Niclas Grönholm (Hyundai i20) drove to his second win this season in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. The Finn won the final during ‘Cooper Tires World RX of Portugal’ – the seventh round of the 2021 FIA World Rallycross Championship – at Montalegre, Portugal on Sunday (October 17) beating Timmy Hansen (Peugeot 208). Yury Belevskiy (Audi A1) was crowned the FIA European RX3 Rallycross Champion.
With three more rounds to go in this year’s World RX (this Portuguese one included) Johan Kristoffersson (Audi S1) was closing in on Timmy Hansen in the point standings. After his win last week in Belgium Kristoffersson (139 points) was 12 points behind Timmy Hansen (151 points). At Montalegre however, Kristoffersson was only third on Saturday evening in the intermediate standings. The Swede struggled in Q1 with a puncture but was able to set a second fastest time in Q2. Championship points leader Timmy Hansen was fastest in Q1 and Q2. On Sunday the oldest of the Hansen brothers continued with another fastest time while Kevin [Hansen] was fastest in Q4. Kristoffersson, similar as in Q2, set second fastest times in Q3 and Q4 to end second in the intermediate classification behind top qualifier Timmy Hansen. Kevin Hansen (Peugeot 208) was third ahead of Niclas Grönholm, Krisztián Szabó (Hyundai I20) and Enzo Ide (Audi S1).
With only seven starters – Kevin Abbring/Unkorrupted was absent at Montalegre – semi-finals are normally not run as the Sporting Regulations state that eight cars need to be duly classified after Q2. However, the Stewards of the Meeting issued a bulletin on Friday with a regulation change for the event dropping the ‘eight cars requirement’. Therefore a first semi-final with four cars and a second semi-final with three cars took place determining the positions on the grid for the final. Ollie O’Donovan (Ford Fiesta Mk7) was the driver who got eliminated for the final. Furthermore the Hansen’s finished one (Timmy) and two (Kevin) in the first semi-final and Johan Kristoffersson beat Niclas Grönholm in the second semi-final with an overtaking near the end of the final lap.
Both semi-final winners, Timmy Hansen and Johan Kristoffersson then shared the front row for the World RX final. The second place finishers Kevin Hansen and Niclas Grönholm were on the second row with third place finishers Krisztián Szabó and Enzo Ide completing the grid. Kristoffersson, who had the better start, and Timmy Hansen were battling it out in the first turn with the latter coming out of it leading. Kevin Hansen, who also stayed on the main track, closed in as third. The second group in the opening lap in the final was lead by Grönholm. The battle for the lead among the leading trio allowed Grönholm to close the gap in the next laps. When Hansen, Kristoffersson and Hansen passed through the joker lap section in the final lap, Grönholm went into the lead and continued for the remaining part of the final lap to win his second World RX event of the season. Timmy Hansen came in second with Kristoffersson finishing third and Kevin Hansen fourth. Kristoffersson was given a five seconds time penalty for track markers and was eventually placed sixth in the final.
“It feels great. I didn’t expect this after qualifying,” Grönholm said after the final.
“I really enjoyed the weekend and racing at Montalegre, especially the gravel sections.”
“I didn’t have much choice but to take the joker at the start of the final, and I was actually a bit surprised that Timmy [Hansen], Johan [Kristoffersson] and Kevin [Hansen] all chose the standard lap.”
“We had slightly better pace than in the qualifiers and when they began battling, that allowed me to catch up and I just tried to stick as close as possible to the back of them. I really didn’t know if we had enough, but thankfully it turned out that we did.”
“Now I’m looking forward to the Nürburgring and hopefully a strong finish to the season.”
In the World RX standings, with two more rounds to come, Timmy Hansen (178 points) made his point difference with Kristoffersson (161 points) grow from 12 to 17 points while Kevin Hansen (159 points) is closing in on Kristoffersson to obtain a possible one-two in the championship for the Hansen brothers.
In the FIA European RX3 Championship the event at Montalegre was the championship decider. Theoretically three drivers were still able to clinch the title: points leader Yury Belevskiy, Kobe Pauwels (Audi A1) and Marat Knyazev (Audi A1) – all in by Volland Racing prepared Audi A1 cars. Practically however the title ‘fight’ was between Belevskiy and Pauwels. Belevskiy and Knyazev both set a fastest time on Saturday with the overnight lead held by Knyazev ahead of Belevskiy and Pauwels. On Sunday Belevskiy added two more fastest times to it to become the top qualifier and to secure himself the European RX3 title. His nearest title contender Kobe Pauwels was fifth in the intermediate standings. Therefore Belevskiy earned another 16 championship and was out of reach in the standings for anyone else. Second after qualifying was Marat Knyazev while Jan Černý (Škoda Citigo) was third.
