Witnessing the most amount of manufacturer involvement in World RX in its five-year history, the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship was expected to be one of the most open contests for the past few years.
However, the smaller Privateer teams also had a big impact on the season. The Checkered Flag takes a look at the 2018 season of World RX on a team by team basis in part two of this review.
GRX Taneco can be truly labelled as the giant killers in World RX in 2018 and it was a real shame that they didn’t claim the podium places that both Niclas Gronholm and Timur Timerzyanov deserved. Armed with the ex-WRC Hyundai i20 Supercars, both drivers were ready to pounce when the Manufacturer teams faltered.
As Marcus Gronholm and Set Promotion teamed up together for the 2018 season, there was always an air of cautious optimism at each event as the team’s confidence grew with each event where they scored a place in the Supercar Final. Whilst the younger Gronholm did this four times, Timerzyanov would reach the Semi-Finals only on nine seperate occasions.
Given that this was the first year of the team using the ex-WRC Hyundai’s, whilst the rate of development was nowhere near as frantic as the Manufacturer teams, the fact that both drivers were able to get to the Semi-Finals on a regular basis spoke a lot about the hard work they both put in. Gronholm would end the year in seventh place overall whilst Timerzyanov finished in tenth place overall.
The best memories I will take away from this season was Niclas Gronholm‘s unwavering smile every time that World RX Commentator Andrew Coley would interview him on screen and Timur Timerzyanov admitting that the team had locked an engineer in the Shipping containers as the cars travelled to the USA to find further performance. Brilliant stuff!
With the news that Guerlain Chicherit was to enter World RX this year with his own team, many expected the cars to be radical and dynamic and GC Kompetition did not disappoint.
The Prodrive built Renault Megane Supercars are gorgeous looking machines and whilst 2018 was a learning year, the French squad had a lot of resources to assist in their fast learning curve and they were soon surprising the Manufacturer backed teams with regular Semi-Final places over a weekend.
The Team started the year with Chicherit and longtime Euro RX regular Jérôme Grosset-Janin and the promise of a place in the Finals was soon fulfilled as Chicherit beat Hansen in Portugal to finish in fifth place overall. Despite a small slump over the next few rounds Grosset-Janin gave the team its first podium in Sweden however, the Frenchman would leave the team after Canada.
There was a lot of praise when the team announced that Liam Doran would join the team for the remainder of the season. The British Bomb made his World RX return in France and was soon harrying Johan Kristoffersson in Qualifying and it was great to see the former Euro RX event winner pushing the car hard and giving the manufacturer teams a new headache to deal with.
2017 FIA European Rallycross Champion Anton Marklund joined the team for the Final three rounds of the season and it was clear by the end of the year that the experience Doran and Marklund brought to the team helped them develop the car further.
The return of Andreas Eriksson‘s squad to World RX with the new Mk 8 Ford Fiesta was a welcome announcement over the winter. Armed with the new car, the team signed the experienced lineup of 2016 World RX of Germany victor Kevin Eriksson and 2014 FIA European Rallycross Champion Robin Larsson.
With the newly designed Fiesta receiving small support from Ford Performance (small compared to the budgets of Volkswagen, Audi and Peugeot), there were teething troubles to be expected with the new car. It was soon clear that both drivers were giving their all and there was more speed needed in the car.
An engine upgrade for Norway saw the car make up some ground and by this time the team had a total of four appearances in the Semi-Finals. The leap in performance meant that the team moved to become regular Semi-Finalists however, it was clear from both Larsson and Eriksson that there was more development needed to get the car to reach a place in a Supercar Final before the end of the year.
Norway, Canada and Germany were the high points of the season for the team as both cars made it to the Semi-Finals at all three events whilst the low points can be seen at Latvia and South Africa where they both missed the cut in Qualifying. Olsbergs MSE also announced its departure from World RX in 2019 after Germany and its a shame to see the team go after a difficult year.
With Timur Timerzyanov signed up with GRX Taneco, STARD Racing scaled back to a full time one car entry for Janis Baumanis in 2018 and in many ways, this worked out well for Manfred Stohl‘s squad.
With the Ford Fiesta upgraded during the season, Baumanis enjoyed a positive third year of World RX Supercar action and often surprised the bigger two car Manufacturer supported teams at times. During the first half of the year, the Latvia driver was a regular Semi-Final contender and often missed out on a place in the Final by one place only.
The high point for the team would have been in Canada at the Trois-Rivieres circuit where a mistake by Andreas Bakkerud and involving Loeb meant the Latvian driver made it through to the Supercar Final. Whilst sixth place was his reward as he tried to take on the bigger teams in the race, Baumanis showed he’d lost none of his fighting spirit as he scored big points. Ninth place overall in the Drivers Championship was how Baumanis ended the season.
STARD Racing also fielded a second car for a part season programme which saw Ma Qing Hua make his debut in the series at Silverstone, Joni-Pekka Rajala compete on home ground in Norway and Rene Munnich pilot the car in Canada. Hopes are high that the team will return with Baumanis and a brand new car for 2019.
Sebastien Loeb Racing
Sebastien Loeb Racing made their debut in World RX after announcing a late deal with Belgian driver Gregoire Demoustier just before the offseason tests at Loheac and Silverstone.
With the Belgian having made his debut twelve months ago for DA Racing, it would be a year of learning the circuits and a new discipline for the French squad. Armed with a brand new Peugeot 208 WRX, the 2018 season can be summed up as a difficult year of learning for both driver and team.
When the entry list was small for some of the year’s events, Demoustier seemed to have his best chance of scoring points at the bottom end of the top sixteen. Fourteenth in Canada would be his best finish of the year whilst his worst end to a World RX event this season was twenty-second in Norway.
Whilst Loeb himself has moved to Hyundai for next year, the future plans of Demoustier in rallycross circles have yet to be confirmed. Sebastien Loeb Racing‘s only confirmed programme so far for 2019 is running Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR machinery for the second season of 2019 FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR).
For his second year of Rallycross action, British driver Oli Bennett made the move from the British Rallycross Championship to World RX and brought the iconic BMW Mini into the series. Armed with support from LD Motorsport, Bennett took part in nine events this year, missing out Belgium, Canada and the USA.
Whilst he competed in the Americas Rallycross Championship in both Canada and the USA, Bennett also endured a learning year in the SX1 however it was clear that his confidence was growing with each World RX round he competed in.
With the development of the car giving it more speed and driveability at each following round, Bennett pushed the limits harder each time and it was great to see the British driver mixing it with the best Rallycross drivers in the world.
Fifteenth place finishes in Spain, Sweden and Germany may not sound positive as breakthrough performances however the British driver aims to be back in World RX in 2019 and to expand his operation to include a second car in action, whether this is in World RX or Euro RX.
With the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship looking to be an all privateer contested affair, World RX is returning to roots that began back in 2014. Privateer teams and drivers made the step onto the world stage and a certain Petter Solberg became the series first ever World Champion.
If you’re a World RX fan, next year is looking like the most open season in the past five years and it has an interesting winter ahead as those who are committing to the next season will soon be revealed.
One thing is for certain. Rallycross is looking like the most exciting form of Motorsport and it’s down to the petrol-powered six hundred brake horsepower flame spitting monsters that are currently in action.