What an incredible situation we have in the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship. Just two points split the top three drivers in the drivers’ championship with only two rounds remaining.
Andreas Bakkerud leads the way (160 points) from the Hansen brothers of Timmy Hansen and Kevin Hansen (level on 158 points) going into the penultimate event of the season this weekend in Latvia.
Almost certainly, the championship will be decided during the finale in South Africa and it is just a question of how close will it be going into the last round. The World RX of Latvia will not see the championship won, but it could see the championship lost for at least one of the title contenders.
Last time out in Loheac, Timmy Hansen showed that he can live up to the pressure and delivered his third win of the season in front of a huge French crowd. Hansen is the only driver to win multiple events in 2019, with six different winners so far this year.
His brother, Kevin Hansen recovered from a back row start in the semi-finals to make it onto the podium following a monumental effort in his semi-final and the final. At just 21-years-old this was a fantastic demonstration of performing at your best when it matters most from Kevin and it must give him confidence going into Latvia.
As for Bakkerud, he will be ruing a big chance of having a bigger lead in the championship over the Hansen brothers having started from pole position in the final, only to outbrake himself into turn one and finish fifth. The Norwegian cannot afford mistakes like that if he wants to win the championship, neither can the two Hansens’.
There is one outsider, Niclas Gronholm. The GRX Taneco driver is 25 points behind Bakkerud (within the maximum points haul for an event – which is 30) so whilst realistically it would take something miraculous to see Gronholm win the championship, he does have a slim chance.
As mentioned prior to Canada, Gronholm would actually be leading the championship by a relatively handsome margin had he not missed the Belgian and British rounds earlier this year due to an appendicitis operation. If you add the 39 points that super-sub Joni Wiman scored during Gronholm’s missed rounds, Gronholm would currently be leading the championship by 14 points.
2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Drivers’ Standings
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Riga awaits the 19 drivers who will be battling it out for the win. The track is very technical with 12 turns and what makes it unique is that the ‘dirt’ sections are not really proper rallycross dirt, it’s more like slippery tarmac so you could argue the track is mainly just tarmac.
This means the drivers who come enjoy circuit style racing should go well here. Timo Scheider is one of those drivers. The two-time DTM champion has had an reasonably good year but is yet to reach the podium in 2019.
A characteristic of Scheider’s Seat Ibiza is that is has good pace and is able to match the best cars early on in an event but it does not have the extra gear to be able to go up another level for the semi-finals and final, meaning Scheider is often not in contention to battle for a podium position.
Perhaps the ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport team have optimised their performance and cannot improve the car other than with setup. Just like other motorsport series, the world rallycross cars are developing all the time. I expect Scheider to go well in Latvia and it would be brilliant to see the ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport squad take their maiden World RX podium because they have been in the sport since 2014 and have just missed out on numerous occasions.
Timmy Hansen said after his win in France that he expects to be strong in Latvia because the Peugeot 208 is strong on tarmac. The traction of the Peugeot is outstanding coming out of the medium to slow speed corners and there are plenty of vital traction zones on the Riga circuit.
Hansen himself is a very tidy driver, able to control the car without sliding the rear too much. The two occasions he has missed out on not just the final but failing to qualify for the semi-finals (Abu Dhabi and Canada) were not his own doing and he suffered from some seriously bad luck at the wrong time.
Abu Dhabi was completely Bakkerud’s fault as the Norwegian thought it was the last lap so he did not brake and slammed into the side of Hansen putting them both out for the rest of the event. In Canada, if Liam Doran did not have a puncture then neither of them would have got stuck as Doran, Hansen and Timur Timerezyanov reversed into each other before Hansen limped to the line, only to not qualify for the semi-finals. A pivotal moment in the championship.
Arguably, Timmy has been the best driver so far in 2019 but you can put forward a very good argument for Bakkerud too. Both have a very slight pace advantage over Kevin Hansen but consistency and a little bit of fortune has kept Kevin in the title fight and Kevin has driven exceptionally well at times this year, especially considering how young he is too.
