The FIA World Rallycross took place for the first time on African soil this past weekend, and what better track to have it at, than Cape Town’s own Killarney International Raceway with the silhouette of the majestic Table Mountain in the background. The twelfth and final round would be hosted by Gumtree (Gumtree World RX of South Africa) and would see the likes of both international competitors as well as a handful of local South African drivers too, namely Mark Cronje and Ashley Haigh-Smith.
With months of preparation, Killarney had transformed their track into a world class Rallycross stage filled with jumps. hard shoulder chicanes, surface transitions and a nail biting Joker lap, fit for the finals. They had increased the crowd capacity with an additional new grand stands, with strategic view points for the adoring fans. I have to say, it’s been a while since I saw so many people attend a racing event at Killarney.
With the day starting off with practice for the drivers, this gave the fans enough time to find their way to the grand stands as well as to the “BOG” seats (bums on grass) as well as make their way to the pit areas for the daily Pit walks, where they got to get up close and personal with the cars and their favourite drivers like, Ken Block, Andreas Bakkerud, Petter Solberg, Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen, Sebastian Loeb, Toomas Heikkinen, Mattias Ekstrom and Kevin Hansen, to name but a few who would all be competing in the Supercars division of the World RX Championship, for the last time in 2017. Whether you were a fan of a specific Team, a Vehicle Manufacture brand or a fan of a specific driver in Rallycross, you were going to live out your dreams of finally seeing all of this in person.., Bucket list, Checked!
The day was not only filled with Rallycross awesomeness; Stuntman Terry Grant and his insane four wheels antic’s made his way round the circuit on two wheels in his Land Rover accompanied by WP Rugby hooker Scarra Ntubeni, followed but his controlled spins and drifts in his Jaguar and rear wheel drive Suzuki Swift. Following him was two times National Supadrift Champion Jason Webb in his freshly painted Ford Mustang out of the Smoke’m Garage as he took to the track and proceeded to make clouds of tyre smoke. Joining in the entertainment, the guys from the SACCS (South African Cross Country Series) put on a couple Demonstration laps in their high power Rally Pick-up trucks, while the Silver Falcons took to the skies with their Arial Acrobatics.
Now me personally I’ve been following the Monster athletes, namely Petter Solberg, Andreas Bakkerud and well you all know… Ken Block, and I was sad to hear that both Ken Block and Andreas Bakkerud would be racing for the last time in their Team Hoonigan Ford Focus RS’s, as next year Ford will no longer be competing in WRX. Sadly this means that Ken would be out completely and this would be his final WRX, while Andreas would need to find a new team to driver for if he wants to compete next year.
With day one done and Qualifying seasons one and two for the MSA Rally, RX2 and World RX Championship out the way, Ken Block looked to be sitting pretty snug as the overnight leader.
Day two and things got a little messy… as the gravel corners had taken a beating the day before from the Cooper Tyres the driver use and the way they cut the apexes, which we saw gave a lot drivers punchers and stripped tyres in Q2 the day before. The FIA had opted to place larger barriers in the corners to keep the drivers off the corners; however they were so used to the line form Q1 and Q2 the day before that during the mornings warm ups, several driver saw themselves loose body panels as they made contact with the new obstacles… what can I saw it made for interesting photos.
Q3 and Q4 would see utter carnage across the field as driver pushed themselves to the limits, and when I say pushed I literally mean “pushed”, as the races went on, it started to look like a rugby match, with drivers bashing into each other; one could most definitely say WRX is a Full Contact Sport hahahaha.
Just after Q4, the Monster Energy Athletes Ken Block, Andreas Bakkerud, Petter Solberg, Johan Kristofferson, Stuntman – Terry Grant and South African Drift Champ Jason Webb made their way to the Monster Energy Rig, for a “Riot” session. With the Monster girls getting the crowds pumped up on the stage, throwing out merchandise, the driver proceeded to join in with autographed posters, flags and even Monster cans; Making the visitor experience just that more special.
Knockout Qualifiers which would see a nail biting race in Semi-Finals 1, with Peter Solberg taking the joker early in the race, on the final lap, Johan Kristoffersson, Mattia Ekstrom and Petter would all three merge on the same piece of track, with contact between all three, Mattia’s Audi mounted Peter’s Polo and send him into the air and off the track almost losing it, but handing the lead to Johan.
In Semi-Finals 2, more carnage took place as all six drivers’ battle it out for the hole-shot position at turn1, which would see Ken Block loose major body work on the first lap and more along the way over the next six laps. With Timmy Hansen just squeezing him out on the last lap and takes the win, with Ken Block Second and Timo Scheider third. Sadly this would cause one of the most controversial decisions of the day, as Ken Block is disqualified for the finals due to his car being 8.5kg too light… I know what you thinking because everyone was thinking it; he lost that weight due to the pile up in turn1. But the FIA made the call and that sadly was the end for Ken Block.
Finals saw Mattias Eskstrom, Timo Scheider , Petter Solberg, Johan Kristoffersson and brothers Kevin and Timmy Hassen battle it out. With Kristoffersson in Pole position followed by T.Hassen, Ekstrom, Scheider, Solberg and K.Hansen; Kristoffesson made the Hole-Shot while K.Hassen had issues on the start line and did not make it off the line. Kristoffersson seemed to have a massive lead on the field while the other four drivers battled it out behind them, with loads of car parts flying off cars from contacting each other in close quarter racing. With T.Hansen taking the Joker lap on the first lap and Kristoffersson opting to chance it and take his joker on his last lap, both drivers pushed to try get to the merge before each other; however Kristofferssons gable paid off and he crossed the line 0.9sec before T.Hansen with Ekstrom finishing third, followed by Solberg and Scheider.
What can I say being at the event was absolutely insane and being able to be there for Block and Bakkeruds final races in the icon Hoonigan Ford Focus was the cherry on the cake for me; lucky for us we’ll all be able to see these two battle it out at Gymkhana GRiD at Carnival City on the 18th & 19th of November in Johanesburg. Good news for WRX fans, The FIA have released their 2018 calendar and Round 12 will take place in Cape Town again, so if you missed out this year, be sure to save your birthday monies and get your tickets now.
Photos by: Darren Townsley | Franky Funky Photos