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Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 1 – Barcelona

15th April 2017 — by Steve White

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Hola! Welcome to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain for the opening round of the 2017 World Rallycross Championship.

I have previously discussed the changes for this year’s Championship in my preview blog, so I will try not to get too bogged down with technical details here and instead focus on the track action. However before I do that, I would like to dwell on one subject from my season preview, specifically the new Volkswagen Polo being campaigned by Johan Kristoffersson and Petter Solberg.

The PSRXVW Polo isn’t the only new car on track this year but, after much uncertainty and internet discussion, the opening round finally answered a question that has been mooted since the unveiling of the car: Volkswagen Motorsport have indeed deviated from conventional rallycross Supercar design and opted to leave the entire engine cooling package in the front end of the Polo. Volkswagen Motorsport have a huge amount of experience with successful competition cars and I hope they will eventually divulge the reasoning behind the decision to ignore such an established design practise.

Any doubts over Volkswagen Motorsports design decision were quickly dispelled during the opening practice session of the weekend, where Johan Kristoffersson blitzed the track to post the fastest single lap time. It was an impressive start for the Polo and, although some of the other drivers may not have been pushing at this stage, there was little doubt that the new car was quick.

The only notable issue for the PSRXVW Polo seemed to be the launch of the car: it may have simply been the drivers experimenting with the best settings, but I watched Kristoffersson and Solberg abort more launches on the dummy grid than any other drivers.

With the practice session complete, the Touring Cars lined up on the grid for their first qualification race and, with rain beginning to fall, the 2017 Championship finally got underway.

During the opening day the running order for both qualifying rounds was Touring Cars, European Rallycross Championship Supercars and, finally, World Rallycross Championship Supercars. With the early precipitation abating during the first Supercar races, the circuit began to dry and thus got faster with each passing race. Consequently those World Supercar drivers racing at the very end of qualifying one were presented with the best track conditions.

Defending World Champion Mattias Ekstrom took second in his first qualifying race of the year, with his time good enough to place fourth overall. Solberg was over three seconds quicker than Ekstrom which netted him third, while second was taken by Ken Block.

Fastest race time in qualifying one was posted by Johan Kristoffersson. Notably Kristoffersson had run in the same qualifying race as Ekstrom, so both cars had competed in exactly the same track conditions. Johan seems to excel in damp conditions though, so at this stage the result wasn’t any real gauge of potential performance difference.

With the circuit continued to dry out during the second round of qualifying, it seemed like conditions would continue to favour those drivers running last – who were of course the quickest from qualifying one – but, with just two races of the round left, it began to drizzle. As grey clouds continued to amass overhead, Toomas Heikkinen went fastest in qualifying two with an overall time of 3:27.651.

As the downpour intensified, the circuit conditions began to change and, by the time the final Supercar grid had assembled, the grip levels around the track had fallen immensely. Mattias Ekstrom dealt with the wet conditions best, sliding his way to victory in the final race of qualifier two. Notably Ekstrom’s race winning time was over four minutes – 4:04.962 in fact – which was almost 38 seconds slower than Heikkinen’s race winning time and only good enough to place Mattias fifteenth in the second qualifying round.

Ekstrom wasn’t alone, with all of the fastest drivers from the opening heat placing poorly – and Andreas Bakkerud failing to even finish the race – the standings were really shaken up. Johan Kristoffersson managed to hang on to a top three overall position, but both Mattias Ekstrom and Petter Solberg tumbled down the order and fell to eleventh and twelfth respectively in the intermediate standings.

Heikkinen’s time was not only enough to win him qualifying two but, with it, head the overall standings at the end of day one. Toomas wasn’t the EKS driver I had expected to see topping the leaderboard, but his qualifying two race had been run just in time for him to avoid the deluge. With better weather forecast for the second day of racing, could Toomas hang onto that lead position on day two?

Day two began with clear skies and beaming sunshine, so conditions were much more pleasant for spectators. Crucially for the drivers, the warm weather also provided much more consistency from the track. Predictable circuit conditions saw Mattias Ekstrom and Petter Solberg ascend back up the standings, with Ekstrom and Solberg eventually placing second and fifth respectively in the intermediate standings.

However the hardest charger on day two was unquestionably Andreas Bakkerud. After finishing day one in eighteenth overall, Bakkerud rounded off the qualifiers with fastest time in qualifying four. That was enough to move him up to fourth in the intermediate standings and earn him a place on the front row of the second semi-final.

With the qualifiers done and the cumulative scores calculated, the top twelve competitors in each category rolled out to the dummy grid area in preparation for the semi-finals. Given the number of experienced rallycross drivers participating in this year’s World Rallycross Championship, it was rather surprising to see that it wasn’t one of the series veterans heading the World Championship table, but relative newcomer Timo Scheider.

Defending Touring Car Champion Ben-Philip Gunderson had a weekend to forget. With his car failing to pass scrutineering, he was unable to start any races during day one and posted just just a single qualifying time on day two. Consequently Ben-Philip failed to make the semi-finals or even score a single Championship point.

