Thursday, 9 May 2019

2019 Spanish GP: FIA Drivers' Press Conference.

DRIVERS – Carlos SAINZ (McLaren), Sebastian VETTEL (Ferrari), Pierre GASLY (Red Bull Racing), George RUSSELL (Williams), Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes) 

Q: Carlos, welcome home. You’ve said that this is the most important race of the year, just tell us why that is and tell us what you’ve been up to in the build-up?

Carlos SAINZ: Thank you and welcome to Spain, beinvenidos. Yeah, a special race for everyone I guess, but for me in particular because it’s my home race. I’m one of those lucky drivers on the grid to have a home race to enjoy with the fans and the Spanish people. It’s my fifth now and it’s incredible how time goes by so quickly. I remember my first time here in 2015 like it was yesterday. Yeah, looking forward to enjoying it, spending some extra time with the fans and the media of course and that’s it.

Q: Have you had more attention now that you are the only Spanish driver on the grid?
CS: Honestly I don’t feel it. I don’t feel like I get more or less attention. Probably this weekend I’ll be quite busy. But it’s not something that really affects me much or it’s not something I’m noticing in particular, but if it does happen I guess it’s not a bad thing.

Q: You’ve finished in the points every time you’ve raced here in Barcelona. How confident are you of continuing that trend this weekend?
CS: Well, I think one of the main reasons for that is that this track has always suited the car I’ve been racing with. I think I’ve struggled in the past with top speeds and long straights in the cars that I’ve been racing with and in Barcelona that deficit was always reduced. So it meant my cars that I was racing here were a bit better. But also I think I’ve always been comfortable in this track. I’ve had some success also in lower categories. I like the track, I like the challenge, I like racing with the fans behind me. I think after this week, what happened to Liverpool, you can also see that having a crowd behind you also helps and at least to me it always helps. 

Q: Good luck for this weekend, thank you for that. George, coming to you. It’s been a difficult start for you and the team this year. How important is this race in establishing a development path for the car? Are you aware of anything new?

George RUSSELL: Well, there were a few things on the plan but unfortunately, after the incidents in Baku, they sort of shuffled things back a bit. But it’s normal that every race that we have some things to test. At the moment we’re probably slightly different to other teams because we’re trying to test to understand our limitations and to try to bring something greater a bit further down the line, because obviously we are quite far behind at the moment and we need to find a sizeable chunk.

Q: What about from a driving point of view, how are you developing as a driver?
GR: I think very well to be honest. I think it’s a great opportunity for me, being slightly under the radar, slightly less pressure off my shoulders. Really I’m only fighting with Robert let’s say. I’m not really interested in that. I want to be fighting with the guys further up the grid and I’m working really closely with the team and with Robert actually because, as I said, we’re not interested in fighting for 19th place.

Q: You’re working closely with the team, but what about with Patrick Head? He’s back as a consultant with Williams. How have those discussions gone with him?
GR: Yeah, Patrick’s a great guy. He’s going to bring some motivation and some great spirit to the team, with obviously all of his knowledge. So much history with Williams as well, so I think it will be a positive step.

Q: Thank you very much. Pierre, coming on to you. We’ve seen progress with you at every grand prix this year; you’ve been chipping away at it. I wonder if you could give us a little bit more detail on what have been the issues with the car, and is it now more to your liking? 

Pierre GASLY: Yeah, quite a lot of things happened since the beginning of the season I think, overall. Things don’t really come our way so far, but we can see progress. I can feel I’m getting more comfortable inside the car and the direction we are taking is working and making me feel better. I think we saw some progress in Baku. We had penalties and unfortunately I had to retire in the race, but we are going in the right direction.

Q: You say you had progress in Baku. A lot has been made of Ferrari’s power unit upgrade this weekend, but Honda brought an upgrade to Baku. What can you tell us about it?
PG: As we said in Baku, I think it was mainly on the reliability side. So I think everything is going as expected on the PU side. I think Honda is pushing massively into bringing new upgrades this season as well. But I think we are really pleased with what they have achieved since the beginning of the season in terms of performance and reliability. Of course we always want more, and we know Ferrari and Mercedes are also pushing and are still a bit faster than we are. But I think with the development we will catch progressively.

Q: Now, you’ve raced Max Verstappen for many years. How would you assess the job he’s doing this year? Has he surprised you?
PG: I mean I’ve always known he’s one of the most talented guys, but yeah, I must say he is really good at extracting the maximum from the package at the moment. For me it’s really good to be next to him at the moment, use his experience with the team, with Red Bull Racing, with the car, to see a bit what he does to extract the maximum from the package that we have. He has been driving really well, really consistently, so it’s definitely a good benchmark to me.

Q: Thank you Pierre, best of luck this weekend. Valtteri, coming to you: world championship leader, best ever start to a season, double the number of points as this time last year. People look for a reason why things happen. Do you have an explanation for why things are going better this year than last year?

Valtteri BOTTAS: There are many things in this sport that can affect things for sure. Sometimes you’re more lucky for sure, sometime very much less so, but I honestly think why I’ve been able to improve year by year is work. Work with the team; work with my ability; focus on all the single details, and if you work hard it’s only a matter of time before things start to go right. Obviously I’m pleased with season, how it has been started compared to recent ones, that’s very positive. But also one of the things is as a team – the level we have been able to perform at in these first four races has been really impressive. It’s not only me, it’s the team, but it’s a good battle with Lewis at the moment.

