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Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 4 – Mettet

25th May 2017 — by Steve White

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After a fantastic weekend at the opening round of the 2017 World Rallycross Championship I had to be content with watching rounds two and three from afar. Thankfully the wait between rounds is minimal and I have returned to the Circuit Jules Tacheny Mettet in Belgium for round four.

A quick glance at the results from this year’s Championship and you could be forgiven for thinking that Mattias Ekstrom is dominating the 2017 season.

Although Mattias has won all three finals – and managed to pull out a significant lead in the Championship standings in the process – the wins have come as a result of smart driving in the closing stages of the weekend rather than though outright domination. The top qualifier at each of the three 2017 Championship rounds thus far has been a different driver: all driving different marques.

In terms of raw pace the new PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo GTI has been the car to beat. The Polo has topped the practise timesheets at every round of the Championship thus far and Belgium would prove no exception to that rule, with team mates Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson placing first and second respectively.

Of course races are not won on a single lap time and it has been consistency – and arguably luck – that has kept overall victory out of reach for Kristoffersson and Solberg. Day one in Mettet would see the team perfectly combine speed and consistency, with Petter and Johan taking a qualifying win each. There was still a long way to the final, but could this be the weekend when the Polo GTI took its first overall victory?

Pleasingly the Peugeot-Hansen 208’s seem more competitive in 2017. Sebastien Loeb had failed to make the semi-finals at the opening round in Barcelona, but he looked much stronger at both rounds two and three, making it to the final at both and finishing as high as second in Portugal. Team mate Timmy Hansen also performed well in Germany, qualifying second at the intermediate stage and taking third – his first podium finish of 2017 – in the final.

Notably Timmy Hansen seemed far more aggressive with his lines at Mettet than I can ever recall seeing in the past. With his circuit racing background, Timmy has always been synonymous with smooth and tidy driving, but he was riding curbs and skimming – or even clipping – trackside furniture in Belgium. This resulted in several spectacular two wheel moments: and a number of smashed front bumpers!

Despite reaching the semi-final stage in both Portugal and Germany, Kevin Hansen is yet to reach a final in this year’s World Rallycross Championship. I had been expecting to see Kevin challenge – and perhaps even beat – his older brother Timmy, but the speed isn’t quite there yet.

Things got off to a promising start in Belgium, with two top ten times in the opening days qualifying races. Unfortunately any hopes of surpassing Timmy in Belgium disappeared in the third qualifier, when Kevin ran slightly off line on the ascent from the bottom of the circuit, clipping the banking and sending his Peugeot 208 into a violent series of rolls.

After a strong second half to the 2016 season, which included three overall victories, I touted Andreas Bakkerud as one to watch this year. Third in Barcelona was an encouraging start, but a semi-final retirement in Portugal was followed by a disastrous weekend in Hockenheim where Bakkerud failed to make it beyond qualifying.

Ken Block has at least delivered consistent results for Hoongian Racing Division, with Block qualifying for the semi-finals at rounds one, two and three.

Mettet would prove to be the best weekend of the year for Hoonigan Racing. Bakkerud placed fourth in qualifying one with Block in eleventh, then Block surprised many to take fourth fastest time in qualifying two. Ken continued that form in day two, with ninth in qualifying three and another fourth in the final set of qualifiers.

Sixth in the intermediate standings was the best qualification result of the year for Block and, with Bakkerud in fourth, both Focus RS RX qualified for the second of the World Championship semi-finals.

Unfortunately Block’s progress was again halted at the semi-final stage, as he retired on lap five of the race after an interaction with the scenery. Ninth overall was still his best result of 2017 and hopefully an indication that the American might be a finalist before the year is out.

Andreas Bakkerud fared better, chasing Petter Solberg to the flag and earning a spot on the second row of the Supercar final. After the disappointment of Portugal and Germany, it was fantastic to see Andreas back at the sharp end again.

While Mettet didn’t constitute part of the European Championship, it had a packed timetable with the second round of both Touring Cars and Super 1600 taking place, as well as the opening round of the 2017 RX2 Championship.

The latter was a particular point of interest for me as, although the RX2 category (formerly known as RX Lites), has produced some good racing, the permanent class numbers haven’t been that high, so the overall Championship battle has often been fought out by just a couple of drivers.

With eighteen entries at Mettet, interest in RX2 looks very strong this year. Included among those entrants was 2016 British Rallycross Champion Dan Rooke who, after failing to secure a budget for this year’s British Championship, has managed to secure himself a drive in an RX Lite.

