STAGE SET FOR EPIC TITLE SHOWDOWN IN CAPE TOWN
Thursday 7th of November 2019
The most closely-fought drivers’ title battle in the history of the FIA World Rallycross Championship reaches its conclusion at the grand finale – the Sabat World RX of South Africa in Cape Town – this weekend November 9-10.
In a season synonymous with drama, from the opening round in Abu Dhabi in April, it is likely that the contest will go all the way to the chequered flag in the final at the Killarney International Raceway.
Three drivers have a chance to claim the world championship crown. Sweden’s Timmy Hansen leads the standings on 187 points, one point ahead of Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud and eight ahead of brother Kevin Hansen (179).
The tone was set for a titanic battle at the opening round in Abu Dhabi where Timmy Hansen and Bakkerud clashed at the finish line of their Q3 race.
Timmy retired his Peugeot 208 from the event with extensive damage while the stewards took a dim view of Bakkerud’s part in the incident and disqualified him.
Kevin was the beneficiary, taking victory in the final after the original race victor Niclas Gronholm was handed a three-second penalty for barging the Swede out of the lead in his GRX Taneco Hyundai i20.
The Swedish siblings had been trading the lead of the drivers’ championship standings prior to round eight in Loheac where Bakkerud rose to the top of the standings despite a win for Timmy and third place for Kevin in the French final.
However, Timmy enters the final round with the momentum of a brilliant recovery drive to victory in round nine in Latvia. It was his fourth victory of a season which has yielded six different winners.
The elder Hansen, at 27, who was runner-up to Petter Solberg in 2015, knows only too well that this is his best chance to add a world championship trophy to the 14 European titles his father Kenneth has to his name.
“This has been my best season ever, but it has also been a lot up and down. I started the year with the big crash in Abu Dhabi, and Canada was very tough for me. On the other hand I have taken four victories this year which has been amazing,” he said.
“Obviously in Cape Town I need to try to win again. The championship is so close that I think it is best just to keep focused on the performance of that race. That said, I also need to be clever and not take any unnecessary risks.
“From a driver's perspective, I think the championship is too close for any special tactics. It will just come down to who does the best race in Cape Town.”
As for his chances of claiming the prize, he says keeping out of trouble this weekend is key. “If I can do that I believe that I can take the title. But we all know anything can happen in rallycross so I need to be very focused throughout the whole race weekend. Whoever can stay strong and keep their head will come out the winner.”
Bakkerud’s season has been highlighted by a single victory in Canada together with consistently high points scoring in qualifying rounds and reaching five finals.
“It’s great that we go to Cape Town with the title up for grabs. I don’t think the fight will be over until the chequered flag (in the final),” Bakkerud said.
As for the suitability of the Audi S1 to the Killarney circuit, he says: “We’ve seen that the Peugeots have been very fast at Killarney the last couple of years, but we’ve made some changes to the car and hopefully we can give them a good run for their money. If I get good starts and limit my mistakes, I’ll be in good shape to win.
“For sure, the Hansens will both be fighting at the front. As for us, Liam (Doran) will be on my side. We are racing as a team and we win and lose together. It’s an important race for both of us. The Monster Energy RX Cartel needs a good end to the season.
“One thing is for sure, every time my name is on the entry list, I’m there to win.”
For 22-year-old Kevin, the 2019 season has been his best to date at world championship level with appearances in all but two finals and a string of podium finishes including three second place finishes and one third.
“This has personally been the best season of my life. Not only in results, but in progressing as a driver and understanding how I can perform at my best,” he said.
“I’ve learned more this year than the last two years in the world championship. For sure, I made some mistakes, but I’m also the youngest driver competing in the complete championship.
As for the prospect of battling his brother for the title, he says this is what they had planned during those dark winter nights of pre-season testing. “This is what we have prepared ourselves for.
“We have, in my opinion, been the best team mates in the history of World RX, as we actually want both of us to succeed. I think our spirit, our team work, has made the success of 2019."
He adds that team tactics will come in to play in Cape Town as they have all season for Team Hansen MJP. “For sure tactics are important. I will do whatever it takes to have the Hansen name as a driver's world champion.
