A WRX Farewell To Lydden

(c) Image courtesy of Lydden Hill Circuit

 

World Rallycross bids a tearful farewell to Lydden Hill Circuit this weekend in what will be an emotional send off.

Situated in East Kent between Canterbury and Dover, Lydden Hill Circuit is a historic track with a fantastic, sweeping layout. A friend of mine once called it “The Monza Of Kent”. Yes a little enthusiastic, but I can see where he’s coming from.

It is the shortest racing circuit in the UK and from the late fifties it attracted stock-car racing and with motorcycles, grass-track racing. In the mid-sixties tarmac was laid and it attracted Formula Three attracting such drivers as Roger Williamson and Tom Walkinshaw. it was around the same time which Lydden Hill gave birth to Rallycross and the first race was won by a Porsche 911 driven by Vic Elford. James Hunt recorded his first race win at Lydden Hill, driving a Russell-Alexis Mk14 Formula Ford and returned just under one year later to record a second win.

Since that time, British Rallycross, European Rallycross and FIA Rallycross events have flocked to Lydden Hill and it is tagged with “The Home Of Rallycross”. It truly is.

Since 1993 the circuit was leased to the British Motorcycle Club and it allowed both cars and bikes to use the track.

World Rallycross came to Lydden Hill on 24th May 2014. In that first year names who will grace the circuit this season raced and won. Andreas Bakkerud won the final and it was one year later when Petter Solberg took the spoils. Last season Mattias Ekstrom reigned supreme in what was a fantastic weekend of racing.

Andrew Jordan, who returns this year for MJP Racing in place of Timo Scheider, won Heat 3 at Lydden Hill in 2015 and he would love to repeat such a performance in 2017.

Yes, World Rallycross is moving to Silverstone, the championship is growing not only in stature but in numbers and popularity. Many Rallycross fans are sad to see WRX leave Lydden Hill, I am one of them, but emotions aside it has to be said that if World Rallycross as an FIA event wishes to grow and move forward in the world of motorsport it needs a bigger venue. Is Silverstone the correct venue? That is soon to be found out.

This weekend I will be attending Lydden Hill with my good lady (as photographer) for what appears to be the last time for a WRX event. It is going to be the usual fun, chaotic weekend full of mayhem and excitement but behind the smiles there will be a tinge of sadness. I won’t stop going to Lydden Hill as it will still host some fantastic events and the owners of the circuit will already be working on how to promote the track further.

It is going to be a hell of a weekend. Join us tomorrow at @PitCrew_Online as myself – @world_racing and my photographer @viv_simmons enter the heat of the bowl.

The time has come. It’s Rallycross and anything can happen.

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

Adventures At Lydden – May 2016

In 2016 I visited Lydden Hill as a paying spectator to watch World Rallycross live. This year I will be attending as a media representative, along with my good lady as photographer, with the official passes, giving my reports of the entire weekend. I am very much looking forward to it.

It is also the last year WRX will visit Lydden Hill before it moves on to pastures new.

To celebrate my return to Lydden I thought I would republish the shenanigans from last season. Interviewing a champion, bumping into a BTCC champion, walking the paddock and accidentally getting involved with scrutineering.

This is World Rallycross and this is what happened last year.

Cue a thumping theme tune…….

The Saturday.

There are three things that I will take away from the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill. The series itself is insanely entertaining, Lydden Hill is a fantastic circuit and I have sunburn.

The sun literally blazed down at the weekend and what a glorious two days it was too. In my life as a racing fan and writer, I have been to some terrific circuits and events but I have to say that after my first visit to Lydden Hill and a WRX event it has definitely hit the button of ‘favourite’.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

This visit had been planned for some while with a good friend of mine and we had both been counting the days. I had not planned to write an article for The Pit Crew, but as the date drew closer it morphed into a good idea. I had moved to Kent just over a year ago and quickly found out that Lydden Hill was on my doorstep. That was when the decision was made to attend the FIA World Rallycross Championship. A decision that proved to be outstanding.

I have been a big fan of World Rallycross since its inception, but this visit has made me fall in love with the event.

We arrived on the Saturday, a day that would include practice, two qualifying rounds of WRX and three qualifying rounds of the Super 1600’s and RX Lites. In between there would be stunt shows, drifting, Group B demonstrations and the chance to walk around a very accessible paddock area. Now, this is where WRX differs from a lot of other championships I have attended. It is quite normal to be standing in the paddock of a support series, but being inches away from the cars and drivers such as Sebastien Loeb, Ken Block, Petter Solberg, Mattias Ekstrom and Liam Doran! That was just quite unbelievable.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

So, there I am getting out the car with the track in the dip below me and I was instantly impressed. My mate and I were treating Saturday as a bit of a recce but soon found out that the action on track was just non-stop. The turnaround in races at a World Rallycross event are extraordinary. No sooner are the cars on their warm down lap than the next set of cars are lined up on the grid. The 1600’s were out practicing and so we wandered up to North Bend and down the side of Hairy Hill.

