A new champion is guaranteed. Drama is inevitable. The pressure will be at breaking point.
Luck will play its part but ultimately it is all down to the driver, and whether they can overcome the psychological barriers and the emotional rollercoaster that could see them become world champion.
An extraordinary season of rallycross comes to an end in with the 2019 FIA World RallycrossChampionship climaxing with a finale in South Africa this weekend.
Timmy Hansen leads the way by a solitary point ahead of Andreas Bakkerud at the top of the standings. Kevin Hansen is still in the game too, just eight points behind Timmy.
It is between these three drivers as to who wins the championship. For Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen, the mathematics are quite simple. Take the perfect weekend and maximum score of 30 championship points and they will become champion.
On four occasions, has the perfect 30/30 been executed. Kevin Hansen did it at the beginning of the season in Abu Dhabi whilst Timmy Hansen has done this feat twice (Catalunya and Silverstone).
Niclas Gronholm is the latest driver to score the perfect weekend on his comeback event in Hell. Crucially, this was at round five in June so nobody has managed to do it since.
2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Drivers’ Standings
|1||Timmy Hansen||SWE||Team Hansen MJP||Peugeot 208||187|
|2||Andreas Bakkerud||NOR||Monster Energy RX Cartel||Audi S1||186|
|3||Kevin Hansen||SWE||Team Hansen MJP||Peugeot 208||179|
|4||Niclas Gronholm||FIN||GRX Taneco||Hyundai i20||157|
|5||Janis Baumanis||LAT||Team Stard||Ford Fiesta||126|
|6||Timur Timerzyanov||RUS||GRX Taneco||Hyundai i20||122|
|7||Liam Doran||GBR||Monster Energy RX Cartel||Audi S1||113|
|8||Anton Marklund||SWE||GC Kompetition||Renault Megane RS||110|
|9||Timo Scheider||GER||ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport||Seat Ibiza||93|
|10||Krisztian Szabo||HUN||EKS Sport||Audi S1||81|
|11||Rokas Baciuska||LIT||GC Kompetition||Renault Megane RS||76|
|12||Guerlain Chicherit||FRA||GC Kompetition||Renault M||61|
|13||Cyril Raymond||FRA||GCK Academy||Renault Clio RS||43|
|14||Reinis Nitiss||LAT||GRX Set||Hyundai i20||40|
|15||Joni Wiman||FIN||GRX Taneco||Hyundai i20||39|
|16||Kevin Abbering||DUT||Esmotorsport - Labas GAS||Skoda Fabia||35|
|17||Sebastian Eriksson||SWE||Olsberg MSE||Ford Fiesta||29|
|18||Guillaume De-Ridder||BEL||GCK Academy||Renault Clio RS||20|
|19||Oliver Bennett||GBR||Xite Racing||Mini Cooper||16|
|20||Toomas Heikkinen||FIN||GRX Set||Hyundai i20||15|
If we look at ultimate pace, Timmy Hansen and Bakkerud edge out Kevin Hansen. The latter is not quite as consistent and struggles in the early stages of a race weekend which puts him on the back foot, forcing him to play catch up for the rest of the event.
Timmy and Bakkerud are on it from the get go, which puts them with fast drivers in the rest of the qualifying heats so they are less likely to be compromised by slower drivers.
Of course, this is the World RX and car speed is just one part of the process.
The start is pivotal and contact is inevitable. Luckily for the championship contenders, South Africa’s turn one is relatively open and we don’t see as much contact at their first few turns compared to other circuits such as Riga or Holjes.
It’s a long first turn which immediately switches back into a quick right-hander. We often see drivers sending the car round the outside, lighting up the tyres as their foot is hard on the gas.
Over a small jump and into a tight chicane, where the drivers will be trying to flick the car right then left and shortening the racing line as much as possible. From there, it’s a short burst into another long right hander which tightens up as the corner progresses.
The joker lap transitions from tarmac to gravel, Getting the car turned in so that the front bumper brushes the tyre barrier is essential.
