The Circuit of the Americas, located just outside of Austin, Texas, held its first edition of the World RX of USA last weekend. The tenth round of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship was always going to attract attention as the addition to the 2018 World RX Calendar and being the first chance for Johan Kristoffersson to secure the Drivers Crown for a second year in a row.
With this in mind, The Checkered Flag takes a closer look at the weekend’s talking points.
KRISTOFFERSSON SECURES HIS SECOND STRAIGHT DRIVERS TITLE
In the same way that he has driven this season, Johan Kristoffersson was committed to winning his second straight FIA World Rallycross Drivers Championship and the first opportunity came at COTA. However, the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver had to work hard and rely on a little luck to achieve his goal.
After running in traffic, the 2017 World RX Champion languished down in thirteenth place and looked to have a difficult hill to climb if he was to seal the deal on title number two. In typical Kristoffersson style, the Swedish driver pushed hard though the remaining Qualifying sessions to end up in third place overall and into the Semi-Finals.
Having qualified for the Semi-Finals, taking second place behind team-mate Petter Solberg in Semi One was enough to retain the crown he has successfully defended for a first year. Seven days before the COTA World RX event, he also secured the 2018 TCR Scandinavia Title driving for his fathers team in the series.
To put the icing on the cake, the 2018 World RX Champion capitalised on a mistake made by his team-mate in the Supercar Final to take the lead and go on to take his ninth win of the year. Simply marvellous and also reminds me of a tweet I put out late last year…
Petter Solberg has had a long a difficult road to recovery over the last twelve months. With complications stemming from his big crash in the 2017 World RX of Latvia, the Norwegian driver has been coping with illness during that time and trying to make a recovery to return back his “Hollywood” best.
COTA bore witness to a return to form for a man who up until that crash, was almost unstoppable and in with a shout for the win at each round of World RX. However with his last win back at the 2017 World RX of Great Britain, its been a long while since we’ve seen Petter mount the top step of the podium.
That changed last weekend. The PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver was the overnight Top Qualifier after Q1 and Q2 and went on to top Qualifying overall on Sunday. As Neil Cole interviewed the three times FIA World Champion on Saturday, it was clear that this meant a lot to Solberg with his emotions finally breaking the barrier on how hard its been to return to this level.
However, he wasn’t done there. Solberg won Semi-Final One before leading the Supercar Final for five laps ahead of his team-mate and newly crowned champion.
I was cheering on the sofa as the Norwegian looked secure to take his first win of the season and become the third man to win a World RX round of this year…but it was not to be. A mistake at turn three saw Kristoffersson through to take win number nine of the year and Solberg settle for second.
Be warned. The Double World RX Champion is back and looking for a win before the end of the 2018 season.
EKS AUDI SPORT STEP UP AT COTA
With the announcement before Loheac that Audi would not be involved in World RX for 2019, both Mattias Ekstrom and Andreas Bakkerud have upped their level of performance on track and this has seen them overtake rivals Team Peugeot Total for second place in the Teams Championship.
COTA was another example of how hard both drivers pushed to take their first victory this season and Andreas Bakkerud came very close in the Supercar Final on Sunday. The Norwegian driver has been a match for his Swedish Team Boss and team-mate this season and once again was in the hunt for the win against PSRX Volkswagen Sweden. Taking third place was scant consolation.
Ekstrom was in the thick of the battle during the race as well, however a mechanical issue saw the 2016 World RX Champion fall down the order on the final lap and take fifth place. Fortunately this has not dented his chances in the fight for second place overall, being two points ahead of rival Solberg.
With both Germany and South Africa left on the 2018 Calendar, expect to see EKS Audi Sport make a strong statement as to why they should be back in World RX next year and fighting for championships again.
MARKLUND SHINES ON GC KOMPETITION DEBUT AT COTA
Anton Marklund has been signed to take part in the last three events of the 2018 FIA world Rallycross Championship by GC Kompetition and after his first performance at COTA, its fair to say that the young Swedish driver enjoyed his first outing and will be troubling the top runners more in both Germany and South Africa.
The 2017 FIA European Rallycross Champion tested the car after Latvia and declared himself happy with the Prodrive built Renault Megane and soon set to work at the Texas circuit, ending Day One in tenth place and ready to strike for a Semi-Final place on Sunday.
Twelfth overall after Qualifying and sixth place in Semi-Final Two was his result, however Marklund showed he could handle himself on the World Stage again after a difficult campaign with EKSRX previously.
With the Estering up next and a larger Supercar entry, Martklund will be in a good position to fight for a top twelve place again alongside Team Principal Guerlain Chicherit whilst Liam Doran will return to World RX Duty for the team in the last two rounds. Expect to see all three shine again in Germany and to see Marklund mixing it up with the big boys on his second outing for the team.
FIVE BECOME FOUR IN THE FIGHT FOR SECOND PLACE
The fight for who will finish second to newly crowned champion Johan Kristoffersson will move onto the Estering next weekend, but there are now four high profile suspects involved in this epic battle and not five.
Mattias Ekstrom has kept second place in the Championship, despite finishing in fifth place in the Supercar Final, however he is now being chased by Petter Solberg who is now in third place thanks to his return to spectacular form at COTA. The Norwegian remains only two points behind and is looking to move up the order.
Andreas Bakkerud remains two points behind the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver after another podium performance by the EKS Audi Sport driver has kept him in the chase for second place. You could also argue that Bakkerud would be higher up the leader board as he deserved to win in Loheac and also had the pace at COTA, so you can be sure he will be after at least another podium in Germany.
Sebastien Loeb remains in fourth place despite being inside the top six during three sessions of Qualifying and making it to the Final. With a tough weekend in Latvia not helping his charge, the top Team Peugeot Total driver in the standings will be looking to try and improve at the 2018 World RX of Germany where both Peugeot and Audi have traditionally gone very well.
Timmy Hansen remains in fifth place in the standings, however a second engine change penalty means that the Swedish driver is now out of the running and thirty-two points down on team-mate Loeb. With this in mind, Hansen will be hoping to stay ahead of Niclas Gronholm who has shown an impressive upturn of form recently.
The 2018 World RX of Germany, round eleven of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship, gets underway next weekend with the Q1 draw taking place on Friday and Q1 getting underway on Saturday.