With the 2018 World Rallycross Championship just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at the last season and give you my top five moments of 2017, from on-track battles to the off-track debacles! These are ranked in no particular order.
1) Mattias Ekstrom 3 – The rest 0
After winning the 2016 Drivers Title and his EKS RX Team securing the team championship, Mattias Ekstrom started off his defence in spectacular style winning the first three rounds of the season. This feat had never been seen before and had everyone wondering whether Ekstrom would have a relatively easy run at defending his crown.
However, after finishing fourth in Belgium in the fourth round of the series, Ekstrom would struggle to get any more wins with his next one coming at the penultimate round at the Estering in Germany, once the driver and team titles had slipped away from him and his EKS team.
2) Johan Kristoffersson wins in Belgium as Volkswagen get their campaign underway
It wasn’t until the fourth round of the series where we saw a non-Ekstrom win, and it was a fellow Swede, Johan Kristoffersson, who took all the plaudits as he secured PSRX’s first win in the World Rallycross championship with their all new works Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Despite having both of their cars in the first three Finals of the season, that first victory for the team had eluded both Kristoffersson and Petter Solberg who congratulated his teammate on his race win, “Well done to Johan – he has done so well in the first four events and has been consistently fast. The whole team has worked very hard – to have both cars in the final for the fourth consecutive race is a great weekend.”
Kristoffersson also congratulated his PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team explaining, “We took a slightly different approach for Mettet (Belgium) and this has been a fantastic team effort.”
This win came at a good time with championship leader Mattias Ekstrom finishing off the podium in fourth place, reducing the deficit in the driver’s standing’s to just three points as the circus headed to Great Britain. Kristoffersson then continued, “We need to keep working hard and it’s all about collecting points – it’s a very tight fight now.”
This would only give the pair of PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo’s more momentum as they would go on to win seven of the final eight rounds of the season with Johan Kristoffersson winning six and Petter Solberg winning the other. Ekstrom wouldn’t win again until the penultimate round of the series in Estering, Germany.
3) Goodbye Lydden… Hello Silverstone and Speedmachine!
Before the 2017 season got underway, it was announced that Lydden Hill would lose its rights to hold the British round of the World Rallycross Championship and would be replaced by Silverstone.
Paul Bellamy, World RX managing director at IMG said, “We have been in talks internally at IMG for some time about creating a large scale motorsport festival weekend and we are delighted that Silverstone is able to share our vision for the future.”
Whilst this may be fantastic news for Silverstone and the World Rallycross Championship, some fans, including me, were maybe a tad upset about this news.
Lydden Hill is the spiritual home of Rallycross having hosted events from 1967 when the great sport was invented. From 1973 until 1996, Lydden hosted the British round of the European Championship. The European returned to the Kent circuit from the 2009 season and held it until 2014 in which the first ever World Rallycross series took place.
With many fans fearing that this would be one of Lydden’s final nails in its coffin, circuit owner Pat Doran reassured fans saying, “We have got other events coming and the circuit is not going anywhere. I wish Silverstone all the best, but I think it is the wrong decision and I think they will struggle to get the atmosphere Lydden gets. We always knew it was never guaranteed we would keep the world championship and we knew the organisers were looking at other ideas, but we have got some other big events coming here.”
As well as the World Rallycross Championship taking place at the Northamptonshire circuit, there will also be live music each night at the main stage from Ministry of Sound, Dizzee Rascal and Basement Jaxx as well as other musicians set to be announced. There will also be a static display of group B Rally and Rallycross cars and a gaming station in which fans can play the Dirt 4 game. There will also be loads of other off-track activities to keep everyone entertained creating a festival like weekend.
Tickets for the Speedmachine plus Round Four of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy can be purchased from http://www.speedmachine.com/
4) Solberg injured in Latvia as Kristoffersson takes the driver’s and constructors for VW
As the field headed to Latvia for round ten, Kristoffersson knew he could win the driver’s title whilst VW could also win the team title. The weekend was going well for the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team with both cars into the Semi-Finals.
Johan Kristoffersson went on to win Semi-Final 1, but then it took a turn for the worse in Semi-Final 2. Petter had a great start from the front row but as he went into the first turn, he was tagged ever so slightly by the Peugeot of Sebastien Loeb.
Solberg veered across the path of Janis Baumanis who had nowhere to go but into the side of the two-time World RX Champion.
