North America’s biggest rallycross weekend a success

In 2018, the debut season for the Americas Rallycross series, ARX, appeared three times with its better-known overseas counterpart, the FIA World Rallycross Championship.

This year, just once: The Equipe GP3R Rallycross Mondial Du Canada at Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, held last weekend, featured ARX in its fourth round of competition at its third venue of the season – the kickoff was at Mid-Ohio, followed by a two-round weekend at Gateway in Illinois, just east of St. Louis.

ARX teamed at Trois-Rivieres for the only 2019 North American appearance for WRX – last year, the series hosted the ARX debut at Silverstone in England, and paired with ARX at Trois-Rivieres, then on the last weekend of September at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Volkswagen in the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Trois-Rivieres in Quebec.

While ARX will again visit COTA the last weekend of September, WRX, which, like ARX, is owned by the IMG conglomerate, isn’t making the trip this year. That will be ARX’s round five – the series returns to Mid-Ohio for its round six, the season finale, Oct. 5-6.

At Trois-Rivieres, ARX still looked like a sophomore series when compared to the mature WRX, if for no other reason than the entry list: ARX had seven cars – two factory-backed Volkswagen Beetles fielded by Andretti Autosport, two Ford Fiestas for a team assembled by racer Steve Arpin and Loenbro Motorsports with some back-door factory support, and a trio of Subaru WRX STis operated by Vermont SportsCar, with full factory backing.

WRX brought a healthy 16 cars, despite the end-of-2019 pullout of Volkswagen, which dominated the 2018 season – VW won the 2018 Trois-Rivieres event with driver Johan Kristoffersson, while teammate Petter Solberg finished fifth.

Kids peeking through a car in the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Trois-Rivieres in Quebec.

Swedish brothers Timmy and Kevin Hansen came to Trois-Rivieres leading the WRX points in their Red Bull-backed Peugeot 208s. Andreas Bakkerud is always strong in his Audi S1, with the rest of the field made up of Hyundai i20s, Renault Clios and Meganes, as well as a Ford Fiesta, Mini Cooper and Seat Ibiza.

The two-day show was well-attended by enthusiastic, knowledgeable fans, despite the fact that hometown hero Jacques Villenueve, who raced one of the ARX Subarus in 2018, was busy covering a Formula 1 race this year. Drizzle led to a brief but robust thunderstorm late in the Saturday show, but the weather Sunday was near-perfect for the ARX and WRX feature races.

The WRX races featured more contact than the ARX races, but they weren’t necessarily faster – the ARX Subaru entry of Patrik Sandell logged the fastest overall laps on the combination dirt-pavement course. (Worth noting: Subaru’s boxer engine isn’t legal in WRX.) A large percentage of the dirt portion of the track was mud on Saturday, dry and dusty on Sunday, keeping the crews busy making handling tweaks all weekend.

Volkswagen in the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Trois-Rivieres in Quebec.

In 2018’s ARX debut season, the Volkswagens of drivers Scott Speed and Tanner Foust absolutely dominated, but for 2019, there seems to be some genuine parity – all three brands won in the preliminary races. The Fords have benefited from substantial offseason development, as have the Subarus, which are sporting new engines; the lame-duck Beetles are essentially carryover, but remain potent.

The biggest offseason development was in personnel changes, though – 2018 champion Speed moved from the Andretti Volkswagen team to the third Subaru, which had been used to host guest drivers like Villeneuve and Travis Pastrana. Speed was replaced at VW by Cabot Bingham, who competed in the second-tier spec ARX2 series in 2019. Popular stunt driver Ken Block spent much of the 2018 season in one of Arpin’s Fords, and he has been replaced with another rookie, 18-year-old Travis PeCoy, whose aggressive driving earned him few friends among the other competitors last weekend.

In the end, the Volkswagens scored a solid 1-2 feature finish, with Foust leading the way, followed by a career-best second for teammate Bingham. Speed was third in his Subaru. Speed continues to lead the championship standings, with Foust advancing to just five points in arrears in second place.

In WRX, the physical finale concluded with Bakkerud taking the checkered flag over Janis Baumanis in a Ford Fiesta. Kevin Hansen finished sixth and last (only six cars advance to the feature), scoring no championship points, but he still leads the championship. Bakkerud moved to second just five points back, sliding Timmy Hansen — who didn’t make the feature — to third.

In ARX2, Fraser McConnell took a narrow win over 2018 champion Conner Martell in both round five (Saturday) and round six (Sunday). McConnell increased his points lead over Martell.

Next up: ARX of Austin on Sept. 28. For the WRX series, it’s off to the World RX of Germany on Aug. 17.

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