In the semi-finals afterwards, Belevskiy, Černý and Pauwels were out during the first one. Belevskiy won it from lights to flag passing through the joker lap section in the final lap. Pauwels came in second and Černý got beaten by local driver Nuno Araújo (Audi A1) who qualified for the final.
In the second semi-final another local driver, João Ribeiro (Škoda Fabia Mk2), started from the front row besides pole sitter Marat Knyazev. Knyazev, trying to secure himself second place in the championship, lead it from Ribeiro into the final lap when both had to pass through the joker lap section. Knyazev was overtaken by Damian Litwinowicz (Audi A1) when the Russian joined the main track again. For Riberio things got worse as his Škoda Fabia Mk2 lost a wheel in the joker lap section and the Portuguese driver missed out on a possible final in his home event. Litwinowicz, with a first time semi-final win, Knyazev and Timur Shigaboutdinov (Audi A1) went on to the final.
The final RX3 race of the season saw six Audi A1 cars with the newly crowned champion Belevskiy on the front row together with Litwinowicz. Knyazev and Pauwels shared the second row while the last row was occupied by Araújo and Shigaboutdinov. When the green light was shown Belevskiy had a good start on the inside and stayed on the main track. Litwinowicz, Knyazev and Pauwels all went into the joker lap section in the opening lap while Shigaboutdinov spun the Audi on the straight after the start. Knyazev was leading it from Pauwels in the second group while Belevskiy was sole in the lead until the third lap when he decided to pass through the joker lap section. He joined the main track ahead of Knyazev, Pauwels and Litwinowicz. Positions didn’t change in the remaining laps and everybody finished accordingly with Nuno Araújo the last finisher in fifth.
“This feels awesome. What a perfect weekend,” commented Belevskiy.
“I felt pretty relaxed coming here as I had a fairly big lead, and to secure the title by winning my last event in Euro RX3, I couldn’t be happier.”
In the final standings Belevskiy wins it with 147 points. Pauwels (115 points), despite his third place finish, is the 2021 runner-up with Marat Knyazev (114 points) ending the championship as third. Belevskiy also revealed that Montalegre was his last RX3 race as he will move on to race an RX1 car in 2022. Whether it will be in the FIA European Rallycross Championship or for example in the RallyX Nordic series was not clear yet according to his comments after today’s final.
The final two rounds of the 2021 FIA World Rallycross Championship are taking place at the Nürburgring Müllenbachschleife in Adenau in Germany during a double header event on November 27-28. Also in Germany the final round of the 2021 FIA RX2e Championship will take place.
World RX – Final: 1. Niclas Grönholm (FIN), Hyundai i20; 2. Timmy Hansen (S), Peugeot 208; 3. Kevin Hansen (S), Peugeot 208; 4. Krisztián Szabó (H), Hyundai i20; ; 5. Enzo Ide (B), Audi S1; 6. Johan Kristoffersson (S), Audi S1.
Euro RX3 – Final: 1. Yury Belevskiy (RUS), Audi A1; 2. Marat Knyazev (RUS), Audi A1; 3. Kobe Pauwels (B), Audi A1; 4. Damian Litwinowicz (PL), Audi A1; 5. Nuno Araújo (P), Audi A1; 6. Timur Shigaboutdinov (RUS), Audi A1 – DNF.
World RX (7/9): 1. Timmy Hansen (S), 178; 2. Johan Kristoffersson (S), 161; 3. Kevin Hansen (S), 159; 4. Niclas Grönholm (FIN), 149; 5. Krisztián Szabó (H), 127; etc;
World RX Team (7/9): 1. Hansen World RX Team (S), 337; 2. GRX-SET World RX Team (FIN), 276; 3. KYB EKS JC (S), 250;
Euro RX3 (5/5): 1. Yury Belevskiy (RUS), 147; 2. Kobe Pauwels (B), 115; 3. Marat Knyazev (RUS), 114; 4. Jan Černý (CZ), 88; 5. Timur Shigaboutdinov (RUS), 72; etc.