Philip Gehrman also made a poor start to proceedings, with a disqualification and retirement on day one. Bouncing back on day two Gehrman rounded up qualifying with a first. That pace continued into the semi-finals, with Philip winning the second semi-final and securing a front row spot for the Touring Car final.

Lining up alongside Kjetil Larsen, Gehrman took the lead from Larsen on the opening lap of the final. Leaving his joker lap until lap five, Philip briefly relinquished the lead to David Nordgard, however Nordgard slipped back down the order after taking his joker on the final lap of the race. The battle for second position was the real highlight of the Touring Car final, with Petter Brauten fending off the advances of Per-Magne Royras thoughout the second half of the race. Brauten held second position to the line, with Royras taking third just ahead of Nordgard.

I touted Robin Larsson as one to watch for this year’s European Rallycross Championship title and the results from day one certainly supported that prediction, with Robin taking a first and a second in qualifying one and two respectively. A disastrous third qualifier relegated Larsson to third in the intermediate standings, but that was still enough to place Robin on the outside of the front row for the first semi-final.

Lining up alongside Larsson was Anton Marklund. Many had expected Marklund to be quick, but his pace on day two was absolutely astonishing, with Anton securing fastest times in qualifying three and four.

As the cars left the line for the first semi-final Marklund and Larsson made contact, the result of which pushed Robin wide and onto the grass verge on the exit of turn one. Larsson quickly recovered, snatching second place back at turn two and immediately latching onto the back of Anton Marklund. Unfortunately the pursuit was short lived, as Larsson spun on the second lap, leaving Anton free to drive to victory.

Trailing behind Marklund, Henning Solberg held off Rene Munnich and Tommy Rustad to take second. Munnich and Rustad had a fantastic scrap right up to the finish line, with Rene just pipping Tommy to the post. It was a surprise to see neither Tommy Rustad nor Robin Larsson qualifying for the final and there were more upsets to follow in the second European Championship semi-final.

Thomas Bryntesson was one of several young talents who delivered on pre-season expectations during the Spanish qualifiers, placing second overall in the intermediate standings and taking pole position for the second semi-final. As with the first semi, there was contact off the line and, with Thomas holding the inside line, Hvaal nudged him into the tyre stack on the inside of the turn one. The resultant damage forced the immediate retirement of Bryntesson, who pulled over on the outside of the circuit with the front left corner of the car absolutely obliterated.

Semi-final two would also be the last race of the weekend for Jerome Grosset-Janin, as he was unable to match the pace of the leaders and finished outside the top three. With so many talented drivers in this year’s European Championship it was inevitable that some big names would be eliminated at the semi-final stage, but I was surprised to see so many knocked out before the final.

Tamas-Pal Kiss made a rather shaky start on day one, but he seemed to find his form during qualifying three and four. That pace continued in the semi-finals, with Kiss taking the win in the second semi-final. Behind Tamas-Pal were the Irish due of Ollie O’Donovan and Derek Tohill. It was fantastic to see the pair not only qualifying for the semi-final but, but both finish in the top three and advance on to the final.

Semi-final winners Anton Marklund and Tamas-Pal Kiss lined up alongside each other on the front row of the European Rallycross final. Given how quickly Marklund had romped away from the field in his qualifying and semi-final races, he would need to be caught early in order to be stopped. However as the lights went green and the pack headed towards the second corner any hope Kiss had of mounting an early challenge against Marklund disappeared when Tamas-Pal ran wide and was passed by Ollie O’Donovan.

After several laps with Kiss on his tail, O’Donovan opted for his joker lap at the end of lap three, with Ollie snatching third from Rene Munnich as he merged back onto the main track. Although he was too far back to attack Marklund, Tamas-Pal managed to hold onto second position with Ollie O’Donovan staying in third.

Third was a fantastic achievement for O’Donovan and also a historically significant result as it marked the first time an Irish driver has secured a podium finish in the European Rallycross Championship.

Unchallenged out front, Anton Marklund chalked up his first win of the year and with it the lead of the 2017 European Rallycross Championship.

Barcelona certainly didn’t provide the ideal start to the season for the Peugeot-Hansen team. With Sebastien Loeb failing to qualify for the semi-finals – notably the first time he has failed to do so during his time in World Rallycross – team honours were left in the hands of Timmy Hansen and his younger brother Kevin. Sitting on the back row of the grid for the first semi-final, Kevin Hansen attempted a bold overtaking manoeuvre around the pack. Unfortunately the move didn’t pay off and Kevin found himself parked in the gravel trap on the exit of turn two. After digging himself out of the gravel, Kevin was too far back to trouble the top three and so missed out on a position in the final.

Timmy at least had more success in the second semi-final, finishing third and earning a spot on the back row of the final grid.

