Sunday, 30 November 2014

WorldRX 2014: Solberg and Ford OMSE win in Argentina

So the final round of the 2014 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy took place in Argentina last weekend, closing off what has been a spectacular season of excitement and close racing with action that has rarely let up at every round. The first season of WorldRX can be crowned a success with many more seasons to come...

Lets see how things panned out...

Petter Solberg led the Total Rallycross of Argentina, the season-closer to this year’s FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy after Day One. In the all-important Teams’ Championship where Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport, Ford Olsbergs MSE and Team Peugeot-Hansen are locked in a three-way battle, Olsbergs MSE established an early lead as team-mates Reinis Nitiss and Andreas Bakkerud place the Ford squad highest after two heats.

Only four points separated current Teams’ Championship leaders VW Marklund and Olsbergs MSE going into the Argentine RX round. Team Peugeot-Hansen can still mathematically win the title but started the event on the backfoot with a 38-point disadvantage. At the end of heat two, Heikkinen was third in the standings despite struggling with a gearbox issue in his Polo RX Supercar whilst team-mate Anton Marklund was eighth. Peugeot-Hansen team-mates Timmy Hansen and Timur Timerzyanov held fifth and sixth overnight.

Temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Celsius as 17 Supercar drivers took to the Rosendo Hernandez circuit in San Luis for the first ever rallycross event to be staged in Argentina.  Bakkerud was quickest in free practice but it was the inaugural FIA World RX Champion Petter Solberg who sealed the heat one victory.  Solberg was joined by former WRC star Manfred Stohl in a second PSRX car and, despite having had no time to test the Citroen before the event, the Austrian put in a strong performance to finish ninth on Day One.

Arguably one of the most impressive drives of the day however, was that of Supercar debutant Kevin Eriksson who is driving an Olsbergs MSE Supercar as a reward for winning this year’s RX Lites Cup.  “I’ve had an up and down day,” explained the teenager who was second quickest in free practice.  “On the first heat, I overshot on the Joker Lap, spun the car and had to reverse which lost me time.  Then during the second heat I got stuck behind Manfred Stohl after the Joker. The dust made it really hard to see when you’re behind but I’ve definitely learned a lot and happy to be seventh.”

It was a day of mixed fortunes for British driver Liam Doran who made his World RX comeback after a six-month absence from the Championship. The Monster Energy World RX Team driver had a troubled start after his Citroen DS3 Supercar suffered a misfire but recovered in heat two to finish seventh fastest.  “I’ve been out of World RX for most of the year now so it’s taking me a while to get back to grips with everything,” admitted the 27-year-old.  “I’m obviously not fighting for the Championship so heat points don’t matter – I’m just aiming to get to the semi-finals and hope to be up to speed by the end of heat four.”

Doran’s team-mate Henning Solberg had a troubled day after struggling with power steering issues in heat one and was unable to start the second heat. Also experiencing difficulties was LD Motorsports driver Derek Tohill whose Citroen DS3 was down on power.  “We had to limp through with some engine problems and the dust combined with the difficulties of a new track made today incredibly hard,” explained the Irishman.
Albatec Racing duo Andy Scott and Ollie O’Donovan were 10th and 13th respectively, while former Argentine Rally Champion Miguel Baldoni was 12th overall.

Petter Solberg ended his title-winning season in style by winning the closing round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy in San Luis, Argentina. Ford Olsbergs MSE won a three-way battle for the Teams’ Championship as team-mates Reinis Nitiss and Andreas Bakkerud finished second and sixth respectively.  RX Lites Cup winner Kevin Eriksson drove spectacularly on his Supercar debut to clinch third.

Solberg’s win in Argentina is the Norwegian’s fifth outright victory of the year for the PSRX Team and sees the driver end the inaugural World RX season with a total of 267 points. Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport’s Topi Heikkinen amassed enough points to award the 23-year-old Finn the coveted runners-up spot. Nitiss ends the season third overall in points.