Q: You have a new race engineer this year. How has that shaken things up on your side of the garage? 
VB: Yeah, I have a new engineering team completely, race and performance engineer, and whenever you have new people around it makes you think about some things differently. It can open up some new routes on the set-up and the direction. It has started really well. We have been learning a lot as an engineering team all the time and it’s getting better and better. So far, so good.

Q: Now your boss Toto Wolff says Mercedes have been lucky at some races this season. Would you agree with that? 
VB: Well, I think we have done a great job as a team and at the level we’ve been performing we deserve these results at the moment. Sometimes we might get lucky, like Bahrain, where obviously it was due to other teams failures that we got the one-two, but it meant that we were the most reliable car at that race. So it’s not about luck, I think it’s mostly how the team is performing.

Q: Thank you. Sebastian, we’re heading into race five, what’s the mood in the Ferrari camp?
Sebastian VETTEL: Good.

Q: You’ve got a lot of upgrades coming this weekend. Do you need a faster car or a more driveable car? What are you hoping for from these upgrades? 
SV: Well, we hope to improve the car obviously. We introduced some bits in Baku already last race and another set of new parts here. Obviously we want to make the car faster here and there. I think we were reasonably quick but not quick enough overall to put the cars on the front row at every event. We’re lacking a little bit, but I think overall the package is promising. We know that we have a strong car; we’ve struggle a bit to put it together, so to answer your question, probably a bit of both.

Q: It’s clear that you have a big fight on your hands, particularly with Mercedes. How is the team reacting to that compared with previous seasons, from an internal perspective?
SV: Well, every year is different. As I said, the spirit is good, the team is in good shape, so we’re looking forward to come here, we’re confident about the parts we’ve brought here, we are introducing a new engine as well, so we’ve got some stuff that wee think should help us to be stronger than the last races. And as I said, the spirit is good. Comparing to previous years, at this point last year we were in a better place, we had won some races and overall we’d been more competitive, but nevertheless I think the spirit is as good or better than last year.
Q: Before I open this up to the floor, it’s the UN’s global road safety week, something that all of you guys contributed to earlier on in the year when you helped produce a video. I’ve got a question to each of you, which is: what can everyday road users learn from Formula One drivers. 

SV: Obviously we try to go as fast as we can, which is not a good idea on the roads, so my initial response would be ‘not that much!’ But we are very professional, we try to obviously control every situation that we are in, and I think we are very lucky that we can push ourselves to the limit on the race track, so there’s no need to try to do something funny or odd outside the track. I think, as much as we respect ourselves on the track, you should respect other people that are participating and trying to get from one place to another. The road, or the track, you’re not on your own. That’s something that you hear many times from racing drivers at any time they raced in Formula One or other categories, that they respect the other people that raced with them. In the same way, you should respect other drivers that share the road with you.

CS: Basically, what Seb has said. You must not behave like an idiot on the road on the road. Respect everyone – and wear your seatbelt. I think those two things are the most important.

VB: We never have mobile phones in the cars – so that’s something everyone can learn not to use them.

PG: Yeah, I agree with all the comments. I think most of us have been also involved in some loss from road car accidents. In my case, I have been, and I think safety is the most important thing. Respecting others, and yeah, just be responsible when you’re on the road. You’re not by yourself, you have other people around and yeah, I think it’s important to take care of the lives of other people around, and also of your own life. As Seb says, we don’t give a great example on track because hopefully we have the chance to drive really fast on track, but when we get to the road, we must be really responsible and be careful of others.

GR: I think it’s important to respect the road. On a race track, you know what’s around the corner, whereas on the road, anything could be there: could be a small child crossing the road or whatever. You have to respect the road: it’s not a racetrack.


Q: (Livio Oricchio – To Sebastian. You said in February your feeling about the new car was very good since the first moment. You got the fastest time after eight days here. What happened that you didn’t get in the races the same good performances – and do you believe you can repeat this weekend what you experienced here in February and March?

SV: The honest answer is we don’t know entirely. Obviously the car was really good in testing. We arrived in Australia and we struggled a little bit to feel the same. I think the first four races for us have been a little bit up-and-down. There were stretches where the cars felt really good and other parts where the car hasn’t – but deep down we know that the car is strong. So, we are trying to put the bits together and trying to understand. We haven’t found the silver bullet – but in the last ten years I never found the silver bullet so I don’t think it exists. It’s really getting down to the detail, trying to understand more and more, trying to understand the conditions that we face, and trying to obviously improve and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Now, this weekend will be interesting for us because obviously we had such a good feeling and it’s not so long ago. I’m pretty sure I remember how the car felt and it will be interesting to see how it behaves the next couple of days. But I’m quite confident if we can get to that level then we should be very competitive. As I said, on top of that, we have some new stuff, so let’s see. I can’t give you an exact answer.

Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Question to all five please. It seems very possible this could be the last time we have the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona. It seems a race at Zandvoort, a Dutch Grand Prix, could replace it in the future. I’d just like to know what you think about the prospect of an F1 race at Zandvoort and what you would miss about this place?

PG: I think it would be quite a shock to lose the Spanish Grand Prix because Barcelona is probably the track we have all driven on the most since Formula 4, Formula Renault, all the categories. So, hopefully an agreement can be found. I don’t mind having more races, I like races, I like racing and hopefully we can get the two in the calendar. And Zandvoort is pretty exciting if it happens. It’s a really narrow track. I’ve been there only once but it’s really challenging on the driving side. So, I think to put some F1 cars there will be pretty cool and exciting.

