World RX shredded into unknown territory this weekend, with its inaugural visit to Eastern Europe, and the box-fresh Bikernieki circuit in Latvia. Featuring a super technical 12-turn layout, looming crash-barriers with no run-off areas – echoing street circuits of other championships – and blistering straights, the 1.29km track proved every bit the match for the 23 fire spitting supercars that rolled into Riga to battle it out.
Even more reason why we are fired-up to report that Andreas Bakkerud emerged from an epic two days of racing in blazing sunshine and torrential rain to score fourth place, a haul of championship points, and an increased lead over his rivals in the drivers’ standings.
Qualifying first overall in the overnight standings, Andreas bossed his Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Focus RSRX around the new circuit setting the fastest times in both Q1 and Q2. As dawn broke on day two, the dry, crisp, conditions enjoyed by crews and drivers on Saturday, were replaced by monsoon style downpours. This didn’t bother Andreas though – or his 147 strong army of supporters, who had chartered a private jet to Latvia especially to watch him race. Romping to a third and a fifth position in Q3 and Q4, Andreas secured his all-important spot in the semi finals. After a tight tussle in the opening laps, Andreas and his team used solid strategy with the joker section to nose into the top three, and the grand final. The rest as they say is history, and Andreas now sits within striking distance of a top three-championship position in the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Drivers’ Championship.
“All year we have been struggling with the starts, so to start the weekend as the top qualifier was really great,” explained Andreas. “It’s felt like we really have made progress since Barcelona. We had a small test after the World RX of Spain, and ironed out some more technical issues on the car, which helped me get the speed and win the starts in Q1 and Q2. The pace was definitely there in the dry conditions, and although we were pushing, we didn’t have to risk anything and could stay as smooth as possible. We knew that the forecast was for rain on Sunday, and we haven’t had a big amount of running in the wet, so the strategy was to defend.
“It was definitely a reset with the change in conditions; we struggled for grip, speed and visibility. We slowly got up to speed, and by the semi finals were in a good place. I got hit over the jump, which bent a suspension arm, which made the car pretty hard to drive – we didn’t have time to fix it for the finals. I’m actually pretty pleased with the result here. Getting fourth place considering the challenges we had this weekend, is satisfying for sure. Germany in two weeks time should be exciting, it’s always tough at Estering – the slot at the end of the year means the pressure is on. The track is very tough too – especially with the tight first corner, so anything can happen. It’s going to be interesting for sure, but I’m ready!”
Unfortunately the good news didn’t carry over to Petter Solberg’s pit garage. The reigning world champion suffered another weekend to forget after failing to make the semi-final in Latvia. Placing 19th overall after the qualification races, Petter’s elimination from the Sunday finals marks the first time in 35 races that he hasn’t featured in contention for the podium battles. The knock back from the weekend’s results also now means Petter slips back to third in the championship, just seven points behind Johan Kristoffersson and two points ahead of fellow M-Claw athlete Andreas Bakkerud.
“It goes without saying, this result was not what we wanted from our first ever race in Latvia,” said Solberg. “But we move on from this and look forward to the next round in Germany. What I think it’s so important to say and to talk about here is the effort which has gone into making World RX of Latvia, in my opinion, one of the best rounds of the championship ever.
“From the moment we arrived here in Latvia, everything has been perfect from an organisational point of view. The track is one of the best we have raced on and it’s been really fantastic to see what can be achieved when you have a team of really committed people behind an event. And it’s not just the team of organisers; people came from all over Latvia to this event. Those people included President Raimonds Vējonis and Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis – they were both interested to watch. I must say, it was a huge honour and the highlight of my weekend when they came over to the PSRX team to meet and talk to us. They were both great, so interested in what we were doing, they were definitely my kind of President and Prime Minister!”
Head Hoonigan in charge Ken Block also gritted through another tough weekend. On top of getting to grips with a new track in ever-changing conditions, electrical problems limited his full-speed on track running during practice. Despite the challenges Ken bounced back with a 12th place in Q1 and a top ten finish in Q2. While Q3 and Q4 on track didn’t go to plan, the pace showed by Ken this weekend points to good things to come at penultimate round of the season in two weeks time.
“It’s been another tough weekend to be honest,” Ken told us. “Yesterday we had some technical issues with the car, and I didn’t get the chance to do any full speed practice laps, so I only had eight laps of real running – and that was actually in qualifying. So it was difficult getting up to speed, as well as learning a new track, when you’re battling other cars during qualifying. So actually I think I was lucky to get 10th in Q2 – so this turned out to be the highlight of my weekend. That’s the challenge of a brand new race car though, so I understand it’s all part of the process. Then today – on day two – the conditions changed totally with the crazy amount of rain. I got caught out by the conditions in Q3 and then got taken out at the start of Q4. The track has been incredibly challenging, and it’s been another good learning curve. Although I’ve had a bad weekend, Andreas has had a good one, which is fantastic for the team. Overall I’m really happy with things I’m learning with this car. When it goes well, it goes well, but I’ve had a lot of bad luck, which is frustrating because I want to be at the front pushing for podiums. There are only a few races left now, and the good thing is that looking ahead to next season and 2018, we will have the car dialed, and know the tracks. In the short term we are heading out to Germany in a couple of weeks, and I’ll look forward to the next one."
Rounding out the World RX field was former free-skiing legend and Dakar-turned-RX racer Guerlain Chicherit. Despite ongoing technical problems with his JRM Racing Mini RX, including a broken propshaft in Q1, Guerlain clocked a consistent run of finishes in the remaining qualifying heats, boosting his confidence ahead of the World RX of Germany on the 14th -16th October.
Full results from the 2016 World RX of Latvia are available, here, while championship standings are available, here.