WORLD RX TITLE BATTLE COMES TO THE BOIL IN LOHEAC
Friday 30th of August 2019
The title challenge in the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy comes to the boil at the high-speed circuit of Loheac for the Bretagne World RX of France this weekend, August 31-September 1.
There are just 14 points separating the top three in the drivers’ standings after one of the most closely-fought seasons in the championship’s history. From seven of the 10 races so far there have been six different event winners, no shortage of incidents and a host of surprises.
Team Hansen MJP’s Kevin Hansen (143 points) maintains a five-point gap over Monster RX Cartel’s Andreas Bakkerud (138) with Timmy Hansen third on 129.
On paper Timmy looms as the man to beat in France. He won in Loheac in 2015 and is a five-time qualifying race winner at the venue. He will look to make amends for an indifferent performance at round seven in Canada. “It’s been a while since we have won a race – the last time was Silverstone – but I think we have good chances in Loheac,” Timmy said.
“It’s a good circuit for us: the car has been developed and tested on circuits like this, and it’s like a second home being there. We spend so much time in France and the French fans really embrace us. We feel really welcomed when we go there, so I’m excited.
“I like those situations like we had in 2015, when I win the qualifying, get pole position, make a good start, get out front and drive my own race.
“It’s a new year, new challenge, so I have to be focused again and do everything I can to drive fast, make good starts and take the right decisions.”
Trailing brother Kevin by just six points entering the Canadian round, his Peugeot 208 was damaged in multi-car contact in Q4 which cost him a place in the semi-finals.
According to Kevin, Canada was an aberration which Team Hansen are keen not to repeat. “We were not the Team Hansen I am used to in Canada, which is fine and that’s why we are here: we are here to learn, improve and be better. We are up for the challenge to really compete for race wins and the championship,” he said.
“I think we became a bit lost in the lead we had in the championship and were a bit safe, so now we have learned from that and we can go back to the way we were. We are fast as hell, we work the hardest with the fewest people, and we are the best rallycross team in the world with the two best drivers.
“In Loheac we will just aim to come back to that, enjoy it and make it work like we did at the beginning of the season with the correct focus.”
The main beneficiary in Canada was Bakkerud in the Monster Energy RX Cartel Audi S1. The Norwegian took victory in Trois-Rivieres and leap-frogged Timmy in the pecking order.
Bakkerud, whose win in Canada was his first of the 2019 campaign, was the Euro RX winner in 2013 and has reached the last three World RX finals in Loheac – finishing runner-up in 2016 and 2018. He carries momentum in to Loheac but expects another tight tussle.
“I can’t wait to come back to Loheac. It’s probably the biggest event we have on the calendar if you count the people around,” he said.
“Also, we’ve seen how close the championship is, with six different winners in the first seven races. I think Loheac will be the same. There are a few French drivers who can come and mix up the World RX field and make a big part of how the championship is going to end this year.
“I’ve had ups and downs in Loheac also. My biggest up is the win in 2013, and my lowest point where probably last year when we should have won, but did a wrong joker strategy and ended second behind the ‘unbeatable’ Johan Kristoffersson.”
Niclas Gronholm, fourth in the standings on 115 points despite missing two rounds this year through illness, is part of a GRX Taneco three-card line-up for France.
Gronholm and fellow GRX regular Timur Timerzyanov are joined by Finland’s Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen in Hyundai i20s.
“France is always quite a special round in the season with so many racing fans coming out to watch the action in person. In our last outing in Canada we had great pace and the car was very competitive, so I'm confident we can do good in Loheac,” Gronholm said.
“It’s a track with a good flow, but it hasn’t really been my piece of cake for the last couple of years. I hope I have learned my lesson and can challenge for the win here.”
Timerzyanov lies sixth in the title chase on 102 points in a season highlighted by a maiden World RX win at Spa-Francorchamps in round three. “After a podium finish in Canada, I’ve gotten my spirits up and I want to succeed in the remaining races, to close the gap to the Championship leaders,” Timerzyanov said.
Heikkinen has wins in Belgium in 2014 and 2015 on his World RX record. “After a short test, the car feels really good and I have got to know the way the GRX team works,” he said.