VB: I’ve no information on the details and the politics of what’s going on, but obviously it would be a shame. It’s been in Formula One a long time, this track, and there’s so many fans in Spain and around Barcelona. It’s a nice grand prix for all the fans to come to, also from elsewhere. So, that would be a shame. On the other hand, I’ve raced with F3 in Zandvoort and it’s a pretty cool circuit. There’s a lot of of culture now, especially with Max  being in Formula One for a few years now, so for sure that will be a nice one – but the two combined would be obviously ideal for everyone.

CS: Obviously for me it would be a big loss in the calendar – but as far as I know, negotiations are still on-going. I think that’s been confined. From me, wishing that all the institutions are going to do their job, they’re going to agree on something. I think it’s in the benefit of Barcelona, of Spain, of Formula One. I think a Spanish Grand Prix has a lot of history in Formula One; I think this track has a lot of history in Formula One, and it would be a shame to lose it. So, hopefully they can agree on something. Maybe not next year because it’s too late, or hopefully yes, just agree on something for the future.

SV: It would be a shame for Carlos. For the rest of us, we’ve been here many times and I think we’d still do the testing but it’s a nice venue, it’s a nice time of year to come here, so it would be a shame. Maybe we could go somewhere else in Spain. Maybe they could build him a race track close to Madrid. Easy for you as well…

CS: Maybe in the future I can build one myself!

GR: I think it would be a shame to lose this circuit because it’s a great one – but on the other hand, Zandvoort is probably in my top five favourite circuits. I think it’s a really incredible circuit, it’s got so much character. Obviously safety is incredibly important these days in Formula One but I just truly hope we don’t get rid of the gravel runoffs in Zandvoort in the two high-speed corners because that’s what makes the circuit so daunting and so incredible to drive. Like I said, it would be a shame to lose Barcelona but equally I’d be very excited to race in Zandvoort.

Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Valtteri, on Sunday it will be Mothers’ Day, at least in Finland. Would victory be a perfect present for your mother?

VB: Of course it would! Traditionally this grand prix is the Mothers’ Day grand prix and normally my mum comes here. She’s coming this year as well, and that would be a nice gift for her. Also nice for me, to win another one.

Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Sebastian, you’re already 35 points behind in the championship race. How imperative is it you win on Sunday. Question to Valtteri as well: do you think Lewis views you as a genuine rival for the championship?

SV: Yeah, I wasn’t aware but I knew we were behind. At this point of the year, it doesn’t really matter by how much. I think it’s quite straightforward, we need to start scoring more points. The later we start doing that, the worse it looks. The sooner, the better. It’s pretty straightforward to be honest.

VB: I think that’s something you’re better to ask Lewis – but I would guess so.

Q: (Lorenzo de Linares Alvarez - Carlos, as Sebastian said earlier and with the rumours of not having Barcelona next year, you won the Formula Renault at Jerez; would you like to race there in Formula One?

CS: What I would like the most is to have Barcelona. I think this city, this track, deserves to be in Formula One. If you could add Jerez, then even better because I (would) have two (Grands Prix in my country). And if you don’t get Barcelona, I wouldn’t mind having Jerez back. That’s pretty much my order of priorities if you ask me now. But this city and Spain, I think, deserves to be Barcelona in the F1 calendar.

Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Seb and Valtteri, after pre-season testing, as drivers, you guys generally say that you won’t know where you are as a driver, where the car is at, the team as a whole until after the first few Grands Prix of the season. We’ve had those first few Grands Prix now so could you kindly provide an assessment of where you feel you’re at at the moment on the back of those first few races, what you feel your chances are of winning the world title? 

VB: Well, I think that obviously if you look at the results, it looks like we’ve been dominating as a team, four one-twos in a row but I think on the pure pace of the car, I think there’s not that much difference between us and Ferrari. It’s really been depending on the race weekend. For sure Melbourne we were stronger. I think on pure pace in Bahrain they were better and after that it’s been pretty close and all about fine details in qualifying and what’s been happening in the race. I would see us as not far from par with Ferrari and depending on tracks, it’s going to change and obviously this weekend with the upgrades – from my understanding, Ferrari is bringing a new power unit - see how that works and we have some new parts as well so see how those work. Can’t really count off Red Bull on this type of track and also Monaco in two weeks. It is early on in the season and as always with some regulation changes it’s going to be about the development, how much we can improve from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi.

SV: I think that first when we were testing we were ahead. Second we were going testing I think we were a match. First race we were behind, second race slightly ahead, third, fourth race behind both in qualifying and race so at the moment we are slightly behind but we also know that it’s not a long way and then things could come our way so that’s why I said it before, the spirit is good, everybody is fired up and willing to fight and therefore I believe our chances also are as good as anybody else’s.

Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) Traditionally this is not a Grand Prix where we see a lot of overtaking but this year DRS is a lot more powerful than before. Can we look forward to quite a bit of overtaking this year on Sunday? 

GR: Yeah, probably obvious that we haven’t done much overtaking this year so I can’t really comment on that.

SV: Yeah, I think we will see some. It depends on the race, obviously, but I think we should see some, we should definitely see more here than if we go to Zandvoort. It’s just true, no? It’s like Monaco isn’t it?

