MID-SEASON REVIEW: 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Still all to play for!

Back in April in our pre-season review, we wrote the following statement:

“We will let you guys try and pick out the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Champion, because on the quality of this years competition, we still can’t choose who is going to win. What we can say for certain is this…We are all going to be treated to a vintage season of World RX in 2016!”

Well, it seems we were right! So far the first half of the 2016 World RX Season have been exciting and unpredictable, with three different winners over six events, however the form book has been turned on its head at each round and the fans have been treated to some fantastic racing with much more to come in the second half of the year.

2016 FIA World RX title rivals Mattias Ekstrom and Petter Solberg (Credit: IMG / FIA World RX)

What is evident so far is that no one driver has dominated the series all year in the same way that Petter Solberg has over the past two seasons. Whilst Solberg has one win this year so far, EKSRX Team Principle Mattias Ekstrom has taken three wins in a row and he currently leads the Drivers championship by five points. However Solberg has been canny enough to score enough points at each round to keep the gap at five points for the last three events and we are all well aware that the former WRC Champion always has a game plan to keep him in the hunt. Developments to his Citroen DS3 have kept the Norwegian in the hunt and expect him to be ready to pounce should Ekstrom suffer a bad weekend. Ekstrom’s 2016 team-mate Topi Heikkinen has adapted well to the Audi S1 and expect to see more from the two time World RX event winner.

Hoonigan Racing’s Andreas Bakkerud being pursued by Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Sebastien Loeb (Credit: IMG / FIA World RX)

Andreas Bakkerud has been the surprise package so far this season where he is adapting to the large Ford Focus RS RX by taking the first ever perfect score in World RX (Winning all four Qualifying races, the Semi Final and the Final) in Norway whilst going on to take a second win in a row in Sweden. On the back of this form Bakkerud has now put himself into the Championship fight in third place, albeit 27 points behind Solberg, however he has Sebastien Loeb and Johan Kristoffersson only 4 points behind with both tied on 106 points. With Loeb growing in experience at each event, expect this to be a close fight. Bakkerud’s Hoonigan Racing team-mate Ken Block be looking for more reliability from his Ford Focus as the American has had the majority of mechanical issues so far, despite taking 3rd in the Supercar Final at Hockenheim.

Volkswagen RX Sweden’s Anton Marklund and Johan Kristoffersson (Credit: IMG / FIA World RX)

With the summer break almost over, there are other teams and drivers waiting in the wings and ready to take centre stage on the podium. Team Peugeot-Hansen have been regular podium visitors at every event this year apart from Hockenheim and normally the second half of the year sees the Franco-Swedish Alliance shine and it is not inconceivable that that either Loeb or Timmy Hansen could take their first win of the year with further development of the quick Peugeot 208 WRX. Volkswagen RX Sweden are also in a position to take that first victory as both Kristoffersson and Anton Marklund have made it to the Semi-Final stages at three events with the VW Polo looking to menacing when its on full attack mode. Kristoffersson is hungry for his second win in World RX and he is capable of taking the fight to those ahead of him whilst Marklund is going quicker and quicker at each event as he becomes more familiar with the VW Polo.

World RX Team Austria driver’s Timur Timerzyanov and Janis Baumanis (Credit: IMG / FIA World RX)

World RX Team Austria are showing an increase of pace in their Stohl Racing engineered Ford Fiesta’s that has given Timur Timerzyanov a return to form that has previously won him two FIA European Rallycross Championship titles and he’s looking like he can stand atop the podium this year whilst Janis Baumanis has been troubling the establishment in what is his first year of Supercar action. The Latvian is not far from taking that first podium finish. OlsbergsMSE have been campaigning their reliable Ford Fiesta this season and there has been no sign of this slowing down as young guns Kevin Eriksson and Niclas Grönholm have both made it through to the Semi-Finals on several occasions, however a potential place in the Supercar Final is not far way for either driver. Finally Munnich Motorsport have been making strides with their brand new SEAT Ibiza RX where Reinis Nitiss has overcome development issues to drag the new car into the Semi-Finals at Belgium and Norway showing that progress is being made and with more to come alongside team-mate Rene Munnich.

Reinis Nitiss in the Munnich Motorsport SEAT Ibiza RX Supercar (Credit: IMG / FIA World RX)

Whilst Petter Solberg has been the fastest of the Independent drivers in the 2016 season, Robin Larsson enjoyed a mighty start to his season as he took second place in Portugal whilst he suffered a roll in the final at Hockeheim that denied him a spot on the podium. Larsson has pulled off giant killing performances before and in the second half of the season he will be a factor once again. Daventry based JRM World RX began the season with Liam Doran and their 1.6 litre turbocharged BMW Mini and this combination saw a Semi-Final performance in Portugal and then this was followed up with a spectacular Semi-Fianl race which saw Doran into the Final at Hockenheim, however technical issues and bad luck have seen the British Bomb and the 2.0 litre turbocharged BMW Mini suffer in the following rounds. With the team parting ways with Doran for the second half of the year, we await to see who will fill the seat of this popular Supercar and push it towards the front of the field.

Independent FIA World RX driver Robin Larsson (Credit: IMG / FIA World RX)

The second half of the Championship offers challenges from iconic circuits such as Loheac in France and the Estering in Germany with its infamous first turn that can win or lose a race for any Rallycross driver whilst popular venues such as Trois-Rivieres and Barcelona are back for more. The Championship sees yet another new event on the calendar as the teams and drivers travel to the Riga circuit for the first ever World RX of Latvia whilst the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship sees its finale take place at the Rosario circuit in Argentina where we will find out who will have been crowned as 2016 FIA World Rallycross Champion.