Thursday, 20 June 2019

FIA Drivers' Press Conference: 2019 French GP.

DRIVERS – Nico HULKENBERG (Renault), Carlos SAINZ (McLaren), Romain GROSJEAN (Haas), Pierre GASLY (Red Bull Racing), Antonio GIOVINAZZI (Alfa Romeo)

Pierre and Romain, it is your home grand prix. Just describe your emotions coming into this weekend and how busy the build-up has been. Pierre, perhaps we can start with you?

Pierre GASLY: Yeah, I think we are pretty lucky because we didn’t have the French Grand Prix for many years; it just came back on the calendar last year, as I started my first full season in F1. I feel pretty lucky to have this chance to have a home race, with the crowd. I think France has always been part of the sport and it’s great to have it back and yeah, I’m just really excited for the weekend.

Q: How has the build-up been for you? I think you were playing football last night weren’t you?

PG: Yeah, we played for Jules [Bianchi]. We played this soccer game for Jules’ association, with all the family, so it was just nice to get all together on the pitch and just to remember him. Then we had another activity with Sébastien Ogier, as a co-pilot, which was pretty intense. Not being at the wheel but like really impressive, so really enjoyable so far.

Q: And Romain how has the build-up been for you?

Romain GROSJEAN: So far it has been quiet and good. Media duty today is a bit more than normal. But nothing too crazy, son happy to be here enjoying the time, and the south of France weather, which has been good, so hopefully we can have a nice event this weekend.

Q: Thank you. Pierre, if we can come back to you. Tell us about car performance, where Red Bull is at? I think you have a new power unit this weekend. What are your expectations coming into this French Grand Prix?

PG: Yeah, we have a new spec, a third-spec Honda. The last we introduced was more on the reliability side, this one will be focused more on the performance, but we don’t expect a massive gain from it. I think the overall performance will be slightly increased, but it’s not like it’s going to change massively, or we’re going to catch the teams ahead of us massively. Let’s see what we can do during the weekend. It will give us a bit more in the race. It’s not going to be a massive difference in qualifying, but a bit more in the race.

Q: And are you hopeful of being more competitive this weekend than you were two weeks ago in Canada?

PG: Yeah, I think it’s a track that probably suits our package a bit more than Canada. You still have many long straights, which for sure are still a bit tricky for us, even though we are making progress. But I think we have new, little bits on the car coming and I think we should be more competitive than we were in Canada.

Q: Thank you. Romain, coming back to you: we’re talking car performance, what can we expect for you and Haas this weekend?

RG: We’ll see. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. Generally, I think there’s been really good performance but other place we’ve been struggling a little bit more. So I’m hoping that here we get a good package that’s works well, that we get the tyres to work correctly and if that’s the case it should be a track that works quite nicely for us, so I’m hoping we’re going to give the midfield a hard time and why not even Red Bull and see where we can end up on the weekend.

Q: And do you expect the new asphalt here at Paul Ricard to help tyre performance on your car?

RG: I do not know. I guess we’ll find out.

Q: And Romain, a quick word about the track layout. Having been here now last year, how much better prepared do you feel coming into this weekend?

RG: Another one I don’t know! I think last year we did some simulator work before coming here and it felt like the starting set-up we had on the car was a good package, so that’s good. Obviously we’ve got the data from last year, which always helps and we’re going to focus on fine-tuning and making sure we understand everything. I think the conditions this weekend are going to be quite hot, so we need to make sure that we get the best of everything in those conditions – tyres and cooling and all of that on the car – to not have a bad surprise on Sunday. So the baseline set-up I think is already pretty good and it’s now just fine-tuning all the bits and pieces on the car to get the best race performance.

Q: Good luck this weekend. Antonio, we spoke to the other two about their preparations this weekend. I know you had an amazing weekend with the Trofeo Bandini in Brisighella last weekend. Perhaps you could tell us about it and what happened?

Antonio GIOVINAZZI: Yeah, it was really nice and I’m really proud to receive this important trophy. It was really a good Saturday, a good day, a lot of Italian fans there. So just really proud and also the list of the drivers that won the trophy before is unbelievable, so I’m just really proud, but of course now I have a quite a lot of responsibility to be there. But in the end I think it was really nice to drive on the normal roads – I did 13km. So it was really nice and it was a really good day.

Q: It’s your first time here in a Formula 1 car. What are you expecting from the track?

AG: Yeah, I don’t have many miles here. I just did two days back in 2017 with an F2 car, so it’s quite new for me the track. It’s a little bit confusing to be honest, it is difficult. I did some work on the simulator and we’ll see tomorrow. The midfield will again be really tight, like every race, but we have a good package and we can be fast enough.

Q: You say you have a good package but it was a difficult weekend for the team in Canada. How confident are you of making a step forward here?

AG: Yeah, the last three races I would say we have been struggling a little bit more compared to the first part of the season, especially compared to the first part of the season. As I say, the midfield is really tight, so small details can make a difference so we are trying to find those details and with a small few tenths you can jump quite a lot of cars. So we are working really hard with the team; I believe in my team, like I think the team is believing in me, and we just need to work hard and find the last details for a good result.