The first set of awnings I came across had the Group B demonstration cars inside. They all looked retro and proud with big bodywork and even bigger spoilers. We sauntered down and came to the paddock area. First sightings were of the Super 1600 cars and we just casually walked by the garages as the drivers wandered around and the mechanics worked on the cars to get them ready for the upcoming qualifying heats. We took a zig-zag route and passed by the large awning of Terry Grant with his stunt cars. More about them later.

My first visit would be to Hoonigan Racing Division. There was Ken Block’s #43 car in it’s multi liveried glory sitting in the garage as a couple of mechanics made some adjustments. As I cast my eye up, there was the great man himself standing about two feet away from me. I crossed over the paddock to where Johan Kristoffersson’s car was up on a jack with the right wheelbase being looked at, an engineer busily replacing something which looked rather important.

Over at Team Peugeot-Hansen, both Sebastien Loeb and Timmy Hansen were having hasty work done to their cars in readiness for the upcoming qualifiers. The mechanics looked a bit busy, too busy. Walk round the corner with World RX Team Austria awnings to the right. They had two helicopters in the field behind! Two!

We had been walking around looking at the paddock when I walked by a man wearing a baseball cap, Red Bull sponsored Audi shirt and sunglasses. I did a double take and continued to walk on as my brain tried to tell my mouth who I thought I had seen.

“That’s Andrew Jordan!” I said to my mate.
“Where?” He asked.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

I pointed behind and with him being a big BTCC fan, he wandered back and with the subtle nature of a brick, leaned on the guard rail, turned and stared at Andrew Jordan. He looked across at me and nodded. I walked back and he got his camera out.

“Go get a pic,” he said.

I didn’t want to seem like a pillock so waited for a moment as he was in the middle of a conversation. Then, when I thought the time was right, I walked over.

“Andrew Jordan?” I asked.
“Yes, mate.” He replied.
“Do you mind if I have photo? Big fan of yours.”
“Sure.”

We stood next to each other and I had my photo taken with a BTCC champion. I thanked him for the photo and wished him the best of luck for the rest of the season. Bizarre! – Great spot though.

I walked down a bit further and there was the massive set-up of double world champion, Petter Solberg. Now, in my build-up to Lydden Hill I had emailed the PR Manager of Petter Solberg cheekily asking for a quick interview with the champ himself, not expecting any kind of reply. Imagine my surprise when I got an email saying, “Yes, sure come after Q2 on Saturday.” – I looked inside the garage and there was Petter talking to his team. Now was not the time so I left the other fans taking photographs and wandered down the slope towards the dummy grid where they line up. Liam Doran’s car was already there, mechanics standing by the car with arms folded.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

Opposite Paddock Bend and above the dummy grid area I saw the Monster Energy stage and decided to go up. They had the stunt cars lined up and I saw a two sets of steps leading up to the hospitality area with security guards. I just wandered up, a security guard jigging to the booming music being played. He smiled and ushered me inside and that’s when I saw the PS4 WRX game set up which my mate made a bee-line for. I wandered cautiously over to the Monster bar, not knowing if we were supposed to be here or not and ordered a Monster Lemon Rossi with the VR46 logo all over it in a yellow can. I stood looking out as the cars went hurtling round the track. The qualifying had started. This was a great vantage point so we decided to stay where we were. The stage was set high above the paddock and I had a great view of what was going on. During the interval, Terry Grand came out in his Monster sponsored cars, drove around the entire circuit on two wheels, performed drifts and set a Ford Sedan Legend up to go round in a circle on its own whilst he did the same in the opposite direction in his TVR. Very entertaining I must say. The drift cars came out and did their thing. I’m not a massive drift fan but it was very impressive and put on a great show.

This is when the start of what was a very entertaining day became surreal. I had already drunk two cans of Monster, I’m hyper enough anyway so imagine that included into the equation. This had the desired effect that I needed the gents. I explained to my mate that I was popping off to find one.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

On the way I saw Kevin Hansen standing at his awning talking to someone. Feeling slightly brave I slowed my walk and casually, without looking too weird (I hope) looked at the car being worked on. The man he was talking to walked off and Kevin just shot me a glance. I took my opportunity.

“Kevin, I write for The Pit Crew Online, wondered if I could just ask you a couple of questions?” I asked, expecting a shake of the hand or just a polite no.
“Sure.”
In my head the reply was “What! Sorry? Did you just say sure?” – Think quick Simmo.
“Tough day today, how are you finding it out there?”
“It was hot and very tough. Hoping to deliver better.”
“What do you think of Lydden?”
“Great circuit, very quick.”

I nodded to the car and Kevin smiled as the mechanic worked on it, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say “No idea” and politely waved as he walked off.

I saw World RX Team Austria driver. Janis Baumanis, he had a huge fan base at Lydden, he smiled and I said:

“How’s the car?”
“Good.” He replied and smiled.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

With those spontaneous Q&A’s done, I wandered off to the gents in the corner. On the way back I could see a large crowd gathering as cars were going out. I worked my through and as I reached the turning that would take me back to the Monster Energy stage I noticed it was cordoned off and fans were being stopped from moving across. I gazed around and noticed that I had a line of cars coming up behind me. RX Lites. All the people surrounding me wore FIA World Rallycross identification and I suddenly felt slightly out of place. I asked the marshal if I could duck through but she said I’d have to wait where I was for a moment. The people around me were FIA scrutineers and they were checking the cars. A young lad who was part of their team stood next to me. I looked at him and smiled uncomfortably, he smiled back and walked away from the man he was with to the front of the car. The grey haired man with the clipboard turned and said to me.

