Saturday, April 20, 2024

PREVIEW: 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Cape Town, South Africa

After over two months of no world rallycross action, the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship finally gets back underway 7/8 October at the Killarney International Raceway in South Africa with the first double-header of the season. This is your complete guide to what to expect as the championship heads to the southern hemisphere.

Killarney International Raceway

The ever-popular Killarney International Raceway was first visited by World RX in 2017 but has been missing from the calendar since 2019. With spectacular racing from the very first event, including from the likes of legendary drivers Ken Block and Sebastian Loeb, the track quickly cemented itself as a firm fan favourite. The sweeping opening corner, the jump into the intricate gravel section, and the joker merge on the run down to the fast, tight final chicane all practically guarantee spectacular action in every race.

Timmy and Kevin Hansen celebrate after the spectacular 2019 event. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

The most dramatic event came in 2019. The championship was in absolute deadlock between Andreas Bakkerud and Timmy Hansen, with just two points separating them as they went into the final. The two made contact on the first lap, but both could carry on. Bakkerud made the better recovery and finished second, but Hansen clung on to fourth place, ensuring that they were tied on points at the end of the season. Having won four events in the 2019 season, as opposed to Bakkerud’s one, Hansen had done just enough to secure a spectacular victory by the narrowest possible margin.

Weekend Structure

The World RX of South Africa marks the first double-header event of the 2023 season. This means that both Saturday and Sunday will feature a full championship round in its entirety, with three heats followed by the semi-finals and the final. With practice getting underway at 8:30am on both days, fans will be treated to two full days of rallycross action.

Timmy Hansen in 2019. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

The Cars

For the first time in World RX history, the competition will be between drivers in completely equal machinery. The title battle has been on hold since the devastating fire that knocked Special ONE Racing out of the championship back at Lydden Hill in July. As the FIA investigation continues, it was decided that the teams would switch to the ZEROID X1 cars used in the support RX2e championship.

ZEROID X1 cars in action. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

While not as powerful as their RX1e counterparts, these cars provide spectacular racing at every event. The driver and the batteries sit next to each other for perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and the drivetrain howls at 12,000rpm, providing a different but very impressive sound as they scream around the circuit.

Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS

Leading the charge in Cape Town will be the all-conquering Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS. Their drivers, Ole Christian Veiby and championship leader Johan Kristoffersson have had a taste of the ZEROID X1 machines before, having taken part in the Belgian round of the championship in Mettet. Five-time world champion Kristoffersson wasted no time in proving his phenomenal talent, taking victory in his first ever RX2e event, beating the regulars in their own machines.

Kristoffersson reigned in the rain in Belgium. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

The Swede is still the man to beat, bringing a 27 point advantage with him to South Africa in a sport where the maximum points haul achievable in one event is 23. He has a 100 percent success rate at Killarney, having won there at both of his previous attempts. However, with 46 points available over the whole weekend, he still isn’t taking any chances. “We’ve got a good lead at the moment and it’s nice to have that gap, but things can change very quickly in rallycross, so it will be vital to be on our ‘A game’ the whole time” Kristoffersson said. He added that “All it takes is one shocker and suddenly that margin would be significantly reduced, especially during a double-header. If you have a major problem or accident on the first day, it can have repercussions on the second day as well.

A potential challenge will come from within his own team. Veiby, currently fourth in the championship, came the closest to breaking Kristoffersson’s unbeaten SuperPole run in Sweden where he was less than a tenth of a second adrift from his teammate. Veiby is making no secret of his goal: “I need to put him under pressure and make him feel a bit less comfortable, and the first goal is to knock him off the top spot in SuperPole. That’s the key – to put him on the back foot at the beginning of the weekend.” If he can achieve that on day one, it will set up an enticing weekend of racing.

Ole Christian Veiby. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Hansen World RX Team

Hansen World RX Team will be a force to be reckoned with. As they revealed to The Checkered Flag, they relish the challenge of hunting down the seemingly unstoppable Kristoffersson, and are in a position to do so in South Africa. Kevin Hansen was extremely fast in Mettet, topping the timesheets in practice and heat one, and brought the fight to Kristoffersson all the way to the final. As the manager of the RX2e team #YellowSquad, he has an in-depth knowledge of the car he will be racing, which could translate to victory.

Kevin Hansen led for a while in Belgium. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

His brother Timmy Hansen quite literally had a rougher time of it in Belgium. He never quite got to Kevin’s pace on the extremely bumpy circuit and ultimately had to retire from the final due to suspension damage following an unfortunate encounter with a kerb. He explained: “my driving style is far away from how you need to drive these cars, so it was a big challenge for me. Kevin was really fast – he knows that kind of car well from his success in RX Lites.” However, Timmy is confident he can turn things around: “I’ve been working super-hard trying to get my head around how I need to drive the car differently and figure out exactly how to get the most out of it. I’m a big believer in practice making perfect, and I will be much better-prepared for Cape Town.” If he has pulled this off, it means Kristoffersson will have rivals all over him from the outset.

CE Dealer Team

CE Dealer Team‘s Niclas Grönholm currently sits second in the championship. He has been consistently performing well this season, managing to avoid the bulk of the drama, allowing him to be in prime position to pounce if Kristoffersson has an issue. He won the dramatic event in 2019 by following a similar tactic, and will be hungry for more.

Niclas Grönholm in his CE Dealer Team ZEROID X1. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

After a disappointing outing in Estering, Germany, where both Grönholm and his teammate Klara Andersson made the final but were unable to get on the podium, they will be itching to score more points this time round. There are only 12 points separating second place Grönholm and seventh place Andersson in the championship, so their positions could be radically different come the end of the double-header weekend.

ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport

Completing the field are ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, fielding the duo of René Münnich and double DTM champion Timo Scheider. The levelling of the field will be something of a disappointment to the team, who were working wonders with their SEAT Ibiza and Scheider securing a podium in Norway. He will want to replicate this performance in South Africa, having been on the rostrum on two out of three visits so far.

Timo Scheider celebrates his first podium of the year in Norway. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Scheider is already contemplating his moves and how best to exploit the difficult sweeping turns of Killarney Raceway. “You have to position the car to tackle the corner way earlier than usual and start to rotate it super-early,” he explained, “and if your prediction is a little bit off, you might miss the apex and lose time. That creates a lot of potential for making mistakes and therefore for overtaking.” With his technical skills and the level playing field, don’t be surprised to see the German on the podium at least once over the weekend.

Up Next

The World RX of South Africa takes place on 7/8 October. Follow The Checkered Flag for reports on each day’s action.