Thursday | 09 Dec 2021

Belevskiy: Nürburgring proved I can mix it with world’s best

While the biggest story of World RX of Germany was unquestionably Johan Kristoffersson’s astonishing fightback to clinch the coveted FIA World Rallycross Championship crown, another driver made headlines all of his own at the Nürburgring, as Yury Belevskiy produced a sensational display to reach the podium on his debut at the highest level.

While the biggest story of World RX of Germany was unquestionably Johan Kristoffersson’s astonishing fightback to clinch the coveted FIA World Rallycross Championship crown, another driver made headlines all of his own at the Nürburgring, as Yury Belevskiy produced a sensational display to reach the podium on his debut at the highest level.

Belevskiy is no stranger to success on the international rallycross scene, having topped the standings in the Super1600 category last year – when no title was awarded due to the COVID-shortened campaign – prior to speeding to glory in Euro RX3 this season, winning four times out of five and tallying an incredible 147 points out of a possible 150. Even so, he admitted to keeping his expectations for his World RX bow firmly in-check.

“It was a very special weekend, without doubt,” the Russian acknowledged, “with the combination of the Nürburgring being such a famous and historical track, the double-header format and it being the final World RX event for combustion-engined cars.

“I knew of course that the other guys would be really fast – the likes of Kristoffersson, the Hansens, [Niclas] Grönholm and [Krisztián] Szabó are legends of the sport – but there were a lot of unknowns, not least the weather. It was cold and snowing when we arrived, so we had no idea what grip levels would be like...”

Be that as it may, Belevskiy quickly settled into the groove behind the wheel of his Volland Racing Audi S1, lapping fifth-fastest amongst the 14 high-calibre protagonists in free practice on Saturday morning before stunning seasoned observers by storming to the second-best time in the challenging conditions in Q1, just six tenths-of-a-second adrift of Kristoffersson.

Better still, the 26-year-old went on to outpace the world champion-elect in Q2, with his performance proving sufficient to secure second place in the intermediate classification, a scant two points shy of the top spot. After leading his semi-final from lights-to-flag, he then chased Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen home in the final, being elevated to the runner-up spoils by Hansen’s post-race disqualification.

“The first day went much better than we had expected,” Belevskiy reflected. “We struggled a lot with the starts, but thankfully we didn’t have to pay for that because each time, other drivers made the mistake of running too wide into the first corner, which enabled me to sneak back in and undercut them on the exit. Q2 was probably my best run all weekend, battling back from a bad launch to win my race in front of Johan and Timmy – that felt super-special.

“With the sun being so low, visibility in the final was really difficult. Whenever I was within a couple of seconds of the car ahead going onto the gravel section, I would get a lot of mud kicked up onto my windscreen and coming into the chicane by the joker entry, I could see absolutely nothing. That cost me time, but I was just so relieved not to end up putting the car into the wall!

“In hindsight, we could probably have beaten Timmy with an earlier joker strategy, but I didn’t want to risk coming out behind Grönholm and getting a dirty windscreen again, or interfere in the championship fight.”

It was an eye-catching effort, and although he wasn’t quite able to repeat those heroics the next day – waking up feeling unwell – Belevskiy was once more in the mix throughout the qualifiers until his bid ended at the semi-final stage due to first corner contact and a puncture. Nevertheless, as he looks back upon the weekend now, he does so with justifiable pride – while already analysing the areas in which he has room to improve.

“From a learning perspective, it was amazing,” the Moscow native enthused. “The car was so cool – you can be much more aggressive and really throw it into corners with the handbrake, which suits my driving style well – and the power is just addictive. The super-quick acceleration away from the line simply blows your mind.

“In Euro RX3, you have more time to assess situations in races, whereas in World RX, everything happens two-to-three times faster and you have to react based purely on instinct. I still need to get accustomed to that extra speed, especially approaching the braking zone for Turn One because you don’t have so much time to understand and process where everybody is compared to what I’ve been used to before.

“We clearly need to do some work on our starts, too. In Euro RX3, it’s all manual – you play with the clutch, the throttle, the pre-load, the rpm – but in World RX, you pre-programme the launch setting with your engineer in the garage and if you get it wrong, there’s no way out. In half of my starts, I almost stalled. On the first day, I could recover from this because others also made mistakes, but on day two, everyone was smarter, so it hurt us more.

“I also learned that we can actually fight with the top guys, and we had some really fun battles – that was obviously a highlight. For sure we have a long path ahead of us, and there are lots of small things we need to work on driving-wise and in terms of getting more comfortable with the car, but overall and for our first time out, I think we did a pretty good job...”