“This is a dream come true.  We started the season with a win in Portugal, and to finish with another win in Argentina feels really amazing,” grinned Solberg who was also awarded the Monster Energy Super Charge Award after his rapid start from pole position. “This Championship has so many talented drivers and I am extremely impressed with the high standard of driving we have had this year – especially from the younger guys. Now I’m looking forward to Doha for the FIA Awards Ceremony but I will be back and fighting for more seasons to come. I’d like to thank my whole team for working so hard throughout this year – there will be a big party tonight, that’s for sure!”

There was a three-way battle for the Teams’ Championship going into Argentina with Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport, Ford Olsbergs MSE and Team Peugeot-Hansen all still capable of winning the accolade. Peugeot-Hansen was knocked out of winning contention when Timmy Hansen and Timur Timerzyanov failed to score enough points at the Intermediate Classification stage. Tension mounted further when Topi Heikkinen’s engine failed in heat four and VW Marklund were forced to repair the Polo RX Supercar before the semis. 

A fraught two semi-finals were to follow, but the Ford squad sealed the silverware when Anton Marklund was denied a spot in the final and both Ford team-mates went through.  “I am so proud of my team – to win this trophy with Olsbergs who have worked so hard all year is such a good feeling,” beamed 18-year-old Nitiss. 
Speaking on behalf of VW Marklund, team driver Anton said: “It’s always disappointing to be second but actually our aim at the start of the year was to finish in the top three so this is something we must all remember.  I think we have learned a lot for next year and we will be back and fighting hard.  Topi finished second in the drivers’ standings to finish the year with two second places is something our whole team are really happy with.”

After another impressive drive in the Peugeot 208 Supercar, 22-year-old Timmy Hansen finished fourth in Argentina for Team Peugeot-Hansen.  The talented driver also ends the season fourth overall. Team-mate Timur Timerzyanov showed good pace in San Luis but retired on the first lap of semi-final two following a technical issue with his car.

Despite showing good speed, Britain’s Liam Doran had a troubled return to World RX. The Monster Energy World RX Team driver failed to qualify after a technical infringement cost him a spot in the semi-finals. Team-mate Henning Solberg was also denied a place in the semis after the driver struggled with car issues on day one.

The year ended on a high for Scottish-based team Albatec Racing who had both drivers in the semi-finals for the first time this season. Elsewhere local driver Miguel Baldoni had an impressive RX debut as the former Argentine Rally Champion entertained the local fans by finishing the event ninth overall.

Martin Anayi, World RX Managing Director for IMG Motorsports, concluded: “It’s been a sensational year for the FIA World Rallycross Championship and it’s remarkable to think that our season has started in the same way it ended – with a victory for Petter Solberg. I’ve witnessed first-hand how hard Petter and the PSRX Team have worked this year and their win is thoroughly deserved.  The Teams’ Championship could have gone one of three ways this weekend and all three of our teams would have been very worthy winners. Very well done to the Ford Olsbergs MSE who came out trumps. I firmly believe we have some of the most talented drivers on the globe competing in World RX and it’s incredible to have two 18-year-olds on the podium in Argentina this weekend [Eriksson and Nitiss].  The future of the sport is looking very bright but now we are concentrating on making 2015 even better. On behalf of IMG Motorsports, I’d like to thank the drivers, teams and everyone involved in helping to make World RX a huge success in what has been an incredible season for the FIA’s newest World Championship.”   

1. Petter Solberg (PSRX), 267 points
2. Topi Heikkinen (VW Marklund), 221 points
3. Reinis Nitiss (Ford Olsbergs MSE), 210 points
4. Timmy Hansen (Peugeot-Hansen), 199 points
5. Andreas Bakkerud (Ford Olsbergs MSE), 193 points
6. Anton Marklund (VW Marklund), 173 points
1. Ford Olsbergs MSE, 403 points
2. Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport, 394 points
3. Team Peugeot-Hansen, 351 points
4. PSRX, 261 points
5. Monster Energy World RX Team, 76 points
6. Albatec Racing, 61 points

Finally a word from the Guru...

I can happily say I have really enjoyed watching this years first ever FIA World Rallycross Championship and I can also say that my decision to get into Rallycross back in 2013 has been completely justified.