“It is hard to predict any outcome of this one-off race, so the main goal is to take it step-by step, enjoy the racing and – if everything is running smoothly – I hope for some fun fights with the Championship regulars.”
There is also a reappearance for the French Pailler brothers Fabien and Jonathan following their previous outing at Holjes in a pair of Peugeot 208s. Fellow-Frenchman Herve Knapick campaigns his Citroen DS3.
Meanwhile, autocross star Matvey Furazhkin makes his World RX debut for ESmotorsport-LabasGAS. “After a small test session this week with the Skoda Fabia, I can’t wait for the race weekend and my first ever race in rallycross,” the Russian said. “There are lots of new things to learn in this discipline but I am ready for the challenge.”
GC Kompetition team boss Guerlain Chicherit is looking to maintain the team’s recent momentum and impress on home soil.
“We've shown massive improvements race on race and now it's time to show what GCK is capable of in front of our home crowd,” the Frenchman said.
“Loheac is a highlight of the season for me and it's always incredible to race in front of so many awesome fans – we're all determined to show them some unforgettable race action this weekend.”
Fellow Frenchman and GC Academy driver Cyril Raymond, a Euro RX winner at Loheac, believes his Renault Clio will be suited to the sweeping track layout. “I’m really excited to race at home. It will be a big challenge to be in the final but I’ll do my absolute maximum on track.
“I think the Clio has very good potential on this circuit. It's the most important weekend of my RX life,” he said.
Belgium’s Guillaume De Ridder, something of an adopted Frenchman, is also looking at Loheac as a home race. “I am really looking forward to Lohéac because it’s like a second home event for me since I have been living and working in Paris for three years now,” he said.
“I love reuniting and being supported by both Belgian and French fans in Brittany. On top of that, I love the track and it suits me quite well, looking back at our domination in RX2 there last year.
“The incredible 80,000 French spectators is also something unique which makes this event legendary and unforgettable.”
Sweden’s Anton Marklund, a consistent performer this season and Lithuania’s Rokas Baciuska, who is aiming for his first final appearance since joining the French outfit in Norway, complete the five-car GCK line-up.
Team STARD’s Janis Baumanis, second in Canada, will look to extend his run of final appearances – five out of seven to date. He is joined in the second STARD Ford Fiesta by Finland’s Jani Paasonen.
Bakkerud’s Monster RX Cartel team-mate Liam Doran, and ALL-INKL.COMMuennich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider in the Skoda Fabia will doubtless look to avoid the contact they had in their semi-final in Canada to go one better in France.
Britain’s Oliver Bennett has reached a semi-final this year and is due a change of fortune in the Xite Racing Mini Cooper after sustaining suspension damage in Q3 in the previous round. The same can be said for EKS Sport’s Krisztian Szabo who was fifth in his semi-final in Canada.
A total of 51 Supercars will feature in the Loheac weekend, with a capacity 30-car field in Euro RX Supercar.
Sweden’s Robin Larsson maintains the championship lead and has vowed to rebound after finishing second to Norway’s Thomas Bryntesson at the previous round at Estering in Germany.
In addition to the regulars a number of local French drivers will compete, including Gaetan Serazin, Emmanuel Anne, Pascal Lambec and Antoine Masse in Peugeot 208s. Stephane Deganay and David Meslier will race Citroen DS3s and Emmamuel Galivel will drive a Renault Clio.
Also on the list is Hungarian “Janko” in a Ford Focus, Ireland’s Derek Tohill and Ollie O’Donovan in Ford Fiestas and Great Britain’s double European champion Mark Flaherty in another Fiesta.
Frenchman Patrick Guillerme will field a new Hyundai developed by Sarrazin Motorsport.
The penultimate round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600 also takes place at Loheac with a capacity field of 30 cars.
There have been three different winners over the last three rounds. Russia’s Aydar Nuriev won in Belgium, Norway’s Marius Bermingrud was victorious in Holjes while Swiss Yuri Belevskiy took a maiden win at the Estering.
France is the traditional home of Super1600 so expect strong challenges from the likes of local driver Yvonnick Jagu.
The RX2 International Series features 16 cars. There is just 14 points between leading title protagonists Oliver Eriksson and Jesse Kallio at the top of the table.
Read full event guide here.