Cast your mind back to the 2016 World RX of Argentina, the final round of the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship and you will recall the words of then Volkswagen RX Sweden driver Johan Kristoffersson who had just finished second to 2016 FIA World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekstrom:
“I’m coming back next year to go one better!”
Well, he certainly did that!
The first surprise of the year was the announcement that that Volkswagen had teamed up with Petter Solberg‘s PSRX outfit to become PSRX Volkswagen Team Sweden for the 2017 season with Kristoffersson alongside.
The aim for the team was simple, to take their first FIA World Rallycross Teams Championship, something that Solberg had not achieved yet in the series.
EKSRX returned with Topi Heikkinen staying on with Mattias Ekstrom. However the news here was that the team had Audi Sport backing and that they had expanded to a third entry with Reinis Nitiss joining the squad as an Independent driver.
Team Peugeot-Hansen also announced a three car squad with Timmy Hansen and Sebastien Loeb staying on for a new season whilst Kevin Hansen would start his first full season in a 2016 car. Hoonigan Racing returned for their second season with Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block confirmed to drive the iconic Ford Focus RS RX.
World RX Team Austria split into two teams over the winter as Max Pucher’s outfit became MJP Racing Team Austria, signing Kevin Eriksson and retired DTM driver Timo Scheider whilst Manfred Stohl’s Team STARD entered World RX for the first time as a full team, keeping on board Janis Baumanis and Double FIA European Rallycross Champion Timur Timerzyanov.
The final full season Independent entries were filled by Kornel “CsuCsu” Lukacs in the Kia Rio run by Gigi Galli’s GGRX squad whilst Jean-Baptiste Dubourg would drive a 2015 Team Peugeot-Hansen 208 for DA Racing in their first full season of World RX.
Guy Wilks made his World RX racing debut in the LOCO Energy World RX Team driving a 2016 VW Polo and Niclas Gronholm who would pilot an M-Sport Ford Fiesta under the GRX banner. As always there would be the usual guest drivers during the season.
2017 started off in the same way that 2016 ended, with Ekstrom and the EKSRX squad showing more of the dominance that sealed the 2016 Campaign.
However with Spain now being the opening round, the Swedish driver wasted no time in going fastest. Whilst Heikkinen was fastest on Saturday, it was Ekstrom who took the win.
Scheider surprised many as he showed the pace to stay with the works Audi and took his first podium if his World RX career, whilst Bakkerud joined him on the podium.
PSRX Volkswagen Team Sweden showed the pace from the beginning however a botched start by Kristoffersson in the Final denied him the chance of a first win for the team. With Team Peugeot-Hansen also close on form, it was going to be an interesting year ahead.
With momentum at the start of the season key to a Championship challenge or defence, Ekstrom made sure that he was showing the rest of the World RX field the way.
At the Montalegre circuit, the DTM driver used consistency to his advantage, but Solberg and Kristoffersson fired more warning shots. Kristoffersson and Solberg were fastest in three of the Qualifying sessions and both made the Supercar Final.
Bakkerud suffered the most in Portugal, missing the joker in Qualifying and despite going fastest in Q4, he missed out on a Final spot after hitting a barrier and causing terminal damage to the Ford.
In the Final, the Volkswagen’s were dominating until Solberg suffered a puncture whilst joker strategy kept Kristoffersson behind Ekstrom who took win number two of the year. Loeb and Hansen took a double points haul whilst Nitiss made his first Final of the year.
Heading to the iconic Hockenheimring for the third running of the joint World RX/DTM weekend, The EKSRX Audi’s were expected to dominate once again. 2014 FIA European Rallycross Champion Robin Larsson returned to World RX action in his Audi A1 and was in amongst the runners straight away.
However they had a fight on their hands. Team Peugeot-Hansen looked on good form as Loeb and Hansen took three of the Qualifying sessions with a win whilst Solberg finished off Q4 with the win. It was another difficult weekend for Hoonigan Racing as Block missed out on the Final whilst Bakkerud missed out on the Semi-Finals.
The Supercar final saw the best of World RX compete head to head with the likes of Kristoffersson, Ekstrom, Heikkinen and Hansen joining Loeb and Solberg in the action, however the fairy tale start continued for Ekstrom as he took win number three ahead of Kristoffersson and Hansen.
Ekstrom left Germany with a sixteen point lead, however the story was about to change as the 2017 season entered its next third. This is where the script was literally torn apart and saw the level of competition raise the bar even higher as the circus headed to Belgium.
The talk of Mettet revolved around two questions:
“Can Mattias Ekstrom take win number four?” and “Who will stop him taking win number four?”
What was evident was the increase in pace from both Team Peugeot-Hansen and Hoonigan Racing as they stepped up their game to take on the early season pace setters of EKSRX and PSRX Volkswagen Team Sweden.