The front row of the first World Championship semi-final was occupied by Johan Kristoffersson and Timo Schnider. Qualifying first overall, Schnider held the pole position spot, but as the pack arrived at turn one it was Kristoffersson who slotted into first. Starting on row two Petter Solberg quickly found himself relegated to fourth as he was passed by Toomas Heikkinen who made a run round the outside of turn one to take third as everyone filed into turn two.

Sandwiched mid-pack, Solberg sensibly opted to joker at the end of the first lap. Emerging from the joker with clear air ahead of him, Petter immediately began to reel in fourth place driver Ken Block who was hanging onto the back of Toomas Heikkinen. As Heikkinen’s Audi S1 dramatically slowed just before the jump on lap three he was unceremoniously punted out of the way by Block who now had Solberg breathing down his neck. With Petter hanging on to the rear bumper of Ken’s Focus RS RX, Block relinquished his third position when he took the joker.

Timo Schnider briefly took the lead on lap four when Johan Kristoffersson took his joker lap, but Johan regained first a lap later when Timo went for the joker. With a comfortable gap to second position, Johan Kristoffersson won the first World Championship semi-final of 2017, with Schnider in second and Solberg third. It was a great result for the PSRXVW team, as they would be the only team to get two cars into the final in Barcelona.

Brilliantly Guy Wilks managed to secure himself a row two semi-final position in his first outing in the ex-Johan Kristoffersson Volkswagen Polo. Placing eighth in the intermediate standings, Wilks unfortunately found himself pushed out wide on the outside of turn one, dropping him down the order and leaving a significant chunk of ground between himself and the leaders.

An early joker enable Wilks to pass Jean-Baptiste Dubourg, but he was unable to pull in the lead trio and had to settle for fourth. Jean-Baptiste Dubourg eventually finished in fifth, seizing the position from Reinis Nitiss at the very end of the race.

Leading the second semi-final from start to finish, Mattias Ekstrom took the win with Andreas Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen in second and third respectively. While Bakkerud had been occupied by Hansen, Mattias drove aware from the pair to win by a comfortable margin. With Kristoffersson lining up alongside Ekstrom for the final, it looked like the defending Champion was going to have to quite a fight on his hands for the overall win.

Alas hopes of a race win – or even a podium finish – for Kristoffersson evaporated just moments into the final, as the Polo stalled on the line. After seemingly overcoming the day one launch issues, there couldn’t have been a worse time for Johan to encounter the problem again than the start of the final. After a few seconds delay Kristoffersson did manage to get away from the line and quickly caught the pack but, despite several laps of dogged pursuit, he couldn’t find a way past Timmy Hansen and so had to settle for sixth.

Sitting immediately behind Kristoffersson on the grid, Petter Solberg avoided his team mate by the slimmest of margins, swerving around the stricken Polo. As with the first semi-final, Petter once again found himself surrounded and, yet again, he dived off for an early joker at the end of lap one.

Up front the battle for first would be fought between the ex-DTM pair of Mattias Ekstrom and Timo Schnider. Ekstrom led the race from the first corner and, although Mattias never completely shook off Timo, Schnider never looked close enough to really challenge. Second for Schnider was a fantastic result though and a sign that the MJP Racing Team Austria Fiestas look even faster than last year. .

Behind the lead pair the best battle of the final was the superb fight for third. After taking his joker early, fourth place Solberg began to rapidly gain ground on Andreas Bakkerud. Sensing the imminent threat Bakkerud peeled off into the joker at the end of the third lap. As Petter and Andreas crossed the finish line to begin lap four, Solberg briefly took third before being passed by Bakkerud, who carried a huge amount of speed out of the joker and passed Petter around the outside of turn one.

Petter did seem to have the pace on Andreas, but he was unable to find a way past and, as the pair continued to duke it out, fifth place Timmy Hansen closed in from behind. With no way around Bakkerud, Solberg would spent the last lap of the race fending off Hansen to secure fourth.

And so first blood in the 2017 World Championship went to defending Champion Mattias Ekstrom. Is this an early sign of a year of dominance from the reigning Champion? Based on the evidence from Spain, I really don’t think so. Over the course of the weekend there were demonstrations of speed from both the old guard and multiple newcomers. Volkswagen Motorsport seem to have produced a competitive car and, if the bugs can be ironed out quickly, both Kristoffersson and Solberg should pose a serious threat to Ekstrom and EKS for driver and team titles. .

Equally the European Rallycross Championship looks like it will be as closely contested as hoped. Many of the Championship favourites did fail to make it through to the final, but all had the speed and I expect to see them chasing Marklund down at the next round of the European Rallycross Championship in Norway.

Thankfully we don’t have as long to wait for more World Rallycross action with the second round of the Championship taking place in Portugal next weekend. Fueltopia will be present at round four of the Championship next month, so look out for more World Rallycross Championship features in the near future and be sure to keep checking the official site in the meantime!

 

 

Want to see more of the World Rallycross Championship at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya? Click here for a full image gallery. 

Event

Is this the return of UK Drifting?

2nd April 2017 — by Dave Cox

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I’ll just come right out and say it: The British Drift Championship is back.

