Last weekend saw the fifth and last round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship held in Riga, Latvia, where 29 000 fans gathered at Biekernieku circuit to witness 27 supercars battle it out and the 2 Clio R.S. RX reach the semi-finals.
Day 1 in Latvia began with free practice, an opportunity for Jean-Baptiste Dubourg to discover the track for the first time, putting down the 10th fastest time in the process while Jere Kalliokoski raced into 14th position.
Jere was in pole position on the starting grid of Q1, facing 3 other drivers. He took the lead of the race at the start closing the doors on Szabo, who was hot on his heels. However, a small mistake of Jere when entering the joker allowed Szabo to overtake to sit in the lead just ahead of the last lap. Jere finished 7th overall following Q1.
Jean-Baptiste, who was also in pole position for his Q1, managed to come out first following turn 2 after some contact. He managed to hold on to his position after the joker and finished P9 overall.
Both G-FORS drivers lined up together on the starting grid for Q2, Jere in second position and Jean-Baptiste second to last on the outside. JB took the lead of the pack when his teammate hit the wall in turn 1 and managed to remain in first following the joker, just before crossing the finish line. He finished Q2 in P5 and was P6 in the intermediate points at the end of day 1. Jere, who managed to continue the race despite the crash at the beginning finished Q2 in P18, putting him in P12 overall after the first day of racing.
Sunday morning, both drivers put down promising speed during the warm-up with JB posting 6th fastest time and Jere 7th.
Jere started his second day in Latvia with a strong P3 in Q3, heaving led his race all along with a steady pace. Jean-Baptiste, caught in a battle off the start line, narrowly avoided the wall of the first corner, form where he pushed hard to catch up on the other drivers and was ranked P9 of Q3.
The last qualifier saw JB in third after he managed to pass Münnich after turn 4 to then immediately joker during the first lap, coming out in 4th. JB crossed the finish line in second having overtaken Larsen and Gerhman when they jokered. Jere, sandwiched between Szabo and Nitiss on his left and Marklund and Andréa Dubourg on his right for the last qualifier, took second place, just behind Szabo, when Nitiss turned on him in the second corner. Marklund then took advantage of a mistake by Jere just ahead of the jump to overtake him. With a few tenths of a second between them at the end of the joker, Jere and Andréa Dubourg cross the finish line, putting Jere in 5th position. At the end of all four qualifiers, the 2 Clio R.S. RX had successfully qualified for the semi-finals with a 5th place for JB and an 8th place for Jere.
The first semi-final saw Jean-Baptiste on the inside of the second row, facing Marklund, Szabo, Larsen, Evjen and Bryntesson. Following a great start, the GFORS driver battled with Larsen just behind Marklund and Szabo following the second corner. JB came 4th in the fourth round and was unable to pass Evjen when he jokered in the final lap, just missing a place in the final.
Semi-final 2 saw Jere on the outside of the second row facing Nitiss, Münnich, Raymond, Gehrman and Karai. The Finnish driver pushed on despite contact with his competitors, positioning himself in 3rd ahead of Raymond after turn 2. Jere tactically took the joker in the third lap and kept his place at the exit. However, Raymond on the heels of the G-FORS driver, managed to overtake him in the last lap, with Jere just missing out on a place in the final.
After 5 European rounds, Dubourg finished 5th of FIA European Rallycross Championship and his teammate, Kalliokoski, 11th. A positive result for the first season with 2 all new Clio R.S. RX and the team being able to look back on being part of the semi-finals at each round, two finals and one podium.
Jean-Baptiste said: « I finished the weekend with a frustrating seventh place, once again being so close to getting into the final, but we lacked the speed to play with the fastest today. We would have liked more of course, especially considering how invested we’ve all been in this first season, the team and I. I finished the European championship in fifth place, and being part of the top 5 isn’t to be laughed at when there are 30 competitors. For a new team with a new car it’s a satisfactory result, even if we always aimed higher of course. There were highs, especially with the podium of Barcelona, and lows, but what I remember is all the work of the team and the way we supported one another. I would like to thank especially Stéphane Orré, Fred Rua and Guerlain Chicherit for giving me this opportunity. Thank you to all the members of the team who have worked with me and the car throughout this beautiful season. »
Jere Kalliokoski added: « Our last Euro race weekend in Riga improved as it went on. In fact, this race summarises the entire season in a nutshell, with hard times at the beginning and results that came later. I struggled in the beginning with set-ups and especially the jump who was very hard. After we made some set-up changes, the car started to be a lot better for me. Riga is a very technical track and hard on tyres. We needed to be clever to make correct compromises and take care of the tyres through the weekend. After the qualifiers, I was in 8th position and started my semi-final from the second row on the outside. I had a good start and stayed out of the trouble in first corner – which proved to be very tricky this year, same as last. Cyril Raymond was behind and all over me all the time, in the end I just couldn’t keep him behind me anymore so I finished 4th. It was such a shame as we were so close to the final and I really wanted to finish the season on a high. In the final European Championship standings I was 11th place on the same points as Lukas Walfridson who finished 10th. The overall result wasn’t what I was looking for this year but I learned a lot and I’m focusing on the next season now. I want to thank the entire team, my sponsors and supporters. Without you this wouldn’t be possible. »
Atte Varsta, Team manager, commented: « The first day, Jere showed good pace in Q1 despite a difficult jump to negotiate. For JB who discovered the track for the first time, it was a little more difficult, and we made changes on the car that were beneficial as his results in Q2, Q3 and Q4 prove. Jere started Sunday morning with a strong performance to secure his place in the semi-finals after his little crash on Saturday. We have mixed feelings after the semi-finals as both drivers had the opportunity to qualify for the final and were so close but that’s motorsport.
I want to thank both drivers for their hard work throughout the season, and JB for sharing his experience, which was beneficial for the entire team. Stéphane and his guys have really done a good job this season, and we expect to come back stronger next year. »
Stéphane Orré, technical chief, added: « We are already at the end of the season after five European races that have gone very quickly as G-FORS still had fire to burn at the end of this season. The FIA European Championship only lasts a few months only at a very high level of competition, so the slightest mistake costs points. We are still in full development with these brand new Clio R.S. RX, we have to quickly adapt when we arrive on a track with the challenge sometimes so intense that we didn’t always manage to successfully achieve all that could be possible.. In terms of performance, we qualified for the semifinals every race and climbed the third step of the podium in Barcelona, which is really great for a first season against thirty competitors. We are planning an important development this winter which will start at the end of the French championship ahead of 2019. I would like to thank the entire team and the drivers for putting in so much hard work. Thank you also to our partners, Oreca, Sadev, PKM, Carbon Spirit, Don Foster, and Exact France who accompanied us throughout this season. And finally I thank Guerlain Chicherit for trusting FORS Performance in this collaboration. »