“Can you see that damage at the back?”
“Yes,” I replied nervously.
“Was that from Q1?”
“I have no idea.” I replied still feeling rather nervous.
“It’s not too much. I think it’s fine to race, what do you think?” He asked.
“I think if you reckon it’s fine then that’s good enough for me.” I replied not knowing what to do. The marshal was wetting herself. This was slightly awkward.

He waved the car on and his young assistant joined him. He gazed at the young man, realising he had not been speaking to his assistant and then looked back at me. I just smiled and suddenly felt very uncomfortable. The grey haired man laughed, tapped me on the shoulder and walked away. Phew! The cars filed through and eventually the marshal let me escape, still laughing.

I ran back to the Monster stage and told my mate who just laughed and shook his head. The surreal moments did not stop there.

This is where I bumped into an official Monster and WRX photographer, I didn’t get his name. We were on top of the Monster Energy tower watching the racing with an RX Lite driver who had been punted off the track wandering back onto the track after the race in front of the car who had smacked him to remonstrate with the driver. That was quite entertaining. The photographer explained that he had just come back from Rally Portugal. As we stood there just chatting about racing, it was getting chilly. He took off his very expensive camera equipment and placed them on the floor.

“Do you mind watching that whilst I grab a jersey?”
“Sorry.” I said, looking down at the thousands of pounds worth of equipment on the floor.
“If you could keep an eye on it for me, be back in a minute.”
“Er, yeah. Sure.”

Off he wandered leaving me, somebody he had never met, guarding his extremely expensive camera equipment.

“There’s probably a deposit worth of a house there you’re looking after.” My mate said, which made me feel a bit nervous.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

Fortunately the cameraman wasn’t too long, I was so relieved. Wandering back through the paddock after Q2, as instructed by Petter Solberg’s PR, I noticed that he was in deep conversation. The option had been given for me to chat to him after the race on Sunday and I was beginning to think this was a good idea as the crowds gathered round his awning and I didn’t know what his PR man, named Per, looked like. Suddenly my mate nodded in the opposite direction and there was Marcus Gronholm standing with his World Rallycross driver son Niclas. I wandered over and as I got closer, Marcus got taller. He is huge! I noticed he was being very fan friendly and so I asked him if I could have my photo taken with him and his son Niclas.

“Sure.” We stood waiting for my mate to take the photo and he said “One hundred Euro’s a snap.” He laughed and that was the picture opportunity done. So not too bad, a BTCC driver, double World Rally champion and a WRX driver on my tick list.

Walked by the Hoonigan Garage and shook hands with Andreas Bakkerud. Name dropping all over the place. He had a huge fan club, all dressed up in their blue hoodies. They looked like they were having fun.

During the day we had walked the entire circuit, had a spot of lunch, saw a lot a grid girls, walked the paddocks and witnessed some epic racing we decided to go back to the Monster Energy tower.

I had decided to give up on the Petter Solberg for today and go and find him tomorrow after the final. We stood on top of the tower and my mate nudged me and pointed at the Quest TV crew who were setting up for an interview. I didn’t pay much attention and then one of the crew wandered over to us.

“Hi, guys. Sorry to be pain. Do you mind if we use your spot for a bit? We’re interviewing Petter Solberg.”

A rounding “No, we don’t mind at all,” was the response he received.

He chatted to us and I mentioned that I was supposed to be interviewing Petter today but he seemed a little busy.

“Well, why don’t you have him after we’re done.” Said the Quest crew member.

A few minutes later, Petter Solberg in full race uniform walked up with a couple of people and had his TV interview with Quest. My friend pointed at two men standing in front of me, an old guy with a notebook writing furiously and a young guy about my height with short blonde hair.

“One of those could be your man.” Said my friend who knew about the exchange of emails I had with Per, the PR man for Petter Solberg.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

I checked both men. The older man seemed like a journalist and so I discounted him. I looked at the blonde haired man and took a deep breath.

“Excuse me. Are you Per?” I asked.
“Yes.” He replied.
“Neil, from the Pit Crew Online. We emailed each other.”
“Ah! Yes. Neil Simmons.” Per said smiling.
“I could see Petter was really busy earlier as he is now, so I may leave the interview until tomorrow.” I said politely.
“We can do it straight after this TV interview. No problem.” Per replied.

I felt my heart rate get a bit quicker. Petter was nearing the end of his interview and I was about to be faced by a double World Rallycross champion.

“Only if you’re sure?” I asked.
“Sure. No problem.”

We stood to one side and I had noticed earlier my phone had died so I persuaded my friend to use his voice recorder on the phone to record the interview. Per nodded to me and I wandered over with the Quest TV crew watching on with a gathering of journalists who had been waved away. I felt out of my depth and slightly nervous, but I took a deep breath. I knew I only had three questions, due to time constraints.

