SEASON REVIEW: 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Simply Mega – Part 1

by Nigel Chiu

The 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship season will be remembered as one of the greatest seasons in this sport’s history. New teams, new winners, a new champion, and unrivaled drama. Simply magnificent.

In this series of two articles, we’ll be taking a look back at the 2019 season and reminiscing on some of the finest moments in motorsport history. Strap in!

Preseason

Coming into 2019, World RX was in turmoil with PSRX Volkswagen Sweden & Team Peugeot Total withdrawing from the championship and EKS losing it’s factory backing from Audi.

The loss of these teams also saw the loss of the reigning world champion Johan Kristofferson alongside Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb, Mattias Ekstrom and Robin Larsson. With no factory support for any of the teams, the future looked bleak.

The first team to announce their entry were Xite Racing who fielded Oliver Bennett for a full season in the Mini Cooper SX1, followed by the new kids on the block, ESmotorsport-LABAS Gas with new boy Rokas Baciuska behind the wheel of the brand new Skoda Fabia RX.

Credit: IMG/ FIA World RX

Münnich Motorsport announced that they would be committing to a full season with Timo Scheider at the helm of the Seat Ibiza. There were still some big names missing and it wasn’t looking good as we head into round one at Abu Dhabi.

One week before we arrived at the season opener, a flurry of announcements came. GCK announced their continuation in the championship, fielding the team of Guerlain Chicherit and Anton Marklund in two Renault Megane RX‘s.

They also announced their brand new academy team, GCK-Academy, which would field two Renault Clio RX’s with Belgian Guillaume de Ridder and Frenchman Cyril Raymond. GRX also announced their continuation with a strong lineup of Timur Timerzyanov and Niclas Gronholm with Reinis Nitiss onboard as the test & development driver.

Then, the news we’d all been waiting for arrived. The Hansens were back! Timmy & Kevin Hansen would return in the Peugeot 208’s to properly challenge for this year’s title. From a seemingly dead championship came one that showed incredible potential.

Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Round 1: Abu Dhabi – Back with a bang

The season opener took place at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, where architects had designed a brand new World RX track around the infield of the current Formula 1 circuit.

It would also be the first ever Workd RX race to take place under floodlights. As the weekend got underway, the rallycross community was delighted by the news that Andreas Bakkerud and Liam Doran would be returning to the championship with Monster Energy RX Cartel. Now we had a championship on our hands!

Team Hansen MJP dominated the weekend but there was drama very early on. A huge collision between Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen in Q3 saw both cars out of contention for the rest of the weekend.

The collision was completely Bakkerud’s fault as he thought it was the last lap so did not brake and simply side-swiped Hansen going into turn one. This left the two biggest names with a lot of catching up to do and it was the first key moment in the championship fight.

More drama followed in the final as Kevin Hansen led the way, only for Niclas Gronholm to push his way to the lead. Gronholm crossed the finish line first but was given a three-second time penalty, demoting him to second place and giving Kevin his maiden win.

Doran took his first-ever World RX podium on a weekend which set the scene for the rest of the year.

Credit: IMG/ FIA World RX

Round 2: Spain – A Key Clean Sweep

Timmy Hansen was unbeatable at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as he became just the third driver in World RX history to take the clean sweep (winning all four qualifying sessions, winning your semi-final and taking the win in the final). The other two being Bakkerud and Kristoffersson.

This was the only point in the season where the Hansen brothers’ looked dominant but as the next few rounds show, the majority of the field was capable of taking victory, nearly everyone had a shot at getting into the final and the gloves were off like it was the last event of their motorsport careers.

Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Round 3: Belgium – Incredible Action All Round

A new track, a new location and some of the best action you will ever see in rallycross. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps delivered some incredible battles and tussles with its unique track.

It suited drivers who like to be aggressive and the big banked, long gravel final turn allowed the drivers to take different lines that suited their driving style or the car which created brilliant racing.

The classic track produced some classic rallycross moments.

Timur Timerzyanov and Timmy Hansen had a titanic battle that lasted for a whole lap and so many drivers went side by side with each other over the start/finish line. It was action galore in Belgium.

Credit: IMG/ FIA World RX

Gronholm missed this event due to appendicitis surgery but he had a super-substitute, Joni Wiman. Wiman did an exceptional job, getting onto the podium and showing excellent speed and racecraft throughout the weekend.

It was Wiman’s team-mate, Timerzyanov who took his maiden World RX win with a phenomenal performance and bold style that earned him victory. His celebrations were certainly memorable as he yelled at the top of his voice and jumped on top of his car.

Now, we knew were in for a special and spectacular season.

Credit: IMG/ FIA World RX

Round 4: Britain – Rivalry Ignites Once Again

The Hansen and Bakkerud rivalry took another twist at the SpeedMachine Festival in Silverstone as Timmy took top honours in the opening two qualifying sessions before Bakkerud took top spot in Q3 and Q4.

Both won their respective semi-finals to line-up onto the front row together for the final. Bakkerud was very aggressive and squeezed Hansen into the wall at turn one, forcing Hansen to back out and concede the lead.

Timmy fought hard and undercut Bakkerud with the joker lap tactics, to emerge ahead after Bakkerud took his joker lap to take the win. Both drivers were the class of the field that weekend and showed their raw, natural speed.

Meanwhile, Kevin Hansen spun on the final lap in his semi-final, costing him potentially 12 points which would prove vital as the season continued. Things tightened up in the championship.

Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Round 5: Norway – The Heavens Open Up In Hell

You will probably struggle to find a crazier set of semi-final and finals in any motorsport event, even the FIA World Rallycross Championship. It was an hour of madness and mayhem.

Gronholm was returning from his appendicitis surgery and he showed immediately that he was not feeling the effects. He brilliantly won Q1 and Q2 and was the top qualifier.

But, the attention soon turned to the weather on Sunday as the sunny, clear, beautiful skies surrounding Norway quickly changed to dark, thunderous clouds with the temperatures dropping suddenly and the rain lashing down.

The grip levels were a complete unknown and the cars starting from the rear of the grid consistently got the better starts due to the subtle tarmac changes. It all meant everyone arrived at turn one together.

Liam Doran surprisingly won his semi-final and looked odds on to finally win his maiden World RX event. However, it was not to be.

In the final, his car lost drive and Doran lost what would have been the lead. Then, the Dutch debutant, Kevin Abbering was on course for the win as he masted the wet conditions. Anton Marklund crossed the line first to give GC Komptetion their first win but things did not end yet.

Credit: IMG/ FIA World RX

Marklund was disqualified after it was found that his Renault Megane was not in compliance with the technical regulations. Heartbreak for the Swede and the team as his breach had no effect on the car’s performance.

Soon afterwards, Kevin Hansen was given a one-second time penalty for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ with Gronholm at turn two in the midpart of the race so Gronholm inherited his first win but not in the circumstances he wanted to.

It was a quiet weekend for Timmy Hansen and Bakkerud but the excitement and drama was on everybody’s minds as the circus headed to Holjes for the Magic Weekend where the action continued in abundance.

Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

Stay tuned for Part Two very soon…

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