CS: Overtaking? Yeah. Tiny bit easier this year with the DRS effect and maybe the cars being a tiny bit better to follow but overtaking in Barcelona is always difficult. You need a big tyre delta here to overtake. I think the races are one-stop and if everyone is on a one-stop unless there’s a big pace delta you are not able to overtake. If there is a race of two or three stops, one-stop, a mix, then you have a big tyre delta and that tyre delta helps you to overtake. It depends a bit on the strategy, on the tyres, but for sure the DRS is helping.

VB: I think it’s going to be difficult still, on this type of track, but it is the nature of the track and that makes qualifying more valuable and like Carlos said, it’s a lot about strategy. If we see one stop, two stops then it could be more interesting but we’ll see.

PG: Yeah, I agree. Barcelona is always difficult but from one year to another it can always be different so we will see this year but maybe with all the cars being slightly closer, slightly bigger, the DRS effect could make things a bit more exciting.

Q: (Michael Doodson - Michael Doodson) Carlos, you’ve done your best to be optimistic about the future of Formula One in Spain but we’ve lost Fernando, we’re about to lose this place and worst of all, there seems to be no free-to-air television Formula One in Spain. I’ve lived here and I know how difficult it is to find it. Do you think that there’s anything that can be done, like for example you or your team bringing pressure on Liberty to make sure that Formula One gets a good deal and can be seen by ordinary Spanish people on free-to-air television? 

CS: Well, you have me, which hopefully helps, to keep this thing going and keep the momentum that Fernando built with his success in Spain. Free-to-air television is none of my business, that’s purely Liberty and Formula One deals with the TVs which I have absolutely no access to, where I cannot put pressure. Spain normally hasn’t had a big culture for paying for watching sports like maybe now they have in the UK or in other countries but yeah, let’s see how that develops. And for the rest, yeah, just keep hoping, no? For myself, I’m going to try and do everything I can, maybe a podium this weekend  helps but I think it will not happen. I don’t know, I don’t know what I can do apart from just talking with the institutions and maybe ask and pray to keep this thing going.

Q: (Lennart Wermke – Bild) Seb, Frankfurt’s playing in the Europe League semi-finals tonight. Will you watch the game and could it provide some extra motivation for you if Frankfurt makes it to the final? 

SV: Yes, yes. Yeah, I will be watching, of course. Yeah. Obviously for Frankfurt it’s a huge achievement already to be in the semi-final. Anything can happen. Obviously it’s not easy but yeah, I’m rooting for them as many others will so…

Q: (Roksana Cwik - We had a question about Zandvoort and I would like to ask about Rio and if we lose Interlagos. What is your opinion about it? 

(Q: It’s been reported in the media about the future of the Brazilian Grand Prix and it’s been speculated that maybe a move to Rio is on the cards).

PG: Yeah, I saw some news about it but I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I love Brazil in general. Sao Paulo is a really cool track, quite challenging. I’ve been there only twice, drove twice there. I’ll be happy to continue to go there. I don’t know what’s the plan with Rio but I think I will need to wait a bit longer and see what’s going to happen.

VB: I think the same thing. In Sao Paulo there is obviously a lot of history in Formula One, many great races have been done there. Many I remember seeing as a kid and so on but Rio would be nice. I have been there once and it’s a beautiful place. No idea for me either what’s happening behind the scenes but I’d be there for sure.

CS: I like Sao Paulo, I like its track, this old school layout, the history it has from the nineties and also the famous title fight there in 2007. I think it brings great memories. I don’t know, I think it depends on the track they build in Rio. If they build a cool track with cool racing, I think the city’s great, from what I’ve heard. Just ask for a cool track with cool racing, good overtaking and a fun track for the drivers then I think we wouldn’t miss Sao Paulo as much as we will if it doesn’t go so well.

SV: Yeah, I wasn’t aware that it’s going to happen. I heard some rumours but I think it’s a shock. I think Interlagos is a great place, a lot of history. I think the old track at Interlagos is even better than the current one but I couldn’t think of anything other than maybe the track being a little bit short that Interlagos is almost missing. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to the last race we have there. Who knows, in the future, if we go back? It’s a great place, so it’s a real shame. I’m sort of a fan of hanging on to old things. It would be nice to go back very soon. Maybe have two races in Brazil, since the crowd is usually quite amazing.
GR: Sao Paulo was where I made my FP1 debut in 2017 so I have some fond memories there. I think it’s an amazing circuit but I think Rio’s a really cool place. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go so if the rumours are true, I would be looking forward to it.

Q: (Oliver Reuter – Express, Cologne) Seb, you compared your Ferrari with a Rubik Cube. Are you confident that the Ferrari guys are so clever that you can fit all the parts in the right direction? Did you try it yourself and are you confident that they can fix it this weekend? 

SV: You mean the Rubik Cube or the car? The car I’ve tried, the Rubik Cube, yeah, I’ve tried as well. Easy, sub-two minutes. Yeah, I think we have a lot of clever people on board. As I’ve said before, I think this track will be interesting for us because the car was really working well pre-season so we will see how it works this weekend and how it feels in comparison but yeah, we’re working flat out, trying to make sure that we have the fastest car on the grid and we win all the races that are left.