After recovering from a poor start, Philip Gehrman won the opening round of the Touring Car Championship in Barcelona and it was Philip who headed the Championship standings prior to racing getting underway in Belgium.

Defending Touring Car champion Ben-Philip Gunderson had a weekend to forget in Spain, but things got off to a much more promising start in Mettet. Second in the opening qualifying race was followed by another second in race two and two first places in qualifying three and four.

Lars-Oivind Enerberg had qualified top at round one, but finished outside the top three in his semi-final and thus missed out on the final. Enerberg was again quick in qualifying at Mettet, winning the first days qualifying races and placing well enough on day two to sit second in the intermediate standings. Winning the first Touring Car semi-final, Lars-Oivind claimed a front row spot for the final.

It looked like Enerberg would be fighting with Ben-Philip Gunderson for the overall win but, for the second time, Gunderson failed to make it through to the final. Although Ben-Philip at least managed to get some Championship points on the board in Belgium, failing to make it beyond the semi-final stage was a real blow to his title defence, with Gunderson now trailing the Championship leader by 29 points.

Enerberg carried his semi-final winning form into the final. Leading the pack out of turn one, the biggest threat to Lars-Oivind came from Anders Braten. Opting for an early joker, Braten pushed hard to close up the gap and, when Enerberg took his joker, Anders took the lead. When the joker staggered unravelled at the end of the race, it became clear that Lars-Oivind had done just enough and he took the win from Braten, with round one winner Philip Gehrman in third.

I had suggested in my pre-season preview that, if consistent , Ulrik Linnemann unquestionably had the speed to win both individual rounds and this year’s Super 1600 title.

Linnemann proved his race-winning pace at the first round of the Super 1600 Championship in Portugal, where he took overall victory, Unfortunately Ulrik couldn’t repeat the feat in Belgium, as mechanical woes forced his retirement during the final.

Top qualifier in the Super 1600 category at Mettet was Artis Baumanis. After setting fastest overall time in the opening race, Artis posted top eight times in the remaining races to pip Kasparas Navickas to the top spot.

After winning in the first Touring Car semi-final one, overall victory for Baumanis was looking ever more likely until, on lap four of the final, Artis clipped the tyre barrier on the outside of turn one. Obviously keen to make up any lost time, Baumanis charged into the joker section a bit too hot, rolling his Fabia in the process and handing the lead over to Janno Ligur.

With the damaged Fabia of Baumanis on the circuit, the race was immediately red flagged and, as Ligur was yet to take his joker lap, a time penalty was awarded which handed first position to Kasparas Navickas, who had already taken his joker.

Jussi-Petteri Leppihalme scored his best result of the year, with third in the intermediate standings, second in his semi-final and third in the final.

Kasparas Navickas now leads the Super 1600 Championship, with Ulrik Linnemann in second just five points adrift of Navickas. Artis Baumanis and Jussi-Petteri Leppihalme are joint third and Krisztian Szabo fifth. All five drivers are separated by just nine points and, with four rounds of the Championship left, I strongly suspect that the lead will change hands again before the seasons end.

In the RX2 category, it looked like defending Champion Cyril Raymond was making a measured start to the weekend, as he posted sixth fastest time in the opening RX2 qualifying race. However problems in qualifying two saw Cyril tumble down the standings.

With Raymond struggling, it was Simon Olofsson who set the early pace in RX2. The greatest challenge to Olofsson came from Dan Rooke, who demonstrated considerable pace against the RX Lite veterans. Rooke placed second in qualifying two, then went one better and won qualifying three.

Rooke was second only to Olofsson in the intermediate standings which was a superb way to get his RX2 campaign underway.

Bouncing back from the disappointment of qualifying two and three, Cyril Raymond won the fourth qualifier and the second RX2 semi-final, placing him alongside Simon Olofsson on the front row of the final grid. When the lights went green Olofsson was able to fend off Raymond to take the lead and it looked like the challenge to Simon would instead come from Dan Rooke. While Rooke and Olofsson battled, Raymond took an early joker and, when Simon picked up a puncture, Dan found himself second to Cyril after taking his joker.

Victory in the RX2 final was a remarkable reversal of fortune for Cyril Raymond. From fifteenth overall at the end of day one to an overall win at the end of day two. Cyril left Mettet with an equal point haul to Dan Rooke and the pair currently share the lead of the RX2 Championship. With the next round of RX2 taking place at Lydden Hill, Rooke will have circuit knowledge on his side, so fingers crossed he will stand on – or perhaps even atop – the podium at round 2.

