Thursday 20 August 2020

PREVIEW: High-octane, action packed World RX returns this weekend.

The long-awaited sixth season of the FIA World Rallycross Championship will finally get underway this weekend in Höljes, Sweden. 

Originally, the 11-round season was due to start in April at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona. Instead, a 10-round, seven-venue schedule including three doubleheaders, with the first doubleheader at this weekend's season opener. 

The 2020 World RX season will remain within the European borders, visiting Finland, Latvia, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain with the championship concluding in mid-December in Germany. 

Due to the current challenges around the Coronavirus. The FIA, the governing body of world motorsport, has developed protocols and procedures to manage the risk associated with the resumption of motorsport amid the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The FIA has used what they have learnt from the resumptions of the Formula 1, Formula E, and World Endurance Championships to benefit the FIA World Rallycross Championship and in collaboration with IMG, they have developed a Return to Racing Event Plan which is specific to rallycross and in line with FIA procedures.

Strict regulations on PCR pre-testing, temperature checks upon entry to the circuit, mandatory use of face masks, and social distancing have been applied along with the creation of team groups and sub-groups to minimize the risk of an outbreak spreading. Trace procedures are also in place along with containment measures in the case of a suspected case.

There are also changes to podium procedures and press conferences. The measures will vary from round to round and will depend on the guidelines and regulations issued by the relevant local health authorities.

"The FIA has undertaken a lot of work along with the World Health Organisation (WHO) our ASNs, event organisers and local health authorities in devising robust COVID-19 protocols to enable the return to motor sport in these challenging times," Professor Gérard Saillant, FIA Medical Commission President, said.

"I am delighted that the FIA World Rallycross Championship is resuming racing this weekend at Höljes, Sweden. We trust that the measures we have in place will be effective in ensuring the health and well-being of all those in attendance."

PHOTO CREDIT: Junaid Samodien
Reigning FIA World Rallycross Champion Timmy Hansen will begin the defence of the title he won in a tense season finale in Cape Town last year. Entering the last event of the year in a three-way battle for the title, Hansen ended the season level on points with Andreas Bakkerud, with the title being decided by the number of victories in the season. 

Hansen will again be joined by younger brother Kevin Hansen at Team Hansen RX. 

The season-opener in Höljes will see 17 drivers taking to the grid, including two-time World RX Champion Johan Krisoffersson returning with machinery that he is well acquainted with the Volkswagen Polo R Supercar. 

That's not all folks... 2016 World Champion Mattias Ekstrom returns as a super-sub for Janis Baumanis who has been forced to take a step back from a full-time drive due to financial issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Ekstrom will return for the opening round in a Supercar he is quite familiar with, the Audi S1 Quattro, and will race under the banner KYB Team JC alongside 2019 EuroRX champion Robin Larsson. 

Niclas Gronholm and Timer Timerzyanov won three events for GRX Taneco in 2019 and will return for more in 2020. Gronholm missed two events last year due to an appendix operation and would have been a championship contender had he not missed those two events. Joining them on the grid in a third Hyundai i20 Supercar for GRX SET in Höljes is multiple European Champion Krisztian Szabo.

While Andreas Bakkerud returns after he was left licking his wounds at the end of the 2019 season. He is hungrier than ever to lift the championship crown, and will partner Liam Doran at Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel. Bakkerud and Doran will race in a pair of Renault Megane R.S. RX Supercars this season. 

Swede Anton Marklund will go it alone this season in a third Megane under the banner GCK Bilstein, whilst former teammate Guerlain Chicherit returns in a Renault Clio alongside Rokas Baciuska at UNKORRUPTED.

Two-time DTM Champion Timo Scheider will return for another full-season with ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport, alongside team boss Rene Muennich in a pair of Seat Ibizas.

While 2019 World RX of Sweden winner Sebastian Eriksson returns to his home track this year with an Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic in a bid to repeat the win.

Finn Jani Paasonen is back for the full championship with his new Ferratum Team after acquiring a Ford Fiesta from Austrian company STARD.

In Sweden, the World Championship will complete rounds one and two with a full event, which requires a format change to the weekend schedule. Each World RX event will consist of three rounds of qualifying, semi-finals, and the final - taking place each day. 

While the supporting championships FIA European Rallycross and the Projekt E series will complete the usual schedule of one event taking place over two days, with two qualifiers on Saturday, the remaining two qualifiers, semi-finals and finals on Sunday.

Höljes also forms the opening event of the three-round FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercars, which will include events in Latvia and Belgium.

Travel restrictions and other issues have reduced the 21-car entry list to 16 expected starters for the season opener.

Whilst Robin Larsson will not return to defend his crown in 2020. Both Jean-Baptiste (JB) Dubourg (Peugeot) and Thomas Bryntesson (VW Polo) will aim to lift the EuroRX title at the end of the season. 

Joining them on the grid will be two-time RX2 Series Champion Oliver Eriksson who will step up to EuroRX with a Ford Fiesta, and RX2 event winner Ben-Philip Gundersen in a JC Raceteknik prepared Audi S1. 

The EuroRX entry list also includes former WRC-2 Champion Pontus Tidemand, 74-year-old Swedish motorsport legend Per Eklund and Tobias Daarbak.

The new all-electric series, Projekt E will join the World RX support package this season with four events. The first event in Sweden followed by Latvia, Belgium, and Germany. 

Projekt E will incorporate the traditional values of rallycross by allowing teams to create cars using a wide range of production models, but the battery and powertrain kits are required to be purchased from Austrian company, STARD.

The powertrain kit comprises of three electric motors, two used on the rear axle, and one on the front, that produces a 450kW racecar with 1000Nm of torque.

The landmark first event will feature three cars, the entry list led by Ken Block who is joined by British rally driver Natalie Barratt and Austrian rally champion Hermann Neubauer. All three will drive Ford Fiesta-based cars. While the debut of the new Citroen C3 ERX has now been postponed until round two in Riga.

The FIA World Rallycross season-opener will undoubtedly create big talking points and answer a few questions we might already have. The likes of can Team Hansen RX successfully defend their titles. Is Robin Larsson a title contender? What can RX Cartel achieve in 2020? And, finally, will GRX Taneco return stronger than before?

We will most certainly get a few answers to these questions at Höljes doubleheader this weekend. 

The action will begin from 10:30am on Saturday and 09:50am on Sunday, with live streaming carried on the official FIA World RX Facebook and YouTube channels. While South African fans will be able to watch the live broadcast of the semi-finals and finals on pay-TV channel SuperSport  from 15:00pm on Sunday afternoon.

Written By - Junaid Samodien

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