Wednesday, 30 July 2014

2014 World RX: Heikennen rules in Belgium...

The 2014 World Rallycross Championship moved to a brand new venue for round six in Belgium, held at the updated Mettet Circuit where the series kept up its exciting and enthralling spectacle.

Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport’s Anton Marklund made a head start over the other World RX crews competing in Belgium after winning the event’s opening heat.  Swedish Rallycross Championship event winner Johan Kristofferson won heat two to hold second overnight with Finn Topi Heikinnen third overall, making it a Volkswagen one-two-three.

A total of 67 drivers are took part in the sixth round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy which is being staged at a brand new rallycross circuit in Mettet.  As well as the challenge of a new track, the drivers were also faced with wet conditions as rain fell intermittently throughout the day. The weather did not put off the fans, however, who descended on Mettet in their thousands to cheer on local star Francois Duval and regular World RX drivers such as Koen Pauwels. Hyundai WRC driver Thierry Neuville was also spotted in the World RX paddock.

“We had two good starts in the heats and a good start is really important on this track because it is very narrow,” explained 21-year-old Marklund. “On the first heat we made no mistakes and then we had a good position for the second heat but then I started braking a bit too late.  We have not had much time for testing recently but I’m feeling more and more confident in the car.  I really need championship points this weekend and I feel like I’m ready for a win so that’s what I’ll be fighting for.”

After making his World RX debut in Sweden last week, Kristofferson was delighted to be second overnight in another VW Polo. Kristofferson also leads the FIA European Rallycross Championship (Euro RX), of which Belgium is an official points-scoring round.  The Swede explained: “The Polo is pretty new to us but the car is running nicely. I’m enjoying the track too – it’s narrow which I like and I’ve had a good start which has helped me for the rest of the track. I want to stay out of trouble and it would be nice to get to the semis – maybe even the final.”

Fourth in the standings and second in Euro RX is Robin Larsson in his Audi A1 Supercar. The Swede, who was also fastest in Saturday free practice, commented: “We’ve been struggling a bit since coming second at Lydden Hill – the turbo pressure hasn’t been right and we’ve had some engine problems but the car is running much better so I’ve been able to concentrate on driving.  To win over the top guys in World RX, you need to be 100% on it so I need to focus as much as I can.”

Fifth at the end of Saturday was PSRX driver Petter Solberg who finished heat one fourth fastest and followed it up with a sixth fastest time in heat two.  Solberg was joined by another former WRC star today as Duval made his World RX debut in a VW Polo RX Supercar but hit trouble during heat one when contact with another car forced the Belgian out of his opening race.  Duval then went on to finish heat two seventh quickest and was 19th overall.

Elsewhere, it was a difficult day one for the Ford Olsbergs MSE team who are  leading the team standings.  Andreas Bakkerud retired in heat one following an engine issue with his Ford Fiesta Supercar while Reinis Nitiss collided with Henning Solberg during heat two and tore the right rear wheel clean off the car.

Topi Heikkinen went on to win the World RX of Belgium at the wheel of a Marklund Motorsport run Polo RX Supercar.  Heikkinen is the sixth different World RX winner in six events. Team Peugeot Hansen driver Timmy Hansen finished second with Johan Kristofferson third in a VW Polo.  After finishing fourth and collecting crucial points Petter Solberg is now Championship leader, three points ahead of Reinis Nitiss.

An estimated 25,000 spectators flocked to Mettet in southern Belgium this weekend to watch the latest round of the FIA’s newest World Championship. With mixed weather conditions and a brand new rallycross circuit to manipulate, the World RX drivers had little time to get to grips with the narrow, technical Jules Tacheny Circuit.  Local hero and former WRC star Francois Duval was a popular addition to the World RX paddock this weekend demonstrating good pace in the VW Marklund Polo but not quite enough to make the final 12.

One driver who was consistent from start to finish, however, was Mettet RX winner Topi Heikkinen. “I’m very thankful to my team – they have made such a huge effort and the car is excellent,” gushed the 23-year-old Finn.  “I’d like to thank Volkswagen Motorsport too for all of their help. Now we’re at the half-way point I think I can catch up in the second half. We’re only a few points behind Reinis Nitiss and Petter Solberg now so it’s going to get really exciting!”

