The first half of the season in the FIA European Rallycross Championship Super1600 category was a hugely competitive affair, with three different winners from the first three events.
Expected championship front-runners Ildar Rakhmatullin, Ulrik Linnemann and Eric Faren were quick, but new boys Reinis Nitiss and Kevin Erkisson was equally as fast. The first half of the season was nothing short of frenetic.
Round one of the championship at Lydden Hill was won by Danish driver Linnemann in his Peugeot 207, despite a heavy crash on day one which almost ruled him out of contention. Only late night work from his team kept him in the game. Vadim Makarov finished second in his Rolf Volland prepared Skoda Fabia, building on experience gained from some impressive results in 2012 and looking like a real title threat. Eric Faren finished top at the Intermediate Classification, converting it into third on the podium. Round one would be the only event that didn’t feature a Set Promotion run car on the podium, Timur Shigaboutdinov finished fourth ahead of team-mates Rakhmatullin and Nitiss. The events notable scalp was Eriksson, who made his rallycross debut at Lydden. The young Swede topped the order at the end of day one with a stunning display, but a big roll in heat three damaged his Clio, and despite his team fixing the car it would suffer more problems, putting him out of contention.
Putting the memories of Lydden behind him, Eriksson picked up where he left off for round two in Portugal to dominate the event and claim victory. Typifying the Swede’s persona after the final, the only thing he could initially think to say was “At least I didn’t roll this time.” Faren went one better than at Lydden to finish second, ahead of round one winner Linnemann. Nitiss improved his round one result with fourth in the final, setting his intentions for future events with fastest time in heats three and four. Rakhmaullin again finished fifth, with the second Skoda driving Russian, Sergey Zagumennov in sixth. Rudolf Scafer brought his brand new Citroen DS3 to Portugal and finished Semi-final two in fifth. Rasual Minnikhanov made his first start of the season, just missing out on a place in the final.
By round three in Hungary, Nitiss had really hit form, taking maximum points from the event topped off by a great drive in the final. Rakhmatullin scored his best result of the season in second, but was no match for his young team-mate. Linnemann finished third on the road but was later disqualified for a technical infringement, promoting Eriksson to his second podium in as many events. Minnikhanov finished fourth just head of fellow Russian Makarov. Faren had a dismal weekend, topped off by a big crash at the start of semi-final one, his Citroen C2 shoved into the wall on the inside of the first corner, suffering significant damage. Klaus Freudenthaler was an amazing fastest in heat one, and had another great race with Faren and Rakhmatullin in heat two. A big crash and suspension damage in heat three put him out of the event. Rene Munnich finished semi-final two in fourth position, while fellow Germany Skoda driver Andreas Steffen had a few issues in his first event of the year, broken rear suspension his biggest problem after contact with a wall on the high speed circuit.
For the second event in succession Latvian driver Nitiss won both the semi-final and final in Finland. He was joined on the podium by team-mate Rakhmatullin, who was driving more like his old self. Third was Faren, scoring his third podium in the first four events and looking strong for a good championship charge. Timur Shigaboutdinov finished fourth, ahead of Linnemann who lost out in the first corner scrum, then picking up a puncture later in the race. Makarov again proved his pace, top at the Intermediate Classification. He was denied his chance to challenge in the final when his Skoda refused to leave the starting grid. Joni Wiman made his first start of the year, piloting the Renault Clio that had so far been used by Kevin Eriksson to good effect this season. Fastest time in the fourth heat was the highlight of his weekend, the young Finn unable to consistently produce the blindingly fast speed he showed on his events in the class last season. Sergej Zagumennov had an eventful weekend that involved several trips into the first corner gravel trap, usually assisted there by other drivers. Young Estonian driver Janno Ligur made the trip to Finland but didn’t bring any good fortune with him. He struggled with the car before a fire put him out all together in heat three.
Norway was the scene of Nitiss domination, although he was only fastest once in the heats. Second fastest on three occasions was consistently enough to outpace his rivals and put him top at the Intermediate Classification before winning the semi-final and final. Rakhmatullin again finished second, ahead of Linnemann in third. Zagumennov had his best run to date, coming back from an exciting first corner in his semi-final where he made the best start, only to miss the braking point and head straight through a stack of tyres. He would end up fourth in the final, with Faren in fifth, the Swede struggling all weekend with engine problems. Eriksson got a puncture in the final that ruled him out of contention. His weekend was tough throughout, driving with his left hand wrapped up in a bandage following a workshop related injury while working on his folkrace cars.
Danish driver Linnemann considers Sweden as his home circuit. Easily top at the Intermediate Classification, he won his semi-final and had too much pace for championship leader Nitiss in the final, who finished second. Makarov missed round five in Norway but returned for Sweden and again visited the podium. The Skoda driver was one of the most consistent in the class in the first half of the season and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Faren just missed out on the podium, losing vital time in the first corner scrap. Rakhmatullin finished fifth, while team-mate Eriksson was bundled out of contention and into the sand trap in the first corner. Munnich returned to having been absent with WTCC commitments at previous events. The Skoda driver drove well throughout, and really could have made the final, but for ending up in the gravel at turn one in the semi-final. Sandra Hultgren was the star of Super1600, if not the whole event. The sixteen-your-old Swede competed in her first ever rallycross event at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia that she only saw for the first time on the Friday. Coming from a folkrace background, she was only two places off making the final and is certainly a star for the future. Janno Ligur is also a sixteen-year-old going places, and showed well in Sweden, having been put out of the event in Finland with engine failure early on. Shigaboutdinov finished up fifteenth, if there are difficult races that involve contact or traffic, the Russian seems to find them.
As the championship headed off for its summer holidays, Nitiss was beginning to pull away at the top of the championship standings, while Rakhmatullin, Faren and Linnemann fell over each other, and others trying to keep up. Eriksson had never intended to contest a full championship. Had it not been for bad luck and punctures, he would have been right at the front challenging Nitiss as his selected events for 2013 drew to a close.
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