Analysis: 2018 World RX of South Africa – Kristoffersson wins Season Finale as World RX heads into an Uncertain Winter

by Phil Kinch

Killarney International Raceway based near Cape Town held its second edition of the World RX of South Africa at the end of last month.

The twelfth and final round of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship has been a popular addition in the World RX Calendar and as Championship positions were finalised and the future of the sport was discussed there was much to talk about

With this in mind, The Checkered Flag takes a closer look at the weekend’s talking points.

KRISTOFFERSSON TAKES WIN NUMBER ELEVEN

Kristoffersson took Win No.11 at South Africa and capped of a season of dominance. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

To be honest, anyone would have been hard pressed to bet against this happening. Despite ending Q1 in sixteenth place, the 2018 World RX Champion went straight into fightback mode and would go on to win Q2, Q3 and Q4 to end Qualifying overall as Top Qualifier.

Kristoffersson won his Semi-Final race and went on to take the Supercar Final victory to cap off what has simply been a season of records broken and established at the same time.

The only driver to win eleven events out of twelve in a season, amongst many other records broken, it can be said Johan Kristoffersson is quite simply at the top of his game in Rallycross and could well be for several seasons to come.

With the fact that he also secured the TCR Scandinavia Series Driver’s title as well simply shows that the Swedish driver is an impressive talent in Motorsport. It will be interesting to see if he can return in 2019 to defend his second title in World RX.

EKSTROM BEATS BAKKERUD FOR SECOND PLACE

Ekstrom came out on top in the fight for second place in the Drivers Championship. Credit: Malte Christians / Audi Sport

The chase for second place in the Drivers Championship has been raging since Loheac back in August with up to five drivers fighting it out to be runner-up to Kristoffersson. In the end, 2016 World RX Champion Mattias Ekstrom came out on top of the pile to take the silver medal.

Despite having a winless season and at times a very difficult season, the EKS Audi Sport Team Principal has fought hard all year to take podiums where possible and to stay in the hunt. Add in the news of Audi Sport pulling its manufacturer backing of the team just before the 2018 World RX of France and Ekstrom’s crusade looks to have been all the more difficult.

Whilst Ekstrom took second place, it can be argued that Andreas Bakkerud has been the fast of the two Audi drivers. however, retirement in the Semi-Finals meant that Bakkerud’s slim chances were over on the spot.

Ekstrom can be proud of his end of year Championship position, which as it turns out will be his last full-time effort for now.

PEUGEOT LEAVE WORLD RX ON A HIGH IN SOUTH AFRICA

Peugeot went out on a high in South Africa with a double podium finish. Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

With the 2018 World RX of South Africa seeing the last ever performance of Team Peugeot Total as a works team in World RX, all three drivers gave their best to try and go out on a high. Loeb was fastest after both of the Qualifying sessions on Saturday and would end up second to Kristoffersson after Qualifying finished, whilst Timmy Hansen was third.

The Hansen brothers were also quick, using either old or new tyres during each session and ending up inside the top seven places for the Semi-Finals. Whilst Timmy and Kevin chased home Kristofferson in Semi-Final One, Loeb chased home Solberg in Semi-Final Two and again the 208 WRX Supercars in their current guise looked fast.

Come the Supercar Final and Timmy Hansen was wiped out when driving into the dust cloud caused by Solberg spinning on lap two. As Kristofferson disappeared off into the distance, Sebastien Loeb and Kevin Hansen pushed hard however they would both lose out to Ekstrom who used an early Joker to leap them both in the race.

It is a shame to see Peugeot leave World RX, however this season they have been fighting for second best with EKS Audi Sport against a strong PSRX Volkswagen Sweden squad. Time will tell as to what happens to the likes of Loeb, the Hansens and the cars themselves for next year.

EKSTROM’S SURPRISE DEPARTURE FROM WORLD RX (FULL TIME)

Ekstrom announced his retirement from World RX on a full time basis, however did not rule out part time competition. Credit: Malte Christians / Audi Sport

This one came out of the blue. It was a big shock to see Mattias Ekstrom announce his full-time retirement from World RX as a driver and after he secured second place in the 2018 Drivers World Championship.

Since he came into the World RX scene on a part-time basis with the Audi, Ekstrom was always one to be counted on for victory over a race weekend and was regularly a thorn in the side for Petter Solberg. Whilst Formula One had Senna vs Mansell for one of its most notable rivalries where respect was earned, World RX had Solberg vs Ekstrom and the fireworks were a sight to see on the track.

After winning the 2016 Drivers World Championship when the team was known as EKSRX, Ekstrom was usually the closest man to challenge the dominance of the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden duo of Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson over the last two seasons.

However, with limited support from Audi Sport to begin with, it was clear that more was needed to challenge the might of Volkswagen. Despite pushing hard all year and taking podiums alongside 2018 team-mate Andreas Bakkerud, second place was scant rewards for their efforts. Let’s hope that Ekstrom decides to make a part-time come back in the future.

WORLD RX: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

World RX faces an uncertain winter into the 2019 season with questions needing answers. Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

This is a tricky one but it is a burning issue that World RX and IMG Motorsport need to deal with and fast.

At the time of writing this, the 2019 Calendar has already been reduced from eleven events to ten events, with the 2019 World RX of USA on hold until the 2021 season. There has also been feedback from some of the biggest names in the sport (Petter Solberg, Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb) in regards to keeping costs down for next season, which could the first time the World Championship will see a return to Privateers only competing.

The move to Electric World RX has already been discussed heavily and the field is clear as to where the move stands. IMG Motorsport requires at least three Manufacturers to sign up for 2021. In the meantime “Normal” Rallycross Supercars will continue to race in 2019 and 2020, leaving two years still for the required trio of Manufacturers to sign on the dotted line.

With the emergence of GRC Europe as an option for drivers who wish to continue at an International level but struggle with budgets and want a clear and level playing field, World RX faces a fight to see who will compete next season. Fifteen full-time entries took part in 2018 and to reach that number again will be impressive.

With drivers and teams looking at their options for 2019, there are plenty out there for them. As is normal nowadays in Motorsport, Budget, Sponsorship and Driver talent/availability will all play a big part. World RX faces an uncertain future and it needs answers to these issues fast… Otherwise, we could see the demise of one of the FIA’s most exciting World Championships…

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