PREVIEW: 2019 World RX of France – Pressure Is Mounting

by Nigel Chiu

Amazingly there are just three rounds left in the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship. The season has gone by so quickly and at least three drivers remain in championship contention as the series heads to Loheac for its annual appearance in France.

Andreas Bakkerud‘s win in Trois-Rivieres last time out elevated him into second place in the championship and to within five points of Kevin Hansen who leads the standings. Timmy Hansen‘s weekend fell apart following a moment of madness in the final part of qualifying which meant he did not make the semi-finals and failed to add to his points tally whilst his rivals did.

Remarkably, the season has seen six different winners from the seven rounds. The close competition with hundredths of a second splitting the drivers is something we have not seen for a few years. Without doubt 2019 will go down as an all-time classic and there is still a lot to play for.

Could we yet see more winners? Absolutely. Janis Baumanis, Anton Marklund and Liam Doran, to name a few, are all capable of winning an event this year. All of them have not won in the FIA World Rallycross Championship and all have been close to doing to in 2019.

Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Baumanis has been one of the most consistent drivers this season. He has made five finals (something only Timmy and Kevin Hansen have done) and made the podium on two of the last three races. A third place in Hell gave the Latvian his maiden podium, he finished second in Canada a few weeks ago, could he go one better in Loheac?

Marklund has actually won an event this year, but only for less than 60 minutes. He was disqualified from the whole World RX of Norway for a technical infringement which was a massive shame for him and GC Kompetition. The 2017 European Rallycross champion has been by far the best GCK driver this year and I would be slightly surprised if GCK do not win an event in the remaining three rounds.

Then there is Doran. Probably the most sideways driver on the grid and one of the most exciting drivers to watch, the ‘British Bomb’ is definitely one to watch in Loheac. Last year, Doran made his World RX return in France after a two-year absence from the sport having has his racing license suspended for 12 months following an ‘altercation’ in 2016.

From the get go, he made his mark and immediately challenged and pressured Johan Kristoffersson in his comeback race. Doran sent the car around the outside at turn one and traded paint with the dominant Kristoffersson showing that he has no fear and loves a rallycross scrap. It was a pretty good comeback event for Doran as he made the semi-finals and showed the rallycross world what they had been missing.

Liam Doran - GC Kompetition - Renault Megane RS RX
Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Doran’s driving style does not suit all the tracks but Loheac should be one of Doran’s strongest circuits. You can send the car into the high speed turn one before flicking the car back the other way for turn two. The final tow corners offer a chance to slide the car and keep up forward momentum, something Doran is brilliant at and with only six proper corners on the track, that’s at least two-thirds of the circuit that should suit Doran’s driving style.

The joker lap can be attacked very hard too. If the cars are nose to tail prior to the entry of the joker lap, there is often contact as the driver going into the joker lap has to slow down more compared to a driver going onto the normal lap.

A small jump into a fast chicane before a long right-hander puts you back onto the normal route with an awkward merge as there is only one line going into the penultimate corner. Should you merge alongside another car, be prepared to get your elbows out.

Should it rain, then taking the joker lap is actually faster than going on the standard route. This is because the joker lap is tarmac and the normal route is gravel (at that point of the track) and the rain slows you down more on gravel compared to tarmac. This happened last year so drivers can still only take the joker lap once but the tactics are thrown up in the air.

Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Normally for a jump start, you have to take an extra joker lap but in the rain at Loheac, you are awarded a three second time penalty instead so that you don’t get an advantage by jumping the start and giving yourself a second bite of the faster joker lap.

Confusing as it sounds, the weather looks set to be dry and sunny anyway but rain has come from nowhere numerous times this season.

Circuit de Loheac

  • Track Length: 0.66 miles (1.07KM)
  • 2018 Winner: Johan Kristoffersson
  • Asphalt/Dirt: 33%/67%
  • Joker Lap Loss: 1.3 seconds (approximately)

Going back to Doran and the Monster Energy RX Cartel team, one of their biggest strengths in 2019 has been the ability to be very quick early on in a race weekend.