Believe when I say that I didn’t expect to write that. At first I thought it was a combination of enthusiasm and sun stroke but the more I think back, the more I am happy to cement my opening statement.

Event

World Rallycross Championship – 2017 Preview

24th March 2017 — by Steve White

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With the opening round of the 2017 World Rallycross Championship less than a week away and the stream of press releases beginning to abate, now seems the perfect time to recap the biggest stories from the off season and summarize everything you need to look out for in this year’s World Rallycross Championship.

Starting with the basics and, aside from a few tweaks, the fundamentals of the 2017 World Championship remain unchanged from 2016, with the Championship comprising of twelve rounds from around the globe. Notably Argentina has now been dropped and, in its place, the Championship will now conclude its season at Killarney race circuit in South Africa.

Surprisingly the biggest story concerning the circuit selection for 2017 wasn’t related to the arrival of this new location to the Championship, but the news that this year will be the last that Lydden Hill will comprise part of the World Rallycross Championship.

Lydden Hill is internationally regarded as the home of rallycross and, as discussed in my blog last year, the circuit was instrumental in both my introduction and long running obsession with the sport. In the short term I’m struggling to see any positives from this decision but, despite my personal feelings on the matter, I am trying to keep an open mind on the change of venue.

Reassuringly Lydden Hill owner Pat Doran was quick to dispel concerns about the future of the circuit and Pat reiterated that efforts to green light the proposed development of the track facilities will continue. The British Rallycross Championship will visit the circuit twice this year, so rallycross will continue to have a presence at the iconic venue. Lydden has won international events back before and I hope it will be able to bounce back and do the same again.

In addition to the World Rallycross Championship, the standalone European Rallycross Championship returns for 2017, along with the separate Super 1600, Touring Car and RX Lite titles.

As before each of these respective Championships will be fought out over select World Rallycross weekends. The European Rallycross Championship takes place over five rounds (Spain, Norway, Sweden, France and Latvia), Super 1600 over six rounds (Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, France, Latvia and Germany) and the Touring Cars five rounds (Spain, Belgium, UK, Norway and Germany).

Finally the RX Lites – which have been rebranded as RX2 for 2017 – are due to appear at seven rounds (Belgium, UK, Norway, Sweden, Canada, France and South Africa) of the World Championship.

The first whiff of team news for 2017 came as part of Audis announcement that they would no longer be participating in the World Endurance Championship. At the tail end of the WEC press release were a few words concerning future commitment to Mattias Ekstrom’s EKS team and also interest in electric rallycross car development.

Electric rallycross cars quickly became a hot topic during the off-season. Just days after the Audi press release Manfred Stohl’s research division STARD unveiled their STARD HIPER, the world’s first fully electric 4WD rallycross car. Confirmation soon followed from the US that the American Global Rallycross Championship would run a dedicated electric series in 2018  with a debut event to come in 2017. Is electric the future? I’m uncertain at present, the technology is unquestionably a perfect fit for rallycross and I don’t doubt that electric cars can match the performance of their combustion engine brethren, but can they provide the same spectacle?

Audi Sport waited until the new year before confirming their official support for EKS and, despite several posts on social media teasing a potential change, Toomas Heikkinen confirmed shortly thereafter that he would be returning to EKS in 2017.

After securing the 2016 team championship title with Topi, it makes perfect sense to retain the same line up. Heikkinen didn’t fare as well as I had expected in last year’s drivers Championship, but with increased seat time in the Audi S1 perhaps we will see him ascend further up the Championship standings in 2017.

Following a joint venture with Kristofferson Motorsport in 2016, Marklund Motorsport announced they would be contesting the 2017 European Rallycross Championship alone, utilizing a pair of Volkswagen Polos. As the son of the team principle, it was no shock to see Anton Marklund confirmed as the first of the teams two drivers. The real surprise in the Marklund line up came from the naming of their second driver.

After missing out on the 2016 Touring Car title by just one point, Magda Andersson was quite open about her desire to drive a Supercar this year. Andersson has had her wish granted by Marklund Motorsport and it’s going to be interesting to see how Magda fares with the difficult transition from Touring Car to Supercar.

Bigger VW news was to follow though. Johan Kristofferson remained tight lipped after the Marklund Motorsport announcement and a few weeks later it became apparent why. Johan revealed he had a new team mate for 2017, which was none other than double World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg.

Rumours had been rife about Solberg even before the 2016 season had reached it’s conclusion, with talk of potential manufacturer backing from a major marque. As well as confirming the partnership of Kristofferson and Solberg, the announcement also verified that the official manufacturer behind the new driver pairing was Volkswagen. This new team will be run by Solberg, with cars provided by Volkswagen Motorsport in Germany and support from Volkswagen Sweden. Two of the biggest talents in rallycross sharing the same garage seems like a sure recipe for success in the team Championship: and the odds of the driver title ending up under the same roof are surely pretty good as well!

