BAKKERUD COMES OF AGE IN NORWAY T
The homegrown hero banks his first win of the year in Hell. By Hal Ridge
he stage was set for a thrilling final-lap showdown. A rejuvenated triple European Championship-winning Russian, having his best weekend for longer than many in the paddock could remember, was hunting down the home hero, who was less than a handful of laps away from scoring a clean-sweep and maximum points score in a World RX event for the very first time.
Since winning back-to-back European titles in 2012 and 2013, Timur Timerzyanov hasn’t been able to recreate the same kind of form. He switched to an Olsbergsmse Ford Fiesta from a Peugeot-hansen Peugeot 208 for last season but the move didn’t work, so a further move was made to the World RX Team Austria squad for this year.
At the fifth round of the championship, Timerzyanov dominated both free practice sessions on Friday evening and Saturday morning, half a second clear of anyone else. However, come the qualifying races, while Timerzyanov continued to run at the front and wound up second at the Intermediate Classification, it was the darling of the crowds, Andreas Bakkerud who dominated.
The young Norwegian Hoonigan Racing Division driver won each of the four qualifying sessions to start on pole position for the first semi-final, which he duly won to secure the best starting position for the final. Meanwhile, in semi-final two, Timerzyanov led from pole position as fellow front-row starter Petter Solberg took his joker lap immediately. On the first of the six laps, Solberg pushed hard and by the end of lap two, had closed in on Timerzyanov enough that when the Russian took his joker later in the race, Solberg could leapfrog into the lead. Timerzyanov wasn’t done there however, the Russian driver setting a string of awesomely fast and consistent lap times to extend his margin at the front enough to joker on lap six and return to the lead.
Championship leader Mattias Ekstrom behind had no response either and realising he couldn’t beat the leader, backed off to save his tyres for the final.
It was a similar story in the final, but this time Timerzyanov took the joker on lap one while Bakkerud took the normal route on the main circuit. Both drivers made small errors on the opening lap. Bakkerud was followed by Timmy Hansen and Solberg while Timerzyanov was trailed by Ekstrom and Sebastien Loeb. Bakkerud pushed hard up front, but Timerzyanov was doing the same further down the road, less than four seconds down the road by the start of lap four to be exact: the amount of time it takes to do the joker lap at the Norwegian venue.
While Bakkerud responded to a call from the team to increase the gap, Timerzyanov’s race was run on lap four, his Fiesta picking up a puncture. From second, Hansen took his joker on lap five and returned to the main track ahead of Timerzyanov. Ekstrom then passed the Russian, followed by Solberg and Loeb.
The final-lap meet between Timerzyanov and Bakkerud at the joker exit would have to be saved for another day, Bakkerud taking his joker without trouble on the final tour to secure his first victory with Ken Block’s team, and the first for the M-sport Ford Focus RS RX.
The pressure to perform from the hordes of adoring fans hadn’t caused Bakkerud to put a foot wrong, even having to deal with a transmission issue in the closing stages of the race. The 2016 running of his home round of the championship was the event where the boy previously known as Baby Blue, grew up. Hansen finished second, with Ekstrom salvaging third from a difficult weekend for the championship leader.
Despite Solberg taking a pair of points out of his five-point margin at the intermediate stage, Ekstrom took those two points back in the semi and final, the gap remaining at five points as the championship nears the halfway stage. Solberg also had an off-form event and finished fourth with Loeb fifth and Timerzyanov sixth.
“I’m very, very happy. I’m living the dream doing this at the moment,” said Bakkerud. “I was very nervous before the final. In free practice and warm-up Timur [Timerzyanov] took over half a second out of me and he was really fast, but I think he had a problem in the final. I did everything I could.”
Hoonigan Racing Division team manager Derek Dauncey praised the squad’s young charger. “Andreas was so amazing this weekend,” he said. “He had a lot of pressure and he handled it incredibly well.”
British driver Liam Doran rolled his JRM Racing Mini RX after first corner contact in Q2 on Saturday afternoon. The team repaired the car ready for Q3 and he was able to complete the event, albeit down in 17th.