A new season of the FIA World Rallycross Championship is upon us. While it has a lot to live up to after a thrilling 2019 season, 2020 will be the final year to settle scores in the pure internal combustion engine era with the introduction of a mixed class (petrol and electric) come 2021.
Initially, the 2020 calendar featured 11 rounds, but it was reduced to 10 after the World Motor Sport Council [WMSC] announced the cancellation of the inaugural planned Russian event.
Earlier in March, World RX promoters IMG announced that the opening round of the World RX championship set to take place at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona on April 18-19 had been postponed due to the global COVID-19 outbreak. No further information has been released regarding the second round of World RX, set to take place in Portugal, but as it stands the championship is set to start in Portugal on May 2-3.
It remains unclear if, and when, the Spanish round will be held.
Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) is set to host the second round of the championship. The 0.913km track in Belgium is a firm fan favourite.
Up next, we have two traditional rallycross tracks, race weekends that all drivers want to win or to do well at, Norway (Hell) and Sweden (Holjes). Germany returns to the calendar, but this time it will be held at the Nurburgring (racing circuit). The championship then proceeds to France and Latvia while Abu Dhabi hosts the penultimate round, followed by the season finale in Cape Town, South Africa in November.
With a 10 round calendar, updated supercars, rivalries, and the return of the double-FIA World RX champion Johan Kristoffersson, we could potentially witness one of the best seasons in the history of World RX.
The 2019 season created several talking points, we break them down in detail:
1. Monster Energy RX Cartel determined to win
Andreas Bakkerud ended the 2019 season equal on points (211) with Timmy Hansen. However, with more wins during the season, Hansen took ultimate glory.
The Hansen-Bakkerud rivalry began at the season opener in Abu Dhabi when the Norwegian miscalculated his race laps and ran into the side of Timmy Hansen, taking them both out of contention for a potential victory.
The season ended on a similar note as Hansen and Bakkerud collided in the hairpin gravel section on the first lap of the Cape Town RX final. While Timmy careered into the side and spun after collecting the outside barrier, Bakkerud returned to the circuit in second place to mathematically claim the championship.
However, a mid-race retirement from Timo Scheider (ALL.Inkl Munnich Motorsport) would slot Hansen in the fourth position where he would win the championship on countback.
While the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship was the closest ever championship fight to date, it is undoubtedly a season that Andreas Bakkerud would like to forget. The Norwegian is back for more, and this time he will not be behind the wheel of the EKS run Audi S1 Quattro. Instead, the Monster Energy RX Cartel has teamed up with GC Kompetition in 2020 and will drive a pair of Renault Megane RS RX Supercars prepared for Andreas and Liam Doran in 2020.
Ending the 2020 season at the iconic Cape Town RX, Bakkerud, GCK and RX Cartel will certainly hope to be in a better position for the title fight.
Timmy Hansen - Image: FIA WRX
2. The title defence
The Hansen's return to the World RX grid with reigning champion Timmy Hansen leading the charge alongside younger brother Kevin Hansen.
After a season of thrills and spills, including just about meeting the deadline to enter the 2019 season, and the costly chassis damage to Timmy's supercar at the season opener in Abu Dhabi; the Swedish family are ready to begin their title defence.
Kevin Hansen - Image: Junaid Samodien
3. Grönholm with unfinished business
Dubbed as the dark horse for the last two seasons, Niclas Grönholm (GRX Taneco) could have been a championship contender last year, had it not been for appendicitis surgery that ruled him out of two events.
The Finn did remarkably well, winning both the Norwegian and Cape Town events. Had it not been for stewards decision for "pushing and passing", a win at Yas Marina (Dubai) would have also been on the cards.
Fellow competitors feared the Hyundai i20 as being the quickest in a straight line, a point that was undoubtedly proved again at the Spa-Francorchamps, when team mate, Timur Timerzyanov won the inaugural Belgian event. Heading into 2020 with the same driver line-up the constant form of GRX Taneco at the forefront will be feared by many. With everything that had happened at the season finale last year, many would forget Grönholm's pure form.
The Finn is a talented racer and will use his calculated racing style to attack again when emotions take over.
4. The return of the RX king
Winning the 2017 and 2018 championships, taking twice as many race wins as the second most successful World RX driver behind Petter Solberg; as well as taking a World RX weekend triple (winning each qualification heat, the semi-finals and the finals), Johan Kristofferson will make his World RX return.
While the champion did not return to defend his crown in 2019, he pursued other racing options and signed up to compete in World Touring Car Cup with Sebastien Loeb Racing where he pulled off an incredible win from 22nd on the grid in Race 3 at Malaysia.
In 2020, the Swede will make his World RX return in a works-built Volkswagen Polo GTi RX run by Kristoffersson Motorsport under the team banner "Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS". The hunt for three world titles begins, but the Swede is under no illusions that it will come easy in such a tight-knit field. Who better then Kristoffersson to take on the might of the Hansen’s, Bakkerud and Grönholm?
Johan Kristofferson - FIA/WRX
5. New name, more determined
GCK UNKORRUPT, yes, you heard correct. There might be a new team name on the World RX grid, yet features the already established and well-known GCK name in the paddock.
Guerlain Chicherit and Rokas Baciuska will head into the 2020 season with two newly developed Renault Clio R.S RX supercars.
Retained by GCK, Anton Marklund will also continue racing for the outfit in the further developed Renault Megane RS RX under the team banner GCK Bilstein. Marklund came close to victory last year had it not been for a technical infringement.
The Swede will be hungrier than ever to take his first-ever official World RX win this year. Added with this, we know that the competition will be even closer and GCK will surely be part of this.
6. Reigning Euro RX champion sets sights on World RX glory
Robin Larsson, the reigning European Rallycross Champion joins the field in an ex-Mattias Ekstrom 2018 Audi S1 Quattro updated and prepared by EKS RX for JC Raceteknik.
Larsson was untouchable in the 2019 FIA European Rallycross Championship, but things could change at World Championship level. He will most certainly be up at the top fighting for podiums, if not wins.
13 Permanent drivers are set to take the stage when the lights go out in Portugal on 2/3 May. GCK, RX Cartel, Team Hansen, GRX Taneco, Marklund, Larsson and Kristoffersson will again be joined by Rene Muennich and Timo Scheider as well as a host of other non-permanent entries for the 2020 season.