The 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship finally got underway at the weekend with a double-header at Holjes. There was plenty of drama and rallycross returned with a bang.
Johan Kristoffersson was the favourite going into the weekend but he did not have things all his own way. Changing track conditions and misfortune for some, creating exciting action and some stunning racing.
Kristoffersson and Ekstrom put on a show
Kristoffersson was somewhat saved by the rain on Saturday as Volkswagen Dealerteam Bauhaus managed to change the car setup to adapt to the torrential rain that suddenly fell just minutes before the final.
But KYB Team JC and Mattias Ekstrom showed strong pace throughout the two rounds and it all climaxed on Sunday. In Q2, we got a taster of what was to come.
Ekstrom beat Kristoffersson despite the latter using a new set of tyres on genuine pace. The battle was on come the final.
Kristoffersson eased to victory in his semi-final whilst Ekstrom was beaten by flying teammate Robin Larsson. But, a lap one joker lap for Ekstrom and clean air for the rest of the race in the final meant he was able to battle with Kristoffersson.
Two of the greatest rallycross drivers ever on arguably the best rallycross track in the world put everything on the line over six laps of Holjes.
There was nothing left from either driver as they went quicker and quicker, pushing the limits and using every bit of road. This was rallycross at its best.
Kristoffersson knew he could hit one of the track bollards in the joker lap because you only get a warning for hitting one. However, knowing that he had to get the joker lap perfect to stand a chance against Ekstrom he hit two and was awarded a five second time penalty demoting him to third.
Nevertheless, Ekstrom still beat him on the track in a clash between two champions. An epic battle and a sensational drive from both drivers.
Kristoffersson still the man to beat
It’s Kristoffersson who leads the way by two points from rival Ekstrom after two rounds. In the wet, he has an advantage over everybody else which is a dangerous prospect considering there are three events in October when rain is likely in Europe.
If Ekstrom does not compete full-time this season then it is hard to see past Kristoffersson. It took an almighty performance from Ekstrom to topple the two-time champion but we are yet to see whether he will be able to do this on a regular basis.
Kristoffersson’s return to the series was almost perfect. Collecting the full 30 points on Saturday and crucially he still has those magical starts which is vital in rallycross.
Frustration for Gronholm and GRX
It seemed that wherever Niclas Gronholm went, the Seat Ibiza of Timo Scheider was always just in front of him. We did not get to see the true pace of the GRX Taneco driver which is a shame because from the little we did see, Gronholm would have been very close to Kristoffersson and Ekstrom.
Track position is king in rallycross and the starts for Gronholm were not as strong as some of his rivals. This happened when Gronholm competed in RallyX Nordic in July so GRX need to improve their starts or else it will prove very costly.
Teammate Timur Timerzyanov struggled his way to the semi-finals but fought hard in a manic race as Andreas Bakkerud limped his way into Sunday’s final.
Wildcard driver, Krisztian Szabo had a relatively good weekend to be on the pace of his GRX Taneco teammates and will return in Latvia with GRX Set.
Kevin Hansen gets the better of Timmy Hansen
Defending champion Timmy Hansen had a challenging start to his title defence. Both Timmy and Kevin Hansen started the weekend slowly but both got stronger as they understood the new Peugeot 208 and improved the car for Sunday.
Kevin was able to pick up second place in the final and despite Team Hansen not having the outright pace of Kristoffersson, Kevin maximised his results and will be the happier of the Hansen brothers’.
Similarly to Gronholm, Timmy Hansen had to deal with a lot of traffic which cost him time and positions in qualifying. He renewed his rivalry with Bakkerud but came out worst in a thrilling semi-final.
A weekend to forget for Doran
Liam Doran just could not catch a break at Holjes. Issue after issue prevented him from simply finishing races.
A broken prop shaft caused his brakes to fail on Saturday which ended his day after just Q1 and on Sunday he had more prop shaft problems as well as a broken drive shaft.
He will be hoping for better luck this weekend at Kouvola.
Bakkerud with the drive of the weekend
2019 runner-up Bakkerud had teething issues of his own which meant he missed out on the semi-finals on Saturday. But Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel worked hard overnight to extract some pace from the car which Bakkerud was able to show.
A hero drive after contact with Timmy Hansen in the semi-final saw him reach the final.
Incredible car control from Bakkerud was on display as he parked his Renault Megane on the apexes and sawed his way at the wheel to keep forward momentum.
Other honourable mentions
All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport scored their maiden World RX podium with Timo Scheider in round one.
Scheider was one of the starts of Holjes as he maximised every even though he may not have had the pace of some of his rivals. A fantastic start to the season for the team.
Anton Marklund showed he had the pace and was towards the front of the pack in terms of pace. Surely a win will come his and GCK Bilstein’s way at some point in 2020.
And lets finish off Sebastian Eriksson. The defending World RX of Sweden winner could not repeat his 2019 heroics as he struggled in the Honda Civic compared to the Ford Fiesta.
He was very aggressive and at times overdrove the car, nonetheless we hope to see him competing more in the championship in the future.