The third season of the FIA World Rallycross Championship (WorldRX) starts next weekend, and as usual we will follow the series closely here at The Rally Takeover. Here is everything you need to know before the 2016 installment of the series!
Rallycross is considered one of the fastest growing motorsports in the world right now, with both WorldRX and the US-based Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) gaining several teams with manufacturer support. This year the growth is more evident in the quality of the teams rather than the geographic extent of the championship, something that should give us even closer racing on venues we already know.
What is rallycross?
While rallycross is the fastest growing motorsport, it is still unknown to many around the globe. If you already know the sport you may as well continue to the next section - if you’ve just come across this site via one of the many curious corners of the internet, welcome! Rallycross is the closest you will get to watch modern Group B rally cars racing around short, twisty mixed surface tracks. That means 600 hp AWD hatchbacks, coupes and some sedans that are way faster to 60 mph than an Ariel Atom and a Yamaha R1. These cars are, quite fittingly, called Supercars
One event consists of up to six races for each competitor; four qualifying races, one semifinal and one final. The qualifying races have four laps, the finals six. Once each race you have to drive an alternative, slower route called the “joker lap”, to create more action, tactics and overtaking opportunities. An example is shown below, with the joker lap on the right.
The amount of entrants will vary with each round, ranging from the 17 permanent WorldRX drivers to 40+ in the five rounds where we also see the European Championship (EuroRX), or countries with a healthy national championship. In addition there are often wildcard drivers joining the permanent teams in a third car for some events. New for this year is that the EuroRX Supercar cathegory is completely separated from WorldRX.
Both series follow the same race weekend format: There are four qualifying races with five cars in each four lap race, two qualifying races on Saturday and two heats on Sunday. The 12 best drivers after qualifying go on to the semifinals, the 16 best drivers get championship points. The top driver after the heats gets 16 points. Then there are two six-car semifinals, and a semifinal win gains another 6 points. The top three drivers in each semifinal go on to the final where they fight for the event win and another 8 championship points. In short: the drivers score championship points after qualifying, the semifinals and the final. The maximum event score is 30 points (16+6+8).
This system ensures that the best driver throughout the weekend gains a lot of points, even if they don’t win or qualify for the final. It also makes each race equally important, and screwing up one qualifying heat can ruin your whole weekend. It also means that you can win the championship without winning a single event, though that has proved to be unlikely. There is also a team championship, where each team nominates two drivers for manufacturer points.
Where do they race?
The calendar has a couple of changes from last year, but with the most important and iconic events still present. Italy and Turkey is gone, with a new track in Riga, Latvia added.
Round 1: Montalegre, Portugal - 16-17 April
Round 2: Hockenheim, Germany - 07-08 May
Round 3*: Mettet, Belgium - 14-15 May
Round 4: Lydden Hill, Great Britain - 28-29 May
Round 5*: Hell, Norway - 11-12 June
Round 6*: Höljes, Sweden - 02-03 July
Round 7: GP3R, Canada - 06-07 August
Round 8: Loheac, France - 03-04 September
Round 9*: Circuit de Catalunya, Spain - 17-18 September
Round 10*: Riga, Latvia - 01-02 October
Round 11: Estering, Germany - 15-16 October
Round 12: Rosario, Argentina - 26-27 November
Some say it is more a European Championship than a World Championship, perhaps even more so after they dropped the event in Istanbul. Expanding into a full WorldRX after 40 years of EuroRX is a huge challenge, especially for the teams and the added travel cost for cars and crews. With the recent development I am sure we well see more overseas rounds in the future, but until then we will have to do with Canada for the Northern and Argentina for the Southern Americans. If you are in Europe, you should be able to go to a round or two - I’ve been at Höljes the past two years! At the events you can get really close to the teams and drivers, as the paddocks are open to the public. You might even come across some drivers walking around, and it’s possible to have a chat if you want to (or dare to: I stood 1 m away from Petter Solberg and Marcus Grönholm last year, quite starstruck). Each of the events will be further described in each event preview.
Who are the teams and drivers?
This year we have seven permanent two-car teams, along with three teams with just one car. Adding up to 17 permanent drivers, it is one down from last year. Still this year some drivers are expected to feature at most rounds, so that few to no events will have less than 20 drivers. There are also local teams looking to enter selected rounds as well as wildcard drivers, which I’ll get back to in the separate event previews. Last year a new record of 47 supercars entered in Hell, Norway between WorldRX and EuroRX, and I am sure we can see such numbers again. In total 77 different Supercar drivers entered a round of WorldRX last year, a number few other series can match. All the permanent drivers (and some frequent entries) are listed below:
PETTER SOLBERG WORLD RX TEAM - CITROËN DS3
Petter Solberg - Average: 23.16, 8 wins
The reigning champion returns for his fourth year in rallycross, and will continue to drive his double championship-winning Citroën DS3. Despite talks of a new car, factory support and WRC entries, the main focus in the offseason has been to further develop the DS3 to match the ever increasing competition. It is a mystery to many why Solberg has failed to secure factory support after the recent success, and going back to a single car team for the first time since 2013 suggests that the 2003 WRC champion is considering other options for 2017. Not surprising - he’s probably as good as he’s ever been.