I've said this all year and I will say it again. If you are bored with Formula One or fed up with the politics that plague motorsport and you want to watch an exciting, action packed series, then give the FIA World Rallycross Championship a try.

For me, its been one of, if not the most exciting FIA World Championship thats taken place this year with an ever expanding fan base. With upwards of 40 cars in the Supercars catergory entered at different events this year and the FIA  European Rallycross Championship open to Europes best, its just an amazing series to watch...and one I will be blogging about over the winter as the teams and drivers now test for 2015.

All the best!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

WTCC 2014: Its Macau Baby!!!

Street Circuits.

For the avid motorsport fan, the thought of motorsport taking place on a street circuit offers a greater challenge to the teams and drivers taking part. There are little or no run off areas, however in their place are metal barriers or concrete barriers. In order to gain the fastest laptime in Qualifying or the race, drivers have to be inch perfect whilst skimming the barriers to gain the fastest laptime.

Now almost every major series has a street circuit involved in its calendar: Formula One has Monaco, the DTM has the Norisring, the WEC has Le Mans...

And the FIA World Touring Car Championship has the awesome spectacle that is Macau. Sharing the weekend with the legendary Formula Three, Superbike and GT races that attract the best in the world of motorsport, Macau has been the finale of the WTCC for the last ten years and the 2014 edition didn't disappoint...

Lets see how this panned out...

Citroen’s Jose Maria Lopez claimed pole position for Round 23 of the World Touring Car Championship in Macau, heading teammates Sebastien Loeb and Yvan Muller.

Lopez, who is tackling the street circuit for the first time this weekend, set a fastest lap of 2:24.294s in the third segment of qualifying that was enough for him to seal top spot by 0.228s from Loeb, ahead of Sunday’s races.

The qualifying hour got off to a somewhat predictable start around the narrow streets, with Pepe Oriola – standing in for the injured Dusan Borkovic at Campos Racing – crashing his Chevrolet at Maternity, bringing the red flags out before anybody had had the chance to set a time.

As the session restarted, it was the Honda quartet of Tiago Monteiro, Gabriele Tarquini, Norbert Michelisz and Mehdi Bennani who headed onto the circuit first, with the former initially going fastest before Muller usurped him with a 2:26.918s.

The stoppage earlier in the session meant that by the time that drivers had set their first times and returned to the pits, half of the 30-minute Q1 had elapsed, and the field were keen to get on with things as Loeb went quickest with a time of 2:26.036s, while Tarquini and Rob Huff improved to fourth and seventh respectively, before Michelisz then set the fastest time in the session with a 2:25.920s.

Bennani’s second run hadn’t gone to plan, as he scuffed his tyres and found himself in 13th when he pitted for a third time, when he was forced to visit the weighbridge before he could return to the track.

But with the Moroccan able to rejoin the action, the pressure was on those in front of him to improve, and Ma Qing Hua in the fourth Citroen was that bit overzealous in his attempts to improve on a precarious 12th place, as he had a huge slide having set the fastest first sector. That hindered James Thompson in the LADA Granta, who finished the session in 14th place.

The session was then brought to a premature end by Thompson’s teammate Mikhail Kozlovskiy, who spun and blocked the track at Lisboa briefly. With the red flag flown for a second time and less than a minute-and-a-half remaining on the clock, race control decided not to restart the session, eliminating Bennani, Thompson, Kozlovskiy and Rene Munnich from the TC1 field.

Q2 was a much less dramatic affair, as the Citroen drivers all immediately got down to business on a less congested track, with Lopez fastest on a 2:24.539s. 

Just five minutes remained as the cars headed out for their final runs, although Morbidelli decided to remain in the pits, settling for 12th place on the grid for both of Sunday’s races. Tarquini made a late attempt to claim a spot in the shootout, but narrowly missed out with sixth place. He was beaten by the three Citroens, while Tom Coronel and Michelisz also made the final session after building on fast first runs. Hugo Valente would go on to start the final race of the season from pole position having qualified in tenth, where he is ahead Chilton and Huff.