Q: Carlos, coming onto you, I’d like to take you back to Canada as well. That immense stint – 67 laps on one set of tyres – just how hard was that race for you and what lessons have been learnt by you and McLaren?

Carlos SAINZ: Yes, it was hard because it was unexpected and when you got through unexpected circumstances, you definitely have to improvise at bit. We didn’t want to pit in lap three but unfortunately one of these tear-offs got stuck in my brake duct, which meant I had to pit, remove it and try to finish in the points on a 67-lap stint. It nearly worked: we were five seconds away, of race time, from making it. I still think if we had done a perfect job, we could have still have finished in the points, so the whole weekend was a bit messy since Saturday and we missed out on a good points opportunity. I think we’ve learned from it. We know what we need to do better for France and… yeah, hopefully we can improve it.

Q: It’s an increasingly tight midfield battle. McLaren are now only two points ahead of Renault. How confident are you of taking the fight to Renault this weekend?

CS: I’m confident we can take the fight. It’s going to be difficult because I still think teams like Renault and Haas, in qualifying they have a bit more compared to us, so it means that we need to do a better job on Sundays – but it’s good fun because it’s quite an intense battle, it’s super-close, qualifying is incredibly tight and tense in Q2 and Q3. You see drivers always finding the last limit, making small mistakes – and that will give you the opportunity. I’m enjoying it a lot. I think it’s a great battle and I still think we need to do a better job on Sundays because Saturdays are a bit more difficult for us.

Q: Nico, thank you for waiting. Your thoughts on this midfield battle.

Nico HÜLKENBERG: Yeah, there is one, I guess! It’s usually pretty tight and yeah, small margins can make a big difference so it’s important to get it together, like always. Feel good and strong. Obviously this weekend is important and a big one for us but I think the approach is like every other race. You keep calm and do what you have to do, go through the ranks on Friday and Saturday – but of course we want to have another strong finish here and team result like in Canada.

Q: How much progress has Renault made with its car in the last few weeks?

NH: It seems maybe that way if you look at the results prior to Canada and then Canada. I think it was more that the car has been a victim of circumstances. I think the race pace has always been pretty good but for various reasons often we were compromised on the starting position, coming from behind. It’s very difficult to drive through the midfield in the race when there is DRS trains, when cars are difficult to race. So, honestly I feel the car has always been pretty competitive but we just had a lot of issues and also human errors that happened in the first five-six weekends of the year. And we paid that price. For me, Montreal was one of the first weekends where we just stayed clear, made no mistakes and did a solid job and straight away, we got a good reward for it.


Q: (Laurie Vermeersch – For Nico Hülkenberg. With the update of the car, and the fact that you had a good result in Canada, Do you think you would be able to offer your first podium for Renault here in France, and the first podium for you too?

NH: I would love to  but I think that is still quite some distance away. It is true we have some updates here. But I’m sure other teams are bringing new things as well. I’m curious obviously about how it helps our car. Hopefully we can take a step towards the top three teams and eventually, at some point this year, make their lives harder. Firstly, the main target of the season it to really become clearly fourth team and this upgrade is just part of the journey, part of the process of that year. But, of course, it’s an exciting weekend for us and we want to do France proud.

Q: (Luke Smith – There’s been a lot of debate about the penalty given to Sebastian Vettel following his fight with Lewis Hamilton in Canada. I just wondered what your thoughts were on it and whether you feel there needs perhaps to be a revision of the rules at all? And does it stifle you from having more hard racing?

NH: There was a penalty? I did not notice that in the press! Hmm. I think my opinion and view of that is just that it’s racing, it is tough to control a car on the grass and how you then make the entry to the race track because we are simply not in full control and we don’t have normal grip. So for me, yeah, it seemed like a racing incident. In terms of rules, I think there are different judgements every weekend, different stewards so I don’t necessarily fear a reason why we need to tweak the rules there now.

RG: So the second part of the question… I think everything that we do on track has a line and a rule and then it’s very hard to deviate from those. I believe there are too many guidelines with penalties that are applied to that guideline and sometimes two penalties that can be very different… ah two incidents that can be very different but with the same penalty. I take an example like I crossed the pit exit line in Monaco with part of my wheel, got a five second penalty and one point on my licence and Verstappen got an unsafe release in the pit lane and had a touch with Bottas and it was a five second and one point penalty because that’s what is written. So I think sometimes it’s hard for the stewards just to decide where they want to go, because everything is written but you never know if you’re in that case or that case. Talking of Seb, I think he’s the only one to know if he could have controlled the car better and left more room on the right hand side. We do not know, we do not have access to his telemetry and I think only Seb knows if he actually saw Lewis, went on the throttle on the grass and made his way fully to drive out. I won’t discuss the penalty or not, I think it’s not my job but I can only say that Seb knows if he could have left more room or not.