Timo Scheider has seemingly been unable to duplicate his round one podium success. Kevin Eriksson was the MJP Racing Team Austria Fiesta to watch at Mettet, with Kevin making it all the way to the back row of the final. Eriksson might have made posed a challenge for a podium spot, but a puncture relegated him to the back of the field where he eventually finished fifth.

I was expecting a breaking in period for the pair of STARD Fiestas, but I thought we might see them posing more of a threat for final positions at this point in the season. Janis Baumanis barely managed to finish the top 16 where he netted a single Championship point. Team mate Timur Timerzyanov got a little further but, for the third time this year, his weekend came to an end in the semi-finals.

I believe both drivers have the talent to be challenging the front runners and I hope it’s not long before we see them up there.

With such a strong performance throughout the weekend and cars on the first and second row of the grid, the odds of a maiden victory for PSRX Volkswagen Sweden seemed good. After the lights had gone green it was Petter Solberg who led the pack into the first corner and down towards the lower section of the track. Timmy Hansen slotted into second and, after a brief moment of contact with Andreas Bakkerud, Johan Kristoffersson snatched third.

Petter would retain the lead until the end of lap two, when Timmy Hansen got fantastic drive out of the inside of the final corner and ran alongside Solberg as they turned into the first turn of lap three. Petter tried to hold off Timmy, but instead ran wide, grazing the tyres on the outside of the first corner. As the Polo GTI snapped back onto the racing line, Solberg collected the hapless Focus RS RX of Bakkerud and fired him into the tyre barrier on the opposite side of the track.

Andreas managed to limp on for another half a lap before retiring at the side of the track. With Kevin Eriksson struggling with a puncture and Kristoffersson opting for an early joker, Mattias Ekstrom was elevated to third. The position of Ekstrom was to prove critical to the final result as, although he was several seconds behind the race leaders, both Johan and Petter would end up behind Ekstrom after taking their joker lap.

As Kristoffersson and Solberg tried to find a way past Ekstrom, Hansen had a clear track ahead and could focus on putting in the quickest laps possible. It looked like Timmy might have stretched out enough of a gap to joker and retain the lead, until the final lap of the race when it became apparent that his Peugeot 208 had picked up a left front puncture. With Ekstrom also opting to take his joker on the final lap, the finishing order was decided on the last corner.

Despite being held up by Mattias Ekstrom, Johan Kristoffersson had done enough and he took the maiden win for the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo GTI. Undeterred by the puncture, Timmy Hansen had the throttle absolutely pinned as he emerged from the joker and, although it looked like Petter had crossed the line first, Timmy claimed second place by a hundredth of a second.

Finishing fourth Mattias Ekstrom retained first place in the World Championship standings, however his lead has been slashed, with just three points to second place Kristoffersson and fourteen to third place Solberg. With Ekstrom’s early Championship lead severely eroded, the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden pair will surely be aiming to catch and pass Mattias next time out.

The fifth round of the Championship takes place at Lydden Hill this weekend. Fueltopia will be in attendance, so be sure to check back for full event coverage in the coming days!

 

 

Want to see more of the World Rallycross Championship at Circuit Jules Tacheny Mettet? Click here for a full image gallery.

Topic

Getting Ready for Speedway

4th May 2017 — by Andi Gordon

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As I sit here on the afternoon of Sunday April 23rd, I’m feeling excited. Later this week I’ll be flying to London, to fly to Croatia, to drive to Slovenia for the first round of the 2017 Speedway Grand Prix series. As I’m waiting to head to the coast tonight for a sunset photo mission, I figured I’d have a look through my archives at what kind of thing I got at this event last year, and then inevitably ended up doing re-edits, then looked at more from other events and now I’m doing a blog post. I’ve not even checked if my batteries are charged or if my filters and lenses are clean. I’m kind of on a bit of a crest of a wave.

I’ll state just now, that I’m not going to give you a season in review, who did what kind of post. A) that just ain’t me and B) I’m always that concentrated on trying to get a shot that I can never remember what happened. Instead I’m going to kind of just babble on for a bit, trying to straddle the line between each paragraph seeming like an ill conceived caption and going off on one like a pompous arse.

This upcoming season will be my third shooting Speedway for Monster Energy. Whereas in the previous years I entered the season feeling nervous, woefully under prepared and ill-equipped for the year ahead, this time round I feel ready to crush it. Speedway isn’t a particularly difficult sport to shoot. The bikes are on an oval, and go past you every fifteen seconds on a relatively narrow stretch of track. You know where you are, where the riders are going to be. If you have a basic understanding of how a camera works, there’s a decent chance you will get something usable.

