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Race Watch 14

World Rallycross:

Holjes, Sweden

FIA World Rallycross is back, and with the 2016 and the 2017 & 2018 World Champions rejoining the grid, how will they fare after 18 months out?

In a year of new and out of the ordinary, World Rallycross returned this week, and the results were very familiar to those who have watched the sport for a few years. After having no past or present World Champions on the grid in 2019, we were reunited with two stars of the recent past, and by the end of Sunday, we knew it.

In a first for World Rallycross, this weekend held two events. Rather than having two qualifying sessions on the Saturday before two more, semi-finals and the final on Sunday, we had three qualifying sessions, semi-finals and the final all on Saturday, before repeating the schedule for round two on the Sunday. Whilst this meant much more on-track action for the fans watching via the live coverage, it also meant that any crashes or reliability issues would be much more devastating. Unfortunately, this leaves too much to talk about in one #RaceWatch, but you can watch all the action yourself, completely free, on the WorldRX Youtube channel! Without further ado, here’s my account of round 1 of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship.

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Saturday. Rallycross is back! Yay! What’s more, we’ve got changeable conditions with torrential rain showers overnight, and more expected throughout the day. In Qualifying 1, the circuit evolved a lot as a result of the drying conditions, and so Johan Kristoffersson set the fastest time in his first competitive session since 2018. Behind the 2017 & 2018 World Champion, the 2016 Champion took second. Mattias Ekstrom, in his 2020-spec Audi S1, was pretty much keeping pace with his fellow Swede, which was very much a promising sign, as when the VW Polo R last ran in 2018, it was clearly the superior machine in the field.

Whilst Robin Larsson – Ekstrom’s teammate – and Anton Marklund also showed good pace, the real losers were the top two drivers from 2019. Timmy Hansen, starting his title defence, could only muster eighth – two places behind his brother, Andreas Bakkerud could only muster the fourteenth fastest time. Admittedly, the Norwegian is still in the process of adjusting to his new car, and he also had the worst grid slot in the worst race, however the Monster Energy RX Cartel driver would have been bitterly disappointed after topping the free practice times in the morning.

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Qualifying two, and it was Ekstrom who took the top spot from Marklund, with Kristoffersson sixth. Timmy Hansen improved to fifth in the session, however things went from bad to worse for the RX Cartel. Bakkerud only managed the thirteenth best time, whilst his teammate – Briton Liam Doran – had to withdraw from the day’s proceedings after his car caught fire after Q1. As I said, the single-day format meant the issue put the ‘British Bomb’ out of action for the rest of the event.

It was back to the top of the timing sheets for Kristoffersson in Q3, whilst it was a return to form for the reigning champ, with Timmy Hansen in second and his brother Kevin in third. Timmy’s 2019 rival Bakkerud was subjected to an early finish, however, as he once again delivered a sub-par qualifying which left him just thirteenth in the standings, and thus not making it into the semi-finals.

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Onto the semis, then, and they weren’t without controversy. Kristoffersson led home Niclas Gronholm – son of the two-time WRC Champion Marcus Gronholm – and Robin Larsson, however Larsson was subsequently handed a penalty for a bump-and-pass on Anton Marklund. On second thoughts, calling it a ‘bump’ is a little lenient, as it was more of a shunt in all honesty, leaving the rear of Marklund’s Renault Megane to bunny-hop it’s way over the finish due to the damage it received. Larsson’s penalty subsequently promoted Marklund himself into the final, meaning justice was eventually forthcoming with the correct three drivers proceeding to the final.

Semi-final two was much less controversial, as Ekstrom led Timmy Hansen across the line, with two-time DTM champion Timo Scheider completing the grid for the decider. This meant that last year’s Holjes winner – Sebastian Eriksson – missed out on an opportunity to defend his crown, whilst Kevin Hansen and Timur Timerzyanov also bowed out.

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A corker of an event fittingly ended with a corker of a final, as a dramatic start sent cars flying left, right and centre. The wet surface left little grip for the drivers, and after Gronholm stalled on the line, Marklund overcooked the first turn and clattered into Timmy Hansen whilst righting himself. As a result, Hansen’s Peugeot was sent into a full 180 spin. With this debacle also impeding Scheider, this left a two-horse race out front. Mattias Ekstrom did everything in his power to deny Kristoffersson a comeback victory – including taking his joker early to give himself clear air, alas it was unsuccessful, as the winningest driver in FIA World Rallycross notched another one into his tally.

Does he recreate his dominance on Sunday? Well, he doesn’t win all of the five races he competed in, but that’s all I’m letting on. You can have a watch online to find out yourself!

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