ESmotorsport drops Baciuska over "contractual disagreement"

PHOTO CREDIT: ES Motorsport 
Former Super1600 European Rallycross champion Rokas Baciuska has been dropped by ESmotorsport-Labas GAS due to a contractual disagreement. 

The 19-year-old Lithuanian was tipped as the driver to watch out for this season in the new Skoda Fabia Supercar.

Team owner Ernestas Staponkus was confident in Rokas' ability ahead of the season: "We are sure that he will be able to fight with the fastest drivers in the world this season.”

Baciuska cracked the top ten in Abu Dhabi with a fifth-place finish in Q3, but at the second round of the championship at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona his best result was ninth. 

The Lithuanian is currently thirteenth in the World RX drivers' standings. 

An official statement was released by ESmotorsport-Labas GAS yesterday confirming a switch in the driver line-up for the Belgian round of the World RX Championship - "Due to a contractual disagreement, Rokas Baciuska has been replaced for the Spa World RX of Benelux by François Duval."

The team took to social media today confirming that Rokas Baciuska will not return to the team this season.

"The difficult decision has been taken by both sides, we would like to say thank you for Rokas hard work and we are wishing him all the best success," the statement said. "About our future plans, we will inform you in near future. Now full focus on races in Spa World RX of Benelux."

Text - Junaid Samodien

PREVIEW: A World RX leveler awaits the field at Spa-Francorchamps.

The FIA World Rallycross Championship heads to Belgium this weekend for the World RX of Benelux at Spa-Francorchamps. 

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, nestled in the Ardennes mountain range, makes its debut on the World RX calendar this season with a 913m purpose-built rallycross track, a banked final corner, and an intimidating sequence through Eau Rouge.

2016 FIA World RX champion Mattias Ekstrom will make a return this weekend after announcing an end to his full-time World RX career last year. The Swede will be reunited with his title-winning Audi S1 now owned by JC Raceteknik.

Ekstrom admits that watching the first two World RX rounds on television got his competitive juices flowing again. “Being on the sofa at home watching Abu Dhabi, I started to imagine racing again and going through Eau Rouge at 200km sideways. It started to become very tempting,” he said.

The Swede will be partnered by Enzo Ide at JC Raceteknik who have entered a two-car team. 

Spa-Francorchamps is set to be a leveler in the playing field as no driver has turned a wheel on the new rallycross circuit.

But the question on many peoples lips heading into this weekend is: Can anyone stop Team Hansen MJP after the dominant start to the season? 

Timmy Hansen was unstoppable in Barcelona two weeks' ago, claiming a clean sweep of victories to close the gap to his younger brother Kevin in the drivers’ standings.

Hansen admits that the World RX of Benelux presents unique challenges. “We are racing on the most iconic place in motorsport,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of photos, it looks like a very interesting circuit especially going up through Eau Rouge and the hairpin."

“It’s always a big test going to a brand new circuit but it’s a new circuit for everybody. It’s going to be difficult to learn the layout quickly, so we have to be on our toes,” he added.

Andreas Bakkerud claimed a podium finish last time out in Barcelona behind the Hansen brothers and will be a strong challenger this season along with his team-mate Liam Doran in their Audi S1 Supercars.

Gregoire Demoustier joins the field in Belgium with his Peugeot 208 Supercar.

Finland’s Joni Wiman also returns after last appearing in World RX four years ago. Wiman joins GRX Set in a Hyundai i20. “It’s a big thing to be back in the World RX and I am grateful to the team and sponsors, who made this happen,” he said.

“I have raced many of these World RX drivers in various situations and I know there won’t be any giveaways, but I am confident, that combined with the experience of GRX, I will be up to pace.”

Wiman was set to join a three-car GRX line-up alongside Niclas Gronholm and Timur Timerzyanov. However, Gronholm was forced to withdraw due to an appendicitis operation.

Timerzyanov is relishing competing at Spa. “I’m pretty excited about World RX heading to the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, and the fact that we will go flat out through the legendary Eau Rouge, gives me goose bumps already,” the Russian said.

“But putting the emotional thrill aside – it’s a new venue for everyone and it all will come down to being able to figure out the right set-up in the few Free Practice laps.”

A very late addition to the entry list sees Francois Duval join the ESmotorosport -Labas Gas team replacing Rokas Baciuska. Last weekend Duval claimed a win in the French Rallycross Championship at Chateauroux.

"I am very happy to finally be present for this first world rallycross event on the Spa-Francorchamps track," he said. "All was done at the last minute. I know it will not be easy to be competitive against top teams and top cars but I will drive without pressure, essentially for fun and for my fans."

Briton Oliver Bennett had a series of unfortunate events from an ECU issue on the opening day of the season to rolling his Mini Cooper S1 on day two in Abu Dhabi to front suspension problems in Barcelona. "There was a large pothole on the entrance to the gravel after the start-finish line that was high speed and directly under a braking point,” he explained.

Bennett confirms that they have identified the cause of the suspension failure: “We had a new design arm on for Barcelona, and every time it hit that hole it would bend. It was only a matter of corners before it snapped in Q2 and Q4," he said. "We knew what the issue was in Barcelona, we just had no way of fixing it there, but it’s been sorted for Spa.”

The GCK teams showed improved pace in Barcelona with Cyril Raymond finishing fifth in his first World RX final. 

EKS Sport's Krisztian Szabo aims to build on the 10 points he collected in Barcelona while ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider hopes to have put car troubles behind him.