VW RX SWEDEN - VOLKSWAGEN POLO
Johan Kristoffersson - Average: 17.12, 1 win
Anton Marklund - Average: 10.56, 1 podium
Kristoffersson Motorsport and Marklund Motorsport join forces this year with ambitions to win titles. The main man for the drivers championship seems to be Johan Kristoffersson, who finished third last year in an impressive first full season. The Swede has most of his experience from racing, with titles in STCC, International Superstars and Porsche Carrera Cup Sweden. Recently he has also taken on rallying, and finished 11th in WRC2 in Rally Sweden. Anton Marklund is back in his fathers team after a disappointing year in EKSRX, and is set for his third full WorldRX season. Anton had a couple of good results in 2014, with a podium in Canada as the main highlight. If Anton can be consistent and up his pace, this team will be one of the front runners in the team championship this year. Johan is perhaps one of the hottest candidates to challenge for the World Title, but has to improve compared to Solberg and Hansen.
HOONIGAN RACING DIVISION - M-Sport Ford Focus RS
Ken Block - Average: 15.50, 1 podium
Andreas Bakkerud - Average: 16.92, 3 wins
Ken Block becomes the first driver from the USA to commit to a full WorldRX championship, after several years in the US-based Global Rallycross Championship. He is mostly known for his Gymkhana Youtube videos, but has also become an experienced competitor in rally and rallycross, with points scoring finishes in the WRC and several seasons in Rally America. Block and his team made their WorldRX debut in Hell two seasons ago, where he finished third. His second and so far last outing came at Loheac the same year, where he also reached the final. Teammate Andreas Bakkerud is one of the few ever-present drivers we have in WorldRX, and he has won three rounds since the series began in 2014. He also won two EuroRX events in 2013, and won the Super1600 support championship twice. As a team they will be strong competitors for the team championship, and Bakkerud has proven to compete for wins and an overall podium. I expect Block to use a few events to find out of this series, especially since this is a multi-year effort.
WORLDRX TEAM AUSTRIA - OLSBERGSMSE FORD FIESTA
Timur Timerzyanov - Average: 10.80, 1 podium
Janis Baumanis - Average: 6.00, 1 final
Max Pucher - Average: 0.00, 11 events
WorldRX Team Austria continues for a second year in World Rallycross, with Max Pucher and Manfred Stohl still the main men behind the team. Stohl didn’t quite fulfill the expectations last year, and will concentrate on engineering and car development this year. The duo will leave the main WorldRX driving to the younger Timur Timerzyanov and Janis Baumanis. Timerzyanov is one of the drivers that has entered all rounds of WorldRX so far, but has not lived up to his two European titles from 2012 and 2013. He changed from Hansen Peugeot to OlsbergsMSE last year, and should be used to the Fiesta by now. Janis Baumanis is a seasoned competitor in Super1600, and the 23 year old won the support championship last year. That earned him a supercar drive with Team Austria in Argentina, where he got to the final. Max Pucher did not score any WorldRX points last year, and will mainly compete in EuroRX this year.
TEAM PEUGEOT-HANSEN - PEUGEOT 208
Timmy Hansen - Average: 19.44, 4 wins
Sebastien Loeb - EuroRX Average: 11.00, 1 semifinal
Davy Jeanney - Average: 11.35, 2 wins
Kevin Hansen - Average: 16.00, 1 final
One of the major forces of rallycross returns even stronger in 2016. With increased support from Peugeot and a certain 9-time World Rally Champion aboard this is the team to look out for this year. Timmy Hansen put on a real challenge to Petter Solberg last year, and the constantly improving Swede can now benefit from over 20 FIA titles worth of experience in the team. Even if Sebastien Loeb is a driving god, don’t be surprised if he would need some adaptation time before getting up to the pace of his teammate. Fellow Frenchman Davy Jeanney is still part of the team, but will only contest 10 rounds to begn with. He is probably skipping Canada and Argentina, but Hansen has not completely ruled out a full season for Davy. Besides driving Jeanney will teach Supercar rookie Kevin Hansen a few tricks in his debut season. Kevin will contest in EuroRX and selected WorldRX rounds, and will without doubt be one to look out for after reaching the final in his impressive debut in Argentina last year.
ALL-INKL.COM MÜNNICH MOTORSPORT - SEAT IBIZA
Reinis Nitiss - Average 15.20, 1 win
Rene Münnich - Average 0.87, 2 semifinals
Münnich Motorsport returns for a second full season of WorldRX, and switches from the Audi S3 to new Seat Ibizas. Not surprising considering the lower pace of the Audi compared to the other competitors, and only two lucky podiums throughout the year. 2015 was still only supposed to be a learning year for Münnich, with several different drivers joining team boss and driver Rene Münnich. This year the team has higher goals, evident by the signing of round winner and former OlsbergsMSE driver Reinis Nitiss. The young Latvian finished third overall in 2014 and seventh in 2015, and is considered one of the biggest talents of the sport. He is also very consistent, and has managed to reach 22 semifinals. Rene Münnich hasn’t managed the same results, and only scored points in two events last year. He has previously competed in WTCC, as well as winning the German rallycross championship four times. This year WorldRX is still his main focus, but with selected WTCC outings as well.
