WorldRX 2015: Heikkinen wins in Belgium

The third round of the 2015 FIA World Rallycross Championship took place at the Mettet Circuit in Belgium with 38 Supercars entered. It was also the scene of the first round of the 2015 FIA European Rallycross Championship.

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Heres how things panned out…

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PREVIEW…

Round three of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy took place at Mettet in Belgium and included a total of 38 Supercars. Ladbrokes World RX of Belgium will also form the first of five rounds in this year’s FIA European Rallycross Championship (Euro RX). After two events, Norway’s Petter Solberg is currently leading Johan Kristoffersson in the overall drivers’ standings by 15 points.

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A new addition to the rallycross calendar in 2014, the Circuit Jules Tacheny in Mettet is located 60 miles south of Brussels in the French-speaking region of Wallonia.  Last year’s event was won by Finland’s Topi Heikkinen who was followed home by Swedes Timmy Hansen and Johan Kristoffersson who finished second and third respectively.  Reigning Euro RX Champion Robin Larsson set the benchmark for the fastest lap time (38.74 seconds). The organisers have made some general improvements to this year’s route including a revised Joker Lap and additional gravel section.

Ford Olsbergs MSE driver Reinis Nitiss, who finished runner-up in Hockenheim, explained the changes to this year’s circuit: “The end of the track has changed for this year; there’s a chicane and then uphill back onto asphalt into the last corner, which is now gravel at the entry. The exit is on asphalt up to the finish line.”

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Flying the flag for Belgium for the second year in a row will be local driver Francois Duval who lives less than 30 miles from Mettet and will pilot a Ford Focus RX Supercar. “I’m really looking forward to returning to Mettet,” said Duval, who won a European Rallycross Championship event in his homeland in 2010. “It’s a form of motorsport that I’ve always loved. The cars are fantastic and with over 30 Supercars the racing will be close with some tough competition.”

Competing for World Championship points in Belgium will be the 18 permanent drivers plus Norway’s Ole Kristian Nottveit who has opted to compete for World points rather than European.  There will be a further 19 Supercar drivers eligible to score points in the highly-competitive Euro RX.  Most notable entries include Volkswagen Team Sweden’s Ole Christian Veiby who will drive a brand new Polo RX Supercar.  Scottish-based team Albatec Racing will also field two Peugeot 208s which will be driven by former French Rallycross Champion Jerome Grosset-Janin and Britain’s James Grint, a budding motorsport star who has previously competed in the British Rally Championship.

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Grint, who gained valuable seat-time at the third round of British Rallycross Championship in Pembrey, spoke confidently ahead of his debut in the FIA’s newest World Championship: “The car was fantastic in testing and at Pembrey, and I improved every session, so we’re certainly going in the right direction. I know it’s going to be tough, the competition is fierce, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got to gain a strong result, with a place in the semi-finals very much my aim.

All 38 Supercars competing in Belgium will race together through the heat stages but after heat four, two separate Intermediate Classification tables will be issued. European and World Championship competitors will then race in their own separate semi-finals and finals. The new-for-2015 format will allow both European and World Championship competitors to race on track for victory in their respective championships.

DAY ONE…

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Petter Solberg and Mattias Ekstrom are tied on equal points following the first two heats at Ladbrokes World RX of Belgium, round three of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy. EKS team owner and two-time DTM Champion Ekstrom took the heat one victory, while Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timmy Hansen posted the quickest time on heat two.
 
Leading the 18 Supercar drivers eligible to score points in the opening round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship (Euro RX) is Belgium’s Francois Duval in his Ford Focus.  French Rallycross ace Jerome Grosset-Janin is second after a strong performance in his Albatec Racing prepared Peugeot 208, while team-mate James Grint is on course for a semi-final position after ending up 12th in Euro RX.

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Heat one winner Ekstrom spoke of the difficult driving conditions on the circuit as a result of the mixed weather. “The track is good,” he said, “but the rain has made it hard as the conditions are always changing. In the first heat, I kept it clean and was lucky but the second didn’t go so well. The car is working well so tomorrow we continue to push and we aim for the finals like we always do.”
 
Solberg, who partners Britain’s Liam Doran in the new-for-2015 SDRX team, added: “We had problems with our central differential throughout the second heat so we lost a few seconds on the corners but everything else has been good and no major problems.” Doran is lying 19th position overall after breaking his car’s suspension on the day’s opening heat.

