mattias Adielsson will also make his first rallycross start, also in an Audi. 

Joining the professional drivers will be YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent, who will race a Ford Fiesta MK8. He will be accompanied on the grid by fellow YouTuber, FailRace.

Pre-event qualifying was also held to find the three fastest rallycross Esports racers to join the field. From over 8,500 entries, the Czech Republic’s Lukas Mateja was third and will race a Peugeot 208, just like France's Dall’olmo brothers Killian, the DiRT Rally 2.0 rallycross world series champion who has recently signed for SET Esports, and Quentin, who topped the timesheets in the qualifying session.

"I'm super excited to join this event it's amazing to race with all these famous drivers who have real experience in motorsports," said 20-year-old Quentin.

"It's an amazing opportunity to race with the World RX drivers and the other professionals. These are the drivers that we follow each weekend when they race so to drive with them is awesome. I think I will be competitive enough to race for the win but like we know, it is rallycross so it isn't always the fastest who wins."

The defending World RX champion Timmy Hansen speaks very highly of the Killian Dall'ollmo, the DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series Rallycross Champion. "He is in another league", the Swede said. "We have been racing together (practice), and in Barcelona, we have put in the most practice - he is not that far ahead, but still that much ahead that if he doesn't crash. He will win."

The World RX Esports Invitational will be streamed live from 15:00 to 17:00 CET/CAT on Sunday, April 19 and will be shown on the World RX YouTube channel and on the Facebook page.

Written By: Junaid Samodien
Photo Credit: DiRT Game 2.0

Tuesday 14 April 2020

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - Former World RX Champion returns with sights on a third title.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kristoffersson Motorsport
Johan Kristoffersson, the most successful World Rallycross driver to date, has set his sights on yet another title, after confirming his full-time return to the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2020.

The 31-year-old Swede’s motorsport career is nothing short of incredible having claimed titles in both off-road and circuit racing, namely: the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, International Superstars Series, Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia, FIA World Rallycross Championship and the Monster Energy Gymkhana Grid.

After a record-breaking run having won 11 of 12 rounds in the 2018 World RX championship, he was left without a seat following the withdrawal of PSRX Volkswagen Sweden at the end of the season. In 2019, Kristoffersson joined the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) where he claimed three race wins including an incredible fightback from 22nd place to win in Malaysia. His plans to continue in the 2020 WTCR championship were cut short when Volkswagen Motorsport ended its factory-supported internal combustion engine programme in November last year.

While the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. Once the 2020 season gets underway we are sure to witness a thrilling season having seen a closely fought title decider in Cape Town last year.

Johan Kristoffersson post-race celebrations in Cape Town.
PHOTO CREDIT: Junaid Samodien
Speaking to Junaid Samodien (Slipstream SA), Johan Kristoffersson explained how he is preparing mentally and physically after a one-year hiatus from World Rallycross, saying, “I'm preparing more or less similar to any other season. But of course, there are some small adjustments in the preparation to suit rallycross. The start is very crucial in rallycross and this is one example of where I will put some more effort into before 2020 season.”

“Since 2015, I’ve been competing in more than only one category in motorsport (racing, rally, rallycross) per season. I’ve always had the philosophy of driving a lot, even if it’s competing in different categories, which is positive for a driver. But in 2020 I will only focus and put all my effort into World RX (WRX),” he adds.

In 2020, Kristoffersson will return to the World RX championship as an individual entrant with the assistance of his long term partners: Volkswagen Sweden and Bauhaus in a hired Volkswagen Polo GTI RX similar to the one that took him to the title in 2018. I asked Johan how did the opportunity arise to return to the World RX championship in a Volkswagen Supercar. 

“I originally planned to continue with Sebastien Loeb Racing and Volkswagen Motorsport in WTCR for 2020 season, but as Volkswagen decided to pull out from the championship I had to find another solution,” he said. “I evaluated many different options, and a return to World Rallycross was one of them. After many discussions with Volkswagen Motorsport, and with a great partnership with our long term partners Volkswagen Dealers in Sweden and Bauhaus, we finally found an agreement to rent the Polo WRX I used 2018 to run in our private team Kristoffersson Motorsport. We spent many hours getting that equation together.”

