Friday, July 19, 2024

PREVIEW: 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Mettet, Belgium

Mettet, Belgium makes a welcome return to the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship, but with a very different entry list to the one originally anticipated. With the cancellation of the RX1e class, four top-flight rallycross legends are transferring to the feeder series for a battle royale against the next generation of rallycross superstars.

Following the dramatic fire at Lydden Hill, which sadly put Special ONE Racing out of the 2023 championship, the decision was taken by the organisers of the World RX of Benelux not to run the RX1e category at the event (5/6 August). The investigation is still ongoing into the precise cause of the fire, and, as a result, it was deemed unsafe to run the top-flight cars.

However, the show must go on, and a mouth-watering treat is lined up for rallycross fans. Kevin and Timmy Hansen, themselves huge advocates for electric rallycross, will be jumping into the fray, as will Ole Christian Veiby and his teammate, 5-time world rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson. Both Hansen World RX Team and Kristoffersson Motorsport have junior teams entered in RX2e and so have the opportunity to continue racing.

Nils Andersson of Sweden seen during the World Rallycross Championship in Lydden Hill, Great Britain on July 22, 2023. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

RX2e Explained

RX2e was the first FIA electric rallycross championship. Devised as a feeder series for world rallycross, it features identical cars designed to put the driver first. The battery sits next to the driver for perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and produces the equivalent of 362bhp. As was proved at Lydden Hill, the cars are more than fast enough to ignite some truly exciting racing. For sceptics concerned about the noise, the RX2e cars have got you covered. The drivetrain howls at more than 12,000rpm and the cars sound like spaceships as they scream around the track.

Hallman leads the charge at Lydden Hill. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

Entrants

Lydden Hill winner Tommi Hallman will not be taking part at this weekend’s event, as he is only a temporary entrant. More surprising is the news that joint championship leader and Belgian home favourite Viktor Vranckx will not be taking part. On his official social media, the team said “VMV Racing is very sad to announce Viktor Vranckx’s withdrawal from the RX2e championship following WRX promoter’s decision of reinforcing our 2 main competitor teams. VMV Racing joined the RX2e championship based on the equity values embodied by the RX2e class, offering the same chances to all the teams and drivers involved in the championship.”

This seems like a most unusual move. While an additional four drivers may skew the championship results a little, there was no issue with Hallman coming in for one round. This presents a real opportunity for Vranckx to prove himself against the best world rallycross have to offer. Tommy Kristoffersson, boss of Kristoffersson motorsport, has tried to persuade him on social media not to pull out.

Isak Sjökvist is just one point behind championship leader Andersson. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

The title fight is now between Nils Andersson for Team E (supported by Kristoffersson motorsport) and Isak Sjökvist for #YellowSquad (supported by Hansen World RX Team). Neither had excellent results at Lydden Hill, with Sjökvist missing out on a place in the final for the first time this year. Andersson was the only one able to challenge Hallman for a large portion of the weekend until a suspension issue cruelly knocked him out of contention in the final. Andersson is determined to bounce back, saying “I’ve been in title fights like this before, so hopefully that experience will help and staying cool will be key. With the speed we have now and the way the team is working, I really feel we are moving in the right direction – so let’s do this!

Elsewhere on the grid, Molly Taylor is set to make her debut for #YellowSquad. The 2016 Australian rally champion is no stranger to competition, driving alongside Kevin Hansen in Extreme E, but is still learning the ropes with on-track racing. Speaking of the challenge she is anticipating, she said “Coming from a rally background, the side-by-side racing is something that is new to me so this is a great way for me to increase my experience with this type of racing, which I’m sure will translate across to Extreme E.” Meanwhile, Ole Henry Steinsholt will be the only podium finisher from Lydden Hill competing in Belgium, and will be hoping to maintain that form.

Team Manager Reaction

Speaking about the decision to bring RX1e drivers into RX2e, Tommy Kristoffersson said “The show must go on! We are very positive about this possibility and want to put on a great show in a very competitive and tight series”. Hansen boss Kenneth Hansen echoed those sentiments, and is aware of the challenge of entering such a competitive field: “We are a race team and we like to race and give the fans the best possible show they can get. That is why we want to be there and to compete in RX2e. That is a big challenge. They are fast guys and girls there. It will be interesting, hopefully we can put on a good show together.”

The World RX of Benelux takes place 5/6 August.

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