PG: I’m going to agree with what has been said but I think it’s really tough when you cross the line first on track and then after we tell you you’re second. I think it depends which perspective you look at it. I think if you look at Seb’s side for sure it’s really tough and really harsh penalty. If you look at Lewis, you say that maybe I could have won the race without this incident, but I think at the end of the day, when you race Formula One cars at that speed, pushing to the limit these things happen and it’s part of racing so it’s difficult to draw a line but I think for me it was quite harsh to lose a victory that way.

CS: Yeah, I think like any other Formula One fan I was disappointed when I saw a penalty, first of all because as a driver I think I would have done exactly the same as Seb. I would just rejoin the track and try and keep first position independently of where the car is. Was it dangerous? Potentially, but what’s not dangerous in Formula One? There’s always a bit of danger, you’re always close to the walls and I think that at any point Lewis was on the real threat of having a huge accident so there was not… I think there was no reason to give a penalty but the rule is written and the stewards applied the rule. So I also don’t understand all this criticism that the stewards have received over the last few weeks because they are just trying to do their job and they have a rule which they need to interpret and they need to apply and that’s what they did. So it’s the fault of the stewards, it’s not the fault of Seb, I think, it’s not the fault of Lewis either, it’s just that there is a rule that I don’t think should be there, which is a bit too drastic and a bit too black and white and doesn’t interpret well the rules of racing, that is race hard and enjoy.

AG: Yeah, I think in the end it’s not nice to lose a race like that but I think it’s the rules, like they say and in the end the important thing is the rules are consistent at every race and to every driver, so I think this is the main thing.

Q: (Mickael Guilmeau – For Nico and Carlos, are you worried that you’re probably losing the German and Spanish GPs respectively?

NH: Carlos, can you start?

CS: Yeah. Am I worried? The question is if I’m worried? Yes, I’m worried because I don’t like losing my home Grand Prix and I think it’s a big loss, not only for Spanish people but for Formula One. I think Barcelona has been part of the calendar for many years, it’s a great track, great venue and everyone enjoys being there. I consider now that it’s one of the classical tracks, like I consider Silverstone or Spa, so losing Barcelona is a big loss for Formula One, I think, and myself. Does it depend on me? Not really or not a lot, it’s a matter of politics and money which I’m not involved in, so we will see what happens.

NH: Yeah, I like going to Hockenheim. I’ve raced cars many, many times there since I’m in a single seater so that goes back to 2004/5. It’s a cool place. I think last year was a huge success, I’ve never seen Hockenheim that busy and so vibrant. So it would be sad to see it go and lose that home Grand Prix but like Carlos said, at the end of the day it’s not down to us, it’s commercial aspects but of course I would prefer to keep it on the calendar.

Q: (Laurie Vermeersch – Romain, could you please tell us a few words about your special edition (helmet) design for this Grand Prix de France?

RG: Last year, obviously, I did blue, white, red which is a very nice one, but this year I wanted to do something a bit different so I contacted Richard Orlinski because I’m a big fan of his artwork and I met him here last year and I sent him a white piece of paper and I said can you produce a helmet(design) for me for the French Grand Prix? And he answered yes, I would love to and I was super excited about it and then I received the artwork and I think it does represent Richard very well in the way that the design is done. It’s very very different to anything I’ve been wearing up to date so I like it even more and I think it’s just great that it’s part of the whole show. Richard is doing the trophy for the podium, we can see the ‘Kong’ everywhere around the racetrack and I know there will be my helmet racing on track so it’s pretty cool.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Kevin Hansen claims podium finish despite time penalty.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Kevin Hansen went from the back row in the World RX of Norway Final to claiming a podium finish in Hell, going toe-to-toe with Niclas Gronholm.

After a tricky start on Saturday, the young Swede was classified seventh overall.  

"The first day was tricky," he said. "The speed was there but we had to start from the outside, which is really tricky in Hell."

"For the second day we adopted some of Timmy’s set-up, made some changes, and that seemed to make a difference."

On Sunday morning, the Swede finished second behind older brother Timmy Hansen with a 1-2 finish in Qualifying 3. Another strong run in Qualifying 4 saw him climb to fourth overall in the standings and stamping his pass for the Semi-Finals. 

But there was a plot twist: a sudden downpour turned the track from heavenly too Hell for the Semi-Finals and final. 

Kevin was on the second row of the grid in Semi-Final two and opted for a late joker lap bringing him out just in front of his older brother to claim a back row start for the final. 

“Looking at what happened when the rain came, starting from the second row for the Semi-Final was a lot better than the first, so I was very happy to start there!" he said. 

The young Swede had a good start from the back row and he was up to the second place at the start, which briefly became first by passing Kevin Abbring for the lead.

He dropped one place when taking his joker lap and secured a very hard-fought second place, defending from eventual race winner Niclas Grönholm. 

"I had to drive carefully in the Final as there was wiper fluid spraying everywhere inside the car!" he says. "That also meant I couldn’t clear mud from the windscreen too. But we managed to cope with that well." 