Qualifying was a frantic affair that saw Kristoffersson go Top Qualifier with Solberg in second place, whilst Audi drivers Ekstrom and Heikkinen were behind the Ford and Peugeot drivers but into the Semi-Finals.
Also joining the works teams in the Semi’s were MJP Racing Team Austria duo Eriksson and Scheider as well as Gronholm, taking his first top twelve of the year.
During Q3 Kevin Hansen rolled his 2016 Peugeot at the back end of the circuit which put the 2016 FIA European Rallycross Champion out for the weekend, whilst Loeb missed out on a crucial Supercar Final spot. In the Final itself, there were quite a few talking points.
Timmy Hansen enjoyed a close battle with Solberg before taking the lead and then Hansen looked for the win before a puncture intervened. Bakkerud crashed out after contact with Solberg whilst Ekstrom played tactics with the VW’s. However Kristoffersson took his first win of the year ahead of Hansen, who was eleven-hundredths ahead of Solberg.
Ekstrom left Belgium with a three point lead over Kristoffersson and Solberg and it was clear that the wind had changed in favour of the Volkswagen drivers.
Lydden Hill celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as the birthplace of Rallycross in 2017, however with the event moving to Silverstone from 2018, there was one man looking to take one last victory at one of his favourite circuits: Petter Solberg.
The Norwegian’s intent was clear as he took the first three wins in Qualifying, however Timmy Hansen stopped his run by winning Q4 as Solberg finished as Top Qualifier.
With a three point lead to defend, Ekstrom was on a charge to regain the advantage however the best he could do was three third places in Qualifying, whilst Kristoffersson was lurking, ready to pounce on any mistake.
2013 British Touring Car Champion Andrew Jordan returned to World RX as he subbed for Timo Scheider and rewarded MJP Racing Team Austria with a place in the Semi-Finals alongside Kevin Eriksson whilst both Team STARD drivers Timerzyanov and Baumanis also made the top twelve cut.
Solberg would not be denied though as he dominated the Supercar Final to take the win he so much wanted ahead of Kristoffersson to take the teams first one-two finish of the year whilst Bakkerud recovered form to join them on the podium in the M-Sport built Ford Focus RS RX.
Loeb and Hansen made it to the Final, however Hansen suffered mechanical issues to finish behind Ekstrom who just made it through only to suffer a puncture as Loeb took fourth place. Despite Solberg’s win it meant that Kristoffersson would take the championship lead, something he wouldn’t lose from this point on.
The 2016 World RX of Norway saw Andreas Bakkerud take the perfect weekend, however the Norwegian was hard pushed to repeat the feat with the current form of PSRX Volkswagen Team Sweden drivers Solberg and Kristoffersson. Despite being on home turf though, Solberg would suffer as Kristoffersson and Bakkerud would battle it out.
Whilst Bakkerud took Top Qualifier with one win in Qualifying, the other three wins were shared out between Ekstrom, Solberg and Kristoffersson whilst EKSRX drivers Heikkinen and Nitiss made the top twelve cut for the Semi-Finals.
Sebastien Loeb was close in the standings as he looked to challenge again whilst team-mate Timmy Hansen just made the cut himself after suffering a big accident in Q3.
One story that carried on all season was the ongoing clash at World RX events between Petter Solberg and Andreas Bakkerud that started back at Hockenheim and continued on at every event, including the 2017 World RX of Norway. This time though Solberg was very angry with the contact and made his feelings clear on live television and this meant the Double World RX Champion would miss the Supercar Final.
Despite suffering with a swollen foot after being run over by one of the Team Peugeot-Hansen cars in the Paddock, Kristoffersson had the pace to win during a weekend that threw changing conditions at the World RX competitors and it would be down to the Joker strategy in the Final to sort out the best in Hell.
Kristoffersson’s first lap joker was enough to beat Bakkerud as he took his joker on the next lap and the VW driver would take his second win of the year ahead of Bakkerud and Loeb.
Kristoffersson now held an eight point lead over Ekstrom as the World RX Circus moved to the Magic of Rallycross…
Holjes was ready to welcome the FIA World Rallycross Championship to its iconic circuit and fans and it did not disappoint.
The event saw the return of the Olsbergs MSE squad to World RX as they entered Oliver Eriksson and Sebastian Eriksson in a pair of 2016 Ford Fiesta Supercars at their home event which also saw a large local entry as wildcards for the weekend. It would be a weekend of surprises though…
However, there were a few twists in the tale as the Magic of Holjes kicked in. With Ekstrom away on DTM duty, former World RX EKSRX driver Per-Gunnar Andersson stepped in to help out the Swedish squad on home turf.
