Third place in Q1 and a win in Q2 was enough to see Niclas Gronholm take the overnight TQ spot in the deciding round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship in Cape Town, South Africa.
Race one of Q1 gave us a glimpse of the new 2020 regulation changes regarding the qualifying races. Instead of having two five-car races and two three-car races, all qualifying races must have four cars in them. This should negate the advantage a three-car race would give and even out the playing field.
Lining up for race one were Janis Baumanis, Anton Marklund, Guillaume De Ridder and Niclas Gronholm. Off the line it was Gronholm who got the jump into turn one, slotting in front of the chasing Baumanis. Marklund and De Ridder opted for the early joker. This paid dividends for Marklund on lap three when Baumanis took his joker. The pair came out side-by-side, with Marklund managing to hang it around the outside to hold onto the position. Gronholm was untroubled out front and cruised to the victory.
Race two saw Timo Scheider, Kevin Hansen, Oliver Bennett, and Timmy Hansen going head-to-head. The two Hansen opted to go in the same race in order to guarantee a clean run. Timmy got the jump on his brother Kevin into Turn one. The pair followed each other for the full four laps and Timmy took the win and the fastest time. Speaking afterwards he said; “I was surprised to get in front of Kevin, I was comfortable pushing with him behind because I knew he wasn’t gonna do anything stupid……now it’s time for Q2″.
The strategy that Monster Energy RX Cartel had planned immediately went out the door in race three with Liam Doran failing to make the grid after an engine problem. His teammate and championship contender Andreas Bakkerud lined up next to Matvey Furazhkin and Jere Kalliokoski. The fast starting STARD fiesta of Kalliokoski made it into turn one first but the experience of Bakkerud shone through as he allowed Kalliokoski to run slightly deep, enabling him to switch back underneath him and retake the lead. Textbook. An uneventful race saw Bakkerud take the win, but was crucially not able to match the pace of Hansen albeit three-tenths of a second. A visibly frustrated Bakkerud said afterwards: “We lost the fight but the war isn’t over. I just wish there was something more in the bag!”
Lining up for the final race of Q1 were Cyril Raymond, Krisztian Szabo, Guerlain Chicherit, and Timur Timerzyanov. Szabo lead into turn one and managed to hold the lead until the very last lap. After being dumped to the back in turn one, Timerzyanov pulled off a masterclass, putting in some fast laps and waiting until lap four to joker just coming out in front of Szabo to win. His time was only good enough for sixth which meant that it was Timmy Hansen who took the session win ahead of his championship rival Andreas Bakkerud.
Track watering made for an interesting result in the second qualifying session of the weekend.
Q2 race one was an all-star lineup, with the three championship contenders lining up next to each other. Lining up were Timmy Hansen, Andreas Bakkerud, Niclas Gronholm and Kevin Hansen. No one expected the contenders to take any risks. Kevin begged to differ. It was Gronholm who was clearly in front going into turn one. Kevin pulled off a brilliant pass around the outside of his brother as Bakkerud was dumped to the back of the pack. Only Timmy opted to joker on lap one as the rest carried on until the last lap. Timmy did manage to slot in front of Bakkerud but didn’t have enough to beat his brother or Gronholm. Gronholm took the win ahead of Kevin. A very content Gronholm said afterwards; “I feel like I made loads of mistakes but nice to get the win. I really wish i was in the championship fight!”
Race two involved Timo Scheider, Timur Timerzyanov, Krisztian Szabo and Anton Marklund. Timerzyanov got the best start and took the lead into turn one. Just like race one, only one driver opted for the joker on lap one, namely Marklund, while the rest carried on until the last lap. It didn’t quite work for Marklund as it was Timerzyanov who took the race win and slotted into second in the standings ahead of the two Hansens.
Race three saw Guerlain Chicherit lining up next to Jere Kalliokoski, Janis Baumanis, and Oliver Bennett. Again the STARD fiesta of Kalliokoski lead into turn one ahead of his teammate. It was clear that Baumanis was much quicker but he just couldn’t find a way past the young Finn around the tight and twisty circuit in Cape Town. Finally, Baumanis was released into the joker on lap three and came out ahead of Kalliokoski when he finally took his joker on the next lap. His time wasn’t good enough to trouble the top.
Liam Doran finally managed to make the grid after the team swapped in a brand new engine into the Audi. He lined up next to Guillaume De Ridder, Matvey Furazhkin, and Cyril Raymond. A fantastic start from De Ridder saw him take the lead into turn one ahead of his teammate. It was clear the Belgian was fired up as he began to push. Doran was clearly not running on full power and he began to crawl around the circuit. In the end, a fabulous drive from De Ridder saw him take the win and third place in Q2! Raymond was disqualified due to him hitting the corner cut markers three times. An ecstatic De Ridder said afterwards; “That was an awesome race, finally we got some good luck!” This result meant that Niclas Gronholm took the session win.
Overnight Top Qualifier: Niclas Gronholm
After both sessions, Timmy Hansen is the best of the contenders in second. His brother Kevin lies in fifth and Bakkerud is behind him in sixth.
The World RX ‘Spinner of Doom’ has decided that the slowest drivers will go first in Q3 tomorrow. How will that affect proceedings? A new champion will be crowned tomorrow. This is something you do not want to miss.
Tune into the World RX YouTube channel at 8am GMT for the Live coverage of Q3: https://www.youtube.com/user/RallycrossRXTV