“Hello. Petter. The Pit Crew Online, I write for them. We follow your career and I’m doing a special feature.” Petter relaxed from the initial approach and nodded at me.

“How did you feel how today went?” I asked, knowing that he had blitzed everybody in qualifying.

“I feel good. We did a lot of hard work since the last race in Belgium, because the Audi’s have been a little bit faster. But now I think we are catching them back again.” He replied.

“But you like Lydden don’t you?” I asked and Petter smiled.

“Ah. Lydden is a fantastic track. I am looking forward to tomorrow. We are going to try to do some small adjustments to get the team in first place.” Petter replied.

“And who do you think will be your biggest challenger tomorrow. Ekstrom?” I asked.

“Yeah. Ekstrom.Yeah. Definitely.”

Petter Solberg smiled and I put my hand forward and we shook.

“Fantastic. Thank you, Petter.”

He was welcoming, cheery and had a very relaxed nature about him. I had been very nervous but straight from the off he relaxed me. If I had more time then I could have gone into a few more questions but I knew he was against the clock.

That was Day One at Lydden. Bizarre, surreal and I interviewed Petter Solberg. World Rallycross offers some fantastic racing, insane action and boy…do they know how to put on a show! Lydden as a circuit is just so nice. I loved it.

I came to Lydden Hill as a motor racing writer and a World Rallycross fan, I left falling even more in love with this series. If you have never been to WRX event I urge you to go. Honestly, you won’t regret it.

Neil Simmons

WRX Editor

Twitter: @world_racing

 

Quick 10 With…..Max Pucher

Born in Vienna, he is an Austrian businessman and rallycross driver, he is also co-founder of a Swiss-Austrian software company.

He competed a full 2015 season in the World Rallycross Championship and selected events in last year’s European Rallycross Championship.

He is responsible for pairing up Kevin Eriksson and Timo Scheider this season and has signed Andrew Jordan to compete at Lydden. He is the team boss of MJP Racing, these are his Quick 10 questions and he is…..Max Pucher

1. What is your favourite circuit and why?
My favorite track for fun driving is Hell, Norway.

2. Who is/was your racing idol?
I really do not have idols. I admire quite a few drivers for skill and personality and Timo Scheider and Patrick Sandell belong there.

3. Who would you regard as your toughest opponent?
In RX there are always 4 opponents in each heat and they are always the toughest right now.

4. Considering racers of all time, you are a team principal and money is no object. Which two racers would you have in your team?
In RX I would choose Kristofferson and Loeb for speed and marketing value. But Timo Scheider comes right afterwards.

5. If you could invite four famous people to dinner (past and present), who would you invite?
As I would cook myself I would invite Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, Wolfgang Puck and Giada De Laurentiis.

6. Personal racing number? What is it and the reason behind it?
My number is 31 and it is my birthday.

7. What is the best race you have been involved in?
My best race will always be the next one.

8. Is there a race or series you have not competed in, that you would like to or had wanted to?
I am really just interested in Rallycross.

9. How did you get into motor racing? What ignited that spark?
I did motorcycle racing when I was 20 and came back to car racing with 59 when I started RX. I raced the World Championship in 2015 at 60.

10. What is the best advice in racing you have been given?
Patrick Sandell: ‚All four wheels must point where you want to go when you hit the throttle!’

I would like to thank Max for taking the time out to answer these questions and I will accepting his generous invitation to visit the team garage at Lydden Hill this weekend.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Images courtesy of MJP Racing

Three In A Row For Ekstrom

Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom has extended his lead in the 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy after taking a lights-to-flag victory at the Cooper Tires World RX of Hockenheim. It is the EKS driver’s third win in a row – and made even more impressive as Ekstrom also raced in DTM during the same weekend. Twenty minutes after stepping off the World RX podium, Ekstrom was back in his DTM car to take part in race two qualifying.

Hockenheim RX runner-up Johan Kristoffersson had another strong weekend after winning his semi-final which allowed the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver to line up alongside Ekstrom on the front row of today’s final. Ekstrom was quickest to turn one and Kristoffersson remained second for the duration of the race. Team Peugeot-Hansen driver Timmy Hansen finished third in his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar – two spots ahead of his team-mate Sebastien Loeb who won two qualifying races and was placed top qualifier at the end of Q4.

PSRX Volkswagen Sweden’s Petter Solberg finished fourth, slowed by a bad getaway in the final. EKS driver Topi Heikkinen finished sixth and also won the Monster Energy Super Charge Award – a prize given to the driver who had the quickest reaction off the lights during the final. EKS has won all three Monster Energy Super Charge Awards so far this season with Ekstrom winning the first two in Barcelona and Portugal.

“I am super happy for Audi and for the whole team – thanks to the guys for the all their hard work which has really paid off,” said Hockenheim RX winner, Ekstrom before jumping into his DTM car for his next race.

