The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will visit Latvia for the first time this weekend (1-2 October) as the world’s best rallycross drivers compete at a new state-of-the-art rallycross circuit at Bikernieki, located just 15 minutes from central Riga. A total of 49 600bhp Supercars will compete in Riga as part of the World RX and Euro RX categories. The Championship’s only Eastern European leg will also form the penultimate round of the TouringCar Championship, as well as the closing round of Euro RX and the supporting RX Lites Cup.
Since the previous round in Barcelona, the fight for this year’s World Championship title has become even more fraught with EKS driver Mattias Ekstrom overtaking Petter Solberg in the overall driver standings. Ekstrom now leads the championship by ten points and has forfeited a round of DTM in a bid to steal the rallycross crown from reigning Champion, Solberg. Further down the leaderboard, Volkswagen RX Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson, Hoonigan Racing Division’s Andreas Bakkerud and Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Sebastien Loeb are third, fourth and fifth respectively in the standings, all three still mathematically capable of winning the Championship. With a total of 90 points still available this season, Latvia could prove pivotal in the 2016 title chase.
Bikernieki, which was constructed in 1966, is the most multi-functional racetrack in the Baltic region and has accommodated various motorsport events over the years including drag racing, drift, karting and speedway. In preparation for the new Latvian RX round, a brand new rallycross track has been constructed which is 1,295 metres in length (780 metres asphalt; 515 metres gravel). The Joker Lap is situated at the end of the circuit and the layout also includes three jumps.
Notable entries in Latvia include star drivers such as nine-time WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb and online Gymkhana star, Ken Block as well as rallycross regulars including Timmy Hansen, who has already had a chance to test the new circuit. Flying the home flag this weekend will be Reinis Nitiss who will compete in an Olsbergs MSE prepared Fiesta and World RX Team Austria’s Janis Baumanis – both drivers will be eager to take advantage of the fact that they have also tested the new rallycross track. The only other World Championship drivers to benefit from seat-time at Bikernieki are OMSE’s Kevin Eriksson and Muennich Motorsport’s Rene Muennich.
Italian rally driver Gigi Galli will also compete in his Kia Rio Supercar for the first time this year. He explained: "The test in Barcelona went well, we were happy with how everything went in general and we didn't have any major problems. We were not totally ready when we raced at Franciacorta last year, but we have done a lot of work since then and we are looking forward to the race this weekend. The car is another story to where we were, that's thanks to all the guys we are working with, who have a lot of experience."
Galli added that he is taking things one step at a time with his World RX project, and has no expectations ahead of the Latvian event. "I don't know what to expect really. Driving a car is one thing, but driving this kind of car, together with four other drivers on the track is not easy. For me as a rally driver, I'm not used to driving close to somebody else. The time at Barcelona was good, but with nobody there, I have to get used to racing with the other cars. The plan is just to go in with our Kia and get some experience this weekend. That would be my best goal, and to enjoy it."
JRM Racing will field a pair of Mini RX Supercars for Guy Wilks and Guerlain Chicherit, while Super1600 regular Janno Ligur will make his first World RX Supercar appearance in a Reinsalu Sport Ford Fiesta. Lithuania’s Nerijus Naujokaitis also plans to be on the grid; the newcomer was forced to miss the two previous rounds in France and Barcelona due to technical problems with his new Skoda Fabia.
The final round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercar takes place in Riga, where Sweden’s Kevin Hansen has already been crowned Champion having accrued enough points with one round still remaining. Of the Euro RX field, Hansen is one of those to have previously tested at the circuit along with Mats Ohman, Derek Tohill, Alex Hvaal, and Martin Kaczmarski. Joni-Pekka Rajala was the winner of the inaugural event on the new track in July.
Latvia will also form the include the penultimate round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship for TouringCar, currently led by Norway’s Ben-Philip Gundersen, ahead of Magda Andersson and Fredrik Magnussen.
Twelve cars (and eight different nationalities) will take part in the final round of the coveted RX Lites Cup, which features a close battle between France’s Cyril Raymond and Norway’s Thomas Bryntesson who are separated by only eight points. Joining the regular RX Lites competitors in Riga will be home driver Martins Lapins, Russia’s Vasily Gryazin and America’s Conner Martell, who raced in the Intercontinental RX Lites Cup in Canada earlier this year.
Paul Bellamy, World RX Managing Director for IMG, concluded: “We are very excited to visit Eastern Europe for the first time since becoming a World Championship and have been impressed by the dedication and hard work from RA Events, the CSDD, Bikernieki National Sports Base and the Latvian Government. Our new TV deal with Lattelecom in 2017 has also helped spread the word about rallycross to the masses. The layout of the track is quite unique with parallel jumps in the Joker Lap and the standard section, which will make for some close racing, good TV and excellent photo opportunities. The feedback from the test earlier this year was positive and demand for tickets has been extremely high with a number of grandstand tickets already sold out. The Latvian organiser has implemented an excellent marketing and ticketing strategy which has been supported by Reinis Nitiss and Janis Baumanis who have both done a terrific job in helping to raise the profile of rallycross as a sport across the country.”
From a Cooper Tire point of view
Paul Coates, General Manager – Motorsport, Cooper Tire Europe, commented: “The historic and atmospheric Bikernieki race circuit in Riga is a new addition to this year’s calendar. A new circuit is always a challenge and our tyre engineers will be on hand to monitor the tyre’s performance on this latest track to join the FIA World Rallycross calendar.”
From a driver point of view
Latvia’s Reinis Nitiss commented: "Riga will bring some unique features to World RX. It's so close to the city centre that from the start grid you can see apartment buildings across the street and yet the gravel section will run through real pine tree forest section. The RX track will combine parts of circuit racing track with 50 years heritage and a new gravel part with three jumps. All together I think it will be quite demanding track for drivers with various types of turns and sections - but for me it will be a challenge as home walls bring extra pleasure and extra pressure."
Friday 30 September
1600 Drivers’ draw for Q1 grid positions and pre-event press conference with Reinis Nitiss, Janis Baumanis, Mattias Ekstrom and Andreas Bakkerud
Saturday 1 October
0700 Welcome centre open
0830 Photographers’ Briefing
0900 Open practice: all classes
1200 Q1: all classes
1400 Monster Energy Rig Riot
1430 Q2: all classes
1630 Q3: RX Lites and TouringCar
1730 Autograph Session in Fanzone
1800 World RX press conference (top three after Q2)
Sunday 2 October
0830 Photographers’ briefing
0930 World RX warm-up
0930 Q4: World RX Supercar
Q4 RX Lites & TouringCar
1145 World RX Q4
1245 RX Lites semi-finals
1300 Monster Energy Rig Riot
1400 Semi-finals: TouringCar
Semi-finals: Euro RX Supercar
1445 Final RX Lites
1500 Semi-finals: World RX
Final: Euro RX
Final: World RX
1550 World RX podium presentation
1610 World RX press conference at media centre