Season Review: 2018 FIA European Rallycross Championship – Nitiss holds off Increasing Competition for Title win

by Phil Kinch

Whilst the FIA World Rallycross Championship is going through a difficult period, by contrast, the 2018 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercars witnessed another year of capacity entries and close racing.

With such a strong entry at each of the five rounds in the calendar and strong entries appearing on a round by round basis, Reinis Nitiss had to work hard to keep his advantage as he drove the Set Promotion run M-Sport built Ford Fiesta that Niclas Gronholm campaigned in World RX last year.

BARCELONA

Nitiss took victory in Spain to begin his charge to the 2018 Euro RX title. Credit: Set Promotion

Nitiss began the year well in Barcelona by taking three of the four Qualifying sessions ahead of 2017 Champion Anton Marklund in his family run Volkswagen Polo, whilst Ulrik Linnemann made the long-expected move to Supercars in Euro RX this year and was on the pace of his rivals.

Derek Tohill returned for a new season and stayed inside the top twelve whilst 2017 runner-up Thomas Bryntesson endured a difficult weekend and missed the top twelve cut.

With both men winning their respective Semi-Final races, It was Nitiss who would take the upper hand in the Supercar Final as Marklund gave pursuit but settled for second place. Jean-Baptiste Dubourg gave the new G-FORS squad a great start to the year with a podium in the new Mk four Renault Clio whilst an early Joker allowed Philip Gehrman to bring home the Eklund Motorsport Volkswagen Beetle in fourth.

Linnemann had contact with Peter Hedstrom in the first turn which damaged the car and he managed to bring it home ahead of the RallyX Nordic Series regular who struggled to the line.

With the field as close as it was during Qualifying, it was already clear that the 2018 season was going to be closely fought. Nitiss took away a four-point lead from Barcelona, however more competition was due to join the field at Mettet in Belgium and raise the bar in the championship race.

METTET

2017 Champion Marklund fought back at Mettet to take the win. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Mettet always provides great Rallycross action and 2018 in Euro RX was no exception. Looking to extend his lead, Nitiss knew Marklund was a contender however 2017 RX2 International Series Champion Cyril Raymond sealed a deal to race a 2017 Peugeot 208 WRX for the remaining four rounds.

Raymond made his intentions clear by winning three Qualifying sessions on the bounce before Nitiss took the fourth session win. Whilst Marklund showed he could cope with the pace of Raymond and Nitiss, the 2017 Champion finished second to Raymond three times during Qualifying.

With the likes of Lukas WalfridsonJere Kalliokoski and René Munnich dropping out of Semi-Final One whilst Thomas Bryntesson, Andrea Dubourg and “M.D.K.” missed out on a place in the Supercar Final from Semi-Final Two, the Supercar Final would have the same four drivers compete for the win that did in Barcelona.

Anders Braten suffered off the line as both Linnemann and Hedstrom made contact with the Volkswagen Beetle driver whilst Marklund capitalised on a poor start by Nitiss to take the lead. Raymond was soon into his stride and pushed hard in the Peugeot as Nitiss made up ground after an early joker however Marklund would hold on for the win ahead of Nitiss and Raymond.

Nitiss maintained his Championship lead by three points from Marklund as, despite missing the opening round, Raymond slotted into sixth place as a clear contender for wins overall as Euro RX headed to Sweden.

HOLJES

Bryntesson scored a podium finish after impressive pace in the Supercar Final. Credit: Tony Whelan / McKlein

Holjes gave the Euro RX fans a traditional show as the local drivers came to the fore whilst Nitiss looked to try and hold off the competition. Sharing the Qualifying wins with Raymond and Bryntresson, the Set Promotion driver would see a great chance to extend his point lead as Marklunbd suffered in Qualifying and would miss the cut as he finished in fourteenth overall.

The returning Andy Scott fared well in his Albatec Racing Peugeot and made the cut for the Semi-Finals however a fairy tale ending would go amiss as he lost out in his race to make the Supercar Final.

JC Raceteknik had a better weekend in the series with both Bryntesson and team-mate Ola Froshaug getting through to the top twelve whilst Mats Ohman put on a good show on home ground. Andreas Dubourg and Braten would be the other drivers to miss out on the Supercar Final

Nitiss took the advantage in the Final as he was pursued by Raymon and Walfridson whilst an early joker employed by Bryntesson and some fantastic race pace helped get the Fiesta driver back into podium contention.

Contact at the final corner between Nitiss and Raymond saw the French driver win on the road but the stewards penalised him and this meant Nitiss won ahead of Bryntesson and Walfridson. Raymond would finish fourth ahead of Munnich and Hedstrom.

With Marklund losing out in Sweden, Nitiss increased his championship lead to thirty points whilst Raymond closed to within six points of the Marklund Motorsport driver. Bryntesson closed up the gap in the fight for fourth place which involved Hedstrom, Linnemann, Walfridson and Jean-Baptiste Dubourg.

