Four months after it was originally scheduled to start, the 2020 World Rallycross Championship finally kicks off over two rounds at Höljes this weekend, with perhaps the most open title fight since the inaugural season in 2014 in store.
Following last year’s dramatic final round at Cape Town, where Team Hansen’s Timmy Hansen beat Andreas Bakkerud to the title on countback after the pair finished tied on points, it’s hard to imagine how this year’s version can be any closer.
But former RX2 driver and current World RX co-commentator Dan Rooke reckons that any number of drivers could be in the running for the title this year, with Timmy’s brother Kevin, the returning double World RX Champion Johan Kristoffersson, as well as Niclas Grönholm tipped to produce another sensational battle.
“It’s great that we’re back racing again but it’s a shame we haven’t got the full calendar that we were going to have,” Rooke tells DirtFish. “It’s early stages and everything is still quite wide open so it’s going to be exciting.
“You could have four legitimate title contenders, I don’t know how we’re going to be able to cope given how it was last year. It’s going to be close.
“Generally, I’m really excited to get back going [again], I think there might be a few people who have shown their hand already this year.
“You’ve seen at the Nordic events with [Robin] Larsson and Grönholm and Kristoffersson, although Johan wasn’t driving the car he will be in this year, but he has already shown pace in his own car when he was testing. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with I think.
“Grönholm last year was really quick and he is going to be one to watch as well, we haven’t seen anything from Timmy Hansen, he was only doing CrossCars so we don’t know if they’ve done any improvements to the car or not.”
Having made its World RX debut in 2018, GCK will be a team to watch out for more than others in 2020 according to Rooke, as the team once again splits its efforts between the Mégane R.S. RX and the Clio R.S. RX (with team boss Guerlain Chicherit and Rokas Bacuiška running under the Ukorrupted banner).
Two of the main team’s drivers have experience with the Mégane, with Anton Marklund claiming the on-the-road win at Hell last year before being stripped of his victory after a post-race penalty. Doran last drove the car in 2018, while Bakkerud is the newcomer to the team and car for 2020, although he did test it after last year’s season finale.
“Having seen the Mégane, I think it’s quite a unique car to drive and when we saw Liam go in it a couple of years ago, he took a little bit of time to get up to speed with the car, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Anton and Liam are a bit quicker out of the blocks than Andreas,” Rooke adds.
“But it won’t take long for Andreas to get comfortable in the car, although he’s a bit of a joker out of the car, he’s very professional and he knuckles down when the time comes.”
This side to Bakkerud was no more clearly demonstrated than during that season finale in South Africa, during which a controversial collision with Hansen cost the Norwegian a chance of the title.
For Rooke, it’s clear that this disappointment will leave Bakkerud raring to make amends this time around.
“He’s definitely going to have some unfinished business and I think he’s hoping that a change of team might give them a little bit of an edge on what they had last year.
“GCK is a very professional outfit and Andreas will be feeling good. They’ve got a couple of years with the Méganes as well so he can use all of that data and knowledge to try and get himself further up. He’s going to be revved up.”
Calendar changes – some forced due to COVID-19 and some planned – will also be something of “a leveller” for the teams and drivers this season, says Rooke, particularly as the delayed campaign reduces the amount of time between events.
Kuovola returns to the schedule for the first time since 2014 (an event won by Tanner Foust), with only the more experienced drivers Kristoffersson, Hansen, Doran, Marklund, Bakkerud and Timur Timerzyanov having driven at the Finnish track, while the Nürburgring is a new venue for everyone.
“We’ve always seen rallycross tracks develop, the shape of the track doesn’t change but sometimes the conditions will change over a weekend so I don’t know if the track (Kouvola) has had any development work since the last time they were there but that’s going to be one where previous experience is going to help.
“It’ll be more of a leveller than the tracks where the teams have got a lot more data.
“And then the Nürburgring is a complete unknown, we don’t know how it’s going to handle, how it’s going to flow. The teams go into these tracks with a base set-up and then they use practice to tweak it while the track develops, but it’s going to be a test for everyone there.”
Quizzed on who he felt would be at the top of the standing come the end of the opening weekend, Rooke believes that the Magic Weekend frontrunners Johan Kristoffersson, Niclas Grönholm, and Robin Larsson will be in the mix again.
“What will be interesting to see is just how much the other teams have developed their cars in the year that Volkswagen and Kristoffersson didn’t compete,” says Rooke.
“The VW will probably still be the benchmark and only this weekend will we really see how much work has been done with Volkswagen Motorsport.
“Niclas would have been right there last year if he hadn’t missed those two rounds, we did the math and worked out that his average score was better than Bakkerud and Hansen’s.
“But of course, you never know what his results would have been really, but I think Niclas has a great car and will probably win one of the rounds this weekend.”