The 2018 World RX of Portugal is the second round of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship and this weekend will offer a very different kind of challenge as the series moves to its first full time Rallycross track of the year.
The Montalegre circuit offers a different kind of surface change with loose gravel involved as well as asphalt. With the surface change also comes the very important Joker lap section of the track which is located just after turn one and has proven to be vital in previous seasons for taking the race win.
After the challenging conditions at the 2018 World RX of Spain a fortnight ago and the possibility that we could see snow this weekend in Portugal, World RX is bracing itself for another exciting weekend of action.
THE GUEST STARS
Joining the fifteen full time entries in Portugal will be former F1, WTCC and Formula E driver Ma Quing Hua who will be making his World RX debut for STARD Racing in one of their Ford Fiesta Supercars. The Chinese driver has tested for the team over the winter so it will be interesting to see how he progresses over a full race weekend.
Local talent will be represented by both Joaquim Santos, who is making his regular appearance at his home circuit racing a Ford Focus Supercar and former Super1600 star Mario Barbosa will drive an ex-LD Motorsports Citroen DS3 in Montalegre following his Supercar debut in the opening round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship in Spain.
Finally Oli Bennett will be back in his Xite Racing BMW Mini Cooper as part of his World RX programme in 2018. Bennett had an interesting time in Spain as he learnt to adapt to the new Supercar in the very wet conditions on Saturday and then dry conditions on Sunday.
The British driver is already looking forward to some dry running in the new car which has been developed by both LD Motorsports and Simpson Motorsport over the winter,
THOSE ON THE BACK FOOT
After the opening round in Spain, there are a few teams and drivers who need to use this weekend as a chance to get back on terms during this early point in the season. Sebastien Loeb is one of these drivers who needs a big weekend in Portugal after what can be described as a difficult weekend in Spain.
The French Driver missed Qualifying by one place, however when Kevin Hansen stood down, the nine time WRC Champion took the chance to score some good points for himself and Team Peugeot Total.
Loeb has gone well in Portugal previously and was challenging for the win last year in the Supercar Final. If he gets a good start on Saturday, expect more of the same on Sunday.
Mattias Ekstrom will be out to repeat his performance from last year after being disqualified from the Supercar Final a fortnight ago. Contact with Petter Solberg saw the win that he took on the road taken away from the Swedish driver, however last year Ekstrom just managed to hold off both Loeb and the Volkswagens as he took what was his second victory of the season.
The starts for the EKS Audi Sport drivers seemed to be an issue in Spain, so if these can be worked out quickly, both Esktrom and Andreas Bakkerud will be well in the hunt for victory at the Portuguese circuit.
Expect more fireworks between them and as the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden drivers of Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson who will be looking to increase the points haul they already have.
THOSE IN NEED OF A GOOD DAY
The Olsbergs MSE team had a slow return to World RX in Spain. Whilst Kevin Eriksson took three Qualifying race wins during the weekend, mechanical issues kept him out of the top twelve places.
It was Robin Larsson who made it to the Semi-Finals in the new Ford Fiesta Supercars that the team are competing with this year.
Larsson always goes well in Portugal, where in previous visits he has driven the iconic Audi A1 known as “Diana” and taken a podium finish. If both drivers can get a good start in Q1, expect them both to be in the hunt for vital Semi-Final places on Sunday after qualifying has finished.
Timmy Hansen is another driver who deserves to have a better weekend in Portugal. Hansen checked out in Spain during the Semi-Finals only to have the car break down on the final lap in what was a heartbreaking turn of events after he dominated the final Qualifying session.
The young Swedish driver has already shown the pace of the car at both Silverstone earlier in the year and in Barcelona, so his ability is without question when competing at Portugal.
Look out for another standout performance as he looks to get that first win of the year for Team Peugeot Total during this weekends activities.
EXPECT SOME SURPRISES TOO!
With the performance that they showed in Spain, expect both GRX Taneco and GC Kompetition to spring another surprise this weekend. For Marcus Gronholm‘s team, they have the experience of the Portugese track but not with the Hyundai i20 Supercars they are running.
This small point didn’t seem to bother the team last time out though, with Niclas Gronholm taking fourth place in the Final. With Timur Timerzyanov also enjoying the former WRC machine so far, both drivers could yet make it to the Final if others have a bad day.
The same can be said for GC Kompetition, who seemed to adapt to the Grand Prix venue rather well and showed top ten pace during Qualifying. Whilst Montalegre will be another learning curve for the Prodrive built Megane’s, both Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin cannot be counted out.
Grosset-Janin in particular has experience of the circuit and was chasing home Timmy Hansen in the Semi-Finals before his Joker Strategy dropped him out of contention. The Frenchman will be looking to move further up the order as he and his team-mate learn more about these fantastic machines.
Quite simply, the 2018 World RX of Portugal is shaping up to be another exciting part of this years World RX season!