OLSBERGSMSE - FORD FIESTA
Kevin Eriksson - Average: 20.00, 1 podium
Niclas Grönholm - Average: 0.00, 1 event
OlsbergsMSE is in a bit of a turnaround at the moment. They lost manufacturer support to Hoonigan and M-SPORT, they will change their car for the Global Rallycross Championship to the World’s best new Honda Civic, and their two main drivers have left for other teams. Luckily CEO Andreas Eriksson is a man who looks for long term solutions, and that wants to bring a new generation to the top level of this sport. That is why he has given two 19-year olds the opportunity to drive 12 events this year, among them his own son Kevin. He has been driving in the RX Lites support championship for two years now, a series he won in 2014. The prize in this championship is a supercar drive in the last event of the season, and Kevin grabbed this opportunity with both hands earning a podium in his debut. Last year he was beaten by what has become his archrival Kevin Hansen in RX Lites, but he won the regional RallyX Championship driving a supercar. Niclas Grönholm is the son of - you’ve guessed right - rally legend Marcus Grönholm, who has also been involved with Olsbergs for a long time. Niclas made his debut at Höljes last year, but failed to score any points in the tough competition. He also has his Supercar experience from RallyX, but not with as much success as his teammate. Both these drivers will continue with their respective national championships, to ensure maximum seat time and development.
EKSRX - AUDI S1
Mattias Ekström - Average 18.29, 2 wins
Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen - Average 14.28, 2 wins
Back for a second full season, Mattias Ekström and his Red Bull sponsored team has hired Red Bull athlete and former Marklund Motorsport driver Topi Heikkinen. This leads to one of the strongest lineups this year, as both have two WorldRX round wins to their name. The huge wing from 2014 is back as well! Ekström is probably best known for his two DTM championships, along with several impressive one offs in other disciplines including WRC, NASCAR and V8 Supercars. Ekström has done testing for the upcoming DTM season as well, but has not yet stated which series he will contest all the rounds. There are only two clashes, but those two may decide the championship. Topi Heikkinen became the 2013 Global Rallycross Champion after winning five rounds. He also came closest to Petter Solberg in the 2014 WorldRX season. At 24, Heikkinen is a driver for both the present and the future, and should have the best opportunity for success in this team.
JRM RACING - MINI COUNTRYMAN
Liam Doran - Average 4.16, 1 final
The “British Bomb” with the legendary rallycross name and a reputation of his own returns in a new team! JRM Racing (known from endurance racing) bought two Mini Countryman supercars last year and used the season as a practice year in front of their full season entry this year. The team wants to be and all-British team, and apparently thinks that Liam Doran is their best choice. Doran has not been in his best form after WorldRX was created in 2014, and has only reached one final. In 2013 he had two wins in EuroRX, and even better: he won one of the X-Games rounds that year in the very same type of Mini that he will race this year. Last year the Mini had a clear power disadvantage with its 1.6 engine, and only Guy Wilks were able to really show the potential of the car. This year they will move to a custom 2.0 engine, and power should no longer be a concern. So far no second driver is announced from JRM, but it seems that Guy Wilks and Guerlain Chicherit are working to take part in some rounds each.
LARSSON-JERNBERG MOTORSPORT - AUDI A1
Robin Larsson - Average 11.63, 1 win
The small privateer team returns this year after a strong finish of 2015. Larsson is without doubt a huge talent, winning the European title in 2014 and securing a win in the last event of the 2015 season after several strong rounds. He will continue with an updated version of the car that he has used the past two seasons. Even with the increasing development in this sport, the involvement of rallycross veterans Lars Larsson and Michael Jernberg will ensure the privateer Audi is up to pace. Larsson might not contend for the main championship just yet (would love that to happen though!), but might win a round or two.
The official list of permanent WorldRX drivers can be found here. The EuroRX entry list can be found here, info on the entrants will be given in the Mettet preview (or if they appear as wildcard entries earlier).
How can I follow WorldRX?
Since last year the promoter has signed several new TV deals to get WorldRX on free-to-air TV. You can find out where to watch here, though it seems that they are yet to update the list with some of the new deals. If you for some reason live in a country that doesn’t have such a deal, they will broadcast all races on Youtube. They also had a livestream, and past races are saved there in case you want to go back to a previous event.
As with most other motorsports these days Twitter is a good source of information. There are several accounts frequently posting about rallycross, with both news, opinions and speculation available. Some of those worth following is @Andrew_Coley, @rachelcavers, @neilcole, @Tintopguru, @HalRidgeRX, @RallycrossWorld, @rallycross360, @planetemarcus, @ERC24com, @totalrallycross, @RX_fans, @GiuCanbera, @ItsDavidCG as well as the official @FIAWorldRX account. Feel free to follow our own twitter @Rally_Takeover as well! News and events are also discussed in a Facebook group called Rallycross Talk. Last year Fantasy WorldRX was also introduced here, and it will run in the same format this year as well. More info on that in this post.
All that said and done, this is one rallycross season to look forward to! If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments section below!