Michelisz continued his fine form into Q3 at the track with a 2:25.327s, which was good enough for fourth as Coronel hit the wall and aborted his lap, having been faster than the Hungarian in the first sector. It was then left to the Citroen trio to battle for pole. Muller went first and set a WTCC lap record of 2:24.779s with his effort, before Loeb eclipsed that time by two-tenths-of-a-second with a time of 2:24.522s. But taking to the track last, it was champion Lopez who stole the show to claim a seventh pole of the season, with his 2:24.294s, which is now the best lap by a World Touring Car around the legendary street circuit.

Jose Maria Lopez won the penultimate WTCC race of the season, finishing ahead of a Honda trio headed up by Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz. Lopez cruised to his tenth win of the season from pole position, whilst behind him his Citroen team-mates struggled to maintain their qualifying form.

Loeb, who started alongside Lopez on the front row of the grid, lost out to Michelisz at the very start of the race. The former rally star tried to keep the pressure on the Hungarian, but on lap three he locked up at Lisboa and lost ground at the only real overtaking opportunity on the circuit. Loeb’s mistake allowed three cars to pass, the first of which was an under the weather Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian would maintain third for the remainder of the race despite his condition.

Tiago Monteiro finished the race in fourth, despite trying hard to pass his works’ Honda team-mate throughout the race. The Portuguese driver also had to defend from the Citroen of Yvan Muller, who finished fifth after having lost out to the Honda trio on the opening lap of the race. Following his earlier mistake Loeb finished the race in sixth and failed to consistently challenge Muller for the position ahead, guaranteeing his fellow Frenchman second overall in the championship.

Coronel finished the race as the top Chevrolet driver in seventh, ahead of the fourth Citroen of Ma Qing Hua, who passed three cars in the race to take eighth. Rob Huff was ninth, losing just one place from his grid position when Ma passed him into Lisboa on lap three due to a superior straightline speed advantage. Morbidelli completed the top ten, although the Italian benefitted the most from a bizarre penultimate lap incident involving Proteam Racing’s Mehdi Bennani and Campos Racing’s TC2 entry of Henry Kwong. As the Moroccan went to lap the slower car on the start straight, Kwong moved over and hit the TC1 car, sending Bennani into a slide which ended with frontal contact with the barriers and a retirement from the race.

Franz Engstler took class victory in TC2, even finishing ahead of the TC1 Chevrolet of Rene Munnich. John Filippi was once again second in class, and the only Campos driver not to crash in the race after one-off drivers Kwong and William Lok both experienced self-inflicted contact with the barrier during the race.

Rob Huff took a dramatic final-lap victory in the final WTCC race of the season, after early race leader Tiago Monteiro suffered a mechanical problem on the penultimate lap of the race. Huff, who started the race from third, was immediately on the move as the lights went out, following Monteiro past front-row starters Valente and Chilton to settle in second position.

As the race progressed Muller, who also made a strong start to move from eighth on the grid up to third, began to pressure Huff for second. However the Brit put up a resolute defence of his position, continuing to hold second after a safety car period two laps from the finish, which was caused when Ma planted his car in the barriers at the final turn.

It all changed at the front just before the start of the final lap when Monteiro, who looked set for his first win of the season, suddenly slowed with apparent power steering problems. That promoted Huff to the lead for the final lap and one last defence into Lisboa corner on the final lap essentially secured him a second win of the season. Completing the podium behind Muller was Valente, who recovered to third after a disastrous opening lap. The Campos Racing driver, having lost the lead at the start, then tried too hard into Lisboa a couple of corners later and dropped to fifth. A strong restart after the safety car allowed the Frenchman to retake fourth from Michelisz, who settled for fourth.

Lopez finished the race in fifth, with Loeb directly behind him in sixth. The Frenchman made a pair of overtaking moves on ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton on laps five and six respectively to show strong racing skills to end a promising debut season. Chilton got past team-mate Coronel late in the race to take seventh, with the Dutchman following home in eighth. Completing the top ten were Thompson, who had been unable to emulate the performances of his team-mate all weekend, and TC2’s Franz Engstler.

