Happy Anniversary World RX!
While the opening round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy is typically the time to look to the season ahead, this weekend’s World RX of Catalunya-Barcelona is also a chance to reminisce about the past four seasons as the series gears up for its 50th world championship event.
Since rallycross went global in 2014, the series has grown year-upon-year in terms of spectators and audience, as well as attracting an impressive roll-call of drivers, teams and manufacturers to reaffirm its status as one of motorsport’s most exhilarating championships.
Across those 49 events, World RX has seen 3 World Champions (Petter Solberg, Mattias Ekstrom and Johan Kristoffersson), ventured as far afield as Turkey, Canada and South Africa, and generated some iconic racing that will forever live on in the modern way as having ‘gone viral’.
We must of course look forward though, so if you needed any more reason to follow this upcoming ‘Golden Anniversary’, consider this; There have been 12 different event winners over the last four seasons and eight of them will be lining up this weekend.
Try picking a favourite from such an accomplished line up…
A familiar face in a new place
While both PSRX Volkswagen Sweden and Team Peugeot Total have stuck to a winning formula with its drivers this season, EKS Audi Sport has been somewhat more forthcoming with its updates having developed an all-new Audi S1 and secured the signature of ex-Hoonigan Racing Division driver Andreas Bakkerud.
Renowned for his spectacular driving style on track and personable attitude off it, Bakkerud is a popular addition to the EKS Audi Sport team in 2018… and not just with the fans.
Indeed, Mattias Ekstrom has already referred to this being the team’s best driver line-up yet and while Bakkerud is the most unknown quantity of the three manufacturer teams as we wait to see how he fares in his new surroundings, pre-season testing and guest race outings reveal the Norwegian should be up at the front straight out of the box in Catalunya-Barcelona.
Whether this amounts to a title challenge remains to be seen, but there are few who believe he isn’t capable of one.
Dark horse or top tip?
Is it prudent to regard the Olsbergs MSE team as a dark horse in this year’s championship? Granted, against the perceived ‘big three’ factory-backed efforts from Volkswagen, Audi and Peugeot, OMSE with its new Ford Fiesta ST and a relatively young driver line-up appears to be somewhat offset on paper in comparison.
However, read between the lines and there are good reasons to consider OMSE to be well on the same page as its main rivals this year. Indeed, while the Fiesta may be a familiar silhouette in World RX terms, Andreas Eriksson’s team has gotten its hands on the latest iteration, the ST, which has been developed from the ground up.
Even on the drivers’ side, Kevin Eriksson and Robin Larsson may only be 21 and 25 years-old respectively, but both are already event winners at World RX level and are now considered trusted – and rapid – hands that can mix it with the best.
More to the point, while OMSE – Teams’ champions in 2014 – stresses its effort is being forged on a sensible budget, Eriksson Snr insists it wouldn’t compete in World RX without a package that isn’t capable of winning and history shows this is a team that should never be ruled out.
The threat of the unknown
Expect to see many people clamouring to steal a closer glance at the GC Kompetition Renault Megane RS R.X. in Catalunya-Barcelona this weekend… and not just because of its striking looks and bold livery.
The input of legendary engineering firm Prodrive has written its fair share of headlines over the winter so after months of meticulous development, the Megane RS R.X’s debut in the hands of Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin will be keenly observed from all angles.
Indeed, one only needs to glance at Prodrive’s pedigree to recognise it as a powerhouse in motorsport terms, having amassed dozens of titles and exerted huge influence in rallying, touring cars and sportscars over the decades. With this in mind, World RX represents a natural step on the motorsport ladder and its no surprise its arrival has piqued plenty of curiosity.
Time will tell if Prodrive’s ‘magic touch’ will see GCK right up at the front this season but when Petter Solberg – who won the 2003 World Rally Championship under the guidance of Prodrive – says rivals should be wary, then it is fair to say rivals should indeed be very wary!
Quality and quantity for Euro RX
The World Rallycross Championship isn’t the only series kicking off in Catalunya-Barcelona – the five-round European Rallycross Championship also revs into action brandishing a field brimming with quality.
Anton Marklund will defend his crown in the eponymous Marklund Motorsport VW Polo but while the Swedish driver will inevitably be regarded as a favourite having won three rounds on his way to last year’s Euro RX title, it doesn’t disguise the depth in competition around him.
Runner-up last year, Thomas Bryntesson will look to build on his maiden Supercar win in 2017 driving the Team JC Race Teknik Ford Fiesta, while Reinis Nitiss moves over from World RX – where he has previously been an event winner – to target success in a Set Promotion Ford Fiesta.
Similarly, “CSUCSU” will favour Euro RX after competing on the international stage in 2017, the Hungarian racer tipped as a threat for Speedy Motorsport, while Rene Munnich will drive a SEAT Ibiza under the ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport banner.
In all, seven manufacturers and nine different models will be represented in 2018, including two-time Euro RX champion Derek Tohill driving a Ford Fiesta ST, Andros Trophy champion JB Dubourg in a G-FORS Renault Clio, his brother Andrea in a Peugeot 208 and multiple Swedish Champion Peter Hedstrom at the wheel of a VW Polo.
Meanwhile, Kjetil Larsen (ex-Marklund VW Polo), Anders Braten and Philip Gehrman (Eklund Motorsport VW Beetles) join the Euro RX field from the TouringCar series, while Ulrik Linnemann steps up from Super1600 driving a VW Polo.