FIA World Rallycross makes its presence felt

FIA’s newest world championship presents teams and drivers at special event in Italy.
Ahead of its first round in Portugal on May 3-4, the FIA World Rallycross Championship this week presented its teams and drivers at a special event at the Franciacorta International Circuit in Brescia, Italy.
The Italian track will in September play host to the 10th round of the 12-event championship but this week it played host to a gathering of world-class racers – some vastly experienced and some new to the world of rallycross – and the teams they’ll drive for in this year’s inaugural world championship. The event included the six permanent two-car FIA World Rallycross Championships teams, as well as some of the individual Supercar entries.
Three of the permanent teams enjoy manufacturer backing and each has attracted a stellar line-up of drivers. Ford-backed OlsbergsMSE will race with Andreas Bakkerud, who last year took two race wins and finished fourth in the European Rallycross Championship, and Reinis Nitiss, who took six wins from nine events to claim victory in last year’s Super1600 category in the European Championship.
VW-Marklund, meanwhile, has signed up 2013 Global Rallycross champion and double X-Games gold medallist Topi Heikkinen and 2012 European Rallycross TouringCar champion Anton Marklund. 
The final manufacturer-supported team, Peugeot-Hansen will field reigning FDIA European Rallycross champion Timur Timerzyanov and last year’s third-placed driver Timmy Hansen.
Elsewhere, Petter Solberg and his PSRX team will compete in a Citroen DS3 Supercar and the 2003 World Rally Champion admitted to feeling confident about the year ahead: “I really want to win,” said the Norwegian, who will race alongside team-mate Alex Hvaal. “There are a lot of good drivers this year but I will fight, don’t you worry. Last year we were not quite ready but we really treated it as more of a test. This year, we will fight for the championship title.”
The racing talent in this year’s first World Championship doesn’t just come from the world of rallying and rallycross, however. Circuit racing is also well represented, with two major stars joining the series in the shape of 1997 Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve and two-time DTM champion Matthias Ekstrom.
Alongside team-mate Andy Scott, Villeneuve will pilot Albatec Racing’s Peugeot 208 Supercar and the French-Canadian said he had been drawn to rallycross by his experience of ice racing.
“I did some ice driving in France and then I began to think that rallycross might be the next step,” he said. “The format of the races helps make it really exciting to drive. The fact that rallycross has now become a World Championship is good but this year my main aim is to learn and we will see what happens after that.”
DTM racer Ekstrom, who as a guest driver scored second place in last year’s European Rallycross round in his homeland of Sweden, will compete in selected rounds this year for his own team, which will run an Audi A1 Supercar. 
Launching his EKS squad recently Ekstrom said the new championship was a natural fit for a man who “grew up in a rallycross paddock”.
“I spent a large part of the 1980s and early 1990s in rallycross paddocks with my dad,” he said. “Racing is in my genes, but with EKS I'll do my best to go beyond what has been done before. The team is a celebration of everything I love about racing: the passion, enthusiasm and joy. And, of course, professionalism and preparation.”
Commenting on the new FIA World Rallycross Championship, Martin Anayi, FIA World Rallycross Championship Managing Director for IMG Motorsport, said: “With more than 30 broadcasters already confirmed to televise our championship combined with the truly spectacular line-up of drivers we have competing this year, I firmly believe that World RX is the most exciting motor sport series in the world right now.
“We’ve witnessed a huge period of growth in rallycross over the past 12 months and we now have all the elements in place to make World Rallycross the must-watch sport of 2014.”
The first round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship takes place at the Montalegre race track in northern Portugal on May 3-4.