Jani Baumanis lies fourth in the drivers' standings and will be aiming to achieve better results while Pal Try will make his return in Belgium with Team STARD. 

Team STARD could receive a 10,000 euro fine this weekend if they fail to enter two cars of the same make and model. 

Frenchman Herve Knapick rolled his Citroen DS3 Supercar in Barcelona and could be making his return this weekend.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Gronholm ruled out for Spa, while Duval claims seat at ES-Motorsport.

Niclas Gronholm to miss Spa World RX of Benelux due to an illness, while former European Rallycross Championship race winner Francois Duval will drive for ESMotorsport Labas-Gas.

Gronholm currently second in the World RX drivers' standings will not compete at the third round of the championship after being admitted to hospital with appendicitis. 

In a statement, the team said: "Due to the appendicitis operation Niclas Grönholm won't be on the start grid of Spa World RX of Benelux. Don't worry - Niclas will be back for #WorldRX Round 4 in Silverstone."

The Finnish squad have confirmed that Joni Wiman will now be eligible to collect points in the Teams' Standings.

Belgium's François Duval joins the ESMotorsport Labas-Gas team in Spa, replacing Rokas Baciuska. 

An official statement from the team said, "due to a contractual disagreement, Rokas Baciuska has been replaced for the Spa World RX of Benelux by François Duval."

Baciuska being replaced comes as real surprise since he signed a deal with the Lithuanian team to compete in the full season. 

Duval is excited to make his World RX debut at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit. "I am very happy to finally be present for this first world rallycross event on the Spa-Francorchamps track," he said. 

"All was done at the last minute. I know it will not be easy to be competitive against top teams and top cars but I will drive without pressure, essentially for fun and for my fans."

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

GRX Taneco heads to Spa-Franchorchamps with high motivation.

GRX Taneco heads to one of the most iconic motorsport venues - Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps with high motivation.

Former GRC champion Joni Wiman will join the Finnish squad in Belgium in third Hyundai i20 Supercar.

Permanent driver Niclas Grönholm is currently second in the FIA World RX championship standings heading into round three. 

“Beginning of the season has been quite challenging with close battles for positions. We can see that we have the potential to be on the top step of the podium, but so far we’ve had some misfortunes," said Grönholm.

There is no time to be stuck in the past, so we keep our heads up and go to SPA with a high motivation.”

The all-new Benelux rallycross track is just 913 meters in length, making it the shortest of the season. The track is incorporated within the iconic Formula 1 circuit and includes one of the most famous corners in motorsport - Eau Rouge.

“I’m pretty excited about World RX heading to the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, and the fact the we will go flat out through the legendary Eau Rouge, gives me goose bumps already," said Timerzyanov.

The Russian is currently placed sixth in the drivers' championship standings, but is under no illusion that it will be an easy weekend at the new World RX venue. 

"Putting the emotional thrill aside – it’s a new venue for everyone and it all will come down to being able to figure out the right set-up in the few Free Practice laps.” .

GRX Taneco's third driver, former GRC champion Joni Wiman is confident that he can use previous rallycross experience to get up to speed in Belgium. 

“I have raced many of these World RX drivers in various situations and I know there won’t be any giveaways, but I am confident, that combined with the experience of GRX, I will be up to pace,” said Wiman.

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Monday, 6 May 2019

Matter France repairs Team Hansen MJP bodyshell after Abu Dhabi crash.

Team Hansen MJP faced the uphill challenge of repairing Timmy Hansen's accident damaged Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar following his crash with Andreas Bakkerud at the FIA World Rallycross Championship season opener in Abu Dhabi. 

Timmy Hansen was forced to withdraw from the weekend after the Q3 crash with Andreas Bakkerud that seriously damaged his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar. 

It was now a race against time to prepare Timmy Hansen's Peugeot for the second round of the World RX championship in Barcelona. Could the team repair the damage in time?

On 12 April, the Swedish team's supercars returned from the Yas Marina Circuit and were released to the team. 

The very next day, the team stripped down the stricken 208 WRX Supercar and on April 14, the stripped-down bodyshell was taken to Matter Motorsport (Matter France) for the necessary repairs

Matter France was created by Winfried Matter in the late '80s and has become the reference for the safety of competition vehicles.

After receiving the body shell on 14 April, Matter France started work on repairing the accident damage, and after a few days of extensive labour and repairs. Team Hansen MJP received the repaired bodyshell and roll cage. 

On the evening of April 20, Team Hansen MJP sent the bodyshell and roll cage for paint. The following day, Timmy Hansen's supercar would go through two days of reassembly ahead of a scheduled shakedown on 22 April.

The shakedown test was a success and the Team Hansen MJP supercars were sent to Barcelona for the second round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship. 

Timmy Hansen said: “We went through so much just to get to the start in Barcelona. In Abu Dhabi it was going so well, then it was the worst outcome possible, the car was damaged and again the guys had to work super hard to repair the car.”

Matter France captured every step of rebuilding Timmy Hansen's Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar. So, please enjoy the images supplied by Matter France below: 

All Photographs are the property of Matter Motorsport
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TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Mark Higgins joins entry list for World RX of Great Britain.

The reigning Motorsport British Rallycross Champion Mark Higgins is set to join the FIA World Rallycross Championship for the fourth round of the 2019 season at the Speedmachine Festival in the UK.