It would turn out to be the teams worst event of the season though as none of the three Audi’s made it into the Semi-Finals whilst Kristoffersson and Solberg lead the way ahead of the Hoonigan Racing team-mates and the Peugeot-Hansen drivers after all four Qualifying sessions.
Sebastian Eriksson made it through to the Semi-Finals for Olsbergs MSE whilst both the MJP Racing Team Austria and Team STARD outfits would also capitalise on the suffering of EKSRX as they had a rare off weekend.
The race for the six vital places in the Supercar Final was hard but fair as many aimed for the top and fell by the wayside including the likes of Solberg, Block, Timerzyanov and Sebastian Eriksson.
The final itself was a dominant but strategical affair as Kristoffersson sped off in to the lead whilst Sebastien Loeb and Timmy Hansen opted for an early joker before working their way through the field as the others eventually took their joker laps.
Baumanis was elated to make his first Supercar Final and had a race long fight with Kevin Eriksson, however Kristoffersson took the win on home ground ahead of Bakkerud and Loeb in what was an exact repeat of the Hell Podium.
Kristoffersson now had a thirty-one point lead over team-mate Solberg who moved ahead of Ekstrom as he lost ground and suddenly the Drivers Championship was coming into focus for the former Scandinavian Touring Car Champion.
The Trois-Rivieres circuit in Canada has always hosted some of the most exciting World RX events and 2017 was no exception, however the chasing pack were hard pushed to beat the might of the PSRX Volkswagen Team Sweden squad as they firmly made their dominance in Canada.
Ekstrom returned back to World RX and led the chasing pack in a rejuvenated EKSRX squad where Topi Heikkinen was also a contender for the the Supercar Final.
Kristoffersson and Solberg again dominated Qualifying with Ekstrom and Heikkinen in two, however in the Semi-Finals, it would be Ekstrom who failed to get through after a mechanical failure in the Audi S1 Quattro.
In the Supercar Final, The two VW drivers took the lead in the opening laps and also took early jokers giving Timmy Hansen the lead. This was short lived though as Hansen suffered a mechanical issue which saw him drop out. Kristoffersson took the win ahead of Solberg with Loeb completing the podium.
As World RX arrived at Loheac, known to the fans as the Temple of Rallycross, there were a few changes in lineups. Former British and World Rally Championship driver Alister McRae had replaced Guy Wilks in the LOCO Energy World RX Team whilst EKSRX had expanded to four cars.
DTM driver Nico Muller made the first of two outings in World RX after winning a bet with Team Principal and driver Mattias Ekstrom. However the biggest challenge at Loheac was the torrential rain and difficult conditions over the weekend.
Earlier in the season there was the thought that the chink in the VW’s armour was a wet racetrack, however this theory was disproved as Kristoffersson again went TQ with Loeb and Ekstrom in pursuit.
The conditions caught out several of the drivers which meant some qualified lower down than expected including those who missed the cut. Gronholm, Timerzyanov, Nitiss and Muller were some of the casualties of the conditions.
In the Supercar Final, Kristoffersson strode to the win as Hansen retired again with another mechanical issue whilst Solberg was slowed with a puncture. Loeb and Ekstrom completed the podium as Kristoffersson broke another record with four wins in a row, whilst Bakkerud completed the top four.
After breaking records and dominating the last four World RX events, the 2017 World RX of Latvia offered the first chance of Johan Kristoffersson taking his first Drivers Title and for Petter Solberg’s team to win its first Teams title.
However the weekend didn’t go exactly to plan…
In Q1 Timo Scheider came across the finish line with his Ford Fiesta RXS in flames, however the German driver was able to extract himself safely from the car, whilst the biggest highlight for the fans was Baumanis taking a race win during Qualifying. Solberg suffered damage to his VW Polo which left him down the order after Q2 and to add to this, there was torrential rain to contend with.
Whilst Heikkinen was TQ after Saturday’s action, Kristoffersson re-asserted himself at the top of the leaderboard before the Semi-Finals. During Semi-Final Two what seemed to be a small contact from Baumanis sent Solberg into the tyre barrier and ruled the Norwegian out of action for the rest of the day.
Kristoffersson duly went on to take the win and secure the drivers title whilst Ekstrom and Loeb completed the podium. Nico Muller completed his first Supercar Final of the year as Baumanis finished in fifth place infront of the home crowd. Kristoffersson’s win also meant that PSRX Volkswagen Team Sweden sealed the Teams Title.
With the Drivers and Teams Titles sewn up in Latvia, the chase was now on for second place with Ekstrom and Solberg going head to head whilst EKSRX and Team Peugeot-Hansen would fight it out. The next two events of the year in Germany and South Africa would confirm who would finish where.
The Estering at Buxtehude is an old fashioned Rallycross circuit where Turn One can be just as decisive as a last lap joker can also be. With the Championship fight moving to Solberg vs Ekstrom for second place, you knew you were in for a weekend of fireworks.