Ekstrom’s team-mate Heikkinen added: “Friday was really hard for us so overnight we made some changes to the car that were hugely important. As a team, we are working really hard and getting very little sleep over race weekends which is obviously paying off as Mattias has now won three events in a row. He is always wanting to make changes to the car until everything is perfect. EKS has won Belgium for the last three years in a row [Heikkinen 2014 and 2015, Ekstrom in 2016] so it is a obviously a good event for us – hopefully we can take some more silverware home for the team.”

Runner-up Kristoffersson commended Ekstrom’s efforts in today’s event. He explained: “Mattias had a very good start in the final, and I tried to follow and put the pressure on him but he did not make a single mistake for six whole laps – he was driving so well. For that, he deserves this win and I wish him all the best in the DTM race this afternoon too.

Reflecting on his own performance, Kristoffersson added: “Overall it was a good weekend for us – we struggled with the balance in the car during Q1 and Q2 but the launches were very good so that left me in a good position. Everything felt better for Q3 and in Q4, it was almost perfect and I was able to push the guys out front. I had a good battle with Sebastien [Loeb] in the semi-final and it was good to show we had really picked up the pace. Both myself and Petter have been in the final for the last three events and we continue to leads the teams’ standings which we are really happy with.”

Sweden’s Timmy Hansen was pleased to have secured his first podium of the year and complimented the performance of the car. “The car was so good today,” explained the 24-year-old. “Obviously I didn’t want any rain before today’s races but it was about trying to adapt to the situation as best as I could and the start line was very slippery. I was leading for most of my semi-final but I pushed a bit too hard and I went off at the Sachs Curve which was when Mattias got in front. The final was a big challenge, Mattias and Johan were tough competitors but I’m pleased to get my first top three of the year which is an important result for the team.”

Elsewhere, MJP Racing Team Austria’s Timo Schieder was seventh. Kevin Hansen – younger brother of Timmy – was eighth, the 18-year-old having suffered a setback earlier in the day when he damaged the rear of his car after an impact during the sighting laps. Kevin Hansen, Kevin Eriksson and Reinis Nitiss were then caught in a collision in turn two of their semi-final. Hoonigan Racing Division’s Ken Block spun in his semi-final.

After the first three rounds of the 2017 season, Ekstrom leads the overall standings with a total of 85 points – 16 points ahead of Kristoffersson in second. Solberg remains third with 62 points, while Loeb has moved up to fourth with 48 points – one point ahead of his team-mate Hansen. In the teams’ standings, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden lead the way with 131 points – 17 points ahead of EKS.

World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, concluded: “We’ve had 79,500 fans attend the Hockenheim RX/DTM double header and once again the rallycross Supercars have put on a fantastic display. Congratulations to Mattias, Audi and EKS for another flawless performance this weekend. The fact that Mattias is able to swap from a rallycross Supercar to a DTM car in a matter of minutes and deliver so well in both championships is testament to his sheer talent behind the wheel. Well done to Johan and Timmy also – both drivers thoroughly deserve a spot on the podium. Now the teams have very little rest as it’s straight to Mettet in Belgium for round four of the season.”

PENALTIES

Kornel Lukacs “CsuCsu” #10, Q1, Reprimand for “causing a collision”

Kornel Lukacs “CsuCsu” #10, Q2, 30 second penalty for “pushing”

Andreas Bakkerud #13, Q2, Reprimand and 20 second penalty for “pushing”

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

RX Round Up – Portugal

 

EKSTROM WINS IN PORTUGAL AND EXTENDS WORLD RX CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD

Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom has won Bompiso World RX of Portugal, round two of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy.

It is the second victory in a row for Ekstrom and sees the EKS driver extend his lead in the overall driver standings by 14 points over second-placed Johan Kristoffersson. Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Sebastien Loeb finished runner-up this weekend, while PSRX Volkswagen Sweden’s Kristoffersson took the third podium spot. In the teams’ championship, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden continue to lead the standings after both Kristoffersson and Petter Solberg made today’s final. Solberg, however, was slowed by a puncture in the final and finished the event sixth overall. After a strong outing in the Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar Timmy Hansen ended the weekend fourth overall, with EKS driver Reinis Nitiss rounding out the top five.

“That was one of the hardest fought wins in rallycross,” admitted Ekstrom who also secured the coveted Monster Energy Super Charge Award after his rapid reaction off the line. “We weren’t on the pace throughout the qualifying process – both Johan and the Peugeots were very fast – but we concentrated on our own work. In rallycross you have to fight until the bitter end, which is what we have proved today. I’m super happy for myself but also as a team owner – it’s fantastic to have all three cars in the semi-finals and it’s a huge step forward. I had a hungry Frenchman [Sebastien Loeb] on my bumper in the last lap but he is a fair racer – I managed to defend and it was a very enjoyable fight. Next we have Hockenheim where once again I will compete in both DTM and World RX in the same weekend – it is a great opportunity to showcase our sport to the German fans and I expect a lot of spectators.”

Runner-up Loeb echoed Ekstrom’s comments about fair racing. “It was a great final – at the end I could see that Mattias had made a small mistake so I tried to make the most of the opportunity and get as close as I could. We were side by side towards the end but I would have had to push too hard to get past and that wouldn’t have been right. As Mattias said, we like to be fair racers and he did a very good job so deserves this win.”