The race was red-flagged with Solberg reporting back pain. The event was delayed for twenty-five minutes whilst they extracted him safely from the car and took him to hospital for X-rays. These revealed that he had suffered a broken collarbone as a result of the collision. He also suffered two broken ribs and a bruised lung.
Not only did it mean he was out of the rest of the weekend’s action, it also meant he was out of the driver’s title race with Mattias Ekstrom the only man who could now beat Kristoffersson.
Kristoffersson fought off a hard-charging Ekstrom in the final with a dominant lights to flag victory, winning him the World Championship and VW the Teams Championship, with Ekstrom finishing in second position.
Solberg’s wife and PSRX team principle, Pernilla hailed Kristoffersson’s success “unreal” and a “dream come true” but couldn’t hide what had happened to her husband Petter in the second Semi.
She added, “I am devastated that our driver and my husband Petter was in hospital when our big dream came true. It’s altogether a very emotional feeling: I am crying both happy tears and sad tears at the same time here.”
2017 World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson said, “This is something that I’ve been working towards since 2013 and I think it will take a lot time to sink in.” Kristoffersson also congratulated the team saying, “PSRX VW Sweden is a similar family set-up with Petter and Pernilla at the helm and so we fitted in perfectly there. Petter is an excellent team-mate – we are both nerds in that we look into every detail. We put pressure each other and I took advantage of his excellent knowledge. He really let me in and I want to thank him and the rest of our team for all of their help.”
However, Kristoffersson also admitted that he wasn’t expecting to become World Champion in Latvia explaining, “I wasn’t prepared to become World Champion this weekend – and I didn’t really think about it until Petter didn’t make the final. It was only then that I thought it could be possible. I am such a competitive person and I always wanted to become World Champion, it is a dream come true. I can’t thank everyone enough for this incredible moment.”
The outgoing World Rallycross Champion also congratulated Kristoffersson stating, “I always think the best man deserves to win and Johan has proved that he is the best driver on the track this year.”
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb also congratulated Swede Kristoffersson hailing his impressive season, “Well done to Johan – he really deserves the World Championship title – he has had a great season with no mistakes so congratulations to him.”
World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, concluded: “Huge congratulations to Johan Kristoffersson and PSRX Volkswagen Sweden who have won both the driver and teams’ titles this weekend. Johan has been faultless this season and has a very mature head on his shoulders – he thoroughly deserves to be our new World Champion.”
Bellamy also wished Solberg well, “My thoughts are with Petter after his incident in the semi-finals and on behalf of the World RX community, we wish him a very speedy recovery.”
Amazingly, Petter Solberg returned to action for the next round in Estering, Germany where he finished fourth in the Final. A fantastic effort from the two-time World Rallycross Champion.
5) Ford quit after two years
Just before the final round of the season in South Africa, the Hoonigan Racing Division Team backed by Ford announced that it would be withdrawing from the series after joining at the start of the 2016 season.
“Although we have thoroughly enjoyed competing in the exciting FIA World Rallycross Championship, it’s a natural time for us to take a break as the future of the series takes shape,” said Dave Pericak, Global Director of Ford Performance.
This announcement came just a few weeks after plans were released to replace the current engines with electric ones from the 2020 season onwards. Pericak continued, explaining, “To continue in WRX would have required the development of a new race car, and with so much discussion happening around the future of rallycross from a powertrain package standpoint, it made sense for us to pause until it’s better defined. Rest assured, we remain absolutely committed to hot hatches and all things performance and think rallycross has a bright future.”
During their two-year spell in the championship, the Hoonigan Racing team took eleven podiums with 10 being delivered by Andreas Bakkerud, with Ken Block’s only podium finish coming in Germany at the Hockenheimring in 2016.
Included in those eleven podiums came three wins coming from Andreas Bakkerud, all coming in the 2016 campaign including the sport’s first ever clean sweep at Hell, Norway. Andreas Bakkerud eventually went on to finish third in the driver’s standings.
Ken Block also commented on the discussions about the possible new electric powertrains, “Aspects of the sport are up in the air for the future, so putting a lot more money into developing a new race car to try to battle for the championship just doesn’t make sense right now. It’s certainly disappointing, but that’s how the economics of motorsports go sometimes.”
This leaves only three manufacturers to contest the 2018 season with Volkswagen, Audi and Peugeot.
With that little look back at the 2017 season, we now look forward to the 2018 campaign which gets underway in Spain on the 14th and 15th April at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Photo courtesy of Jayracemedia