"Gronholm behind me pushed so hard but we kept our cool, did our thing and kept the grip all the way. With a good joker lap we managed to finish P2 but then got a penalty and were P3 instead."

After the race, Hansen was handed a one-second time penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior for the pass on Grönholm on the first lap. 

"It’s not nice when you get a penalty but in the end, I think it was a fair decision,” he concludes.

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Unlucky De Ridder rakes up yet another 'Slowbergine'

PHOTO CREDIT: GC Kompetition
GCK Academy's Guillaume De Ridder rakes up another 'Slowbergine' in Norway.

The 'Slowbergine' - an Aubergine sticker is awarded to GCK's slowest driver across all free practice sessions. The Aubergine sticker will be attached to the driver's car for the remainder of the season.

De Ridder arrived in Norway with three 'Slowbergines' on his Renault Clio R.S. RX Supercar.

Could the unlucky Belgian turn his luck around in Norway? Unfortunately not! In Qualifying 1, De Ridder opted for an early joker lap, but it ended in disaster as Baumanis clipped the front of Timmy Hansen sending him flying sideways into the joker lap and hitting the side of the Belgian's Clio R.S. RX.

"The weekends follow each other at the moment in that they seem to look alike, unfortunately," he said.  "It was a tough weekend again with tough luck, for example in Q1 we had a great start and were ahead of the others and then got smashed into from behind, so ended up with a DNF."

Things turned around in Qualifying 2 when De Ridder finished in second place in race one but would be classified in sixteenth overnight. 

"Q2 showed some good lap times which is really promising, so I was hoping for a good 2nd day," De Ridder said.

In his Qualifying 3 race, the Belgian finished third but maintained sixteenth overall. 

The final qualifier in Norway saw Guillaume sandwiched between Oliver Bennett and Jani Paasonen in race 1. The Belgian managed to avoid contact and opted for a first lap joker, where he spun out coming to a stop. He was able to restart and crossed the line in third.

"We lost time due to a bad start in Q3 and then had technical issues in Q4," he adds.

"It’s a big shame and I hope that Sweden is able to turn my luck around."

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

'Its nice to have a really good challenge' - Timmy Hansen.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Team Hansen MJP's Timmy Hansen retains the championship lead despite failing to qualify for the finals in Norway.

The Swede had a tricky first day in Hell after being stuck in traffic and would finish in fifth place overnight - but things would turn around in Qualifying 3 on Sunday when he set the fastest time to win the session. He put in another strong performance in Qualifying 4 and finished second securing a place in Semi-Final 2.

After a dry weekend in Hell, a sudden downpour arrived and what was a dry track turned into a muddy swamp. 

With low grip on the front row of the grid, Hansen bogged off the line and dropped to last. He needed to dig deep to claim a place in the finals, but it was not to be as younger brother Kevin emerged just ahead of Timmy from a late joker lap to claim the third place. 

“Though the Semi-Final didn’t go our way, we scored some good points this weekend," he said. "We had a strong qualifying and that built a good foundation in terms of points. We kept ourselves in a good position before the rain came."

Hansen admits that it was a guessing game choosing the right setting for the launch in the Semi-Finals. 

“The rain before the Finals was a big shock and turned everything upside down," the Swede said. "That meant we had to guess a few things and so we didn’t choose the right settings for the launch." 

"I had a poor start and tried everything I could to get past, but couldn’t find a gap."

The Swede relishes the fact that they had a real challenge in Norway. 

“Having Niclas (Gronholm) back for this weekend was good to see, even if he beat us this time! It was nice to have a really good challenge through the weekend," he said.

Despite being beaten by Gronholm, Hansen believes that the result would have been different had the rain not arrived.

"If it had stayed dry we could have had a real battle on our hands," he adds. "It was just not my turn. I did my best, but it was not my day.”

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Olsbergs MSE joins maxed-out entry list for Holjes

Former World RX Teams’ Champions Olsbergs MSE joins a maxed-out entry list for round six of the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Holjes in Sweden. 

The reigning FIA European Rallycross Champion Reinis Nitiss will make his second start of the year for GRX, after racing in round one at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. 

Jere Kalliokoski will make his first appearance of the season for Team STARD, alongside Hell RX podium finisher Janis Baumanis. Dutchman Kevin Abbring will make his second appearance for ESmotorsport Labas-GAS in the Skoda Fabia. While GCK Academy's Rokas Baciuska will make his second start in the Renault Megane R.S. RX.

Olsbergs MSE's Kevin Eriksson will drive a developed version of last season's Ford Fiesta, with Sebastien Eriksson in the sister car. 

Denmark’s Ulrik Linnemann will make World RX history next month when he becomes the first driver in the history of the championship to race a Honda Civic Coupe Supercar.

“This is a dream come true!" said Linnemann. "Holjes has always been my favourite track and to be able to be a part of ‘The Magic Weekend’ competing on the top level, simply is fantastic."