Something the championship contenders will have to contend with is the precarious turn one/two chicane. It’s a short run to the first corner in Latvia before the track tightens up, leaving little space for the drivers to manoeuvre.
Unless you can clear the rest of your rivals off the start line, you will either get ‘sandwiched’ or boxed in because three into one does not go, never mind four or five wide which you can get in rallycross.
Contact is inevitable and it’s a matter of luck as to whether you receive a puncture or steering damage. The championship will definitely not be in the drivers’ mind as they go into turn one and they cannot afford to be conservative and will have to take a risk if they are going to get the all-important track position.
From there, you can makes an overtake going into four or at the turn eight banked hairpin which follows the small jump. The armco barriers is waiting to punish the drivers if they misjudge their lines or make an error. The drivers will be wanting a strong front end of the car so the can get the car rotated through the tight corners and get onto the throttle as soon as possible.
The joker lap runs parallel to the normal lap and the joker lap merge gives the opportunity for some great racing and fantastic action. If a driver is coming out of the joker lap, they have to take a slower and tighter line going into the final corner so the driver on the normal lap can either cut underneath the driver coming out of the joker lap or try and send it around the outside.
Often, the driver on the inside will slow right down and stay on the apex so there is no room for a driver to cut back underneath them but this makes you vulnerable to an overtake around the outside. The battle can continue on the run down to turn one or you can get an exciting last lap, last corner overtake.
It might not be a track with lots of rallycross heritage or a track that is one of the ‘classics’, but it’s definitely one creates some great action.
Riga Rallycross Circuit
- Track Length: 0.8 miles (1.29KM)
- 2018 Winner: Johan Kristoffersson
- Asphalt/Dirt: 60%/40%
- Joker Lap Loss: 3.2 seconds (approximately)
Two Latvian drivers will be looking for home success this weekend: Janis Baumanis and Reinis Nitiss.
Baumanis has been one of the most consistent drivers this year and is always in the mix in the Ford Fiesta. It is by far his best season in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, taking his maiden podium in Norway (after the disqualification of Anton Marklund) and backing that up with a genuine second place finish in Canada.
Nittis makes his third appearance in a World RX Supercar this season with GRX Set. Last year, he wrapped up the FIA European Rallycross Championship at home in Latvia by taking the win, if he can win in the world championship this weekend then it will probably be the best moment of his career.
He has the pace to do something special too. Last time Nitiss raced, he rolled his car in Q1 before fighting back and ending the ‘Magic Weekend‘ in Holjes on the podium. I am sure many would love to see Nitiss back full-time in the FIA World Rallycross Championship along with Robin Larsson (who also returns to the world championship this weekend).
The Latvians will be look to light up Latvia.
Most of the focus is going to be on Bakkerud and the Hansen brothers. Only Timmy Hansen has experienced a championship fight at this level (in 2015 against Petter Solberg). Even then, Timmy did not have a realistic chance of the title and did well to take the championship down to the final event.
Whoever makes the least errors will put themselves in prime position to win the title, but there is an element of luck in rallycross too, so the three main championship contenders will have to ride the wave when they find fortune and fight back harder than ever when the suffer from misfortune.
Never has the FIA World Rallycross Championship been this close and it could go down to the very last race of the year. That would be an unbelievable climax. Plenty of twists and turns are to come yet before then so first they must make it through Latvia cleanly before the final fight in South Africa.
Will someone crack under the pressure? How tight will the championship be after Sunday?
World RX Schedule (UK Time)
Q1: Saturday 11:50
Q2: Saturday 13:50
Q3: Sunday 7:50
Q4: Sunday 9:45
Semi-Finals and Final: Sunday Live Show Starts at 12:00 with Semi-Final One beginning at 13:00
(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).
Game On In The Championship.