LOHEAC

Raymond took victory on home turf at Loheac. Credit: Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool

Loheac is known as the “Temple of Rallycross” to fans around the world and the penultimate round of the 2018 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercars gave them a great show. With a thirty point lead coming into the weekend, Nitiss could secure the the title with one round left however, Lady Luck had other ideas.

With Raymond’s form clear after two rounds and Marklund on the fightback after he missed out on the Supercar Final at Holjes, another competitor entered the series at Loheac to shake up the order further.

Former Euro RX Super 1600 champion Krisztián Szabo was entered driving an EKS run Audi S1 Supercar and he soon made his presence felt. With Szabo winning the first Qualifying session, Raymond fought back by winning the final three and ending up as Top Qualifier.

Nitiss stayed in touch in third whilst Marklund was fifth overall as the pair were split by G-FORS driver Jere Kalliokoski who had a great run to stay inside the top five for the Semi-Finals. Whilst Linneman, Munnich and Dubourg were regulars to the fight for the last six places, Magda AnderssonMário Barbosa and Tamas Karai just missed out on a chance to race in the Final for the first time during the season.

The Supercar Final saw an equal start from both Raymond and Szabo however, the Peugeot driver took the lead at turn one and would dominate from there. Whilst Szabo and Marklund gave chase, contact through the first two turns saw damage to the Set Promotion Fiesta and meant that Nitiss would crawl home in sixth place.

As Raymond took his maiden Supercar win on home ground ahead of Szabo and Marklund, Bryntesson and Kalliokoski scored good points whilst the title fight went to the last round in Riga.

RIGA

Szabó fought hard at Riga to try and secure a podium place. Credit: Malte Christians / Audi Sport

With the Drivers Title going to the last round in Latvia, Nitiss was set for a golden opportunity to score his first Rallycross title since winning the 2013 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600, which he also secured with Set Promotion. However the competition had other ideas and would push him hard on home turf.

Qualifying would see Marklund, Nitiss, Szabo and Bryntesson share the wins between them, but it was Marklund who came out as Top Qualifier.

Munnich and Jean-Baptiste Dubourg were also strong contenders in all four sessions, which saw a very close field of Supercar drivers fighting for a good end to the season. Raymond and Gehrman featured inside the top twelve as did Supercar debutant Sondre Evjen.

Whilst Evjen would survive the Semi-Finals to qualify for the Supercar Final, the likes of Bryntesson, Dubourg and Kjetil Larsen missed the cut in SF1. Semi-Final Two saw Kalliokoski, Gehrman and Karai miss the cut, however winning the race was enough for Nitiss to secure the Drivers Title in frnt of the home crowd ahead of the Final.

In the Final, Nitiss put on another sterling performance to take the final race win of the season only three tenths of a second ahead of Raymond whilst Marklund took the final step on the podium by five hundredths of a second from Munnich. Evjen took a solid fifth place finish on his first Supercar drive whilst Szabo brought the EKS Audi home in sixth place.

THE DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP

Reinis Nitiss: 2018 FIA European Rallycross Champion for Supercars. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Reinis Nitiss secured the 2018 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercars title in the final round with a winning points margin of thirty-four points ahead of Anton Marklund.

Cyril Raymond ended a four round programme with third place in the standings, only one point behind the 2017 Champion whilst Thomas Bryntesson ended up best of the rest in fourth place, thirty-eight points down on Raymond.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg ended the year in fifth place overall as Ulrik Linnemann ended his first full season of Euro RX Supercars in sixth place.

A strong end to the season saw Rene Munnich finish in seventh place ahead of Krisztián Szabo, Peter Hedstrom and both Lukas Walfridson and Jere Kalliokoski who tied for tenth place at the end of the season.

THE 2019 FIA EUROPEAN RALLYCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP

The FIA European Rallycross Championship look in great health ahead of the 2019 season. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

The 2019 FIA European Rallycross Championship is looking to be another strong year for both the Supercar and Super1600 categories. Promoters IMG Motorsport have already announced that Supercars will receive Facebook Live and Live-streaming of their Qualifying sessions, which was successfully introduced for World RX this year and went down a big hit.

For the first time in several seasons, the number of events for Euro RX has grown from five to six, with an interesting change added for next year. Starting at Silverstone as part of the Speedmachine Festival that will also see World RX competing on the same weekend, Hell in Norway returns to the calendar before the series then moves on to Holjes.

Buxtehude in Germany will then host a unique event for both Euro RX classes due to the uncertainty of World RX at this time. A Euro RX only event at the Estering has already had positive feedback on both Social Media and with drivers and teams so this is definitely a weekend not to miss. Loheac in France and Riga in Latvia round off the year as always.

Whilst World RX may be in peril with work to do over the winter, Euro RX is looking incredibly healthy, so the fans can look forward to another year of traditional Rallycross action. The best drivers in Europe will once again battle head to head with each other in the only way Rallycross should be: Flat Out and Sideways.

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