Tuesday, March 5, 2024

PREVIEW: 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Hong Kong

In a weekend full of firsts, the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship comes to an end on 11/12 November as the championship takes to the streets of Hong Kong with the second double-header event of the season. This is your guide, curtesy of The Checkered Flag, to what to expect from the thrilling season finale in the sport’s first visit to the Asia-Pacific region.

Central Harbourfront Event Space

The majority of the firsts associated with this weekend concern the track itself. For the first time, World RX will take place on a 1225-metre street circuit. The asphalt sections, which make up 63% of the track, are closed public roads, adding a new element of challenge for the drivers. They will once again all be in ZEROID X1 cars, the standard RX2e machines, following the ongoing investigation into the fire that destroyed Special ONE Racing‘s cars. You can read more about the specifics of the cars here.

Hong Kong’s spectacular skyline. Credit: Jonathan Mehring / Red Bull Content Pool

The circuit certainly looks enticing, an intoxicating blend of 90-degree turns, complex sequences, very long straights and tight hairpins. Unusually, the joker lap is 23m shorter than the standard lap, but it is tighter, slower, and twistier. The two laps merge just before the finish line, similar to Estering in Germany, hopefully leading to some incredible showdowns.

Championship leader Johan Kristoffersson is relishing the challenge, saying that street circuits are “the most fun to race on.” The racer’s love of this form of racing is certainly due to the risk involved. “Of course it can happen that you make a mistake and it has more severe consequences when it is on a street circuit,” he acknowledged, “but that’s the same for everyone.”

Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS

Kristoffersson is in prime position to seal an extraordinary sixth world rallycross title. All he needs to do is score 10 points over the double-header weekend and he will be crowned champion. It would take a truly extraordinary stroke of bad luck for him not to achieve this goal. However, ever the professional, he is taking nothing for granted: “we’ve seen many times in championship fights that if you’re too cautious on day one, it can lead to problems on day two as well, but I’ll just do my best as usual and let’s see how it goes.”

Kristoffersson and Veiby battle in Belgium. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

Supporting him in the Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS is his trusty teammate, Ole Christian Veiby. His form has been decent all year, and will undoubtedly play a role in defending his teammate’s position. He too is excited to head to Hong Kong, having raced in Asia in 2017, albeit never in Hong Kong. “There’s a lot of passion and enthusiasm for motorsport in the region, so hopefully we can make rallycross big there, too” he explained. “It’ll be fantastic to race on a track right in the middle of downtown and to really bring the sport to the fans. What an amazing place to end the season!

In another first, they will be joined by RX2e star, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky. She shone in this year’s RX2e campaign, consistently taking the fight to Isak Sjökvist and title-winner Nils Andersson. She will be making her world rallycross debut at the grand finale, something which she is understandably ecstatic about. “It’s a dream come true to step in and be part of the best team in World RX – that’s pretty awesome!” Given how, in Mettet, she was second only to Kristoffersson in the heats when the RX1e drivers stepped into RX2e machines, expect Åhlin-Kottulinsky to be a contender from the start.

Kristoffersson and Åhlin-Kottulinsky celebrate in Belgium. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

Hansen World RX Team

The two Hansen drivers are approaching this weekend with very different momentum. Firstly, Kevin Hansen will be hoping to capitalise on his great run last time out in South Africa. The young Swede broke Kristoffersson’s unbroken qualifying run in SuperPole. He finished second on both days of the double-header, propelling him to second in the championship standings. He is confident going into the weekend, saying “we have a great team behind us and from what I’ve seen on the drawings, it looks like a really cool track that should suit us well.” If he can get his car hooked up and into the rhythm of the circuit, he should be on the podium once again.

Kevin Hansen in South Africa. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

Less happy with his time in South Africa is his brother and teammate Timmy Hansen. Although on the pace in SuperPole, he continues to be plagued by bad luck. In the final on Sunday, he got tangled up with Klara Andersson, ejecting him onto the grass and putting him out of contention for the rest of the race. However, he is taking the positives and will be pushing for victory. “Our focus has been on fine-tuning and learning so we can bring a better all-round package to Hong Kong,” the 2019 world champion explained. “It will be a different approach to usual – with no prior experience of the track, we’ll need to drive a bit more based on feeling. It’s super-close in these cars.” His ambitions are crystal clear: “we’ll definitely be pushing for the win.”

Hansen World RX Team are also fielding a debutant driver in World RX. Patrick O’Donovan, who became a two-time British Rallycross champion on 5 November, will be hoping to use this success to propel him to the podium on the world stage. He is aiming to put the cat among the pigeons, saying “I’m extremely excited to see how my pace fares against some of the best rallycross drivers in the world.” He is well-positioned to cause upset, having raced these ZEROID X1 machines before and taking a pair of victories in 2022.

Patrick O’Donovan will make his World RX debut in Hong Kong. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport

Right behind Kevin Hansen in the championship, and with a real chance of snatching second from him, is former DTM champion Timo Scheider. His pace has improved all season long, culminating in a superb victory in South Africa. Having been in sixth before the event, currently lying in third is not the end of his ambitions. “I think there’s more to come from my side, too, because I’m still learning and adapting to the driving style required in this car,” Scheider teased.

Scheider sliding to victory in South Africa. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

With such small gaps in terms of lap time, the tiniest mistake really puts you on the back foot and I think we all had a few ‘moments’ on-track in South Africa. If we can stay inside the top three overall after Hong Kong, that would be an outstanding achievement for myself and the team. We’ll need another clean and strong weekend, but I think we have a reasonable chance.”

CE Dealer Team

Niclas Grönholm had a disappointing time of it in South Africa. Having been second for much of the year, he currently finds himself fourth overall. He will need to dig deep to find some pace against this incredibly competitive field.

Similarly keen to impress is Klara Andersson, who, after failing to reach the final on Saturday in South Africa, was handed a penalty for her part in the contact with Timmy Hansen, dropping her to last place in that final. The team will want to bounce back to end 2023 on a high and be ready for 2024.

CE Dealer Team endured a tough weekend in South Africa. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

Up Next

The final events of the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship take place in Hong Kong on 11/12 November.