Mikhail Kozlovskiy failed to take the chequered flag, retiring once again with mechanical problems on his LADA. There was also a retirement for Morbidelli on lap four when the Italian spun into the barriers at Fisherman’s Bend. A number of drivers failed to start the race. Tarquini, still suffering from illness, peeled into the pits at the end of the formation lap and called it a day. Mehdi Bennani also didn’t start due to the damage inflicted on his Honda in race one by TC2 driver Henry Kwong. Campos Racing’s William Lok also failed to start after planting his SEAT in the barriers in race one.

And so the 10th season of WTCC comes to an end with the new TC1 regulation cars still offering the same close racing that WTCC has been known for whilst offering a fresh challenge to the drivers.

Already there are rumours abound of what will happen in 2015 with the calendar due to be confirmed at the FIA World Motorsport Council meeting on 1-2 of December in Doha. We know there will be a special blue riband event held at the legendary Nurburgring in Germany whilst the season ending finale of Macau looks to be remaining on the calendar.

Meanwhile there rumours and whispers of who will drive what car with what team for next year. Already confirmed are Muller, Lopez and Loeb at Citroen whilst Sebastien Loeb Racing will field two more Citroens making five C-Elysee's taking part. LADA have confirmed that Huff, Thompson and Kozlovskiy will pilot thrre brand new TC1 Vesta's with increased support from french engine partner Oreca. As for the rest...

Well...we'll soon know.

So thank you for reading my WTCC blogposts this year and I look forward to bringing you more WTCC in 2015!

All the best!!!


Friday, 7 November 2014

TC3 Intl: So whats it all about then...

Over the past six months, there has been talk of a new Touring Car series to be launched in 2015 by former FIA World Touring Car Championship boss Marciello Lotti and in recent weeks, there is now an air of certainty to this.

The name of the series, I hear you ask?

The TC3 International Series.

Since the announcement of the series website launch in September we now have an idea of the series Regulations, Sporting Regulations and Calendar.  To add to the International series, there will be a TC3 Asia series and a series run to the TC3 regulations in Portugal. So there is progress in the works.

Now before we go further, please do not think that this is in anyway linked to the FIA's current ranking of cars used in the World Touring Car Championship, The European Touring Car Cup and any domestic series still using Super 2000 TC2T/TC2 regulation cars.

Its not.

TC3 is based on the idea of the GT3 catergory used in Sportscars racing where a set of regulations is in place to allow different types of cars to compete on a level playing field, using a system that balances out any advantages that different cars have using success ballast. The regulations are also designed to allow the championship to be an entry level series with the aim being that TC3 can be the next step up on the ladder from domestic Touring Car Championships to then move on to either the FIA European Touring Car Cup or the FIA World Touring Car Championship, hence its appeal.

So, what are the regulations for the cars I here you ask? Well here are the main details:

Eligible cars: WSC list for 4/5 door saloons.

Body shell: Reinforced production shell with wheel arch modifications allowed to accommodate tyres.

Minimum length: 4200 mm.

Maximum width: 1950 mm.

Engine: Turbocharged petrol or diesel engine up to 2.0 litres. Only one engine is allowed for an entire season and use of more than one engine will result in grid penalties.

Torque: Circa 410 Nm.

Power: Circa 320 bhp.

Traction: Two-wheel drive only.
(Front Wheel Drive and Rear Wheel Drive)

Gearbox: Production or TC3 International Series sequential, production paddle shift also accepted.

Front suspension: Production lay-out, parts free design.

Rear suspension: Original design of production car with reinforced components.

Front: Maximum of six-piston calipers with a maximum diameter of 380 mm. Rear: Maximum of two-piston calipers.

Front splitter: 2014 SEAT León Eurocup. Rear wing: FIA Appendix J Article 263 2014.

Ground clearance: Minimum 80 mm.

Power-to-weight ratio: Subject to the WSC Balance of Performance.

Now, with regards to this list of regulations that the cars must conform to, there is a list of cars provided by the series that are eligible to race:

The Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG.
The SEAT León Cup Racer.
The Volkswagen Golf R GTi.
The Ford Focus ST.
The Honda Civic Type-R.
The Opel Astra OPC.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV.
The Hyundai Veloster.
The Nissan Pulsar GTI-R.
The Renault Mégane R.
The Audi S3 and etc.