"It’s an amazing opportunity for me, and it came into play when Andreas Eriksson asked me if I would be interested in showing of the Olsberg MSE Hondas in one of the most iconic races of the World RX calendar."

“Of course, the competition will be hard – it’s the 25 best rallycross drivers in the world, and only 12 of them will go through to the semi-finals, so it will be a tough challenge," he adds. "But that will only encourage me to push harder for a great result and show that the Honda is a fast car.”

Sweden's Philip Gehrman will race a Volkswagen Polo Supercar in his home round of World RX and Norway’s Kjetil Larsen will switch from his role in the spotter’s tower to the driving seat, to race a similar car for Hedstroms Motorsport.

French Rallycross stars Fabien and Jonathan Pailler will also make the trip to the legendary Holjes circuit to race their Peugeot 208s for the Pailler Competition team.

2019 World RX of Sweden - ENTRY LIST

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

'This is not how I imagined my first World RX win to come' - Grönholm.

Niclas Grönholm claims maiden World Rallycross win after Anton Marklund was disqualified for a technical infringement.

“This is not how I imagined my first ever World RX win to come, but that’s not my decision and I will take it as it is," he said.

The Finn made a return to the championship in Norway after a six-week recovery from appendicitis surgery.

Nothing could slow down the GRX Taneco driver who set the fastest times in Q1, Q2, and Q4 claiming the overall top qualifiers position.

A sudden torrential downpour in Hell impacted the grip levels for the Semi-finals and Final and made the driving more challenging. 

Starting in Pole Position for semi-final one, Grönholm took the win by 8.143 seconds. In the Final, Niclas would start in pole position, but poor grip prevented him from making a good start. The Finn then got stuck behind Kevin Hansen for most of the race, even pushing the Swede along. 

Despite Grönholm crossing the finish line in third place, the race stewards handed Kevin Hansen a one-second time penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior promoting Niclas to second, followed by the disqualification of Anton Marklund. The Finn was handed a reprimand for pushing Kevin Hansen but was declared the winner of the World RX of Norway.

"In the Final, there was no grip at the first row of the start grid and that pretty much defined how this run played out," the Finn said.

"There are a lot of positive things to take from this weekend. We were on top of our game for most of the race and I think we had the package to win it on the track."

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Marklund losses first World RX win due to heavy front bumper mountings

PHOTO CREDIT: GC Kompetition
Anton Marklund lost his first ever World RX win in Hell, Norway after his car didn't pass the technical inspection. 

The stewards ruled that the front protective tubing (mounts) on his Megane R.S. RX was 0.5mm over the specified size, which made it too heavy. Although this piece provided no competitive advantage, it was outside the safety regulations.

"This is a hugely disappointing end to what would’ve otherwise been a fantastic weekend," Marklund said. 

"We’ve been working very hard for this win, personally, for many, many years, as well as the team, who’ve been relentless in building this from the ground and further developing it to get the Megane to where it is now."

"The last three events, we’ve really shown our pace now - we still need to make some small adjustments to further optimize it but I’m very satisfied with the car at the moment and it showed in each race result today," he said.

The Swede has been the fastest GC Kompetition driver to date. He missed out on a place in the final in Spa-Francorchamps by a second. In Silverstone, he claimed his first ever World RX podium finish.

Marklund led the way for GC Kompetition in Hell and qualified for the finals finishing second behind Liam Doran. With a good start in the finals, he opted for a first lap joker strategy and come out second behind Doran. 

Over the following laps, Doran, Marklund, and Baumanis caught up with the leading pack who were yet to take their joker laps. The Swede managed to overtake Doran, who had a technical issue and crossed the line first to claim what would have been his first ever World RX race. 

"The rain was a very welcome change actually, it suited us and the team did an incredible job in adjusting quickly - Oreca with the engine and Bilstein with the dampers turned everything around so quickly, I’ve genuinely not felt this comfortable and confident racing in these kinds of conditions before," the Swede said.

A few hours of celebration turned into heartache when the GC Kompetition driver was disqualified from the entire event by Steward’s, following post-race scrutineering that found the front bumper mountings were too thick. Appendix J Article 279.10.2.d of the regulations: "the maximum thickness of the material used in the front bumper mountings must not be greater than 1.5mm."

"The fact that this front protective tubing has been classed 0.5mm too big and too heavy is hugely frustrating," he said. "It didn’t give us any advantage but these are the rules." 

GC Kompetition will not appeal the FIA's decision to disqualify Anton Marklund - "We respect the rules and will just have to come back stronger from it."

Despite being disappointed about the disqualification - team boss Guerlain Chicherit says: 
"He (Marklund) really deserved this win and has been fighting hard, together with the entire team."

Chicherit says that his team will be working with their supplier to ensure that they solve the cause of the disqualification and ensure that it does not happen again.

On a positive note, Marklund believes that they have found pace in the Renault Megane R.S. RX. 

"The good thing is that we know we can win and absolutely have the pace - so we’ll just have to come back in Sweden and prove it to all again!" said Marklund.