With an ever-evolving championship, and a one-year hiatus from the sport. Johan Kristoffersson will return to the championship in a car that he is very familiar with the Volkswagen Polo GTI RX. The development curve in motorsport is rather steep, and in most motorsport championships cars receive upgrades on a regular basis. This is slightly different in World RX with a fixed aero package for the season. So, in order for a driver to be successful, he or she would need a strong car (overall package). I asked Johan what changes have been made to the Volkswagen Polo GTI RX to comply with the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship regulations.
PHOTO CREDIT: Franco Theron/Galimoto. 

“It’s minor changes,” he said. “Nothing will affect the car in a negative way in terms of performance. On the other hand, I hope we have found some small things making the car a bit faster.” 

“The WRX championship was tighter than ever in 2019 and we definitely need to be 100% ready and prepared if we want to fight for the championship title 2020,” he adds.

The Swede displayed his versatility when he claimed two titles in a single year. In the 2018 season, he not only set records on his way to the 2018 World RX crown, but he also went on to win the TCR Scandinavia Touring Car Championship. 

While for many, it takes time to adapt to a racecar. Johan developed a very unique adaptability skill, as he has raced many different cars throughout his career. In 2019, he tested a number of cars and also competed in the WRC-2 class. But just how difficult it would be for Johan to switch from a 350bhp WTCR (2019) front-wheel-drive car to a 2020 specification 600bhp four-wheel-drive rallycross car.

“When I won my two world titles (World RX) in 2017 and 2018 I drove a similar car to the WTCR back home in the Swedish championship. I’m used to driving different cars on different weekends,” he said. “I think the starts in rallycross will be the most difficult to adjust quickly too.”

“The cars are very powerful and with amazing acceleration from a standing start. It’s difficult to always be at the right place at the right time when everything is happening so quickly, but I will do my best to get into 2018 mode as quickly as possible.”

With a global stay at home orders in place worldwide due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many motorsport championships have launched eSports leagues or races. The World Rallycross Championship is one of them. The championship has announced the launch of the ‘World RX Esports Invitational Championship’ to kick-off on 19 April on the Codemasters Dirt Rally 2.0 pc platform. 

Esports is a great platform to sharpen one’s skills and for racing drivers to learn new circuits, with some companies developing sophisticated Esports simulators that replicate a similar feel to being inside a real cockpit. 

I asked Kristoffersson if he relies on a simulator to sharpen his skills: “The 2019 season in WTCR on all the different tracks was new for me. So, I did some simulator training with Volkswagen Motorsport before every event to learn a bit about the track and be as prepared as possible going into the weekend,” he said. “But to be honest I haven’t done many hours in a simulator in my career.”

Last month, the FIA World Rallycross Championship announced that the Swede will join the driver line-up for the Esports Invitational. So, I asked him if he had played Dirt Rally 2.0 before, and what are his thoughts on the game?

“As I will join the eSport WRX race in Barcelona I would have to start practicing by now,” he said. “But, until today I haven’t done ONE lap on Dirt, so I better get going, haha! I don’t even have a simulator rig yet.”

In addition to asking him about the World RX Esport Invitational. The two-time World Rallycross Champion believes that Esports is a cost-effective way for young drivers to start their motorsport careers.

“I think it's good and a cost-effective way for young drivers to start their career, and for any racing driver to practice and sharpen their skills,” Kristoffersson said. 

With so many motorsport championships recently streaming or broadcasting eSports series/races. Many racing drivers globally have opted to compete in these various races and challenges. And, because Johan does not have a simulator rig as yet. I asked him if he watched any of the recently streamed races. “Normally there is no spare time for anything else other than the preparations I do for my own races. So honestly, I barely watch any other motorsport series other than what I'm currently driving myself at the time.”
The 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination with such a close field, as seen in 2019, but who better than Johan Kristoffersson to take on the might of the Hansen brothers, Andreas Bakkerud and Niclas Grönholm, etc.?  

A very special 'Thank You' to Johan Kristoffersson for taking some time out of his very busy schedule to chat with us. I’d also like to thank Zandra Björkholtz (KMS) for arranging the interview. 

Written By - Junaid Samodien
Co-Editor - Franco Theron (Pedal Fest SA)