Tuesday 16 June 2020

Andreas Bakkerud returns with a new team but the same ambition to be World RX champion.

Andreas Bakkerud leading Timmy Hansen and Niclas Gronholm in the 2019 World RX title decider.
PHOTO CREDIT: Slipstream SA/Junaid Samodien
Andreas Bakkerud returns to the FIA World Rallycross Championship with a new car and a new team but with the same ambition to be FIA World Rallycross Champion. 

Coming off the back of finishing second in the closest-ever finish in World RX championship history, the Norwegian is anxiously awaiting for the new season to kick-off in August. Bakkerud spoke with Andrew Coley (World RX commentator) on the official CatalunyaRX Instagram to discuss the year ahead.

Moving from an EKS developed Audi S1 Quattro, Andreas, and his 2019 team-mate, Liam Doran will once again join forces. “I’m feeling pumped and very excited to have signed with GCK together with the RX Cartel, Monster Energy, and Liam (Doran). So I am sure that we will have an exciting year”, Bakkerud said.

In 2020, the pair will move over to the biggest team, currently on the RX grid. The collaboration certainly promises to benefit both as GC Kompetition (GCK) is in search of their first win, while both Andreas and Liam Doran can bring their wealth of experience to the team, in a bid to improve the Renault Megane R.S. RX even more.

Testing the GCK Renault Megane at Killarney, a day after the 2018 championship ended, Bakkerud seemed pleased with the car. The Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel driver noted that the Megane R.S. RX has lots of potential and is capable of running at the forefront of the grid.

“After the 2018 season, I stayed one day longer in Cape Town testing the Megane and I was very, very surprised, and very keen to get my hands on it. Because it’s a car that I think has a lot of potential and I think that GCK has shown great pace many times, but maybe it needs more time to get stable drivers and input; and, more calmness in the team,” he said.

Having raced for EKS, Hoonigan Racing Division, Olsbergs MSE, and Set Promotion, Bakkerud surely has a wealth of experience and knowledge to offer. The Norwegian even ran his own team in 2010.

“Hopefully we can come up with something good on the table that can help us win races because I have won with every car that I have driven. So, I have to kind of win with the Megane as well (laughs),” he adds.

He also added that the ideology of the RX Cartel is to be serious about racing, whilst also joking around a bit. The aim is to bring this philosophy over to GCK, helping to lighten the mood and find a new viewpoint and aim. Whilst GCK won on track in 2019, technical regulations deemed it worthy of disqualification. And, while this might have been a set back at the time, both GCK and Bakkerud are now more fired up than ever to fight back, win races and championships.

Whilst the Renault Megane has a larger wheelbase compared to the EKS Audi S1 (the car, Bakkerud has driven and gotten used to over the past two years), he firmly believes that the Megane is capable of winning, much like the Ford Focus RS he previously competed in. Liam Doran, who previously raced for GCK in 2018, happily agrees with this as the Englishman seems happy to jump back in the Renault Megane R.S. RX.

“I absolutely believe that the car [Megane] can do top results,” he said. “When we can put all the pieces together I am very sure that we can be one of the most successful teams of the 2020 World Rallycross Championship and onwards. So, at least that is my goal and I know from GCK’s side, the goal is to win championships and the goal is to win races and the goal is to do well and also to entertain the fans.”

Looking back at 2019, Andreas stated that the first round of the championship might have already been the hardest blow of the season. A disqualification during Q3 turned the tables during the weekend, but more so for the developments later in the year.

“At the end of the day, I blame Abu Dhabi more than anything else because I felt leaving Abu Dhabi, I scored the most points of everyone in the championship and I felt the disqualification in Q3 was something – it was not me. I am not sure if it’s FIA or the guys that made the track. It’s the approval of not doing the first corner after the checkered flag which was the fault because seven or eight drivers did it the same as me,” Bakkerud explained. “We kept flat out and thought it was the last lap and I didn’t see Timmy and we hit and it was a hard start of the year. I love the track – the track is really, really cool it was just unlucky.”

Whilst the Abu Dhabi track has been altered for 2020, the overruling for a disqualification meant that Bakkerud walked away from the weekend, without any points, whereas it should have been the other way around. While the EKS squad worked very hard to get the Audi back for Q4, he walked away from the weekend with no points, whereas it could have easily been much more.

