Next season, Latvia will join the FIA World Rallycross Championship with an event held just a stones throw outside of the capital city, Riga. At the other end of the rallycross spectrum, a selection of World Rallycross drivers and other paddock regulars were invited to take part in the sixth round of the Lada Cup at Birzi last month, near the home town of Latvian star Reinis Nitiss.
Andreas Bakkerud returned to the event for a second year, while Finn Toomas Heikkinen and former Junior World Rally Championship runner-up Guy Wilks also competed in the Standard category. European Super1600 championship leader Janis Baumanis joined Nitiss as a home driver at the event, while journalist Hal Ridge and World RX television commentator Andrew Coley also took part. With two classes, Open and Standard, the event was run to World RX format (four heats, semi-finals and finals) and it was Nitiss and Bakkerud who set the pace in the Standard category during the heat stages, Bakkerud making short work of rubbing the newness off his colleague’s brand new Lada in heat two.
Wilks spun in the first heat, before becoming involved in a battle with Coley, while Heikkinen had early event technical troubles with his brand-new Lada. Ridge’s Lada experienced a gear selection problem in the first heat, his mechanics electing to change the gearbox between the first two runs; with the help of other teams the Lada was tipped on its side to allow faster access to the underside of the car. The task was completed impressively quickly, just in time for heat two. Heikkinen swapped to a spare Lada for the latter two heats and felt an improvement in the chassis, but would end up 32nd, with Baumanis 30th and Coley 37th. Ridge was 17th at the Intermediate Classification.
In the semi-finals, a poor start for Nitiss meant he just scraped through to the final in third, with Wilks close behind in fourth. In the second semi, Bakkerud collided with a course-marking bale, rolled his green Lada and was out of the running. In the final, championship front-runners Edmons Dzigurs and Ugis Traubergs duelled it out at the front of the field, Dzigurs claiming victory, while Nitiss fought hard and tried everything he could to pass Sigmar Tammemagi for the final podium spot, but had to settle for fourth position. In the Open category, for cars restricted only to being a rear-wheel drive Lada, with pretty much everything else free, Kristaps Grunte won. One of, if not the most experienced driver in the field, Guy Wilks, was full of praise for the event. “I was really sceptical about what the heck it was, I had no idea, but it was absolutely fantastic. The Latvian’s are so hospitable, it’s ridiculous. I’ve been involved in a few things in Latvia and they have a great attitude to motorsport, very open minded but very serious on safety and the competitive levels. It exceeded my expectations for sure.”
The event was slickly run, well promoted and was visited by thousands of spectators. If the sixth round of the Lada Cup was a small precursor to how the Latvian World RX event will be run in 2016, the rallycross fraternity is in for a treat.
A feature insight into competing in the Latvian Lada Cup will be in the forthcoming re-launch of Rallycross World Magazine.
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