The 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship kicked off with a bang at Höljes and just six days after Johan Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekstrom went head to head in a dramatic weekend of rallycross action, the championship has a quick turnaround and sees 19 drivers embark on Kouvola for another double-header.
Returning to the championship after a six year absence, Kouvola is a track that many of the drivers love due to the rollercoaster nature of the circuit. Only five drivers on the current grid competed at the World RX of Finland, in 2014 but plenty of drivers have raced there in other rallycross categories.
Who has driven at Kouvola?
Timmy Hansen, Andreas Bakkerud, Timur Timerzyanov, Anton Marklund and Liam Doran were the drivers who raced at the World RX’s sole appearance in Finland.
Home favourite, Niclas Grönholm has only raced at Kouvola once in RX Lites (now known as RX2), but it’s Robin Larsson who might be the driver in the best position going into the weekend having won there last year in RallyX Nordic.
There are plenty of wildcards with experience at the Finnish track who could provide an upset this weekend. Finnish rallycross champion Juha Rytkönen will race with GRX Set having made his Supercar debut back in 2018.
Atro Määttä raced at the World RX of Finland in 2014 and makes his return to the series in a Ford Fiesta while Euro RX regular Jere Kalliokoski will make his first world championship appearance of the year and Hungarian Tamaś Kárai will make his World RX debut in an Audi S1.
Kristoffersson and Ekstrom to resume battle?
Ekstrom has yet to commit to a full season in the World RX but most fans will be hoping the 2016 champion can give us some good news soon. Rain is expected at some point during this weekend and will therefore play into Kristofferssen’s hands, but if it somehow stays dry, it is definitely game on.
Since both drivers have never raced at Kouvola, it might bring others into play. Five of the 19 drivers are from Finland and Ekstrom’s teammate Larsson was in fantastic form in RallyX Nordic last year at the circuit.
Larsson is the one to watch out for because there is very little practice and time to adjust the car with the double-header format, so do not be surprised to see the Euro RX champion at the top of the leaderboard.
The pure speed as well as experience of Kristoffersson and Ekstrom will almost certainly see them battling for top honours once again, but expect the pack to be closer to the top two in the championship than perhaps they were seven days ago in Sweden.
Gronholm leads Finnish hopes
GRX Taneco and Gronholm were disappointed with their Höljes weekend as they had high hopes coming into the season. The Hyundai i20 was consistently poor off the line and it put Gronholm on the back foot all weekend.
Kouvola is equally as hard to overtake at compared to Höljes and Gronholm cannot afford to lose more ground to Kristoffersson if he is to challenge for the championship so finding a solution for their poor starts will be pivotal in Finland.
Jere Kalliokoski could be the wildcard to watch out for as he pushed Larsson very hard in RallyX Nordic last year. With lots of experience and good memories at Kouvola, Kalliokoski might surprise some of the favourites.
Atro Määttä is a multiple Finnish Supercar champion and raced at the World RX of Finland in 2014. Luck did not go his way as he suffered a crash in qualifying which meant he was unable to show his potential pace.
Don’t rule out Juha Rytkönen for GRX Set either. 2019 was a breakthrough year for Rytkönen when he became Finnish champion for Supercar. If he can get up to speed in the Hyundai i20 he will be another Finn to watch out for in his home appearance.
As for World RX regular Jani Paasonen, he will be aiming for the semi-finals and will not want to miss out on any potential Finnish success this weekend.
Getting to Know Kouvola
- Track Length: 0.65 miles (1.06KM)
- 2014 Winner: Tanner Foust
- Asphalt/Gravel: 55%/45%
- Joker Lap Loss: 1.9 seconds (approximately)
A track that has a lot of surface changes and is very technical is the best way to describe Kouvola. It starts off quite fast with room to go side by side and race hard but then things tighten at the downhill turn six hairpin.
Braking is very difficult at the hairpin as is getting the balance right for a series of left handers, This is a triple apex section which the drivers love.
The joker lap section of the track starts is at the penultimate corner and whilst the entry speed is high, the track tightens once again. The drivers will be hoping to have a car which can change direction well and can deal with the surface changes and changeable grip conditions.
In the rain, Kouvola is very treacherous. We saw this in 2014 when five cars crashed at turns three and four in one of the semi-finals. The event was won by Tanner Foust in torrential rain with rivers running up and down the hills, challenging the drivers and causing a lot of mistakes.
The Importance of this weekend
Just one week ago, the World RX season had yet to begin but by Sunday evening the 2020 season will be 40% done after just nine days.
It is crucial to not leave yourself with too much work to do if you want to challenge for the championship, so for the likes of Gronholm, the Hansen brothers’, Bakkerud and Marklund, they can’t afford to drop too many points to Kristoffersson, who everybody knows will be tough to beat over the 10 rounds.
Kristoffersson has not raced at Kouvola however, so he is potentially vulnerable and it provides a great opportunity for his rivals to beat the two-time champion this weekend.
A track which Kristoffersson and Ekstrom have not raced at will level the playing field and we can expect a few surprises in what promises to be another exciting event of World RX action.
Rounds 3& 4 World RX of Finland Schedule (UK Times)
Round Three (29 August)
Free Practice: Saturday 7:30
Q1: Saturday 8:20
Q2: Saturday 9:45
Q3: Saturday 11:10
Semi-Finals and Final: Saturday 14:00
Round Four (30 August)
Warm-Up: Sunday 7:00
Q1: Sunday 7:30
Q2: Sunday 9:25
Q3: Sunday 11:10
Semi-Finals and Final: Sunday 14:00
How Can I Watch?
Every qualifying session including the support categories can be steamed on the official FIA World Rallycross Championship YouTube and Facebook pages, with coverage presented by regular presenter Neil Cole and commentary led by Andrew Coley and Dan Rooke.
The TV show starts one hour before the semi-finals (13:00 in the UK on Saturday and Sunday), so you can catch up on the highlights from the qualifying sessions.
In the UK, action from the championship can be viewed free-to-air on Free Sports, as well as BT Sport also again providing coverage.
And of course you can catch all the reaction from the drivers and teams right here on The Checkered Flag.