“If it’s one thing I am going to blame it is the stewards in Abu Dhabi for black flagging me with the crash of Timmy because EKS managed to get the car ready for Q4. We did Q4 and bounced over the finish line with a wheel going loose, and we still managed to get through to the semi-finals,” he said. “We were so happy and then unfortunately they took us out of the race and we scored zero points and I think Timmy scored five, six, or seven. If I look back on it, I blame the stewards.”
Andreas celebrating after winning in Canada.
PHOTO CREDIT: FIAWorldRallycross.com

Three successive podiums during the next three rounds saw him, steadily climb back in the championship. However, a handbrake issue during the British round meant that a podium couldn’t be converted into a win. He also led in Holjes, only to break a drive-shaft in the semi-final. At Loheac, he crashed with Niclas Grönholm, whilst in the lead of the final.

After the mid-season break, mental games came into play. The Canadian race weekend saw Bakkerud winning, whilst Timmy Hansen probably had his worst RX weekend to date. This propelled him into the championship fight yet again. He took the win at the most crucial point; as both Hansen brothers were struggling.

Riga, Latvia was yet another good round. After the success of the previous rounds, Bakkerud took substantial time to study the track in a bid to yet score more points. EKS jumped in and helped to test the car and set-up for the track.

He did well, only to fall behind the likes of Hansen and Grönholm in the final.

From thereon, the championship ended in the same fashion as Bakkerud predicted. However, not even the Norwegian himself could predict the true chaos that would erupt during the last few laps of the year.

With a six-week break and only 1 point separating the top 2, both Bakkerud and Hansen kept themselves fit and ready for the fight.

“I think I was like one point behind him going to Cape Town and from practice on we both showed great pace. He won Q1 by 3 tenths of a second. He (Timmy) beat me the first lap by 8 tenths and on the second lap it was even and then I caught back up a few tenths on the last two laps,” he explains. “And that was my weakness. With brand new tyres on the Audi I never managed to squeeze the good 3 tenths to a half a second.”

“I then changed tactics and I reused used tyres all the way through until the semi-final and then I actually had five new tyres left. Using two new tyres for the semi-final and three new tyres for the final so I was ready for action.”

Conserving his tyres throughout the weekend, allowed Bakkerud to use new tyres for the finals. This propelled him to start the final from the front row. The Norwegian ultimately took the lead of the race, only to slide wide in the gravel hairpin. This caused a snowball effect, when Hansen took the inside line and the pair collided.

As everyone bumped one another in the hairpin, both Hansen brothers were catapulted onto the grass bank and re-joined the race again at the back of the field.

In all the chaos, Niclas Grönholm took the race lead, while Bakkerud was in second-place. Up until this point, the latter would still have won the championship.

Yet, disaster struck on lap 3 as Timo Scheider retired from the race, promoting Timmy Hansen into fourth- and ultimately the championship-winning position. Had it not been for Hansen’s previous four wins, Andreas Bakkerud would have been crowned the FIA World Rallycross Champion in South Africa.

Andrew Coley described the Bakkerud-Hansen rivalry as the Senna-Prost moment of World RX. Fans will forever be on opposing sides in terms of this racing incident. However, Bakkerud manages to take the positive memories from this; reminiscing about the goosebumps he felt ahead of the final race.

“Looking back at it off-course, it is still very disappointed that we didn’t leave there with the World Championship title but at the end of the day the goosebumps on the start line of the semi-final, and the feelings ahead of the race and the disappointment after the race. It was a special experience that I can’t describe it in any words. Like so much emotion coming through – a wicked experience but also a very tough one to swallow because I felt in that final that Timmy did so much bad stuff at the end when I look back at it," he said. "But it’s all in the past and I can’t do anything else than man up and grab the new opportunities that I get.”

Bakkerud believes that it will be very tough to beat double World RX champion Johan Kristoffersson in the Volkswagen Polo.

“I think that it’s going to be very, very tough to beat Johan who is returning with the Polo. We all need to remember how much money Volkswagen have paid to be in the rally programme,” he said. “I think it was a crazy amount which they have used on that car and I think in 2018 we had somebody calculate an average how much they were in front of the other teams and I think it was like half a second. And of course, we caught some back when they rested last year… They didn’t rest but the cars were standing still but I still think there is a gap.”

The new GCK driver will certainly come back stronger and hopes to beat both reigning champion Timmy Hansen as well as Johan Kristoffersson.

Written By: Junaid Samodien and Franco Theron

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