Since his return to rallycross in 2013, Petter and his DS3 have been responsible for the vast majority of my favourite moments from the last few seasons. I’m going to miss the venerable Citroen, but I can’t wait to see what Solberg can do with the new Polo. Petter was quick to confirm that his new car will retain his trademark soft setup, so I am hoping to see his Polo travelling sideways this year.

Solberg officially unveiled the livery for the 2017 cars earlier this month, though I’m convinced that what was revealed to the public wasn’t a competition car. Early test photos showed a test mule that looked very much like the last Polo World Rally Car, with the typical Supercar rear radiator setup noticeably absent. With the livery launch car seemingly in the same configuration, there is a possibility Volkswagen Motorsport have broken convention and opted to keep the entire engine cooling package up front, however I think Volkswagen are keeping the final car under wraps. Still, irrespective of design, when Volkswagen Motorsport commit to a motorsport program, they don’t tend to do things by halves. Whatever the finished product looks like, I don’t doubt it’s going to be a very capable car.

Albatec Racing were actually the first team to officially confirm any plans for 2017, when they announced Finnish Rallycross Champion Jere Kalliokoski would be joining them for a full European Championship campaign. Kalliokoski will be joined by 2015 European Rallycross Champion Tommy Rustad who returns to Albatec for a second year. I thought Rustad had looked a little overwhelmed by the young blood early in last year’s season, though he was back to winning ways for the final round. While many of his competitors have switched cars in the off season, familiarity may provide Rustad with an edge at the season opener in Barcelona.

Hoonigan Racing Division are the only World team set to return with an unchanged driver line up in 2017. I was personally a little disappointed with Ken Blocks performance last year, as he has proved he has the pace in Europe in the past, but consistent results just weren’t forthcoming in 2016. I appreciate that he was severely lacking in time in the car at the start of the season though and, with more circuit mileage under his belt (plus a gymkhana video) at the helm of the Focus RS RX, I hope he will be able to challenge for more podium finishes this season.

I must confess I was one of the doubters when it was announced that M-Sport would be developing the Focus for rallycross. Beginning the season with a bare minimum of test miles in a car that many believed was unsuited for the task, Andreas Bakkerud had a slow start to the year and, after failing to even make the semi-finals in Belgium, I feared that the decision to move to Hoonigan Racing might be one he was regretting.

Affirmation of Bakkerud’s team choice – and proof of the rapid evolution of the Focus – came just two rounds later, when Andreas not only won his home event in Norway, but became the first driver in the history of the World Rallycross Championship to score a perfect weekend. Bakkerud went on to take wins in both Sweden and Argentina which saw him rapidly ascend up the Championship standings. With more seat time and more development in the off season Bakkerud is definitely one of my top tips for title contender in 2017.

On the subject of the blue oval, the paddock will sadly be missing the Olsbergs MSE supercars in 2017. With official Ford backing shifting to Hoonigan Racing Division and their Honda project in the GRC it is no surprise to see that OMSE have elected to drop their World Championship campaign this year.

With no seat available at OMSE, Niclas Gronholm has instead opted for an M-Sport built Fiesta for a full World Championship campaign. I admit this particular snippet of news greatly pleased me as, of all the different Fiesta supercars out on the grid, I think the M-Sport variant is both the best looking and sounding.

Dedicated rallycross fans may recall the Kia Rio Supercar, which Gigi Galli debuted at Franciacorta back in 2015. Following initial talk of full participation in the 2016 World Championship, the flamboyant Italian only made sporadic appearances throughout last year and, with less than auspicious results for the Rio, I did wonder if that might spell the end of the Kia program.

However my fears were allayed when Hungarian driver Lukacs “Csucsu” Kornel unexpectedly announced his partnership with Galli for a full World Rallycross campaign in 2017. While Kornel will utilise a developed variant of the Rio first used by Galli in Italy, the GGRX team are busy assembling a second car in order for Gigi to join the Championship later in the year.

Team Austria drivers Janis Baumanis and Timor Timerzyanov were both blighted by bad luck throughout last year. Major changes have occurred at Team Austria during the off season, with the team now no longer receiving technical direction from Manfred Stohl and rebranding itself MJP Racing Team Austria for 2017.

With Baumanis and Timerzyanov opting to follow Stohl to his new STARD World RX team, the MJP Racing Team Austria roster has changed for 2017. After dipping his toes in the water, double DTM Champion Timo Scheider has signed to MJP for a full World Championship season, with Scheider joined by former OMSE driver Kevin Eriksson.

For me the biggest question mark hanging over both MJP Racing and STARD World RX is the cars themselves. Depending on the division of teams (specifically mechanics) MJP Racing could potentially be struggling with unfamiliar cars, while Stohl clearly has the technical knowledge, but will be starting the season with two new Fiestas. Both Baumanis and Timerzyanov deserved several podium finishes last year, so if Stohl can provide them with capable cars, I would expect to see the pair making regular appearances in the finals.