“I don’t have the championship within my grasp, as much as Timmy and Andreas. So for sure I have no pressure, which is really nice. I will go for the win, that’s the only thing I can do, and put my destiny in their hands.”
While Timmy will rely on the tactical support of Kevin, Bakkerud's Monster Energy RX Cartel team-mate Liam Doran is happy to play wing man for the Norwegian.
“Obviously I want Andreas to win the championship, he’s my teammate. So for me tactics will change to suit each race and each situation,” the Briton said.
“Andreas has to stay cool. Melting under pressure isn’t an option here. The RX Cartel deserves this, Andreas deserves this, we just have to keep our heads down.
“I’m hoping I can take some pressure off him. I’ve got to perform and I need to be right there to give Andreas some breathing room. For the team I want this just as bad as Andreas does.”
As for his team-mate’s chances of securing the title, Doran adds: “He’s got a great chance. Timmy won’t be easy to beat and he's not going to go down without a fight but that’s what we are here to do.
"To think we were almost not racing, then we came out with some good events throughout the year. Our objective was always to take the title in our first season as a team in World RX - that's what we set out to do. The team has worked really hard and no one deserves it more.”
While the drivers’ title will be decided in Cape Town, the teams’ championship is also up for grabs. Team Hansen MJP leads the standings on 366 points with GRX Taneco second on 318 while Monster Energy RX Cartel is third on 299.
The French GCK squad will be reduced to four cars for the final round as the GC Academy driver Rokas Bacisuka’s agreement with the team did not include South Africa.
The Lithuanian says missing Cape Town provides an opportunity to make an early start to preparations for 2020.
Russia’s Matvey Furazhkin makes his third appearance in the FIA World Rallycross Championship with the ESmotorsport-Labas GAS team.
The FIA European Autocross champion made his World RX debut at Loheac in France, before also competing at the Neste World RX of Latvia.
ESmotorsport driver Kevin Abbring had been pencilled into race in Cape Town, but the team will now run Furazhkin in the Skoda Fabia RX in preparation for 2020.
Team STARD, meanwhile, give another outing to Finland’s Jere Kallikoski as partner to Janis Baumanis in a pair of Ford Fiestas.
World of RX Statistics from Killarney International Raceway, Cape Town, South Africa:
World RX event No.71 (RD10 2019)
Circuit length: 1067 m (the seventh longest of 10) Average speed (lap record): 96.57 km/h (the seventh fastest of 10)
Lap record: 39.778 by Timmy Hansen (Q4 2018)
Joker lap record: 42.593 by Johan Kristoffersson (Q3 2018)
Difference normal/joker: 2.82 (the sixth shortest of 10)
4 lap record: 2:48.595 by Johan Kristoffersson (Q3 2018)
6 lap record: 4:09.838 by Petter Solberg (SF 2018)
Past event winners:
2018: Johan Kristoffersson
2017: Johan Kristoffersson
World RX qualifying race wins in Cape Town:
4 Johan Kristoffersson
2 Timmy Hansen
1 Janis Baumanis, Sebastien Loeb
DID YOU KNOW?
The 2019 FIA World RX title race is the closest ever with just one point separating Timmy Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud going into the season finale. Here's the World RX battle history:
2014: Petter Solberg decided the first ever FIA World RX Championship in Italy. The Norwegian went to the penultimate round 60 points ahead of Toomas Heikkinen.
2015: Petter Solberg needed only five points to secure the championship when he arrived at the season finale in Argentina. He took 13 intermediate and was crowned champion ahead of the semi-finals. Solberg was leading the championship from start to finish (shared in RD1).
2016: Mattias Ekstrom finished the job with fifth position in the penultimate RD11 Germany therefore taking a 30-point lead from Solberg.
2017: Johan Kristoffersson became world champion two events from the end and had a 62-point gap into the penultimate round.
2018: Johan Kristoffersson took the all-time superior record by securing the title after the semi-final of RD10 (of 12) in USA.
2014: 46 points
2015: 26 points
2016: 32 points
2017: 61 points
2018: 93 points
Provided by #WRXstats
Relive the story of the title contenders here.
See full World RX of South Africa race weekend details here