SOLBERG V LOEB
WORLD RALLYCROSS SEASON GUIDE
orwegian Petter Solberg and Frenchman Sebastien Loeb last competed against each other in an FIA World Championship event on Rally Catalunya in 2012, the last full WRC season for both men.
While Loeb sealed his record ninth consecutive WRC crown with Citroen, Solberg concluded his WRC career where it began, with M-sport. Loeb competed in selected WRC rounds in 2013, before moving to the World Touring Car Championship, in which he won on his debut weekend.
Solberg meanwhile switched to European Rallycross, which became World RX for 2014 and he hasn’t been beaten to the FIA World title since.
This year, Solberg will defend his double World RX crowns in his Citroen DS 3 run by his own PSRX team, while Loeb has joined Team Peugeot-hansen, backed by Peugeot Sport. While Solberg has made World RX his since it’s inception, Loeb has previous RX form too; he won X Games in Los Angeles in 2012, and raced at his home round of European Rallycross in 2013 at Loheac.
“Loeb will be fast,” says Solberg, “He’s in a good car and he’s a very good driver. He’s done World Touring Cars – that is as hard as rallycross sometimes, and he’s done rallycross before and won X Games. He will be fast straight away!”
Loeb is cautious about making predictions in advance of his World RX debut in Portugal this weekend. “I don’t know [what to expect],” he says. “I hope some of my skills from WTCC will help me, but I cannot predict a result, it’s too soon to know what I can do in rallycross. I’m excited about the season ahead, I think it will be a lot of fun and the sensation in the car is a little bit more like a rally car and I have some experience there…”
The most successful WRC driver ever is looking forward to taking on old rival Solberg: “We had some great battles and great fights when we were in rallying and it will be nice to meet him again in another discipline. I’m looking forward to competing against Petter again – he’s a nice guy! It’s difficult to know where I am, but I would like to fight with the top drivers.”
Solberg and Loeb won’t have things all their own way this season by any means. The 17 permanent drivers ( detailed right) are all capable of qualifying for the six-car final at the 12 championship events. Entries will be boosted at each event by round-byround drivers and non-permanent regulars, such a Peugeot Hansen Academy drivers Davy Jeanney and former British RX Junior champion, Kevin Hansen.
Hansen’s older brother Timmy finished as runner-up to Solberg last season and starts as one of the favourites for the 2016 crown as team-mate to Loeb, while Johan Kristoffersson is a shrewd operator and can also fight for the crown in the restructured VW RX Sweden team.
Mattias Ekstrom wasn’t able to consistently produce the results that both he and his Audi S1 are capable of last season, but has worked hard to develop the car over the winter months, while two-time European champion Timur Timerzyanov has switched to World RX Team Austria and could challenge this year.
Liam Doran’s results have been hampered by poor reliability of late, but a switch to JRM Racing from his own team has the potential to be successful.
Another World RX full-time newcomer, Ken Block, tested the Hoonigan Racing Division’s brand new Ford Focus RS RX Supercar in Cumbria earlier this month with 2016 team-mate Andreas Bakkerud. The car has been built by WRC team M-sport, and will make its debut in Portugal.
“They will be fast out of the blocks,” says Solberg. “They have so much experience. Christian Loriaux [M-sport designer] is a smart guy, the car and the engine will be good. I think they have a lot of pressure to perform, with factory backing [from Ford Performance] and with M-sport building the car. They should be on the pace straight away.”
Team Peugeot-hansen begins the year as reigning teams’ champion, Olsbergs MSE having won the crown in 2014. ■
The championship’s street circuit. Significant improvements were made for 2015 and the Canadian round is arguably the best ‘flyaway’ event of the year. Enthusiastic spectators filled the grandstands last season, and will again, especially if home hero Patrick Carpentier makes another wildcard appearance. If Holjes is the Magic Weekend, then Loheac is the Mecca of rallycross. In 2001, 40,000 people watched Kenneth Hansen win a round of the European Championship. These days, that figure has almost doubled as 70,000 people descend on the Brittany village in early September. Expect serious Loeb fever this year! The rallycross circuit is located in the final section of the F1 venue, utilising the natural amphitheatre. Running in the opposite direction on the race circuit to F1 and Moto GP, the circuit’s wide first corner facilitates three-wide action all the way to the first loose section at turn three. A new addition to the calendar for 2016. The Bikernieki Circuit is situated just a short bus ride away from the Latvian capital’s centre, and will feature side-by-side jumps in the joker lap and on the main circuit. Towering Soviet buildings surround the most legendary track in the Baltic states. The Estering circuit in Germany is best known for its first corner; the bottleneck into a tight right-hander produces plenty of action. A circuit that requires commitment and precision, suiting both rally and race drivers. Jeanney dominated last year. The final round of the season is the most southerly, held four hours from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. The circuit features a unique banked first corner, which allows for brave outside manoeuvres and an off-camber joker lap, which caught out many last season.
Sebastien Loeb has joined Team Peugeot-hansen for 2016 attack
Can Block challenge in new car?