Thursday 1 October 2020

World RX: The best poker game ever?

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
After a dramatic end to the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship, everyone eagerly awaited the start of the 2020 season, with the COVID-19 pandemic helping to increase this anticipation. 

However, while the new season would see four of the last world championship winners on the grid, most carried caution to their anticipation as Johan Kristoffersson left the championship in 2018 after a very dominant and quite predictive nature. This might just have been why the 2019 season was so spectacular, but with the return of the latter, everyone feared that we might go in the same direction as Formula 1 went with Lewis Hamilton during the past few years. 

Most would have rightfully betted that Kristoffersson would lead the championship after three double-headers, but fewer would have predicted that the former powerhouse would struggle a bit to keep the rest behind. 

    1. A tactical warfare 

Even fewer would have predicted that tactics (and not sure speed) would be at the order of the day. With Mattias Ekström taking Jānis Baumanis’ (JC Raceteknik) seat at the last moment, the paddock became increasingly wary of this. 

The Swede might just have amazed himself at Höljes, taking the second win of the championship and changing his plans for the following weekend as he would once again take part in the Finnish double-header. 

While Kristoffersson and Niclas Grönholm won the next two rounds, Ekström kept consistent. Grönholm again took the top qualifier position in Riga on Saturday, but a chaotic start to the final saw Kristoffersson take the win, with Ekström taking second. It went even further as the latter took the top qualifier spot on the next day and won the Sunday event in Riga. 

Yet, with both Kristoffersson and Ekström in the pack, it is becoming evidently clear why and how the 2016 – 2018 championships were won by these two. Tyre strategies, mind games, and team help is now the order of the day and we might just see this until December when the 2020 championship finishes. 

Niclas Grönholm leads Mattias Ekström and Johan Kristoffersson in Finland.

    2. GRX Taneco with immense start-line power 

For some, Niclas Grönholm stands as the 2019 champion, who never took the title. Missing two rounds due to an appendicitis operation, the Finn entered the last Cape Town round with a mathematical chance of still claiming the title. While this was never to be the case, he took the win at the Killarney International Raceway. 

Ending the Höljes weekend, the odds were stacked against the GRX Taneco team as they seemed to struggle with pace and set-ups, compared to the Volkswagen Polo and the Audi S1 Quattro’s.

The next weekend, however, saw different circumstances as Juha Rytkönen finished the first day in the second-place. The taste of champagne became even sweeter on day 2 as Grönholm silenced critics by fending off immense pressure from Kristoffersson and Ekström to win his home round, with teammate, Timur Timerzyanov with him on the podium. 

Showcasing that this was not just a once-off, Grönholm took TQ on day 1 at Riga, however, a difficult first corner propelled Kristoffersson to the win. 

Joining the GRX SET squad from EKS machinery, Krisztián Szabó showcased his true form this year by finishing inside the top-10 consistently and winning his race heats. All this basically comes down to immense starts with all three of the Hyundai’s having great starts in almost every race. 

Will these good launches (starts) give the team extra armor in the fight for the championship?

Andreas Bakkerud leading rival Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekström.

    3. Where are the 2019 contenders? 

Timmy Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud finished the 2019 season behind a controversial curtain, which will be disputed for many years to come. Finishing the season on equal points, many regarded them as the two fiercest competitors for 2020. 

Unfortunately, this is yet to be proven, with Hansen only claiming a season-best third place on the first day in Finland followed up by third in Riga. While this might not seem that bad,  Hansen Motorsport is yet to prove its consistency, compared to GRX Taneco, KYB Team JC, and Kristoffersson Motorsport. 

With even more bad luck, the Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel combination started off much worse than anticipated. Following GCK’s progress during the past few years, it was thought that the Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel's connection would propel them to the front. 

Andreas Bakkerud is yet to reach a podium position in 2020, with the Norwegian seemingly struggling to find his same form with the Megane as he showcased with the EKS run Audi in 2019. 

A sparkle of hope came through as Bakkerud started to show some form on the final day in Riga as he slotted into the second row of the second semi-finals. Fighting it out with Timo Scheider for P3 in the second semi-finals during race 6, the Megane of Bakkerud came second best, hitting a grass bank pretty hard. 

A broken driveshaft sees the wheel come off Doran's Renault Megane.

    4. British bomb not igniting

Liam Doran, the package deal for the Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel link-up, is finding the best of bad luck in 2020. The British driver seems to have a combination of bad luck and problems with the car during every round this year. 

With this, he is certainly the most inconsistent driver thus far, with no necessary fault of his own. 

Only one top-10 position thus far proves this. 

Is it due to Doran’s vigorous driving style or might it just be the GCK machinery not working as well? 

In 2018, it might have been easy to place money on Johan Kristoffersson as the likely champion, yet, the 2020 season is promised to be far less predictable, with the double World Champion yet to win a Sunday event. Having won 50% of the 2020 events thus far, he is not as dominant as he once was with PSRX Volkswagen Sweden. 

Will Kristoffersson take his third championship, Ekström his second, or Grönholm his first? 

Written By - Franco Theron (Galimoto Media)

No comments:

Post a Comment