On the merge, it’s a mini drag race to the final chicane. Mattias Ekstrom, Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson came to blows at this very point in one of the semi-finals in 2017.
At just over a kilometre, it’s a very short rallycross track and is one of the easier tracks to find a good setup due to the similarity in the corners.
There’s two long turns and two chicanes which makes up 90% of the circuit where the suspension and chassis is having to deal with a lot of stress.
Killarney International Raceway
- Track Length: 0.663 miles (1.067KM)
- 2018 Winner: Johan Kristoffersson
- Asphalt/Dirt: 60%/40%
- Joker Lap Loss: 2.6 seconds (approximately)
Whilst you can attack parts of the track hard, you need finesse and a car which allows you to stand on the power hard in the traction zones. You cannot afford to slide the car too much, it’s about having a nice, neat and tidy driving style.
He has come back from major setbacks at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi, plus a disaster in Canada which saw the Swede not qualify for the semi-finals.
Even with a far from ideal start to the event in Latvia last time out, when Robin Larsson hampered Hansen’s qualifying run after contact at turn two, he bounced back brilliantly to win the event.
For Bakkerud, he stayed out of trouble and took a conservative approach. You can argue that this is clever from Bakkerud, but I feel that he needs to attack and be more aggressive.
By not driving at 100% and taking a few risks, you are not driving naturally and it can be harder to find a rhythm, therefore hurting lap speed.
The championship is so tight that you do now want to leave anything left on the table. Bakkerud has pushed hard for most of the year and it has paid off at the majority of events.
He is excellent at the start of an event and generally carries that speed throughout the rest of the meeting.
Interestingly, Bakkerud is the top intermediate points scorer this season (most championship points scored in the qualifying stages). Timmy Hansen is second in this statistic with Kevin third.
Kevin has got a massive task ahead of him. He does not quite have that extra gear compared to brother Timmy and Bakkerud but is excellent at grinding out results.
A perfect weekend will give Kevin a chance and he will almost certainly need to win the event to realistically become champion.
With the championship this close, there is a good chance that it will all come down to the final race of the year. This has never happened in World RX history so it will be a new experience for everyone.
The pressure is already off-the scale so will the top three drivers be able to deal with it? Will the spotters make the right strategic choices?
And what about the time when the drivers are not racing? Will they and their respective teams cope with the tension or will they hit breaking point?
There will be moments throughout the weekend when something goes wrong so it’s about who has the mindset and ability to bounce back and not overdrive the car to make up for lost ground.
Something that could get very interesting is the role of the teammates. If Kevin Hansen finds himself with no chance of taking the title after qualifying, will he help out brother Timmy by tactically holding up Bakkerud or placing his car in places that unnerves the Norwegian.
Likewise, Liam Doran can play a big role in the championship. Doran is Bakkerud’s teammate in the Monster Energy RX Cartel Audi S1 and is known to be very aggressive with a special driving style that sees him go all out attack.
Whether it’s with joker laps or off the start line, Doran might hamper the Hansen brothers’ or play Morse code on the back of the Peugeot 208s.
Depending on what happens, some people might not like some of the ‘tactics’ that might be played out this weekend but it’s not every day you can win a world championship so I believe that the teams will do almost anything to take the title. How far are they willing to go?
Whatever happens, it’s been simply a sensational season and definitely one to remember. South Africa will finish off the season in style and the focus will be on Kevin and Timmy Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud.
For two of them it will be heartbreak, for one, a dream will come true and they will have the honour of becoming the 2019 FIA World Championship champion after the biggest fight the series has ever seen.
The pendulum has a few more swings left to go, who will it fall in favour of?
World RX of South Africa Schedule (UK Times)
Q1: Saturday 10:50
Q2: Saturday 12:50
Q3: Sunday 8:00
Q4: Sunday 10:00
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 from the finale right here at The Checkered Flag).
One last effort, who will be the new FIA World Rallycross Champion?