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Lying third overnight is Marklund Motorsport’s Topi Heikkinen after the Finn posted the second quickest time during heat two. Fourth overall is Ford Olsbergs MSE driver Andreas Bakkerud, while Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Davy Jeanney rounds off the top five.
 
Elsewhere, it was a dramatic opening day for Euro RX driver Peter Hedstrom who flipped his Skoda Fabia at the exit of the Joker Lap. Meanwhile, Hungarian Tamas Karai got his event off to a bad start when he ran into Russian Timer Timerzyanov, which resulted in Karai being excluded from heat one.  Euro RX driver Ole Christian Veiby was fourth quickest in heat one but lost time after an impact with fellow Polo RX Supercar driver Johan Kristoffersson in the race that followed.

DAY TWO…

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Marklund Motorsport’s Topi Heikkinen has won the World RX of Belgium, round three of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy. SDRX driver Petter Solberg finished second to establish a 22 point Championship lead in the overall drivers’ standings over Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson. Ford Olsbergs MSE’s Reinis Nitiss claimed the third podium spot.

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In the opening round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship (Euro RX), Frenchman Jerome Grosset-Janin took the overall victory in his Albatec Racing prepared Peugeot 208 RX Supercar. He was followed home by 18-year-old Ole Christian Veiby who showed remarkable pace on his debut with Volkswagen Team Sweden. Hungarian Tamas Karai finished third. 
 
“I’m really happy, Belgium is starting to feel like home!” grinned Heikkinen who repeated his 2014 Mettet victory. The Finn was awarded the coveted Monster Energy Super Charge Award after his rapid start off the line during the final, and also wins a Rebellion Timepieces Wraith Drive Rallycross watch from the Championship’s official timing partner.
 
Heikkinen added: “I’m feeling really comfortable in the car now – it suits my driving style but I have to say that I am not alone.  There is a team of more than 20 people who helped me to win today, my team are amazing and I couldn’t have done this without them.  The fight for the Championship is well and truly on and now we get ready for Lydden Hill next week and hope to repeat this all over again.”
 
Runner-up Solberg astonished the Belgian crowds when he was penalised with a Double Joker penalty after jump starting his Citroen DS3 Supercar in semi-final one. The disadvantage didn’t hinder the reigning Champion, however, as Solberg drove flat out to finish just half a second behind Sweden’s PG Andersson.

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Solberg took up the story: “I took a gamble in the semi-final but it didn’t work out.  After that, I had to really push to make up for the time I was going to lose from taking two Jokers.  All I could think about was going as fast as I could.  Then in the final, the plan was to aim for second but when my spotter told me I was only a second behind Topi, I tried to catch him but went into the Joker too fast. Last time we were here, we finished third, this time we came second – maybe next year we can win!”

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Third placed Nitiss was quick to thank his fans who had travelled from Latvia but was his own harshest critic. “Of course it’s good to be third for the second event in a row but I need to improve my driving,” said the 19-year-old.  “The car feels really good but my times weren’t as good in the semis or the final so I want to work on that.”

After a strong performance in a second Ford Olsbergs MSE car, Nitiss’ team-mate Andreas Bakkerud finished the event fourth overall.  Fifth place was awarded to Sweden’s PG Andersson who lined up on the front row of today’s final alongside team-mate Heikkinen.
 
Elsewhere, it was a tough end to the weekend for round one winner Johan Kristoffersson who was top qualifier at the Intermediate Classification after winning heats three and four. The Volkswagen Team Sweden driver was set to win his semi-final until Kristoffersson lost his lead when he clipped a kerb with his Polo RX Supercar and dropped to fifth after incurring a puncture.  It was a similar story for Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timmy Hansen who lost out on a spot in the final due to a front-left puncture.
 
EKS team-mates Mattias Ekstrom and Anton Marklund had a strong weekend with Marklund reaching the semis but narrowly missing out on a spot in the final after finishing fourth.  Ekstrom lined up on the third row of today’s final alongside Solberg but retired after he incurred damage to his Audi S1 EKS Quattro on lap one.

7 days after the Belgian round is the WorldRX Of Great Britain, held at Lydden Hill in Kent over the Bank Holiday weekend. 30 Supercars are entered with a lot of British Talent due to take part.

All the best!

Phil!

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