Last weekend saw the opening round of the new FIA World Rallycross Championship in Montalegre and all the pre season hype was surpassed by a thrilling opening encounter.
Over the winter, the build up to this years championship has been well publicised and there was not let down in the quality and quantity of the entry list for the first round.
There are six World RX two-car teams present taking part this season, looking to win the Drivers Championship and the new for 2014 Teams Championship including the manufacturer-backed squads of Ford-OlsbergsMSE (Andreas Bakkerud and Reinis Nitiss), VW-Marklund (Topi Heikkinen and Anton Marklund) and Peugeot-Hansen (Timur Timerzyanov and Timmy Hansen).
Also fighting for the Drivers and Teams World titles are PSRX’s Petter Solberg with team-mate Alexander Hvaal. Monster Energy World RX Team’s Liam Doran and Krzysztof Skorupski will be present in the championship with their Citroen DS3 Supercars. Both are joined by Two-time European Rallycross Champion Derek Tohill in a third entry under the LD Motorsports Banner. Albatec Racing’s Jacques Villeneuve and Andy Scott are also contesting this year in works assisted Peugeot 208's.
Other notable entrants in Portugal include top female driver Ramona Karlsson who will be driving a Per Eklund Motorsport run Saab 93. Belgian driver Jos Jansen will be competing, as well as Poland’s Bohdan Ludwiczak and Frenchman Alexandre Theuil. Flying the flag for Portugal will be local favourite Joaquim Santos in a Ford Focus.
During free practice and the heats, it soon became obvious that the fastest guys were Solberg and Timerzyanov with the Fords and VW's waiting in the wings. In Heat One Timerzyanov finished first ahead of Solberg and Bakkerud. However in Heat Two, contact between Solberg and Timerzyanov at turn one led to Solberg going out with a puncture and Timerzyanov going on to win the heat. Although the Russian driver was initially disqualified, he was later re-instated after the stewards viewed video evidence of the clash. Bakkerud finished 2nd.
After Day One of the action, Timerzyanov led the standings from Solberg with Ford man Reinis Nitiss and Volkswagen-Marklund’s Topi Heikkinen in joint third while Anton Marklund completed the top five. Debutant Jacques Villeneuve suffered an Oil Leak and a puncture in his heats and did not progress but declared himself happy with his work but needing to up his game next time out.
It was a poor day for The Monster Energy World RX Team of Liam Doran and Krzysztof Skorupski who didn't take part in Saturdays heats due to electrical problems with their Citroen DS3 Supercars. This was a shame as Doran was a constant threat in last years FIA European Rallycross Championship and will no doubt fly at the next round at Lydden Hill.
Never count out the British Bomb!
On to Day Two and with Solberg winning both of his heats, he was on form going into the 6 lap Semi Finals. With the top 12 drivers going into the Semi Finals, this was going to be epic. From each Semi Final, only the top three go through to the final. In Semi Final one was Timerzyanov & Nitiss on row one, Marklund & Bakkerud on row two with Solbergs team mate Alexander Hvaal and Derek Tohill on row three.
As Timerzyanov led Marklund into turn one, Both the OSME Fords of Bakkerud & Nitiss took their joker lap with Tohill in tow. Marklund took the lead after turn one. Timerzyanov shadowed Marklund as the two Fords closed on the front two. It became obvious that Marklund was holding up the Peugeot and Timerzyanov took his joker lap on lap 4, putting him in 4th. Marklund took his on lap 5 and he came put ahead of the Peugeot. Nitiss won from Bakkerud and Marklund with Timerzyanov, Tohill & Hvaal knocked out.
In Semi Final Two, Solberg and Heikkenen were on row one, with Hansen and Koen Pauwels in his Ford Focus Mk 2 on row two. Row three was supposed to be Romana Karlsson and Andy Scott, however Scott suffered an engine fire in the heats and couldnt get his Peugeot to the grid. So the officials promoted Jos Janson to row three in his Mk 3 Focus.
Solberg flew off the line with Heikkenen, Pauwels, Janson and Karlsson all taking joker laps whilst Solberg led from Hansen. Solberg kept the lead as both Karlsson and Janson retired. Solberg and Hansen took their joker laps on the final lap but Hansen suffered an issue and dropped to 4th. Solberg won from Heikkenen and Pauwels.
The Final saw Solberg and Nitiss on row one with Heikkenen and Bakkerud on row two and Marklund and Pauwels on row three. Solberg led the two VW's into turn one as the two Ford's and Pauwels took their joker lap. Solberg led Heikkenen and Marklund with Bakkerud, Nitiss and Pauwels. Heikkenen and Marklund took their joker laps on lap 5, promoting the Ford's to 2nd and 3rd. Solberg took his joker lap on the final lap and kept the lead to win the first FIA World Rallycross Round from Bakkerud, Nitiss, Heikkenen, Marklund and Pauwels.
To be honest, I spent last year watching Petter hassle and fight for wins with the best of the European Rallycross competitors but either bad luck or retirement denied him victory. Its great to see Petter taking that win as I am sure he will be a force this year. I am also not counting out the Peugeot Hansen drivers of Timerzyanov and Hansen or the Monster Energy World RX Citroens of Doran and Skorupski.
So the standings after Round 1 are:
DRIVER POINTS AFTER ROUND 1, WORLD RX OF PORTUGAL*
1. Petter Solberg, 29 points
2. Reinis Nitiss, 24 points
3. Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen, 21 points
4. Andreas Bakkerud, 20 points
5.Timur Timerzyanov, 19 points
6. Anton Marklund, 18 points
7= Koen Pauwels, 14 points
7= Timmy Hansen, 14 points
9. Alex Hvaal, 9 points
10= Derek Tohill, 8 points
10= Ramona Karlsson, 8 points
*Points awarded in the World RX Drivers’ Championship are scored at intermediate, semi-final and final stages of each event
TEAM POINTS AFTER ROUND 1, WORLD RX OF PORTUGAL
1. Ford Olsbergs MSE, 44 points
2. Volkswagen Marklund, 39 points
3. PSRX, 38 points
4. Team Peugeot-Hansen, 33 points
5. Albatec Racing, 5 points
6. Monster Energy World RX Team, 0 points
Next up is Lydden Hill on 25th & 26th of May in the UK where the OSME Ford team will run a third Ford Fiesta Supercar for current BTCC Champion Andrew Jordan, who is a former Junior Rallycross champion. Tanner Foust is also expected to appear along with a few other wildcards. If last years events were anything to go by, its going to be a cracking event.