The most dynamic racing series on the planet is back, as the FIA World Rallycross Championship hits Barcelona on 31st March.
This time last year rallycross fans had to wait until April before Round One in Portugal with Barcelona itself not appearing until September. Now Catalunya is the opening round of the season and what a cracking season we have in prospect.
At Barcelona in 2016 it was Timmy Hansen in the Peugeot 208 who was leading the pack after the heats but Mattias Ekstrom and Timur Timerzyanov dominated the semi-finals, where we surprisingly saw Petter Solberg miss out. In the first semi-final Ekstrom, Timmy Hansen and Robin Larsson made their way through to the final. In the second Timerzyanov held off the challenge of Johan Kristoffersson taking the win by six tenths. Janis Baumanis was the third driver through. The final in Barcelona was set and it was champion-elect Mattias Ekstrom who took the win ahead of Timmy Hansen and Timerzyanov.
Barcelona 2017, can we expect the same result?
Ekstrom and Timmy Hansen remain with their teams, EKS and Team Peugeot-Hansen, respectively, with Timerzyanov now behind the wheel at Team STARD.
There have been some changes over the winter. Let us look ahead to 2017.
Ekstrom and Toomas Heikkenen are joined at EKS RX by former Olsbergs MSE driver Reinis Nitiss in what looks like a very strong team. It’s no change at Hoonigan Racing Division with Andreas Bakkerud, who finished third in the championship last season and Ken Block again leading the charge there for the American team. Same line-up at Team Peugeot-Hansen with Kevin and Timmy Hansen teaming up again with Sebastien Loeb.
There has been a team name change for World RX Team Austria as they now go under the banner of MJP Racing Team Austria. It is a completely new look team and boy, have they made some great signings in the off-season. Former Olsbergs driver Kevin “Round The Outside” Eriksson has joined double DTM champion Timo Scheider at the wheel of the Ford Fiesta ST. MJP have also signed former British Touring Car champion Andrew Jordan to drive at Lydden Hill in round five. It’s been a busy off-season for team boss Max Pucher.
PSRX Volkswagen Sweden are entering two VW Polo GTI’s and the men they are trusting with this are double World Rallycross champioin Petter Solberg and the man who finished second to Ekstrom in the championship last season, Johan Kristofferson. This is a mouth watering team and it is really good to see Solberg with a team entry rather than an individual.
Team STARD with their Ford Fiesta have Timur Timerzyanov and former World RX Team Austria driver Janis Baumanis at the wheel for their assault on the championship.
This brings us nicely to the individual entries who are not eligible for the team championship.
Jean-Baptiste Dubourg will race a Peugeot 208 for DA Racing, former Olsbergs driver and the son of a former WRC champion, Niclas Gronholm will drive a Ford Fiesta for GRX, Lukacs ‘CsuCsu’ Kornel jumps in a Kia Rio for Speedy Motorsport and completing the line-up is Great Britain’s Guy Wilks who will race for LOCO World RX Team in their VW Polo.
There is so much depth and talent in this field for 2017, I genuinely can’t wait for the season to start, but where do I think the championship will go?
It is so difficult to narrow it down to one person with so much competition within the grid. There is no way anybody can dismiss Solberg and Ekstrom, they are definitely going to be challenging for the title again and I was really impressed with Timerzyanov and Bakkerud last season. But my ‘tip for the title’ is going to Johan Kristoffersson.
I think the 28 year old Swede, who made his debut in WRX in 2014, can not only beat his double world champion team mate, Solberg, to the title but also the defending champion. It is not going to be easy. In fact it is going to be extremely difficult, but in the works Polo I just feel Kristoffersson can kick on from his performances last season, especially after his fantastic win in Loheac back in September.
This is the chaos and mayhem of World Rallycross and it is stomping, fizzing, revving and grunting its way towards us.
Are you ready for the most dynamic racing series in the world?
The grid is set. The drivers are getting pumped. The cars are being prepped.
You better be ready. 2017 is going to blow you away.
Let us remind ourselves of the top 20 placings in the championship last season.
1st – Mattias Ekstrom – 272pts
2nd – Johan Kristoffersson – 240pts
3rd – Andreas Bakkerud – 239pts
4th – Petter Solberg – 239pts
5th – Sebastien Loeb – 209pts
6th – Timmy Hansen – 178pts
7th – Toomas Heikkinen – 150pts
8th – Timur Timerzyanov – 117pts
9th – Robin Larsson – 109pts
10th – Janis Baumanis – 109pts
11th – Kevin Eriksson – 92pts
12th – Davy Jeanney – 86pts
13th – Anton Marklund – 76pts
14th – Ken Block – 63pts
15th – Kevin Hansen – 52pts
16th – Reinis Nitiss – 44pts
17th – Niclas Gronholm – 28pts
18th – Timo Scheider – 25pts
19th – Francois Duval – 18pts
20th – Liam Doran – 9pts
See you at the RX-chequered flag.