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Monday, 17 June 2019

Grönholm wins in Hell after Marklund is disqualified

Niclas Grönholm claimed his maiden World Rallycross win in Norway after Anton Marklund was disqualified due a technical infringement. 

Despite Anton Marklund crossing the line first, he would be disqualified after scrutineers found that the front bumper mountings (cross member) were too thick, contravening the technical (safety) regulations.

The Swede's win in Norway would have been his first World RX win and a first for GC Kompetition. 

Kevin Hansen crossed the line in second place, but after the race, the Swede was handed a one-second penalty for unsportsmanlike behaviour. While Grönholm received a reprimand for "continuously pushing" Hansen in the final.

Niclas Grönholm, who missed the Belgian and British rounds due to appendicitis surgery was promoted to victory ahead of Kevin Hansen and Janis Baumanis.

A torrential downpour prior to the start of the semi-finals made track conditions treacherous and teams were forced to switch to full wet weather tyres. Grip levels were a guessing game, particularly off the start line. By the time the final arrived, the rain had eased slightly but conditions remained challenging for the drivers.

The Finn was disadvantaged by starting on the front row in the final where the track surface carries more rubber – meaning less grip in the wet conditions.

“It feels nice to have a win but this is not really how we expected it to happen,” he said.

“We had a really poor launch from the front row in the semi and the finalI tried to push Kevin (Hansen) all the way in the final. I think his rear bumper is quite bruised.

“The car felt good, we definitely had the pace to win but the wheel spin off the line hurt us,” he concludes.

Team Hansen MJP's Kevin Hansen finished third in semi-final two and would start the final on the back row of the grid.

“This is the most crazy rallycross racing I’ve ever experienced,” Hansen said. “Racing in these conditions with a flood of water on the circuit is really difficult."

“Overall we did a great job in the wet. We made good changes to the car and I had an amazing spotter in the final to coach me all the way through because it was difficult to see at times," he added. "I feel like I can speak about this final forever as so many things happened."

“We grabbed some good team points and we are still one-two in the championship which is what we wanted when we came here.”

There was a bit of déjà vu in the paddock after the final when the Swede was handed the time penalty for the incident with Gronholm in what was reminiscent of the season opener in Abu Dhabi where Kevin Hansen claimed his maiden win and Grönholm was on the wrong end of a stewards’ decision having taken the chequered flag first.

“It could have been a lot worse, so I think they (the stewards) did a fair job and I just have to accept it,” said Kevin Hansen.
PHOTO CREDIT - Milan Dujava portfolio

Team STARD's Janis Baumanis recovered from damaged rear suspension in Q1 to advance to the final where he inherited third – his first World RX podium.

Dutchman Kevin Abbring claimed fourth place on his World RX debut at the wheel of the ESmotorsport – Labas GAS Skodia Fabia.

Liam Doran opted for an early joker lap in the final which proved to be key, and he was the fastest driver in the tricky conditions. However, his chances of claiming a maiden World RX win was dashed when he slowed on the penultimate lap with a mechanical issue. He would finish in fifth place.

A number of headline drivers failed to advance beyond the semi-finals after the torrential downpour.

Championship leader Timmy Hansen missed out on a place in the final after bogging off the line in pole position in semi-final two and missed out on a place in the final by 0.752s. 

Home town favourite Andreas Bakkerud failed to reach the final after finishing sixth in semi-final two. 

While disappointed for himself, the home supporters and the Norwegian also felt for his team-mate. “While I am sorry for my fans and the whole of Norway, I am also very sorry for Liam. I honestly thought, as most people did, that Liam would give the RX Cartel our first win today but it wasn’t to be,” he said.

GRX Taneco's Timur Timerzyanov had put his Hyundai i20 in third place after Q3 but could only manage fourth in his semi-final.

ALL-INKL Motorsport’s Timo Scheider was second quickest overall after day one. However, his race weekend ended early when he was caught out in a start incident with Baumanis in semi-final 1 and he was forced to retire with rear suspension damage.

Guerlain Chicherit made a lightning start from P6 in the semi-finals to head the pack in to turn one but was ultimately the victim of some barging, he finished fifth and could go no further.

GC Kompetition will not appeal the disqualification: "we accept the decision, the rules are the rules and we will come back stronger."
TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Heavenly return for overnight leader Grönholm.

Niclas Grönholm has made a heavenly comeback in Hell after being sidelined due to appendicitis surgery six weeks ago. 

The Hyundai driver won Q2 Race 4 and added the quickest time to his Q1 victory, to take the overnight top qualifiers position.

"It seems to be going my way today. I had a small clutch issue in the start of Q2, so really lucky not to get a jump start, that’s why I made a huge launch," said Grönholm. "We had good launches and strong pace in both cars (GRX Taneco) today."

The Finn did not know what to expect heading into Norway. 

