A new era is upon us. The eagerly awaited first round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship begins today in the Villa Real region of Northern Portugal at the Montalegre circuit. Teams have spent a winter preparing their machines for an assault on the World title, but the reality is that until the first two heats are done today, and rest of the event follows tomorrow afternoon, nobody really knows who is best prepared, who has the fastest car and who has the best chance of becoming the first World Rallycross Champion.
Volkswagen backed outfit Marklund Motorsport and Ford Supported OlsbergsMSE have done the most testing over the winter months of all the teams in the Supercar ranks. Marklund have built two brand new cars, considerable evolutions on the 2013 version in which Anton Marklund made his debut in the category. Together with GRC champion Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen, the pair have both raced a Supercar at Montalegre before and could hit the ground running this afternoon. OlsbergsMSE have built further evolutions of their successful Fiesta and with young guns Andreas Bakkerud and Reinis Nittis at the wheel are the youngest pairing in the series. Both former Super1600 champions, Bakkerud won two events last season and will be right at the front from round one. Petter Solberg’s PSRX team has grown to two cars, joined by countryman Alexander Hvaal. With a totally refreshed 2013 chassis and a brand new car, PSRX has put a lot of development into their cars over the winter and with Solberg’s driving ability absolutely without question, he will always be in with a shout this year whatever the venue, and can only help the already fast Hvaal to join him on the pace. Albatec Racing has arguably the highest profile driver in the paddock in one of their Peugeot 208’s. Jacques Villeneuve is also one of the most diverse drivers on the grid, and in testing has been fast, would it really be a surprise if he were in the final come sunday afternoon? Team principle Andy Scott is also quick, the car not doing his driving ability justice last year. If the winters work undertaken in Scotland is as successful as the squad hopes then there could be a number of 208’s in the finals.
Fellow British squad LD Motorsports have also undertaken a huge amount of work over the winter, with a brand new chassis for Liam Doran and a fully rebuilt 2013 version for new team-mate Kristof Skorupski. Double TouringCar champion Derek Tohill will also drive for the LD Motorsports team, but while Doran and Skorupski will run as the Monster Energy World RX Team, Tohill is a single car entrant into the World series for his first four wheel drive experience, and has admitted that he will need to spend at least the first half of the season learning. Peugeot have joined Kenneth Hansen’s successful team to form Team Peugeot-Hansen with a pair of brand new Peugeot 208’s for 2014. Despite missing the media day in Italy last week with unfinished cars, Hansen has an incredible record of scoring good results with new chassis’. Double champ Timur Timerzyanov and Timmy Hansen remain with the team and even if they are not bang on the money in the first few heats in Montalegre, it won’t take long for them to get up to speed. Belgian driver Jos Jansen is in for the whole season with his Ford Focus, just pleased to be able to compete at World championship level. Polish rallycross stalwart Bohdan Ludwiczak will also contest the full season in his self-built Ford Fiesta having achieved success at national level in Poland. Swedish rally star Ramona Karlsson has swapped to rallycross for 2014, joining forces with experienced Swede Per Eklund. Driving a Saab 93, she gets her nine event campaign underway this weekend after two successful tests in Sweden.
Koen Pauwels moves back to Supercar after a spell away in TouringCar and will race here in Portugal with his Ford Focus Mk2. He will also run his Mk3 version this weekend for Portuguese driver Joaquim Santos. Former French champion Alexander Theuil has forfeited the first round of the French series this weekend to compete in Portugal in his Citroen DS3 in what is expected to be the first of several events for the Frenchman in 2014.
With several of the formerly leading drivers moving on from Super1600 for 2014, experienced Dane Ulrik Linnemann is favorite to take the crown in his new Peugeot 208. Linnemann has had a successful off-season, building his new car and undergoing extensive testing, without a single major hitch. Set Promotion are back with Timur Shigaboutdinov and new rallycross driver Latvian Janis Baumanis, the pair in Renault Twingos for the year ahead. Volland Racing has four Skoda Fabia’s on the grid for 2014, possibly the most interesting of the quartet is Russian Nikita Misyulya who has undergone extensive testing in recent weeks, as documented on RallycrossWorld after the second round of the British Championship in Holland. German Andreas Steffen also starts in Portugal, embarking on his first full European Championship season. The 18 strong field is larger than there has been in the Portuguese round of the European Championship previously, which bodes category this year.
TouringCar only features one driver that has won previously in the class, and as such, Daniel Lundh starts Portugal at least, as favorite. Kejetil Larsen will contest the year in the ex-Robin Larsson Skoda Fabia and has shown speed in Scandinavian SuperNational. Anders Braten returns with his Ford Fiesta, as does fellow Norwegian Torlief Lona. Patrick Mertens makes his return to the sport with his VW Polo having sat out 2013 in preparation for this year, while local driver Jose Fanrica makes his first European start this weekend in a Peugeot 206.
RX Lites makes its first of seven appearances on the World RX calendar this weekend. OlsbergsMSE development driver Kevin Eriksson is the most experienced of any in the cars, but will face stiff competition from an eclectic mix of experienced rally drivers, PWRC man Aron Domzala is joined by Patrick Flodin. Sebastien Eriksson and Daniel Holten build up to their Supercar drives in RallyX Scandinavia next weekend by running with the Lites this weekend.
As with Supercar, there is little to choose between any of the teams and drivers in each category, Portugal this weekend is just the start of a fascinating year.
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