Loeb – who has moved up to sixth in the overall driver standings – added: “After a bad start in Barcelona when I left the event with only three points, it was very important that I did well this weekend. This is a good result for the whole team. We were struggling a bit yesterday and I got caught behind Kevin [Eriksson] in Q3 but found the right set-up for the semi-final and was really on the pace. The speed of the car is very good and that has been the main thing we’ve been looking for. We need to make some small changes to the car’s balance and then we will be able to fight again in the next few races.”

Kristoffersson proved the man to beat after day one after winning the first two qualifying sessions but a misunderstanding between the Swede and the spotters’ tower meant he failed to take the Joker Lap during Q3, resulting in a 30 second penalty.

Kristoffersson took up the story: “Yesterday was about as good as it could get, but in Q3 we missed the Joker and then in Q4 we lost out because the track wasn’t as dry. In the final, I had a plan to stay behind Petter but unfortunately he had a slow puncture on the left rear and was losing a lot of time. I managed to get past him on lap three which meant I had three laps to drive as fast as I could and I successfully closed on Timmy [Hansen]. We’ve made some good improvements since Barcelona, especially with the launch and it feels great to give Volkswagen its first podium of the season.”

Elsewhere, Hoonigan Racing Division team-mates Ken Block and Andreas Bakkerud both qualified for the semi-finals but Q4 winner Bakkerud damaged his suspension in semi-final two, resulting in retirement. Block finished fifth in semi-final one, one spot behind Kevin Hansen who was fourth in the same race.

2017 newcomers STARD had both its drivers [Timur Timerzyanov and Janis Baumanis] in the semi-finals for the first time. Timerzyanov had a difficult start in the first semi-final and was unable to make up the time he lost while Baumanis broke his car’s wheel in semi-final two.

In the Super1600 championship – where Montalegre marked the first of six rounds – it was Denmark’s Ulrik Linnemann who triumphed in his Peugeot 208. Reigning S1600 Champion Krisztian Szabo took the runner-up spot, while Latvia’s Artis Baumanis finished third. Timur Shigaboutdinov would have finished third but was given a five second penalty for pushing and overtaking in the final. He eventually finished fifth, one spot behind Kasparas Navickas.

Paul Bellamy, World RX Managing Director for IMG, concluded: “Firstly, I would like to congratulate the Montalegre RX organisers and the Portuguese ASN [FPAK] for putting on a fantastic event. Over the past 12 months, the Portuguese team have worked extremely hard building another grandstand, a new medical centre, an extended press room and major infrastructure changes to the paddock as a whole. The hard work has definitely paid off as we saw 25,000 fans this weekend including a sell-out crowd for today’s semi-finals and final. Thankfully we were blessed with good weather and the excitement out on the track was the icing on the cake. We have signed a new five-year deal with Montalegre RX and look forward to returning

to Portugal with the World Championship for many more years to come.”

The third round of World RX takes place at the Hockenheimring in Germany next month (5-7 May) as the World Championship joins DTM for a thrilling weekend of motorsport action.

PENALTIES

World RX

#66 Demoustier: 10 Championship points deducted for sealing an additional turbo

after scrutineering

#21 Hansen: 10 Championship points deducted for use of an unregistered tyre in Q3

Super1600

#17 Baumanis: Reprimand for pushing in Q3

#89 Shigaboutdinov: Reprimand for pushing in Q3

#17 Baumanis: Five-second penalty for pushing and overtaking in Q4

#16 Susta: Reprimand for pushing in Q4

#89 Shigaboutdinov: Five-second penalty for pushing and overtaking in the final

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

(c) images courtesy of FIA World Rallycross

RX Round Up – Barcelona

The pre-season testing had finished, the public relations and interviews had been conducted and now it was time for RX Barcelona to roar into action.

World Rallycross, the most dynamic four-wheeled racing series on the planet, is back!

New partnerships, new drivers taking to the WRX stage for the first time and a new season.

Mattias Ekstrom, as defending champion, commented that every single driver now starts from ‘square one’. This statement was made, presumably, as he cast his eye down the grid when the official entry list was announced a few weeks ago. The strength in depth and talent was there to be seen and it was off to Barcelona to see how the first round of the World Rallycross Championship would unravel.

After the heats in Qualifying 3 it was new boy on the block (but not new in racing terms), Timo Scheider who topped the standings. He had a three point lead over Ekstrom who could see the likes of Kristoffersson, Heikkinen, Timmy Hansen and Solberg queuing up, waiting.

The top stories of after Q3 came in the form of three names who were regular semi-final qualifiers in the shape of Kevin ‘Round The Outside’ Eriksson, Janis Baumanis and Sebastien Loeb all sitting outside the top twelve. Independent entries, Guy Wilks and JP Dubourg were inside the top twelve, a fantastic effort so far on their part.