Another team set to join the World Rallycross paddock in 2017 is DA Racing. Having previously run cars in Europe for Jean-Baptiste Dubourg, DA Racing will field a pair of ex-Peugeot Hansen Peugeot 208’s this year. Jean-Baptiste Dubourg will contest the entire World Rallycross Championship while former WTCC driver Gregoire Demoustier will appear in the second 208 at select World rounds.

Furthermore the DA Racing team will also be running a Citroen DS3 for Andrea Dubourg, with Andrea vying for the European Rallycross Championship title in 2017. It’s an ambitious program for the team, but with previous experience in European rallycross and several successful Andros Trophy seasons to their name, I’ll be very surprised if they are not competitive.

As well as the new additions for this season, news also emerged of a team planning to join the World Championship in 2018. Guerlain Chicherit’s newly established team GCK have commissioned Prodrive to build three Renault Megane Supercars. With work already underway and a wealth of previous motorsport experience I have no doubt that Prodrive will be able to put together a competitive package for GCK.

The Megane is to make it’s first public appearance in Loheac in September, though we will have to wait until next year for the cars competitive debut.

In the interim Guerlain will be using the ex-Fabien Chanoine Renault Clio for select World Championship events in 2017. With mixed results in the JRM MINI over the last couple of years, track experience this year is going to be invaluable if Chicherit is to get the best out of the Megane in 2018.

Speaking of JRM, there has been no output from the team during the winter concerning the future of their rallycross programme. After the exodus of Liam Doran last year the team made sporadic appearances throughout the second half of the 2016 season, but they seemed to be struggling with the transition from 1.6L to 2.0L engine. I think it’s a real shame not to see them return in 2017, as the project seemed to have much promise and, as much as I detest the look of the MINI Countryman, there was no denying it was a unique shape on the grid.

Similarly Liam Doran has yet to verify any plans. Other than teasing the arrival of a third RS200 to the LD Motorsport garage in December, Doran hasn’t confirmed any competitive rallycross appearances for 2017. I had wondered if Liam might contest the British Championship this year (perhaps even in the “new” RS200) but, with the season getting underway at Croft a fortnight ago, it seems that Liam will not be participating it that either.

With Doran out of the running it looked like British fans would be left without a driver to cheer on in this year’s World Championship but, in yet another unexpected announcement, Guy Wilks revealed a full World Championship campaign for 2017. After sporadic appearances in the JRM MINI and an Olsbergs MSE Fiesta last year, Guy has now got his hands on the Volkswagen Polo previously used by Johan Kristofferson.

The car is a capable one and Wilks has looked very rapid when his steed has delivered, so fingers crossed Guy will be able to challenge the Championship’s best.

In addition to Wilks World Rallycross entry, Ollie O’Donovan confirmed his participation in the full European Rallycross Championship as well as select World Rallycross rounds and, along with Derek Tohill, UK fans should have at least one driver to cheer for at every Championship round this year.

After taking the European Championship title last year, many were expecting to see Kevin Hansen joining his brother Timmy in the World Championship. Peugeot-Hansen kept fans in suspense as they were among the last to confirm their plans for 2017. I hoped we might see four Peugeot-Hansen 208’s running in the World Championship, but a three car entry is the chosen approach for this season .

As pleasing as it was to see Kevin added to the World Championship entry list, there was a tinge of disappointment to the Peugeot-Hansen three-car announcement as Davy Jeanney was sadly absent from the press release. Although his results last year don’t support my opinion, I still maintain that Jeanney is one of the biggest talents in the rallycross paddock. I hope he manages to secure at least one appearance this year to try and prove me right!

Completing the line-up alongside the Hansen brothers, Sebastian Loeb returns for his second full season in the World Championship. With a full year of experience – which included his maiden World Rallycross victory – under his belt, Sebastian is sure to be strong from the outset in 2017.

However the biggest area of interest in Peugeot-Hansen – and potentially one of the most interesting battles in 2017 – is surely going to be between the two Hansen brothers. Timmy certainly has the edge in terms of experience, but Kevin’s progression was astonishing to watch last year and I can only imagine he will get faster as he continues to accumulate more seat time in the 208.

Just hours after Peugeot-Hansen had announced their three car plan for 2017, EKS confirmed that they would be running a third Audi S1 this season. Although the third entries will be ineligible for points in the team Championship, the additional numbers could potentially give both Peugeot-Hansen and EKS a tactical advantage.

That being said, I’m not a fan of the influence of team tactics in racing, so I really hope we see race results decided by driver performance on track and not by management decisions in the paddock.

As before the World Championship regulars will face the additional challenge of local entrants at each round. Several wildcard entries have already confirmed for 2017, including Andrew Jordan, who will take the helm of Timo Scheider’s MJP Team Austria car for the UK round.

Last time Jordan drove a Ford at Lydden – an OMSE Fiesta back in 2014 – he managed to place third overall, so it will be great to see if he can go one, or perhaps even two, better in the MJP Fiesta.