"It was quite difficult to expect anything, as I said earlier I had a five lap shakedown in Finland before coming here and it felt okay," he said. "So, I knew that coming won't be catastrophe, but didn't expect to be on the top after day one. Its a pleasant surprise!"

"I’m trying to do my best in every qualification, like I said earlier in the semi-final and final anything can happen so we just need to keep our heads down, keep working and try to maintain this speed." 

Grönholm's team-mate Timur Timerzyanov finished in second place in Q2 race 4 and is second in the overnight standings. 

The Russian jokes that his team-mate was quite far ahead of him today. "Actually, his back (cars rear) was quite far from my front in both runs," he said. "In Q2, he was far ahead and I was the only one going for the joker lap from the start line. Actually it was a good tactic, but in fact it was really difficult to drive behind."

"I was blind in some corners and I just had to physically send the car somewhere and see where I am. That was the difficult point of my Q2 (race), but we know that rallycross is a difficult kind of sport." 

"I think all three drivers sitting here, we didn't have huge fights today. We are avoiding it and just doing clean runs," he concludes.

For the second session in a row, Timo Scheider with a strategic master class used the joker lap to secure the race victory (Q1 & Q2 race wins). The German joins the GRX Tanceo drivers in the top three at the end of day one.

"I am mega happy for the ALL-INKL boys, because I guess we deserved a good start to a weekend early in the season, and a better result overall," said Scheider. "Atleast this is a good Saturday. We need two more clean runs to make it to the semis (tomorrow). A podium will mean a lot to me." 

Home town hero Andreas Bakkerud was second fastest in Q1, but after touching the rear of Gronholm at the first corner in Q2, he ran wide and Kevin Abbring slipped through on the inside moving up to second in the race. 

The championship leader had a frustrating day despite making the best start in Q1, the Swede was slowed after contact with Janis Baumanis at turn 1. The contact with Hansen sent the Latvian into a high-speed spin and into Guillaume De Ridder.

Timmy Hansen lost time in Q2 Race 4 when he got stuck behind Bakkerud who ran wide at Turn 1, but opted for an early joker lap strategy, and managed to jump Bakkerud and made an on-track pass on Kevin Abbring who made a mistake and ran wide. Hansen ends day one in 5th overall. 

GC Kompetition's Anton Marklund completed the top six. In the overall classification, just 11 qualifying points separate P8 to P16, leaving everything to play for tomorrow.

OVERNIGHT World RX Standings.

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Friday, 14 June 2019

'I feed to focus and get back into the zone' - Timmy Hansen.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Timmy Hansen became the first double winner of 2019 at the World RX of Great Britain. The 27-year-old Swede leads the championship by four points from his younger brother Kevin. 

Hansen believes that talks with his younger brother will help reduce the tension as they fight for the championship.

"It’s a close fight with Kevin and I think we were both worried that it might affect our relationship, but we’ve talked about it a lot and we’re probably even closer: just as well as we’re traveling around together this year!”, said Hansen.

As the championship approaches the halfway point, Team Hansen MJP cannot afford to stand still in the race for the championship. 

"I’m looking forward to the weekend; we’ve got a few updates to the Öhlins dampers that Kevin tested in free practice at Silverstone, and this will be a good place to introduce them, as Hell is a bumpy track with a lot of traction needed." 

Despite becoming the first repeat winner of the season, Hansen believes that he needs to get back into the zone. 

"I feel that I’m on a roll now but I need to focus and get myself back into the zone," he said.

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

"My goal is to get back on top" - Kevin Hansen.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Kevin Hansen is determined to make amends for a costly mistake that cost him a place in the finals at the World RX of Great Britain.

The young Swede returns to the track where he challenged for a podium finish 12 months earlier. In the third factory-supported Peugeot, he finished in fourth place ahead of his brother Timmy, and Sebastien Loeb who failed to qualify for the finals. 

"Looking ahead to the race, it’s always got good memories for me: I was the quickest driver in our team there last year, which was very encouraging," he said. 

"I’m second in the drivers’ championship now after Silverstone, so my goal is to get back on top.”

TEXT - Junaid Samodien

Thursday, 13 June 2019

PREVIEW: The FIA World Rallycross Championship heads to Hell!

The FIA World Rallycross Championships heads to Hell... The Norwegian Hell or Lånkebanen to be precise.

Hell is a highlight on the World RX calender - the classic rallycross circuit consists of 63 percent asphalt and 37 percent gravel over 1,019 meters of sweeping terrain.

Norway's hopes lay firmly on the shoulders of Monster Energy RX Cartel's Andreas Bakkerud who returns to the scene of World RX's first ever clean sweep in 2016 – the Norwegian won all his four qualifying sessions, the semi-final and final. 

After an event-ending crash with Timmy Hansen in the opening round of 2019 in Abu Dhabi, Bakkerud was third in Barcelona, and second in Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone. 

In Belgium, Bakkerud had “one finger on the trophy” and at the World RX of Great Britain, the Norwegian appeared to be heading for his first win of 2019 but had victory snatched from his grasp due to a temperamental handbrake causing issues in the semi-finals and final.