For those new to WRX, the top twelve drivers after four qualifying heats move through to the semi-finals. The qualifying heats are timed base, so whereas a driver would want to win their heat, it is the best possible time they can post to get them valuable qualifying points and Loeb was in a position where he could miss out on a semi-final place for the first time in his World Rallycross career. That is how competitive the grid is this season.

THE STORY OF Q4

With positions so tight in the points and places up for grabs, Q4 would see an important set of heats. Loeb would post a quick time to see him go top of the timed standings in this qualifying period. In the next heat Ken Block and Kevin Eriksson, also determined to break into the semi-final positions, battled hard and it was the American who ran straight into the back of Eriksson causing damage to both cars. Eriksson won the heat but he was not pleased with Block’s contact as he remonstrated when interviewed after the race.

Heat 3 saw Nitiss and Kristoffersson battling hard for the entire race, Kristoffersson was always looking for a way through and eventually he found it and posted a time three seconds quicker than Loeb, knocking him off the top.

Next up was Heat 4, this was just full of quality throughout the field. Solberg, Ekstrom, Scheider, Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen, a heat that would be good enough to grace a final and they did not disappoint with close racing and all the cars under a second of each other as they hurtled around the Barcelona circuit. Bakkerud took the win in his Ford Focus RS ahead of Solberg and Ekstrom. The heat was that quick that Bakkerud and Solberg slotted into the top two positions.

It was semi-final time. Eriksson, Loeb, Baumanis and Timerzyanov, names that graced semi-finals and finals last season would miss out. This was the first time Sebastien Loeb had not made a semi-final and what made it even more frustrating for the Frenchman was the fact his two team-mates, the Hansen brothers, did make it through. Wilks and Dubourg held their positions in the top twelve and remarkably made it through to the semi-finals.

The close racing and compact finishing showed that this season was not going to be a walk in the park, with non-factory teams and independent drivers mixing it with the big boys.

THE SEMI-FINAL STORY

SEMI-FINAL 1 – GRID

Scheider

Kristoffersson

Solberg

Heikkinen

Block

K. Hansen

SEMI-FINAL 2 – GRID

Ekstrom

Bakkerud

T. Hansen

Wilks

Nitiss

JP Dubourg.

In the first semi-final it was Kristoffersson pushing MJP Racing’s Timo Scheider all the way over the 6 laps, he jokered early and was able to maintain his pace. Scheider came out in front of Solberg after his joker lap but there was one casualty when Heikkinen’s car gave up the ghost. He would not be in the final. The top three were Kristoffersson, Scheider and Solberg. It has to be said that through the qualifiers, Kristoffersson and Scheider were both looking very strong.

Semi-final 2 got under way and it was Nitiss who found himself left on the line as the other five cars blasted off. Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen bustled and fired their way to the front only to see Ekstrom take the lead and skip off into the distance to take the win. He would be joined in the final by Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen who held their places.

THE STORY OF THE FINAL

GRID LINE-UP

Kristoffersson – Ekstrom

Scheider – Bakkerud

T. Hansen – Solberg

A mouth-watering final in prospect with five different makes of cars out of the six drivers, which just goes to prove that all the teams have been hard at work during the off-season to make this a very competitive series.

It was a nightmare start for Kristoffersson when he stalled on the line. Ekstrom took the lead into the first corner after a blistering start, which saw him gain the Super Charge Award (quickest off the line). Kristoffersson, to his credit, made up good time after the bad start and was on the back of the tightly bunched pack by the end of the first lap.

Solberg, who was sitting in 5th out of the six cars, decided to joker and he was followed by his team-mate Kristoffersson who made a late call to joker also. He had the car positioned to go round for another lap but possibly a call from his spotter in the tower advised him to follow Solberg and give him something to chase to make up time.

On the second lap it was Timmy Hansen who took the joker and he came out in front of Nitiss with Ekstrom and Scheider battling up at the front.

Bakkerud, who was sitting third, jokered on the third lap and as he came across the line he drifted his way around the outside of Solberg who had cut in from the corner to hold his position. Ekstrom and Scheider, still to joker, were way up front having a battle of their own. Two DTM drivers racing on a different type of circuit in a completely different series.

They both decided to stay out on lap four and extended their lead, it looked as though Bakkerud was holding Solberg up and the other four cars who bunched together battling for that final podium position.

It would be defending champion Ekstrom who would take the spoils here in Barcelona with Scheider, in his first World Rallycross race second and Bakkerud just holding on for third.

This was the opening round of World Rallycross and it did not disappoint. If this is what we have to look forward to for the rest of the season, with far more technical tracks and joker laps to come, then we are in for one hell of a ride this season.

Ekstrom has put his stool out and shown the rest of the grid he is determined to defend his crown, but with the emergence of Scheider, a much improved Focus RS for the Hoonigan Racing Division and two very competitive Polo’s driven by double world champion Solberg and the very talented Johan Kristoffersson , I expect there to be a lot of fireworks this year.

