Review: 2018 World RX of Portugal – “Snow anyone?”


The 2018 World RX of Portugal. Credi: IMG / FIA World RX

The 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship has thrown nearly every type of weather known to  man at the drivers and tems that are taking part this year. Portugal was no exception.

At the World RX of Spain there was heavy rain and then blazing sunshine, whilst at the World RX of Portugal there were dry but cold conditions before the rain and finally the snow. If you’re a driver in World RX this year, you are definitely earning your keep!

What Portugal did show was that several performances in Spain weren’t a one off and if anything, the show is as close as it looks.

THE BIG THREE BECOME THE BIG FIVE

VW, Peugeot and Audi are being closed down by GRX and GC Kompetition. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

The season started out with the likes of PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, EKS Audi Sport and Team Peugeot Total all looking capable of taking race wins in Supercar Finals, however Portugal also showed us that there are two more teams who are capable of being in the mix:

GRX Taneco and GC Kompetition.

GRX Taneco have moved to using ex WRC Hyundai’s for this year and the move up the order is already clear.

Timerzyanov is enjoying a good start to his 2018 World RX season at GRX Taneco. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Marcus Gronholm‘s squad are already regular visitors to the Semi-Finals and taking part in one Final so far but you can expect them to challenge more as the year goes on. Both Timur Timerzyanov and Niclas Gronholm already saying positive things about the i20 Supercars.

For GC Kompetition, they have approached the challenge of World RX from a different angle and its an angle that’s working just as well. Both Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin are using brand new Prodrive built Renault Megane’s and the cars are already fast out of the box.

Chicherit and Grosset-Janin have shown great pace in the new cars and gone as far as also reaching the Semi-Finals and with Chicherit himself taking part in the Supercar Final in Portugal. Expect more of this as the team gets used to the cars and circuits ahead.

KRISTOFFERSSON GOING QUIETLY ABOUT HIS BUSINESS

Kristoffersson is quietly leading from the front this season. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Johan Kristoffersson is leading the Drivers World Championship this year after two victories in a row…but he’s doing this in a different fashion to last year when he dominated the series.

His Spanish win can be attributed to Mattias Ekstrom being disqualified after his contact with Petter Solberg, but the Swedish driver was hot on Ekstrom’s tail in the race itself.

The PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver took his Portuguese win on the road in those very snowy conditions, but it more the way that Kristoffersson is going about things this year that’s a headline: He hasn’t won a single Qualifying session so far this year.

What he has done is to make sure he is inside the top twelve and be in the right place at the right time to be in the Final. Its a quieter way to go about the task of defending a World Championship, but its working!

OLSBERG MSE NEED A REALLY GOOD WEEKEND

OlsbergsMSE saw only one car into the Semi-Finals at Portugal. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Being one of the last teams to confirm they were entering World RX this year, it was a welcome sight to see that Andreas Eriksson‘s squad were returning to the series after a year away.

Whilst having two great young guns in the shape of Robin Larsson and Kevin Eriksson for 2018, the problem for the team has been the new Mk8 Ford Fiesta Supercars that they have developed in line with Ford Performance.

Robin Larsson always goes well in Portugal but he failed to repeat that form. Credit: Olsbergs MSE

Looking back on the first two events, both Larsson and Eriksson have shared the same issues. Both drivers have qualified for the Semi-Finals whilst their team-mate has missed out on the cut at the same event. Larsson benefitted in Spain whilst Eriksson had his turn in Portugal.

Olsbergs MSE are experts with Ford Fiesta Rallycross cars and is not going to take them long to get a handle on how to get the maximum out of these new monsters.

Consider that we are already almost a quarter of the way through the season. This team needs a big points scoring weekend and they need it soon or they could be left out of the fight.

BAUMANIS ARE READY TO POUNCE

Baumanis is going well this year as a one car entry for Team STARD. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Quite often during a World RX season, the independent entries are often the ones who are in need of that big push to get them back on terms with the two car teams as they battle the season alone. 2018 is a little different.

Kevin Hansen and Janis Baumanis are two of the three full season independent entries and these two are making waves this season, despite being two events in.

For Baumanis, things have changed this year despite his staying at Team STARD where the team are running just one Ford Fiesta so far after two failed attempts to get Ma Quing Hua into the second Ford.

But this hasn’t fazed the Latvia driver, who is definitely a future World RX star in the making. Baumanis has enjoyed the single focus of the team and is showing this in his results where he has made the Semi-Finals both times.

During an event this year where the entry list is just above the fifteen full season entries, its quite possible we’ll see him in the Final again, mixing it with the best.

HANSEN READY TO STRIKE

Kevin Hansen is read to spring a surpise if Lady Luck shines his way. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

Kevin Hansen stormed to the 2016 FIA European Rallycross Championship in the same way that a Trojan warrior went in to battle: Head on. It got him the title that year after four straight wins.

However 2018 is being a bit more difficult for the young Team Peugeot Total driver.

After giving up his Semi-Final place in Spain to help team-mate Sebastien Loeb play the Tactical game of points scoring, the younger Hansen then lost out on the Semi-Finals again in Portugal due to mechanical issues.

Lets be certain about one thing though. When luck goes his way and the car is on form, Hansen simply flies and he can mix it with the established World Champions in the field. Kevin has learnt from Portugal and is already looking ahead to more in Belgium.

EKSTROM IN NEED OF SOME LUCK

The 2016 World RX Champion has work to do at the 2018 World RX of Belgium. Credit: Ferdi Kräling Motorsport-Bild GmbH

Mattias Ekstrom must be wondering what he’s done wrong to deserve the luck he has suffered so far this season. After making the decision to focus full time on World RX, the Swedish driver has had an awful start to the year.

Contact with Solberg in Spain led to his Disqualification and then in Portugal, Esktrom had to try and pass the defensive Guerlain Chicherit who got ahead of the EKS Audi Sport driver after a great last lap joker. That left the 2016 World RX Champion in fourth place and missing out on the Final.

As I pointed out earlier, we are almost a quarter of the way through the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship and Ekstrom is seventeen points behind Kristoffersson. He needs to close that gap soon before a second title tilt suddenly looks almost impossible very quickly.

The 2018 World RX of Belgium gets underway this weekend at the Circuit Jules Tacheny Mettet with the first heat draw taking place on Friday.