Friday | 20 Jan 2023

Memories of Mettet: A crowd-pleasing recovery, spectacular barrel-roll – and ‘very good beer’

Absent since 2018, Belgium’s Circuit Jules Tacheny in Mettet will rejoin the FIA World Rallycross Championship calendar this season on 5-6 August. Ahead of its return, some of the series’ leading names have shared their favourite memories of the Walloon track.

Mettet in Belgium was a World RX staple from the outset, featuring in the inaugural World Championship campaign back in 2014 and remaining on the schedule for the next five years – and over that time, it produced some spectacular rallycross action.

The maiden edition of World RX of Belgium saw the sport’s big-hitters immediately to the fore, with Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Petter Solberg – future world champions all – each topping the timesheets at different stages of the weekend, although in the final, it was Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen who swept to the highest step of the podium, a result that the flying Finn would replicate 12 months later.

The very first World RX heat at Mettet, however, was won by three-time FIA European Rallycross Champion Anton Marklund – and the Swede has fond recollections of the popular Circuit Jules Tacheny.

“I’m really glad World RX is going back to Mettet – it’s a great pleasure to race there,” the 30-year-old enthused. “The audience was always made up of hardcore rallycross fans, who really knew what they were talking about when they came up to speak to us in the paddock – and of course, the last time I was there in 2018, I won in Euro RX which obviously makes my memories of Mettet even more special.

“It’s a difficult and technical track, and some parts have no room for error, especially at the end of the back straight going into the chicane and all the way to the joker. You have to be very committed, but if you make a mistake, you can very quickly end up in the wall...”

One driver who knows better than most just how hard Mettet can bite is Kevin Hansen, who clipped a tyre barrier heading into the chicane there in 2017, sending his Peugeot into a spectacular barrel-roll from which he thankfully emerged unscathed. The Swede is hoping for a more straightforward weekend six years on.

“Going back to rallycross’ classic venues, I think is a great move,” he reflected. “I’m happy to be returning to some circuits that everybody has really enjoyed in the past, and Mettet is a great track – very tight and technical and I think we will see some updated gravel sections, so that will be cool.”

Hansen World RX Team stablemate and older brother, Timmy, has reached the rostrum at Mettet on three occasions, with his third-place finish in 2018 – having looked destined for an early bath at the beginning of the semi-final – the one that he holds most dear.

“I got spun round in the first corner from pole,” he recalled, “but I managed to recover and overtook three people on-track to qualify for the final. That was fun!”

The Swedish squad’s most successful driver at the circuit, however, was nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb, who finished runner-up to Mattias Ekström in 2016 before racing to his second World RX win there two years later – in so doing, denying Kristoffersson a clean sweep that season, although the five-time champion had been the one celebrating 12 months earlier.

“Mettet has always been a good track for me,” acknowledged Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS driver Kristoffersson. “The main memory that springs to mind is my first victory there in 2017, which was also the first victory for the PSRX team.”

The last word, though, goes to Euro RX1 front-runner Jānis Baumanis, who triumphed in Belgium in the Super1600 category (now Euro RX3) in both 2014 and 2015 but has yet to achieve quite the same glory at the highest level.

“Mettet for me was one of the most difficult circuits to get used to in a Supercar,” the Latvian revealed. “It’s very technical for both the car and driver, with a mix of slow sections and quick chicanes, and the organisers did a great job and made some positive changes to the track over the years. It was always interesting and fun to drive there, plus the Belgians have a great culture and very good food and beer, so it’s nice to be going back!”