After a troubled start to the season, Team Peugeot Hansen turned a corner as Timmy Hansen took a well-deserved second place in the Peugeot 208 Supercar. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium but I’m really happy to be here – especially after such a hard weekend,” said the young Swede. “The final didn’t go to plan, I think I was last on the first corner and then I made a mistake and dropped even further but the next few laps I just went flat out and was right behind Topi at the end. I have to thank my team for this – they have built a wonderful car.”

Securing the third step of the podium in Mettet was VW Polo driver Johan Kristofferson who stunned the crowds after a semi-final win in what was only his second World RX outing this year.  The Swede was also crowned the winner of the third round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship (Euro RX). “This is only the second race for us and I would have been happy just finishing in the semi-finals,” said Kristofferson who was awarded Monster Energy Super Charge Award after his rapid start. “To get to the final was amazing and to be on the podium is just the best feeling! We had a really good start in the final race as we were in pole position and I think that’s what really helped us get here. Hopefully we will be back for some more races in the second half of the season.”

Petter Solberg looked on course for a podium spot but broken suspension hindered the Norwegian’s progress during the event’s closing laps.  After an impressive drive Anton Marklund rounded off the top five while EKS RX driver Pontus Tidemand took sixth place in his Audi S1 Supercar.  EKS RX wildcard entry Edward Sandstrom made an impressive showing on his debut in World RX with a series of quick lap times but the GT racer narrowly missed out on a spot in the semis.

Monster Energy World RX Team’s Liam Doran and Davy Jeanney had a weekend of mixed results. The pairing both made the semi-finals but broken intercooler near the start of the race knocked Doran out of a chance in the final. “The car worked well but I’m disappointed not to make the finals after getting this far,” said Frenchman Jeanney after losing out on a top three place in his semi.

It was a torrid weekend for Team Championship leaders Ford Olsbergs MSE who encountered a series of misfortunate events.  Andreas Bakkerud was first to hit trouble when an engine problem on his Ford Fiesta Supercar forced the Norwegian into an early retirement.  On the next heat Nitiss tore the right rear wheel off his car after colliding with Henning Solberg.  The team worked flat out overnight to repair the Fiestas but more bad luck was to follow when Bakkerud withdrew from heat three. Nitiss went on to take the heat win but was knocked out of his semi-final race along with Euro RX points leader Robin Larsson and Peter Hedstrom.

Albatec Racing had another difficult weekend after Andy Scott and former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve failed to make the final 12.  Both Scott and Villeneuve demonstrated good pace in their Peugeot 208 Supercars but contact on heat four saw Villeneuve damage his car’s steering and effectively put an end to his hopes of a World RX semi-final.

Martin Anayi, World RX Managing Director for IMG Motorsport, concluded: “We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting opening half to the season for our inaugural year as a World Championship. We’ve had six different winners with four different manufacturers and now only eight points separate the top three drivers.  It’s also been fascinating to witness three different Championship leaders already this year and now we have round one winner Petter back at the top of the standings proving once again that points matter just as much as winning races. Volkswagen Marklund’s outstanding performance this weekend has also seen the outfit close in on Ford Olsbergs in the overall battle of the teams.  It’s been a pleasure to visit Mettet – the team in Belgium have done a terrific job and played a crucial role in attracting more than 20,000 fans to the circuit this weekend.  It’s been wonderful to be involved in the growing popularity of World RX over the past six months – we’re extremely lucky to have what I believe are some of the most talented drivers in the world and with more broadcasters starting to televise our Championship, the future of the sport is looking very bright indeed.”

After completing four races in five weeks, the World RX crews will now have a short break before the season’s second half resumes in Canada for round seven at Trois-Rivieres, home to the famous GP3R, next month on 7-8 August.

1. Petter Solberg, 125 points
2. Reinis Nitiss, 122 points
3. Topi Heikkinen, 117 points
4. Andreas Bakkerud, 99 points
5. Anton Marklund, 85 points 


1. Ford Olsbergs MSE, 221 points
2. Volkswagen Marklund, 202 points
3. Team Peugeot-Hansen, 154 points
4. PSRX, 117 points
5. Monster Energy World RX Team, 60 points
6. Albatec Racing, 16 points

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