PREVIEW: WORLD RX OF USA
The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will break new ground this weekend (29/30 September), with Texas’ Circuit of The Americas set to play host to the first-ever World RX of USA.
Inaugurated in 2012, COTA – located on the outskirts of Austin – has rapidly established a reputation as one of international motorsport’s most pioneering and popular venues, but American fans have never had the opportunity to watch the World RX superstars in action at close quarters. Until now.
Fifteen permanent competitors will take to the track, going doorhandle-to-doorhandle around the new permanent rallycross circuit that incorporates part of COTA’s Formula 1 layout. The field is headed by defending World Champion Johan Kristoffersson, who will clinch his second consecutive Drivers’ crown this weekend should he score 17 points or more.
In World RX, however, nothing can ever be taken for granted, with myriad twists, turns and unexpected dramas all part-and-parcel of what is renowned as one of the world’s most thrilling championships.
Whilst PSRX Volkswagen Sweden’s Kristoffersson has unquestionably been the class of the field this year, his rivals – a number of them World Champions in other high-profile series – are redoubling their efforts to halt his charge.
Just six points blanket second to fifth in the classification after nine of the 12 rounds, and the drivers filling those spots – Mattias Ekstrom, Sebastien Loeb, Andreas Bakkerud and Petter Solberg – are some of the biggest names in international motorsport.
EKS Audi Sport’s Ekstrom and Team Peugeot Total ace Loeb arrive in the USA buoyed by top three finishes last time out in Latvia, and both have title-winning pedigree in other high-profile series. Ekstrom has made the final in every round bar one this season – meaning the Swede is always a threat – while Loeb has tallied six podiums from nine starts this year, a statistic beaten only by Kristoffersson.
Norwegians Bakkerud (EKS Audi Sport) and Solberg (PSRX Volkswagen Sweden) are guaranteed crowd-pleasers, with their swashbuckling style, big personalities and famous rivalry invariably amongst the highlights of World RX events. Both are more than capable of winning – with 16 prior victories between them – and both will be fired-up to break their 2018 duck and etch their name in history as the very first winner of World RX of USA.
Timmy Hansen sits sixth in the sister Team Peugeot Total 208 WRX, but a strong result at COTA would vault the Swede firmly into the thick of the second-place scrap, which is set to run right to the end of the campaign.
Beyond the top six in the standings, Niclas Gronholm has been quietly impressive behind the wheel of GRX Taneco Team’s Hyundai i20, currently leading the non-manufacturer battle in seventh position overall. The young Finn has reached the final on three occasions already this season, and came within barely half-a-second of mounting the podium in Riga – motivation to go at least one spot better in the ‘Lone Star State’.
Kevin Hansen in a third Peugeot 208 WRX is next up, the young Swede rivalling his more experienced team-mates on occasion as he continues to prove himself on the World Championship stage, while former Euro RX Supercar Champion Timur Timerzyanov in the second Hyundai can never be ruled out of springing a surprise.
GC Kompetition will field owner/driver Guerlain Chicherit, as 2017 Euro RX Supercar Champion Anton Marklund rejoins the World Championship fray in the sister Renault Megane RS RX, more than three months on from his last appearance. The Swede narrowly pipped Cyril Raymond to the runner-up laurels in the 2018 Euro RX tussle in Latvia, and will be keen to stake his claim to a full-time return to the highest level.
Swedish duo Robin Larsson and Kevin Eriksson are eager to bounce back from a disappointing outing in Riga in Olsbergs MSE’s brace of Ford Fiestas, while Team STARD’s Janis Baumanis and Gregoire Demoustier (Sebastien Loeb Racing) complete the entries.
Petter Solberg, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, said: “I was out at COTA for the launch earlier this year and the track looked really good. It’s going to be a fast one, which is what us drivers really like and it looked like a real challenge with some interesting corners – hopefully some good places to overtake. There’s always something special about a new track and a new venue, but being the first time for the championship and the team to compete in America will be a great experience. As well as the track layout, I think we should be in for a good atmosphere with the fans as well – it’s nice to be there to introduce America to World Rallycross.”
World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, commented: “There is tremendous anticipation ahead of World RX’s first visit to the US, and fans and competitors alike are in for a real treat this weekend, both on and off-track. COTA is a spectacular venue and rallycross a spectacular discipline, and together they will make for a spectacular show. America is a big motorsport-loving nation, and we are looking forward to introducing spectators to our wonderful series – we are sure they will very quickly be hooked.”
From a Cooper Tires point of view
Paul Coates, General Manager – Motorsport, Cooper Tire Europe, said: “This new rallycross circuit, which has been built between Turns 12 and 16 of the famous Circuit of The Americas racetrack, has already seen action on Cooper rallycross tyres this year in the Americas Rallycross Championship. At half-a-mile long, it might be the shortest track that World Rallycross visits this season, but the tight bends and jump mean it is still a challenging venue. One of the biggest challenges for the tyres can be the heat. Even in September, we can see ambient temperatures of 35 degrees in Texas which can easily mean track temperatures in the mid-40s, and with this championship only having a single compound option for the dry tyre and one for the wet, designing a tyre that can work equally well be it four degrees or 40 degrees is testament to our years of experience in motorsport.”
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