Now for those of you that are regular Touring Car fans, some of those cars will be familiar with the Audi, Honda and Ford models already used in NGTC guise in the BTCC whilst the UK based Volkswagen cup already sees capacity grids that include the VW Golf. So the series is designed to attract cars that can be easily modified to the regulations and allow people to go racing...on an international level.

With rising costs being cited as a major issue in motorsport at the moment, (cough *Marussia/Caterham* cough) this is a good idea. Over the winter, there were various teams and drivers who were WTCC stalwarts that just couldn't afford to buy the new TC1 cars and left the series to go elsewhere.

The TC3 International series has also confirmed its Sporting Regulations regarding race length, points scored per position etc:

The series will feature a qualifying format split into two parts. Q1 will be 20 minutes (or 30 on street circuits) open to all competitors, whilst Q2 will be 10 minutes (or 15 on street circuits) where the top twelve from Q1 are allowed to compete.

The grid for race one is based on the combined Q1 and Q2 results, whilst the grid for race two is to be determined based on the reverse order of the top ten in Q2, as the current WTCC race two grid is determined.

The Races:
Each event will consist of two races of 60 km in length, both of which will feature a standing start.

Success Ballast:
Success ballast will be apportioned to the top three drivers from the previous meeting in the order of 30kg, 20kg and 10kg respectively.

Points System:
Championship points will be awarded to the top ten drivers in each race in the following format:

1st: 25 points
2nd:18 points
3rd: 15 points
4th: 12 points
5th: 10 points
6th: 8 points
7th: 6 points
8th: 4 points
9th: 2 points
10th: 1 point

Points will also be given to the top five drivers after qualifying:

Pole Position: 5 points
2nd Position: 4 points
3rd Position: 3 points
4th Position: 2 points
5th Position: 1 point.

Now seasoned fans of the WTCC will recognise the FIA points system, the Qualifying points system, Qualifying format and race length from last years format, however that just speaks if the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Which seems to be Lotti's thinking as well.

Now all this information has led to several teams declaring their intent to compete in the series next year:

Team Target Competition, who are SEAT Leon Eurocup regulars, will run several SEAT Leon Cup Racers.

Paolo Coloni has recently announced his Coloni Racing outfit will compete whilst Onyx Race Engineering will build several Ford Focus ST's after abandoning the Ford Fiesta TC1 WTCC attempt.

To add to this Scandinavian Touring Car Team WestCoast Racing announced last week that they would enter three JAS built Honda Civic Type-R's as well.

All this confirms that teams who are serious about their tintop racing see TC3 as an alternative option to the current TC1 WTCC regulations, adding in the entry level, cheap build regulations on offer to allow drivers and teams to make a start on the Touring Car ladder and progress up into other championships.

Now to throw in more detail, the 2015 TC3 International Calendar has been confirmed:

29 March: Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia

19 April: Shanghai International Circuit, China

3 May: Valencia Ricardo Tormo, Spain

10 May: Portimao, Portugal

24 May: Monza, Italy

31 May: Salzburgring, Austria

21 June: Sochi, Russia

26 July: Buenos Aires, Argentina

9 August: Codegua, Chile

20 September: Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore

25 October: Buriram, Thailand

TBA November – TBA

The TBA date in November is expected to be Macau, which is due to lose its finale spot in the WTCC Calendar in 2015. Five of the venues are active Grand Prix tracks with three of those taking place on actual Grand Prix weekends, giving good exposure alongside GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup support package.

So it all seems to look quite positive so far and the TC3 International Series will be a championship I will be keeping an eye on next year as well as it blossoms and develops further. However whilst it may have reminders of the Super 2000 age of the WTCC with the Build Regulations and Sporting Regulations, thats not such a bad thing. There has always been close racing in the WTCC and theres nothing to say this wont be the same in TC3 as well.

I hope this has been helpful to you all and over the coming months I will keep you updated with all the releases from the series, regarding Teams and Drivers.

All the best!