Whether its the hard work done behind the scenes leading up to an event, the wide operating window of the car or a bit of both, the Audi S1 Quattro is often the car to beat in Q1 and Q2; they can drive the car out of the truck and immediately set quick laptimes.

This is vital because even with the random Q2 and Q3 draw of ‘fastest cars first’ or slowest cars first’ you are normally racing with other drivers that are quick so there is significantly less chance of getting held up by a slow driver and losing time.

Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

You can also save tyres, knowing you don’t need to set a really good time to progress to the semi-finals because you are safe enough already and it is always good for a team to start off with a high base and to have the confidence that they can be competitive from the get go and not play catch up.

It’s one reason why Bakkerud has consistently qualified in the top four, meaning he is on the front row for either of the semi-finals. Misfortune has cost him and he should be leading the championship right now. That said, every driver has had their fair share of bad luck this season, some more than others.

2019 World Rallycross Championship – Drivers’ Standings

POSDRIVERNATTEAMCarPoints
1Kevin HansenSWETeam Hansen MJPPeugeot 208143
2Andreas BakkerudNORMonster Energy RX CartelAudi S1138
3Timmy HansenSWETeam Hansen MJPPeugeot 208129
4Niclas GronholmFINGRX TanecoHyundai i20115
5Janis BaumanisLATTeam StardFord Fiesta111
6Timur TimerzyanovRUSGRX TanecoHyundai i20102
7Liam DoranGBRMonster Energy RX CartelAudi S190
8Anton MarklundSWEGC KompetitionRenault Magane RS78
9Timo ScheiderGERALL-INKL.COM Muennich MotorsportSeat Ibiza72
10Guerlain ChicheritFRAGC KompetitionRenault Magane RS70
11Krisztian SzaboHUNEKS SportAudi S162
12Cyril RaymondFRAGCK AcademyRenault Clio RS52
13Joni WimanFINGRX TanecoHyundai i2039
14Rokas BaciuskaLITGC KompetitionRenault Magane RS37
15Kevin AbberingDUTEsmotorsport - Labas GASSkoda Fabia35
16Sebastian ErikssonSWEOlsberg MSEFord Fiesta29
17Reinis NitissLATGRX SetHyundai i2026
18Guillaume De-RidderBELGCK AcademyRenault Clio RS16
19Oliver BennettGBROliver BennettMini Cooper15
20Jani PaasonenFINTeam StardFord Fiesta9

For the championship contenders, it’s a case of ‘you can’t win the championship this weekend, but you can certainly lose it’.

Nobody could see Timmy Hansen missing out on the semi-finals last time out in Trois-Rivieres and if Bakkerud, Kevin or Timmy Hansen miss out on the semi-finals this time round, they may be out of realistic championship contention.

Credit: GRX Taneco

Niclas Gronholm and Baumanis still have a small chance of winning the title as they are 28 and 32 points behind respectively (maximum of 30 points available per event). Both will need to take at least 25+ points this weekend and hope the Hansen brothers and Bakkerud are off the pace or suffer from setbacks.

The World RX of France was France’s third most attended motorsport event last year, only behind the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the French Grand Prix. It produced the closest ever final (in terms of the gap from the first car to the last) and the action this year is guaranteed to be just as exciting as the action 12 months ago.

Every race feels more and more important for the championship contenders so the pressure is only going to get higher as the stakes increase.

World RX Schedule (UK Time)

Q1: Saturday 11:50
Q2: Saturday 14:25
Q3: Sunday 8:20
Q4: Sunday 11:50

Semi-Finals and Final: Live Show Starts at 14:00 with Semi-Final One beginning at 15:00

(Everything can be watched on the World RX YouTube Channel and if you miss anything, catch up on the latest news right here at The Checkered Flag).

Will we see a seventh different winner?

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