Higgins made his World RX debut with Albatec Racing last season and will also drive the team’s Peugeot 208 for his second home appearance. 

Also joining the fifteen permanent World RX drivers for his second event with Team STARD will be Finland’s Jani Paasonen.

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World Rallycross Media

Saturday, 4 May 2019

A fairytale start for Team Hansen MJP.

Team Hansen MJP's Kenneth Hansen, Kevin Hansen, Timmy Hansen, and Susann Hansen.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
Motorsport has its very own way of creating fairytales. Fairytales are often stories with a magical or positive outcome.

But, I hear you asking yourself: How can World RX have its own fairytale in 2019? That's simple...  

On a wintery day in Sweden on 18 October 2018, Peugeot announced their withdrawal from the World RX championship. The announcement came after uncertain around the future of the championship, but the withdrawal would mean that the Hansen brothers and family would be left with an uncertain future. 

An unfortunate end to a strong team, heading into the final race of the season. The Hansen family were inundated with questions about the future. Will we see the Hansen's in Rallycross again? The only replies from drivers and management were: "We are working on it." 

The question on many motorsport writers lips: Could the Hansen's return to World Rallycross? 

It definitely is not easy to go from a well-structured team to nothing. But, the Hansen family remained focused and worked throughout the off-season.

With no factory teams in the 2019 World Rallycross Championship, the future of the series appeared rather bleak. The big names of Mattias Ekstrom, Andreas Bakkerud, Timmy Hansen, Kevin Hansen, Sebastien Loeb, etc. all without a seat is just unheard of in motorsport. 

The FIA deadline for permanent entries looked, but no agreement had been reached yet. Time had come and gone... Did the Hansen's make the deadline? Would we see the Hansen family in World RX?

The world's media received a joyful press release on 6 March 2019, formally confirming that the Hansen family beat the deadline and have successfully entered the World RX championship.

The Hansen family partnered with Max J. Pucher to form Team Hansen MJP. Two Peugeot 208 WRX Supercars were acquired for Timmy and Kevin Hansen.

With the first round of the championship only weeks away in Abu Dhabi, preparations were well underway to get both cars ready for the season.

The 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship season-opening weekend has arrived with some uncertainty but plenty of excitement for the fans and all involved in the championship. With the start of every new season comes some uncertainty surrounding a potential series leader for that particular year. For the first time in the history of the champion, the 2018 World RX champion Johan Kristoffersson would not defend his title. That, in turn, meant a new champion would be crowned come the checkered flag in South Africa in December.

Timmy Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud were tipped as the leading contenders heading into the season opener in Abu Dhabi. 

The World RX action received the green light on Saturday morning and the season got underway. Who would be the leading contenders? 

After the first day of competition, it became evident that competition would be fairly close, but Team Hansen MJP's Timmy Hansen was the clear favorite after claiming the overnight top qualifiers spot. Despite Timmy claiming the top spot overnight, Andreas Bakkerud slotted into second while younger brother Kevin took third overnight with two qualifying heats, semi-finals, and a final remaining. 

As the weekend progressed in the scorching Abu Dhabi heat... Q3 got underway. Timmy Hansen led Andreas Bakkerud. 

With an alternate strategy, Bakkerud opted for an early joker lap. Trying to defend the position Timmy took the joker lap on the next lap to cover off a charging Bakkerud. 

Could Timmy stay ahead of the Monster Energy RX Cartel's driver Andreas Bakkerud? It appeared very close as they sped towards the lap merge. And, the unthinkable happened Bakkerud collided into the right-hand side of Timmy Hansen's Peugeot sending him running off track. 

Despite the damage to the Peugeot 208 Supercar, Hansen crawled to the checkered flag holding off Niclas Gronholm behind. 
Timmy Hansen's Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar chassis being rebuilt
PHOTO CREDIT: Matter France. 

After an evaluation in the paddock, it was deemed that Hansen's car was irreparable due to chassis and roll cage damage and needs to be rebuilt. 

With sadness on one side of the garage, it was not doom and gloom for the Hansen family, as younger brother Kevin was still in contention for race victory. 

Lined up in the final, Kevin had an exceptional start but had to contend with Niclas Gronholm who appeared marginally faster. 

Gronholm started ramping up the pressure and got close enough to affect an overtake. Hansen later got a tap on the rear with a lap remaining and nearly spun. 

Gronholm swept to the inside to claim the lead and claimed the race victory, but after an investigation from the race stewards. Gronholm received a three-second time penalty, thus handing race victory to Kevin Hansen. 

A weekend of ups and downs for Team Hansen MJP who claimed a win in the season opener and the matter of fixing Timmy's supercar for the remainder of the season.

Could Team Hansen MJP repair the chassis and roll cage damage in time? Team boss and 14-time European Rallycross champion Kenneth Hansen was fairly positive and said it would take a week or two. 

After nine days of extensive repairs, the chassis and roll cage damage of Timmy Hansen's Peugeot 208 Supercar was repaired and the team conducted a test before sending it to the second round of the championship. 

Off they went with a rebuilt Supercar, but what could possibly happen in Barcelona? 

The question was soon answered after the first day of competition when Timmy Hansen got his groove back. The Swede claimed wins in Q1 and Q2 with younger brother Kevin in second overall on Day One. 

It was all to play for on Sunday with two qualifying rounds, semi-finals and a final to go... Have other teams found some more pace after set-up changes? Can anyone close the gap overnight? No-one could answer the questions Timmy was asking. 