It is however exceedingly difficult to get creative, expressive shots of Speedway. For that kind of stuff you need to build relationships with riders, mechanics, managers and anyone else who you are going to get in the way of while cutting about in the pits.

A pit for a speedway bike is probably about the same size as your garden shed. There will be about 3 mechanics, 4 helmets, a seat for the rider to try and relax between races, A TV showing the broadcast for the event, at least one roll cab toolbox and top box. It’s not a huge area. Then you add in the TV crew that come over and try and get the interview after a heat. There ain’t a lot of space for creativity that’s for sure.

That however is my job. Get the shots that nobody else is getting in an incredibly frenetic space that adds to the story and overall atmosphere of an event. The best part is I love doing it. I am as excited to catch up with friends as I am to shoot. I have plans and ideas. I feel I have also matured since I last shot speedway as photographer and more importantly as an editor.

 

As the new season dawns I feel more ready than I ever have. That’s a pretty good feeling.

CUTTING ROOM FLOOR

Event

British Rallycross Championship Round 2 – Lydden Hill

2nd May 2017 — by Steve White

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After basking in the Spanish sunshine for the opening round of the World Rallycross Championship, it was back to the waterproofs again for my trip to Lydden Hill and the second round of the British Rallycross Championship.

Having perused the entry list before arriving at Lydden, it was notable that the numbers in the Supercar class are lower than in 2016. That may seem a rather negative note to open this blog with but, although a number of regular competitors have elected to sit this season out, there has also been an influx of new drivers, all of whom have bought competitive machinery to the Championship.

Former British Touring Car Championship driver Warren Scott is one of those who has made the move to rallycross for 2017, with Warren driving the LD Motorsport Citroen DS3 used by Dan Rooke to take the Supercar title last year. Sadly Rooke is one of the familiar names who hasn’t returned to the British Championship this year but, with a recently announced deal to race in RX2, rallycross fans will at least have a chance to see Dan in action at Lydden next month.

Scott is joined in the LD Motorsport garage by Jake Harris – in the DS3 formerly used by Steve Harris – and last year’s Suzuki Swift champion Nathan Heathcote. Heathcote will initially be utilizing the Citroen C4 driven by Pat Doran in last year’s Championship, before switching to a DS3 later in the season.

After being denied a podium spot at round one of the Suzuki Swift Championship from Croft, Simon Ovenden was clearly on a mission at Lydden. No one seemed able match the pace of Ovenden in the heats with Simon winning all three heat races. He went on to claim first in the opening Swift semi-final and then drove to victory in the final. Morgan Bailey and Christoffer  Lia completed the podium while round one winner Chris Woollett had to settle with fifth.

In the Swift Junior Championship Tom Constantine qualified top and took the pole spot for the final. It looked like Constantine might finally break Tom Llewellin’s undefeated streak, but Llewellin seized the lead on the opening lap of the Junior final and led all the way to the flag.

Victory at Lydden marked Tom’s sixth consecutive win in the Swift Juniors. I touted Llewellin as a favourite for the 2017 Junior title last year and, with his current winning streak, that’s looking a very strong possibility.

Chrissy Palmer was untouchable in the RX150’s last year and Palmer carried that dominance into 2017 with a win at the opening round. After topping the qualifying standings and winning the first RX150 semi-final at Lydden, Palmer claimed the pole spot for the final and seemed destined for another victory.

Tom Ward had other ideas though and, after starting from second position on the grid, pushed hard throughout the RX150 final. Following contact with Chrissy, Tom was able to seize the lead and finally oust Palmer from the top step of the podium.

One critique that I have made of the British Championship in the past is the grid size in some classes. Although no one wants to see any cars excluded from competition, the low numbers have resulted in some heats and finals running with just a handful of cars.

Consequently the decision has been made to amalgamate the Super 1600, BMW MINI and Hot Hatch races together in 2017. I applaud whoever is behind this move as, although the total number of races in the day has been slightly reduced, multiple races with near empty grids have been replaced by just a couple with full grids. Ultimately this is more entertaining for spectators and, while the drivers still have separate class titles to chase, there is the added bonus of inter-class battles that you wouldn’t get with separate races.

Having secured second place at the opening round, Craig Lomax had made clear his desire to stand atop the podium at Lydden and, with consistent times in heats one and two, challenging for the victory looked feasible. Unfortunately Lomax pushed a bit too hard in heat three and rolled his C2 coming through Chessons. After some hasty repairs, the team had the car back out again but, despite some very hard driving (and a couple of very sketchy looking moments coming through the chicane), Craig was unable to qualify for the final.