With Davy Jeanney subbing for Jean-Baptiste Dubourg at DA Racing and Sebastien Eriksson returning for Olsbergs MSE, everyone had their A game in play. However it was clear that the EKSRX Audi’s were looking back on form as they aimed to move back up the championship order and challenge the likes of both Peugeot and Volkswagen.
Petter Solberg was named the third driver for the 2017 World RX of Germany as local rally driver Dieter Depping made his debut, having undergone surgery on a broken collarbone only four days before the event due to injuries sustained in Latvia.
The Norwegian earned the nickname “The Ironman” over the weekend as his finished top in Qualifying ahead of the likes of Ekstrom, Hansen, Kristoffersson and Bakkerud.
Whilst the young guns of Niclas Gronholm and Kevin Hansen made it to the Final, it was Ekstrom who took a well deserved fourth win of the season ahead of a more consistent Timmy Hansen and Johan Kristoffersson whilst Solberg soldiered on to fourth place.
This now left Solberg a point ahead of Ekstrom with one event left to go in the 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship.
The Killarney International Circuit played host to the Finale of the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2017 and it was a welcome addition to the series. With a lot of support from the locals, the World RX regulars treated them to a fantastic end to the season on a circuit that lent itself to Rallycross action.
Dust and tyre stacks were the talk of Saturday as Qualifying took place with all of the drivers and teams pushing hard for a good finish to the year, but it was a unfamiliar lineup that topped Saturdays leaderboard after Q2.
Ken Block, Janis Baumanis and Timmy Hansen were the top three with 2017 Champion Kristoffersson in fourth place whilst lower down the top twelve were Solberg, Ekstrom and Oliver Eriksson, who returned for a second shot at World RX. Local drivers Ashleigh Haigh-Smith and Mark Cronje thrilled the crowds with some very spirited performances.
With Ekstrom looking to overhaul Solberg for second place in the Drivers Championship, the Swedish driver started off well by ending Qualifying ahead of his Norwegian rival and continued his pace through the Semi-Final stages and into the Supercar Final.
Whilst Kristoffersson held off Hansen for the final win of the year, the 2016 World RX Champion finished in third place and this sealed second place in the Drivers Championship for the EKSRX driver.
Solberg finished fourth ahead of Timo Scheider whilst Ken Block‘s disqualification from the Semi-Finals saw Kevin Hansen into the Final however a mechanical issue would deny him to start.
2018: A WINTER OF MANY QUESTIONS…& ANSWERS
With the 2017 season over, focus and attention now turn to the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship. With many rumours, whispers and possibilities already circulating Social Media as to who will drive for what team and in which car. One thing that is for certain though is the 2018 Calendar…
2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship Calendar:
- Spain: Barcelona 14 – 15 April
- Portugal: Montalegre 28 – 29 April
- Belgium: Mettet 12 – 13 May
- Great Britain: Silverstone 26 – 27 May
- Norway: Hell 9 – 10 June
- Sweden: Holjes 30 June – 1 July
- Canada: Trois-Rivieres 4 – 5 August
- France: Loheac 1 – 2 September
- Latvia: Riga 15 – 16 September
- USA: COTA 29 – 30 September
- Germany: Estering 13 – 14 October
- South Africa: Cape Town 24 – 25 November
The largely unchanged calendar sees Silverstone replace Lydden Hill as the UK round of World RX whilst Hockenheim is replaced by the Circuit of the Americas for the first USA round of World RX. With this in mind and the recent buildup of interest in the championship, its going to be interesting to see who will return for 2018.
2018: WHAT WE KNOW…
Whilst there are a lot of questions for 2018, we already have some answers as to who will and won’t be back.
We know that Sebastien Loeb will be back for his third season of World RX with Peugeot who are now focusing their efforts on taking a first Team World Championship in the series. The Frenchman is looking for his first World RX Drivers title, but the team running the outfit is still unclear.
Ford Performance announced that Ken Block’s Hoonigan Racing and the iconic Ford Focus will not return to the series in 2018. This leaves Andreas Bakkerud looking for a drive next year and one very talented World RX race winner who will want a top line car to challenge for more wins.
One hope could be with Guerlain Chicherit’s GCK World RX Team, which will enter a two car Renault backed squad using the new Renault Megane RX being built and prepared by Prodrive. The squad will be looking for a second top line driver and many names have been mentioned already.
With Renault and Peugeot already confirmed, there have also been recent interesting report of Drivers and teams approaching the likes of Hyundai and BMW for future World RX entries. With Electric Rallycross looming in the not so far future, Manufacturers are looking to World RX with more interest.
We all know one thing. Its going to be a cracking season opener in Spain when all of the 2018 World RX entries are announced and its going to be an intriguing winter as plans are confirmed…