He claimed wins in Q3 and Q4 claiming the overall top qualifiers spot and stamping his authority on the race weekend. If that was not all... Timmy won the Semi-final. 

Kevin Hansen did not have it that easy, he had to contend with starting on the outside for Q3 and Q4, but he progressed to the semi-finals and clinching the win. 

The two Hansen MJP drivers and brothers would start the final front row of the grid. But who would win? Championship leader Kevin or his older brother Timmy Hansen who asserted his dominance on the race weekend.

With her sons locking out the front row of the grid for the final, Team Hansen MJP team manager Susann Hansen told her sons: "Just give it your all, this is now or never. You were in the position, just give it everything!"

All attention turned to the Ready to Race lights and away they went.. Timmy from pole leads into turn one with his brother Kevin alongside. Kevin was able to keep up with his brother on the opening laps, but Timmy began to scamper away towards the latter half of the final.
The World RX of Catalunya PODIUM.

Bakkerud then began pressure Kevin, but the young Swede stayed calm and managed to maintain his second place. With Timmy clinching his sixth World RX victory and Kevin coming across the line in second place, it was one for the record books, a Team Hansen MJP 1-2. 

"This means the world to us," said Susann Hansen in tears. "Its a true dream come true. We fought so hard for being here at all, and now having them one and two. It's just amazing!"

"It's been such a rollercoaster and now we are here first and second. It's overwhelming!"

Kenneth Hansen admitted that his teams 1-2 finish in Barcelona is even better than winning rallycross 14 titles. 

"I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success in my career as a driver, winning many races and championships, but actually I think this feeling right now is even better," said Kenneth Hansen. "I can’t actually believe that it’s happened, so it’s going to take a while to sink in."

"I feel so happy and most of all so proud, both of what we have created with the Hansen MJP team but also as a dad."

"It’s hard to describe what it’s like seeing your boys finishing first and second, fighting so hard but so fairly. They think of the team first and they’re great friends," he adds. "I think Timmy had something extra this weekend, while Kevin had to fight a bit harder, but they learn from each other all the time and that’s the biggest strength of our family team."

The Team Hansen MJP fairytale continues....

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Timmy Hansen bounces back with an historic clean sweep.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
Team Hansen MJP's Timmy Hansen bounced back from a disappointing Abu Dhabi to deliver a dominant and unbeatable performance in Barcelona, to become one of three drivers in the history books to claim a clean sweep.

After a devastating first round in Abu Dhabi for Timmy, which required a complete rebuild [chassis and rollcage] of his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar after a collision with Andreas Bakkerud, he proved to be the driver beat from the start of Q1 in Barcelona. 

Hansen won every single qualifying session, the semi-final and the final. The Swede's win in Spain is only his sixth World RX career victory.

“I think this has been the best weekend of my career so far. We got off to the best possible start on Saturday, winning the qualifying heats, and then we won the semi-final too," said Timmy Hansen. 

Timmy lined up alongside his brother in the final, but produced a faultless drive in the final and claimed victory. Younger brother Kevin claimed second place in the final making it a 1-2 for Team Hansen MJP. 

''For the final I lined up against Kevin, and we played a good team game as we agreed that we would give each other plenty of room," he said. "The final was perfect as well, and when I saw in my mirror that Kevin was behind me to finish second, that was a really special moment as well."

"I was actually feeling very emotional: this was the perfect revenge after everything that happened in Abu Dhabi," he adds. "Now I’m just going to enjoy the moment and head to Spa with even more confidence."

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Kevin Hansen extends championship lead in Spanish sunshine.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
FIA World RX of Abu Dhabi race winner Kevin Hansen extends his Championship lead in Barcelona.

The young Swede left Barcelona with an eight point lead in the championship over Niclas Gronholm (second overall), and an 18 point advantage over his brother Timmy Hansen (in third overall). 

Kevin ended the first day of racing in second overall. Sunday morning was a different story for the young Swede who started alongside his brother in Q3, but finished the session only fifth fastest. In the fourth qualifying heat, Hansen started on the outside and needed to muscle his way through the field. He ended the session in fourth place. 

“We had a really good Q1 and Q2; then I had to get my elbows out a bit more in Q3 and Q4, but I really enjoyed it," said Hansen. 

If there is any consolation for Kevin, he claimed the fastest lap of the weekend - 42.670s.

"I got the fastest lap of the weekend too, which made me really happy, as the ultimate pace compared to Timmy is perhaps the area where I’ve been lacking before, but now we’re getting there," he said. 

In the final Kevin started alongside his brother. He managed to hang onto his brother in certain parts of the circuit, but Timmy started edging away. Hansen then opted to take his joker while running second on the fifth lap. 

On the final lap, Andreas Bakkerud took his joker lap, handing Kevin the opportunity to close in and claim second in the closing stages. 

Kevin went on to claim second place behind his brother Timmy Hansen, in a Team Hansen MJP 1-2. 

"Timmy did an amazing job this weekend; he really deserved to win," he said. "I wouldn’t say that he was completely uncatchable as there were times that I was close to him, but we drive each other on, which is perfect as it’s all about the team."

"Now I’ve extended my championship lead but this is not something that I’ve been thinking about much: we’re only on round two out of 10 so there’s a really long way to go.”

TEXT - Junaid Samodien