With Lomax out of contention, round one Super 1600 winner Paul Coney led the field, posting fastest times in heats two and three to win qualifying. The biggest challenge to Coney came from Darren Scott, who won the second semi-final and earned the grid slot next to Paul for the final.

Scott wasn’t far behind Coney, but never quite close enough to deny him the win. Second was still a fantastic result for Scott though on just his second outing in a Super 1600 specification car.

Tomasz Marciniak was the fastest Hot Hatch of the weekend, while Martin Hawkes headed the BMW MINI standings, taking maximum Championship points ahead of David Bell and Drew Bellerby. With wins at both Croft and Lydden Hill, Martin Hawkes has got his 2017 BMW MINI title campaign off to a perfect start.

Barry Stewart made his first Retro Rallycross Championship appearance of 2017 at Lydden Hill, where he held off the challenge of round one winner Ray Morgan to claim first overall.

I have made mention of Vince Bristow in the past but, despite not being a title challenger or even a front runner, he still remains one of my favourite drivers to watch out on track. Bristow’s BMW is perhaps the most standard looking car in the Super National field, but with Vince at the wheel it’s always entertaining. I am of the opinion that Vince doesn’t really care where the rest of the field are as long as he is going sideways!

On the subject of the rest of the field, there are a number of strong contenders vying for the 2017 Super National title. In terms of raw pace though, Tristan Ovenden is undoubtedly the man to beat. Tristan had been very quick at Croft, but an overheating issue with his Clio V6 had slowed him at the end of the day and allowed Paige Bellerby to take victory in the final.

Ovenden absolutely dominated the heats at Lydden and won his semi-final by a ridiculous margin. After opening up a gap at the start of the final it looked like Tristan would romp to the win that eluded him at Croft. Luck was not on his side and, on the approach to the Devil’s Elbow, the left rear corner of the Clio gave way and Ovenden was forced to retire. Once again Bellerby was there to pick up the pieces and victory again went her way.

The relatively small Supercar entry actually made for a rather interesting event as several competitors experienced troubles throughout the heats but, thanks to the lower numbers, they were still able to qualify for the final. Ollie O’Donovan was the first Championship challenger to encounter a major issue when he clipped a barrier on the exit of Chesson’s during the first heat and smashed the front corner of his Focus.

The damage was so significant that O’Donovan was forced to miss the second heat, but he made it back out for heat three where he posted fastest time.

Nathan Heathcote had surprised many by winning the opening round of the 2017 Championship on his maiden outing in a Supercar. Hopes of repeat success at Lydden faltered in the first heat, before going up in flames in heat two. Thankfully the marshals were able to get to the car before the fire really took hold, but it was a disappointing way for Heathcote to end the day.

Kevin Procter topped the Supercar standings and it was his Fiesta that sat on pole for the final. After several abandoned starts the final finally got underway and it was Warren Scott who led the pack as they headed into Chessons for the first time. Mid-corner contact with Procter in turn one caused damage to the rear of Scott’s DS3 which, crucially, induced a rear puncture.

Ollie O’Donovan started the final on the back row of the grid and, after creeping slightly on the line, O’Donovan hesitated as the lights went green. Despite the delay, Ollie was a man on a mission and, after working his way through the field with a combination of passes and a well-timed joker, Ollie reeled in and passed Scott.

Warren looked like he might have to relinquish second position to Julian Godfrey, but Julian made an uncharacteristic mistake on the approach to the Devil’s Elbow when he collided with some trackside furniture. This resulted in significant damage to the right front corner of the car which sent Godfrey ploughing into the gravel on the outside of the bend.

Despite the shredded right rear tyre, Scott crossed the line less than three seconds behind O’Donovan. Third place went to Oliver Bennett who took his first podium of the year and fourth went to Jake Harris. It was surprising to see so many of the newcomers finishing above rallycross veterans Godfrey, Procter and Steve Hill, but I think it’s an encouraging sign for another good title fight this year.

It was a rather protracted day, but some cracking finals justified the wait. Despite the lower entry numbers the Supercars were as entertaining as ever, however with numerous battles throughout the field, the Super Nationals proved the highlight of the days racing. With several drivers still still getting to grips with new machinery and Tristan Ovenden yet to finish an event, I expect the class is going to continue to deliver this year!

 

Want to see more of the British Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill? Click here for a full image gallery.

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

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!