“Silverstone was four podiums in a row for the Monster RX Cartel, we had both cars in the final at Silverstone but just didn’t get the job done. I almost had it [the win] in my pocket. All I can do is keep on pushing and hopefully the win is nearby,” he said.

"We go to Norway with high expectations. As long as my name is on the entry list, I am there to win."

Bakkerud’s team-mate Liam Doran has also claimed World RX qualifying race wins in Hell  – but is yet to reach the final.

The Brits form this year has been patchy. He started out with a third-place finish in Abu Dhabi, missed the semi-finals in Barcelona and was sixth in the final in both Belgium and Great Britain after promising much in the preceding qualifying and semi-final rounds. He’s seeking an upturn in fortunes at Hell, a circuit he likes.

“I am looking forward to racing in Hell," said Doran. "It is probably my favourite track in the championship even though my last time racing there [2016] ended with a big crash rolling down the start straight.'

"I have done quite well here in the past and it is one of the few tracks left on the calendar that I have a lot of experience at so definitely looking to get a good result.”

The current world championship leader Timmy Hansen has also claimed a win in 2015 (Hell) and was second to Bakkerud in 2016.

Younger brother Kevin will look to put the disappointment of Great Britain behind him. The Swede crashed out of the semi-final after contact with a barrier in the joker section. The mistake meant that he surrendered the championship lead to his brother. 

Niclas Gronholm will return to action in Norway having sat out the Belgian and British rounds after appendicitis surgery.

The Finn’s absence has seen him slip to 10th in the standings having been second overall after a second place in Abu Dhabi and a fourth place in Barcelona.

“It will be very challenging to come back after a six-week illness, so my expectations are not that high, but I will give my maximum and we'll see where it takes me,” said Gronholm.

Timur Timerzyanov had an indifferent British round following the high of a maiden World RX win in Spa-Francorchamps. 

“After a not so successful event in Silverstone, I’m keen to make my way back to the top this weekend,” the Russian said.

Norway will also see the return of Rokas Baciuska to World RX. The Latvian joins the GCK Academy ranks after being dropped by ESmotorsport-Labas Gas due to contractual issues.

Baciuska will race a third Renault Megane RS RX alongside Cyril Raymond and Guillaume De Ridder. “I’m really excited that I’m able to continue my progression in World Rallycross and that I’ve found such an incredible team to be part of,” he said.

GC Kompetition's Anton Marklund will look to build on his third-place finish at Silverstone on a track which is likely to suit his Renault Megane RS RX. “If we keep on doing the starts like we did in the semi-final and final, we should be quick in Norway,” Marklund said.

“The track has fast sweeping corners and hard braking and it should suit our car’s long wheelbase. I’m going there with a lot of self-confidence and I think we can do a good job there.”

Dutchman Kevin Abbring test driver for ESmotorsport-Labas Gas has been promoted and will race the Skoda Fabia in Norway. 

STARD's Janis Baumanis currently fourth place in the overall standings will be partnered by Jani Paasonen in the second Team STARD Ford Fiesta.

Briton Oliver Bennett reached the semi-final for the first time in 2019 at Silverstone, his first full season as a permanent World RX entrant. It is evidence that modifications to the front suspension of the Xite Racing Mini Cooper since Barcelona are bringing rewards. 

“From our increase in performance round by round and our first semi-final at Silverstone, I’m super excited for Hell,” he said.

“The loose and mixed quarry surface and big elevations suit my driving style a lot and reminds me of the great feeling I had at Spa with similar conditions where the Mini is very strong. Our starts are insane which is important at Hell. I have my eyes on the next semi-final.”

After difficult weekends in Barcelona and Spa-Francorchamps, Timo Scheider made the final at Silverstone where he narrowly missed his first podium of the season. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Hell awaits Grönholm as he makes World RX return.

Niclas Grönholm will make a return to the FIA World Rallycross Championship this weekend after being sidelined for the last two races due to appendicitis surgery.

The Finn is excited to make his return but is aware of the challenges that lay ahead of him after recovering from a 6-week illness. 

“Nice to finally be able to race again," said Grönholm.

"It's been a long recovery where everything that can go wrong, went wrong. Setback after setback," he adds. "For sure it will be very challenging to come back after a 6-week illness, so my expectations are not that high, but I will give my maximum and we'll see where it takes me.” 

The Lånkebanen (Hell) is an old-school rallycross track, just over 1km in length and has a 37% of gravel and 63% tarmac.

Timur Timerzyanov, currently fifth in the drivers' standings is looking forward to racing in Norway.

“For me, Hell is the highlight of the World RX season," he said. "It’s a proper rallycross track with elevation changes, challenging gravel and tons of spectators. Action is always great there." 

The Russian is aiming high in Norway after failing to progress to the final in Silverstone after finishing in fifth place. 

"After a not so successful event in Silverstone, I’m keen to make my way back to the top this weekend,” he said.

TEXT - Junaid Samodien