Take a bow WRX. Take a bow Barcelona. You delivered, as you always do.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Ekstrom – 29

Scheider – 26

Bakkerud – 22

Kristoffersson – 21

Solberg – 19

T. Hansen – 17

Wilks – 12

Heikkinen – 11

Block – 11

Nitiss – 8

Dubourg – 7

Eriksson – 4

Loeb – 3

Baumanis – 2

Csucsu – 1

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

(c) all images courtesy of FIA World Rallycross

WRX 2017 – Are You Ready?

Mattias Ekstrom Takes The 2016 WRX Championship (c) redbull.com

 

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.

Mattias Ekstrom flies the jump during Heat 1 of the World Rallycross races at Holjes in Sweden on July 5th (c) redbull.com

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.

Kevin Eriksson (c) MJP Racing

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.

Petter Solberg (c) FIA World Rallycross

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.

Guy Wilks (c) FIA World Rallycross

 

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.

Johan Kristoffersson (c) RX Barcelona

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.

(c) FIA World Rallycross

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.

(c) FIA World Rallycross

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.

Neil Simmons

WRX Editor

Twitter: @world_racing

Andrew Jordan to drive World RX of Great Britain for MJP Racing Team Austria.

Team Press Release

Britain’s Andrew Jordan will compete at the British round of the 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill for MJP Racing Team Austria alongside World RX regular Kevin Eriksson.

Britain’s Andrew Jordan, British Touring Car and Rallycross Champion commented: “It’s brilliant to join MJP Racing Team Austria for the British round of the 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill. Rallycross Supercars are so impressive to drive, the level of cars and teams has stepped up massively over the last couple of years and I’m very lucky to get to drive one for MJP Racing Team Austria. Rallycross holds great memories for me from when I started racing at 14 years old to standing on a World Rallycross podium, I love the sport and am hugely proud to compete at my home event. For sure it’s is just a one off but I think we will have great potential to make some great result. Thanks to the Team and their sponsors for giving me this opportunity.”

Team owner Max J. Pucher: “Due to the fact that Timo Scheider has a date conflict he will not be able to drive the British round with us. We are very glad to have Andrew Jordan standing in for Timo. Andrew is a fantastic driver who already achieved a podium at Lydden Hill World RX in 2014. I think that he could do it again and put up a fantastic show with the WorldRX regulars. We don’t put Andrew under any pressure, but we certainly have high expectations. For sure there will be many fans out there cheering for Andrew and our Team. We will give both the best possible opportunity for a fantastic event at Lydden Hill.”

Andrew Jordan (GBR) Pirtek Racing Motorbase Performance Ford Focus

Eriksson Signs With MJP Racing

MJP Racing Team Austria announced yesterday that Kevin Eriksson, the current Swedish Supercar Champion and 2016 World RX Event winner will be alongside Timo Scheider to compete in 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship for MJP Racing Team Austria.

Kevin Eriksson, who won the German round of the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship commented:

“I am very excited to join MJP Racing Team Austria and to be able to compete the full 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship. Driving for MJP Racing Team Austria alongside Timo Scheider makes me feel fantastic. I saw what they have done with their new 2017 Ford Fiesta RXS and it will be amazing to drive this machine. Thanks to the Team and their sponsors for giving me this opportunity.

Team owner Max J. Pucher had this to say:

“Kevin Eriksson is the perfect match for Timo Scheider in our Team. The combination of DTM experience and World RX dynamic makes for one of the strongest driver pairings in the 2017 Championship. As much as I would have liked to have Alex Wurz as an Austrian counterpart to Timo he unfortunately was unable to commit to a full season. We have reached our ultimate goal of stepping up our game both in drivers and cars. BarcelonaRX, here we come!”

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Scheider Signs To Race WRX

Timo Scheider has signed with MJP Racing Team Austria for 2017 FIA World Rallycross.

MJP Racing Team Austria (former World RX Team Austria) announced today that it has signed a multiple year contract with two time DTM Champion Timo Scheider to compete in the FIA World Rallycross Championship.

Timo Scheider, who has also won the 24 Hours on the Nürnburgring commented:

“I am very excited to join MJP Racing Team Austria and to be able to compete the full 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship. We had been talking since some time but now we realized a great partnership. Rallycross encompasses for me the great passion of motorsport. The level of the Championship goes up in 2017 with more manufacturers entering, but MJP Racing has built a new car for 2017 that will be a serious contender. They not only have great dedication but also employ a high-tech approach to designing and building racecars that is unique. We found ourselves to be very compatible as partners. I look forward to a fantastic Rallycross season.”

Team owner Max J. Pucher had this to say:

“In 2016 our team has achieved great results, including three new track records in World RX. We reached the semi-finals regularly and the fact that we placed 3rd and 4th in the Barcelona final showed how competitive both the team and the cars are. As our infrastructure and capability has grown substantially during the past 9 months we were able to realize our plan for a more competitive car for 2017. Having Timo Scheider with us in the team is just fantastic and makes all of us in the team really proud. The fact that Timo lives in Austria since 17 years old and also races under an Austrian licence achieves our goals to bring an “Austrian” driver to World RX. I do look very much forward to the 2017 season with him. “

Negotiations to fill the second team seat for MJP Racing Team Austria are still ongoing.

Photo credits: MJP Racing Team Austria

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing