The 2018 FIA World RX season is now nothing but a distant memory and we now look forward to the beginning of the 2019 season.
The 2019 season is set to be full of surprises and uncertainty following the withdrawal of Olsbergs MSE, Team Peugeot Total, and PSRX from the series, whilst the brand new ES Motorsport team have stepped up to try help fill the void.
Furthermore, key players in the title picture are unconfirmed this season, with Johan Kristofferson, former WRC champion Petter Solberg, Robin Larsson and Kevin Eriksson all absent from the official entry list.
Unsurprisingly, this leaves only one question on everyone’s lips – who on earth is going to win the championship in 2019?
First, let’s take a look at those confirmed entries for this year’s FIA World RX Championship.
XITE Racing are making a full-time entry into World this season with Oliver Bennett at the wheel of the Mini.
Bennett gained plenty of experience and knowledge by competing in various other series – most notably British RX and Gymkhana GRID – which should make him stand out, but questions regarding the Mini’s reliability record may go against him as the year progresses.
However, if the team have managed to sort out the reliability gremlins, then Bennett could make it into a few finals this season.
STARD Motorsport have retained Janis Baumanis, but have yet to announce his team-mate in the sister car.
Baumanis put in some solid drives last season and made his way into the final during the Canadian round, which he ended in sixth place.
His best World RX finish to date was fifth at his home event in Latvia during the 2017 campaign and will continue to pursue that elusive first podium in 2019.
With the current state of the competition and the speed that Baumanis possesses, a podium finish is the least expected of the Latvian this season.
GRX Taneco will be fielding three cars this year with Niclas Gronhölm and Timur Timerzyanov staying with the team, whilst signing Latvian Reinis Nitiss as their development driver.
GRX debuted their Hyundai i20 in 2018 with great success and claimed fourth place in the constructor’s standings.
Despite the recent loss of drivers and teams in the series, GRX Team manager Jussi Pinomäki is still hopeful that we will see some exciting racing:
“World RX has experienced some turbulence lately, but I think the competition this season will be very, very close and this year will prove to be an exciting one for drivers and spectators.”
“Last year we built a good base to work from – all of our technical staff have remained on-board, both Niclas and Timur know the car well, and I am confident that with this package we’ll be able to fight for top positions”.
Gronhölm put on some excellent performances last season, mixing it with the top teams and making it into a few finals. Timerzyanov perhaps wasn’t quite as strong but he is a very highly rated driver nonetheless.
At the moment, GRX looks a championship contender and wins for Niclas and Timur seem to be inevitable.
GCK have gone with a bumper 4-car entry for the 2019 season. The team will run 2 full-time teams in the series with team owner Guerlain Chicherit joined by two time European RX champion Anton Marklund in the Megane RS RX. The main team will run in tandem with the GCK academy team who have signed two-time RX2 champion Cyril Raymond and the 2018 RX2 runner up Guillaume de Ridder. The academy team will field 2 Renault Clio RX’s for their drivers which should add some nice variety to the field.
GCK’s debut season saw mixed results as their Renault Megane was unique in many respects and showed flashes of pace, particularly in Sweden where Grosset-Janin’s third-place scored the team’s first podium finish.
In contrast, the GCK Megane’s were also plagued with start-line issues which certainly cost them some decent results. Can they get it together for 2019?
Another confirmed team for 2019 is Münnich Motorsport who will field a pair of Seat Ibiza’s, with René Münnich set to compete in a couple of rounds this season and Timo Scheider making the move to a full-time drive with the German outfit.
Münnich competed in 5 rounds of the European RX series alongside wildcard appearances in World RX.
Scheider also showed some promise in the Seat but was blighted by reliability issues.
The team was poor last season and they’ve got a mountain to climb to make that Seat Ibiza competitive and time is against them to do so.
ES Motorsport will be making their World RX debut in Abu Dhabi and have been sharing themselves hard at work testing their Skoda Fabia RX on social media. The team recently announced the signing of 19-year-old Rokas Baciuska as their driver for the 2019 season. Baciuska is the reigning Super1600 champion and will contest all 10 rounds of the 2019 season. Team owner Ernestas Staponkus says he is confident that the young Lithuanian can rise to the challenge of World RX: “We are sure that he will be able to fight with the fastest drivers in the world this season”
The team has said that they are working on a second car which will be introduced later on in the season with Dutchman, Kevin Abbring, filling the second seat.
This new team is a total unknown and it should be exciting to see how they perform this season.
In a surprising turn of events, EKS announced that they would continue their World RX program with their Audi S1 Quattro and signed Hungarian driver Krisztian Szabo.
Szabo is a two time SS1600 champion and impressed on his outings with EKS in ERX last year.
“It is going to be different in 2019 with a much more balanced championship,” Szabo said.
“Everyone has a bigger chance, including me. I have one of the best teams and cars behind me.”
Szabo added: “I have the right background – a world championship-winning team, the professional support of Mattias and I feel well-prepared.”
EKS will face a tough challenge if they are to uphold their reputation in 2019.
To the delight of many within the RX community, Team HANSEN MJP have announced their entry to the 2019 season with the loveable brotherly duo of Timmy & Kevin Hansen at the wheel of the Peugeot 208 Supercar.
The Hansen’s have been a constant force in the World RX championship and claimed the 2015 team’s championship. Team Principal Kenneth Hansen describes the period leading up to the 2019 season as the team’s most challenging: “The months following Peugeot Sport’s decision to close their RX activity have been some of the toughest ever”.
Kenneth added that; “Hansen motorsport has used almost every single waking hour to find ways and possibilities to get a team and budget together to be able to return to World RX”.
The announcement of the Hansen’s return has already got the community talking about the championship fight. Many regard Timmy Hansen as a champion in waiting and his younger brother Kevin has impressed on many occasions despite not having the same car as his older brother. Is this the Hansen’s year, or will the lack of manufacturer support hurt their chances? For sure, they are a team to watch.
The final team to make their entry to the 2019 season is the Monster Energy RX Cartel(A very interesting name) who will field 2 Audi S1’s with two of the most highly rated drivers on the grid; Andreas Bakkerud and Liam Doran. Bakkerud is in familiar territory having driven the S1 for EKS last season to 3rd in the standings. Bakkerud’s flamboyant style and “go get ’em” attitude makes him a popular man both in the paddock and in the community and to see him back in a car for 2019 is a fantastic sight. Doran made some appearances in the GCK Megane last season with some impressive performances. His aggressive driving style, yet calm demeanor should provide for a great partnership between himself and Bakkerud. A popular team for sure, but are they also ones to watch?
The 2019 FIA World RX Championship has certainly been blown wide open; who is going to win the championship is anybody’s guess at this stage.
Alongside the shuffle amongst the teams and drivers, there are two new circuits on the 10-race calendar in the form of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit – which will kick-off the season on April 5 – and the famous Spa-Francorchamps.
The season will then finish at Cape Town’s Killarney Motor Racing Complex in South Africa on November 9.