With the opening round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy mere weeks away, the new circuit at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi has finally been revealed and has been given the thumbs up from drivers who were on hand at the launch.
At the official opening ceremony, Muhammed ben Sulayem, a 14-time FIA Middle East Rally champion and president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates, was given the honour of completing the first laps of the track at wheel of the GRX Taneco RX2 car.
World RX drivers Oliver Bennett of Xite Racing was joined by GRX Taneco trio Niclas Gronholm, of Finland, Russia’s Timur Timerzyanov and Reinis Nitiss, of Latvia, to provide passenger rides for local media and VIPs.
The purpose-built 1,2 kilometre rallycross circuit comprises 63% asphalt and 37% gravel, a series of wide tarmac areas, tight turns including a hairpin and a daunting jump section.
Briton Bennett, who had a taste of the circuit today in his World RX Ford Fiesta Supercar, said: “It’s brilliant to bring World Rallycross to such a spectacular venue as Yas Marina and to the people of UAE.
“The track is awesome. It has a lot to offer with big, wide tarmac turns which is going to be great for overtaking. It is going to be a tough track to race but it’s going to be fun to watch.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the car, I’m feeling really comfortable with it and I hope to be pushing for some high places during the championship this year.”
Yas Marina Circuit will be transformed into a three-day festival featuring an Adrenaline Zone, food trucks and international artists performing at an after-race concert.
Speaking at the official opening, Paul Bellamy, Senior Vice President of IMG Motorsports, the FIA World Rallycross Championship promoter, said: “We are delighted to be bring the FIA World Rallycross Championship to motor sport fans in the UAE for the very first time. I can think of no better venue to showcase our sport than the stunning Yas Marina Circuit.
“Here at Yas Marina Circuit for the opening round of the 2019 championship next month, there will be a mixture of world-class rallycross and music artists, a non-stop programme of racing and interactivity, along with fabulous food.
“This festival model mirrors our highly-successful SpeedMachine weekend we first introduced at Silverstone for the British round of the championship in 2018. Just like Silverstone, we are sure this fusion of motorsport and entertainment at Yas Marina Circuit will be a must-visit event next month and in the years ahead.”
At the same time EKS Sport has announced Hungarian Krisztian Szabo will compete as a permanent driver in the series.
Former World Champions EKS Sport finished second in the 2018 Teams’ World Championship standings and will continue with their signature Audi S1 EKS RX Quattro.
After making his European debut at the end of the 2014 season in Italy, Szabo finished a strong third in the 2015 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600 before sealing the European title twice consecutively in 2016 and 2017.
The Hungarian made an impressive debut for EKS Sport at the Euro RX of France in the Supercar category, racing to second place and subsequently reaching the Final on his second outing with the team in Latvia.
Szabo views 2019 as a ‘now or never’ opportunity.
“Since the beginning of my career, I have been dreaming about racing in the World Championship. Mattias Ekstrom announced last year that he will stop racing in 2019, which means he has more time to focus on managing the EKS Sport team,” he says.
“It is going to be different in 2019 with a much more balanced championship. Everyone has a bigger chance, including me. I have one of the best teams and cars behind me. I have the right background – a world championship-winning team, the professional support of Mattias and I feel well-prepared.
“I know most of the tracks but Abu Dhabi and Spa are unknown for me too. I can’t wait to take on the legendary Eau Rouge. I am also excited to travel to Canada and South Africa, because I have not raced outside of Europe in the past couple of years. It is a now or never for me in 2019 and I start my first World Championship season with title hopes.”
Mattias Ekstrom added: “I wanted to work together with Krisz this season because his results were quite promising last year and I predict a bright future for him. The World RX field has changed for 2019 and I think Krisz has a big chance to be one of the best and win many races.
“This is why I suggested that he races in the World Championship instead of the European Championship. I will help him as the team leader, I still have vivid memories from last year and I believe it will be useful for the team. I think that Krisztian will surprise many people because they still don’t know what he can do.”