Magda Andersson isn’t the only driver to graduate to Supercars in 2017. 2016 RX Lite Championship runner-up Thomas Bryntesson will is set to drive a JC Raceteknik Ford Fiesta, with Bryntesson partnering with Scandinavian Supernational driver Ola Froshaug for full European Rallycross and RallyX Nordic Championship campaigns.

The additional seat time in the Nordic Championship is going to be absolutely vital for Bryntesson, as the 2017 European title is shaping up to be as hotly contested as the World Championship.

After two years with Albatec Racing double European Championship runner-up Jerome Grosset-Janin has switched to a Team Knapick run Citroen DS3. Kristoffersen Motorsport have prepared a Volkswagen Polo for Tore Kristoffersen
and Hedstrom Motorsport have confirmed a three car European Championship entry with Peter Hedström and Alexander Hvaal utilizing a pair of Volkswagen Polos and Joachim Hvaal at the helm of a Ford Fiesta.

In all 29 drivers will be vying for the European Championship title. There is unquestionably a lot of talent in the field but, for me, the favourite has got to be Robin Larsson. After fighting – and beating – the World Championships finest over the last few years, Robin has clearly got the pace and his Audi A1 is a well developed car.

With Championship line ups that deliver both quantity and quality, I’m expecting a close fought title race in both the European and World Championship.

Theoretically the fight for the 2017 Super 1600 crown should also be very tight, as both of last year’s title protagonists are set to return. Krisztian Szabo barely pipped Ulrik Linnemann to Super 1600 honours last year, with just two points separating the pair at the end of the season.

With the rest of the field trailing on points, these two are surely the ones to watch again this year. Linnemann has never been short on pace, but his results have often been erratic. With Szabo set to switch cars mid-season consistency could be even more crucial for Ulrik this year if he is to finally lay his hands on the Super 1600 title.

Ben-Philip Gundersen won the 2016 Touring Car title by just a single point and, with his closest rival now moving to Supercars, he is surely the favourite for 2017. Philip Gehrman and David Norgard were both race winners last season, so hopefully they can give Gundersen a run for his money. With just 10 permanent entries, simply surviving the qualifying races will guarantee Championship points, so self-preservation is likely to prove as vital as outright pace in the Touring Cars.

Last, but by no means least, is the RX2 class. 2016 RX Lite Championship Cyril Raymond will return to defend his title, however with the other permanent entries yet to be confirmed it would be rather foolish to make any sweeping statements about another potential title winners at this stage. One thing that can be said with absolute certainty though is, with Raymond’s race experience, it’s going to take a committed driver to keep Cyril from overall victory again.

So who is your money on? Every category has some obvious favourites, but for me the eighteen car World Championship entry is the most difficult to narrow down. In terms of overall numbers, there isn’t a great deal of difference to last year, but the names involved – and the machinery they will all be using – is arguably of an even higher calibre than ever before.

I cannot wait for the season to get underway and, with Fueltopia presence at the first round of the World Championship in Barcelona, expect a full report on the opening event in the coming weeks!

Event

Formula G Championship, Round 2: Santa Pod Raceway

24th March 2017 — by Fueltopia Events

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Sunday 19th March saw the Fueltopia event team host Formula G round 2 at a dry yet windy Santa Pod Raceway.

Just two weeks on from the first event, drivers were faced with a new track and it proved to be the fastest one to date. A relatively simple layout meant that mastering the course directions came quickly to most and that round two was all about dialling in your technique around the obstacles and getting your foot in quick on the straights. The track lived up to its name the Quickdraw, and as many used their practice session to reduce their times, some soon fell under 37 second’s across RWD, AWD and U1 classes.

The qualifying session of 4 runs per driver places all into a top 16 ranking and then for battles go head to head 1st v 16th and so forth in each class. In the AWD class Andrew Stevens topped the class with a 36.025 but with just 0.9 of a second splitting the top 4 we could see we were going to be in for some tight battles.

In the RWD class, whilst we saw series regulars take the top 8 positions it was great to see 5 of them be taken on by fairly new drivers to the sport, including 14 year old Ben Dryburgh who made the trip down from Scotland to compete in the championship for the first time. However it was the top 8 who all progressed through to the semi-final stages.

The U1 class had a new entry to the series in the form of a Robin Hood, piloted by Daniel Cooper. However as a complete newbie to the sport, he didn’t quite have the speed to knock the biddles off the top spot. With advice from the drivers in the pit we hope to see him back soon ready to take on the challenge once again. Andy Biddle stole the show with a driving masterclass on the day and posted a 35.139 in qualifying taking the crown of fastest time of the day across not only U1 but all classes.

The AWD class battles kicked off with a bye for Andy Stevens when Dmitrij Sribnyj suffered mechanical issues meaning the car didn’t make it to the startline. The battles continued with Flitspeed teammates Dom and Lewis taking each other on in their semi-final, that saw Dom take the win and his place in the quarter final against Yordan Andreev, who made it through after winning his battle against Michael Irwin.

