Monday, June 24, 2024

SEASON PREVIEW: 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship

After a long winter break for the teams to recharge and refresh, the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship is back. The second season of the all-electric era of the sport launches at Montalegre, Portugal on 3/4 June. With a few driver, calendar, and rule changes for the new year, here is your guide of what to look out for in the upcoming season.

Calendar

Credit: Rallycross Promotor GmbH

The 2023 calendar features a wealth of returning favourites and rallycross classics. After such a lengthy break, the championship crams a lot of action into a relatively short space of time. Kicking off at Montalegre, the championship then heads to Scandinavia for rounds at Hell, Norway, and then the Magic Weekend at Höljes, Sweden. This year’s event promises to be doubly special, as it will be World RX’s 100th event.

Then we see a quartet of returning favourites, conspicuous by their absence from the 2022 calendar. Firstly, rallycross returns to its birthplace on 22/23 July for the British round at Lydden Hill. This will be World RX’s first round on the newly reconfigured track layout and will also feature some classic rallycross machinery in action, so it promises to be an event not to be missed. After that, the championship returns to Mettet, Belgium, scene of some spectacular battles over the years, before heading to the legendary Estering, Germany, home of World RX’s most famous opening turn. After a break, the championship heads to the southern hemisphere for the World RX of Cape Town in October, before culminating at the first ever World RX street circuit in Hong Kong. With 10 rounds over 8 events, and a mix of rallycross classics and new territory, this calendar promises to provide thrilling racing all season long.

Rule Changes

Much like its European relative, the biggest change in the rules comes with the reshaping of the weekend format. Rallycross fans, rejoice: the progression race has gone. The series is returning to a more traditional format as enjoyed from 2014-2021. The SuperPole shootout remains to determine the grid for the first heat race. There will then be four heat races spread over the two days (three races in the case of double-header events, with two rounds happening over two days). The top three drivers overall will receive championship points (3 for 1st, 2 for 2nd, and 1 for 3rd), and the results will also determine the semi-final grid.

Those grids have returned to a staggered formation, with six cars spread over three rows, making the results of the heats much more important. The top three from each semi will progress to the final. The winner of the final will be declared the overall event winner and will walk away with 20 points. 2nd will receive 16, then descending from 14 for 3rd position. The promoters hope that this combination of a small amount of points in the heats and the grand prize at the end will encourage the drivers “to push as fast as possible in the early stages of the competition while preserving the ‘winner-takes-all’ anticipation ahead of the final.

And with the line-up of drivers for this year, “pushing as fast as possible” will be at the top of everyone’s list of priorities.

Drivers and Teams

Sebastian Loeb and his new Lancia Delta Evo-e RX. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

The biggest news over the winter break is the return of nine-time World Rally champion Sebastian Loeb to the World RX field. The winner of the 2018 round at Mettet will be piloting one of two Special ONE Racing Lancia Delta Evo-e RX. The other will be driven by compatriot Guerlain Chicherit. The team have committed to racing in World RX for at least 3 years, and, after a promising debut at the Nürburgring in 2022, they have their sights firmly set on winning events and challenging for the title. Loeb is excited to get going, saying “when Guerlain spoke to me the first time about tackling a rallycross, I thought he was mad!  Then I tried the car in December 2022 and I was immediately won over by its dynamic qualities. I have great faith in this project and I can’t wait to champion it on tracks around the world.” He is not a man accustomed to being anywhere other than the top of the rostrum, so expect him to be pushing from day one.

All three Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS will be returning in 2023. Credit: Rallycross Promoter Gmbh / Red Bull Content Pool

In order to get there, however, he will have to defeat five-time World RX champion and legend of the sport, Johan Kristoffersson. Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS had a phenomenal season in 2022, with Kristoffersson winning 8 out of 10 events and topping every SuperPole session. His teammate, Ole Christian Veiby, claimed five podium positions as well, and rookie Gustav Bergström impressed everyone with his lightning starts and his defensive capabilities. Kristoffersson is aware that the competition will be even tougher this year, particularly with the return of Loeb and with Veiby promising to “lower my shoulders a bit” this year. Could there even be fireworks within the team?

The Hansen brothers are ready to do battle again in 2023. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

No World RX grid is truly complete without the Hansen World RX Team. The usual fraternal pairing of 2019 champion Timmy and his brother Kevin Hansen returns with a stunning new livery for their Peugeout 208 RX1e which evokes the machinery of team manager Kenneth Hansen. There were so many close calls for the team in 2022, they will be hungry to secure more victories right from the beginning. Timmy reflected on the prospects for the coming season, saying “I expect this year to look quite different. Last year was all about finishing the cars in time to get them out on-track to start the season, and a lot of things in all the teams were a bit rushed. Now we have more stability, being able to look properly into the year we have already done with these cars and trying to improve.” The team will be hoping that the improvements will be enough to take the fight to the rest of the grid.

Niclas Grönholm is ready for the 2023 WRX championship. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Another team with a long-term vision for the future is Construction Equipment Dealer Team. The team signed a multi-year deal with Niclas Grönholm in April, confirming their commitment to the sport. Grönholm was the first to snatch a win from Kristoffersson in 2022, and will be keen to replicate that success. Montalegre not only saw the team’s first win, it also saw a double-podium, as Klara Andersson accompanied her teammate on the rostrum. The team’s PWR RX1e certainly showed glimpses of the pace required to take victories, they just need the consistency to pull it off. Team manager Jussi Pinomäki is certainly keen to get going, saying “we will continue to push the envelope, both on and off-track…and our long-term goal of challenging for the FIA World Rallycross Championship titles has not changed.”

Timo Scheider is also making a return to the World RX grid. Credit: Paulo Maria / DPPI

The grid is completed by the welcome return of Timo Scheider. The German driver, famed for his versatility, has signed for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, where initially he will be driving the same SEAT Ibiza RX1e that René Münnich drove in 2022, before the car gets replaced by an upgraded model later in the season. While he may not be able to challenge for wins right away, he certainly has the enthusiasm and skills required to build up to that point. “We know things will be tough to begin with in last year’s car, but the new car is due to be ready later in the season and that should allow us to take a decent step forward and fight with the others” said Scheider. “In the meantime, I’m really excited to get to Montalegre – to see my World RX friends again, hopefully a lot of fans and to go racing!”

Next Up

With such a high calibre field of drivers, teams and tracks, the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship is shaping up to be a thrilling campaign. Keep checking The Checkered Flag for updates on each event as the season progresses.

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