 

Jonathan Buck, who suffered major mechanical issues and therefore missed the first Formula G event, was out to get as many points as he could to better position himself in the championship points table. He won his top 8 battle against Nankang and Pole Position driver Jake Archer and was next drawn against fastest qualifier Andy Stevens, a close race ensued but with Andy picking up a 2 second penalty the win was Buckys and in the final he faced off against Round 1 winner Yordan Andreev. A mistake picking up a 2 second penalty for Andreev meant he had to give his all to beat Bucky in the final race, however his eagerness see him jump the start lights and as long as he could keep his cool and complete the course with no DNF the win was Buckys to take. The final race also see Bucky set the fastest time of the day in the AWD class so he picked up a vital 12 championship points.

 

The RWD class was the last to see battles and with 16 quickly down to 8 our season regulars lined up against opponents they all know too well. It was 4 big powered Nissan S bodies against 4 smaller nibble MX5s and a Honda S2000. With 3 MX5s taking the podium spots at round one the Nissan drivers were guns blazing to get back to the top!

The four making it through to the quarter finals were Luke Woodham, Mark Young, Ryan Milton and Adam Elder. Ryan in his MX5 had been flying around the course all day and was up first against Adam Elders 400bhp Nissan S14, both races were close, with Adam pulling ahead on the straights and Ryan catching him on the tight turns in the obstacles, but it was Adam who pulled ahead just enough to see him into the Final.

Mark Young was up next against 2016 Formula G and 3 times European Gymkhana champion Luke Woodham. Jap motorsport driver Mark had been having the drive of his life Saturday, looking smooth around obstacles and fast on the straights but he couldn’t quite keep up with Luke and he headed into the 3rd/4th place battle with Ryan. His battle with Ryan see him take 4th on the day, losing out by just 0.6 of a second over the 2 sides of the course, his driving didn’t go unnoticed by staff who picked him for the Hardcharger award and all drivers were in agreement with this decision.

The final see a battle we have seen before and are likely to witness many times in the future. As Elder and Woodham, lined up on the grid, we were given the most exciting final battle. The first run see the drivers split by just 0.1 of a second with Luke taking the edge. As they drove around back to the startline we knew this could be anyone’s to win. Both flew round the course, no time penalties and both flew into the stop box at the same time, however Woodham handed the win to Elder when he shot way over the perimeter of the stop box, giving him a DNF. He took it well, laughing it off and congratulating Adam before both finished the day with a huge smoke show as they headed back to the podium!

 

Two rounds down with 3 to go, the points in the championship table are so close right now every point counts and we look forward to seeing what a new track and round 3 brings on May 14th. Tickets are available now on the store.

Photos by

Craig Toull, CRT Photography

Event

VLOG 1 | Goodwood FOS

21st March 2017 — by Dan Fegent

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This is a look behind the curtain, a peak behind the scenes, an insight in to what happens at an event to bring you coverage. Lets head back to the 2016 season & kick this series off.


For me Goodwood Festival of Speed was one of those bucket list events. To go there is fantastic, to be asked to work there & provide coverage of the event was simply incredible! A highlight of my career as a photographer. Was it one of the hardest events I’ve ever had the pleasure to work at? Oh yeh! Was it worth it? Totally!

This post isn’t just to churn up old content though, I’ve wanted to put it together to hopefully share with you all something new. I said to myself at the start of last year that I wanted to begin keeping a diary of my work travels, something that would become a memory for me to keep. Why? Well I go around taking pictures of so many amazing people in so many awesome locations, which is fantastic, but I have no actual memories of being at those places other than my work…

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It all started off with selfies… yep its a slippery slope people. A few shots here and there with friends, then coming home from events & projects & printing them on polaroids & displaying them around the flat. Great, memories were becoming physical things & I was loving it. However this wasn’t enough for me, capturing moments with people was fantastic & a big part of what I needed but it didn’t capture the emotion at the time, the overall atmosphere & the sounds.


I spoke with a few people & got inspired. I then took a brave ‘DontBeSelfConcious’ pill & the vlogs were born. What better place to kick them off than at Goodwood Festival of Speed! I thought to myself, if there is one place where I shouldn’t ever run out of content then that has got to be it.
Obviously it was a first time try, I was shy, nervous as hell & despite planning out ideas in my head I was not even sure what I wanted to capture as soon as I hit that record button on the camera. I did it though, I filmed a lot & created something & kicked off my series of vlogs which can be checked out in their entirety on the Status Error Youtube channel that I run alongside Gianni.

This was a great start for me, ticked what I was after entirely. It became something I can keep & have as a memory. It all developed from there & even went on to become fun to continue these vlogs as the year went on. There is still masses of room for improvement but I enjoy doing it and that really is all that matters when it comes down to it.


Hopefully you all enjoy the insight as I will be sharing them all on here as I go & include several of my photos from the various events to better show you what it was like. I want to share with you not only the work I created but my experience and what it was like for me to be there.

Thank you all for reading my thoughts & watching 🙂

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