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PREVIEW: 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship – Hong Kong

In a weekend full of firsts, the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship comes to an end on 11/12 November as the championship takes to the streets of Hong Kong with the second double-header event of the season. This is your guide, curtesy of The Checkered Flag, to what to expect from the thrilling season finale in the sport’s first visit to the Asia-Pacific region.

Central Harbourfront Event Space

The majority of the firsts associated with this weekend concern the track itself. For the first time, World RX will take place on a 1225-metre street circuit. The asphalt sections, which make up 63% of the track, are closed public roads, adding a new element of challenge for the drivers. They will once again all be in ZEROID X1 cars, the standard RX2e machines, following the ongoing investigation into the fire that destroyed Special ONE Racing‘s cars. You can read more about the specifics of the cars here.

Hong Kong’s spectacular skyline. Credit: Jonathan Mehring / Red Bull Content Pool

The circuit certainly looks enticing, an intoxicating blend of 90-degree turns, complex sequences, very long straights and tight hairpins. Unusually, the joker lap is 23m shorter than the standard lap, but it is tighter, slower, and twistier. The two laps merge just before the finish line, similar to Estering in Germany, hopefully leading to some incredible showdowns.

Championship leader Johan Kristoffersson is relishing the challenge, saying that street circuits are “the most fun to race on.” The racer’s love of this form of racing is certainly due to the risk involved. “Of course it can happen that you make a mistake and it has more severe consequences when it is on a street circuit,” he acknowledged, “but that’s the same for everyone.”

Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS

Kristoffersson is in prime position to seal an extraordinary sixth world rallycross title. All he needs to do is score 10 points over the double-header weekend and he will be crowned champion. It would take a truly extraordinary stroke of bad luck for him not to achieve this goal. However, ever the professional, he is taking nothing for granted: “we’ve seen many times in championship fights that if you’re too cautious on day one, it can lead to problems on day two as well, but I’ll just do my best as usual and let’s see how it goes.”

Special ONE Racing Announce 2024 World RX Intentions

Special ONE Racing have announced that they intend to compete in the 2024 FIA World Rallycross Championship.

The team had to pull out of the 2023 campaign following a devastating fire at Lydden Hill in July, which destroyed both of their cars and one of their support trucks. Subsequently, the RX1e class of vehicles have not been used due to concerns about the batteries supplied by Kreisel Electric, which are being investigated as the presumed cause of the blaze.

Loeb in his spectacular Lancia Delta Evo-e, battling Kevin Hansen in Sweden. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

According to their social media, Special ONE Racing team is “pleased to note that the FIA, aware of the difficulties faced by the team following the incident at Lydden Hill, is making every effort to identify the cause.” They explain that the team, “like the FIA, is awaiting the analysis reports – conducted by the battery manufacturer Kreisel Electric on samples taken after the fire – which should help to determine responsibilities.”

The statement also notes that the team is “delighted that the FIA is doing everything necessary to safely continue the FIA World Rallycross Championship next year for all teams, and hopes to be able to take part.”

This marks a change in tone from a statement made on 26 October, where it was revealed that the team and both of their drivers, Sébastian Loeb and Guerlain Chicherit, declined an invitation to compete in the season finale in Hong Kong. The statement declared that “the team is disappointed by the lacklustre handling of the aftermath of the fire that had devastated its cars and equipment three months ago” and, as a result, would not be taking part in the RX2e machinery which the rest of the field has been using since July.

Kevin Harvick: “It’s been a great ride, so I don’t have anything to complain about”

After Kevin Harvick‘s legendary NASCAR Cup Series career has officially come to a close. Although he did not score a win in his final season, a seventh-place finish in his last race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday was still the swan song he could have hoped for.

Harvick is perhaps the most successful driver at Phoenix with nine wins and riding a twenty-race streak of top-ten finishes entering Sunday. He finished second in Stage #1 and led twenty-three laps before finishing seventh, a more than capable performance while much of the headlines revolved around the championship battle; his pace, which brought fans to their feet, perhaps could have won him the race if not for slow pit stops late.

Prior to the race, the entire Cup Series grid honoured him with a special ceremony. Other honours throughout the year included Homestead-Miami Speedway renaming its race to the 4EVER 400, while Harvick returned to his old #29 for the All-Star Race.

While a final start is always an emotional moment, Harvick admitted he felt more “relief” than any other emotion upon taking the checkered flag.

“There was just so much going on before the race and this week, but it was pretty cool to lead some laps there in the last race,” said Harvick. “I’m just proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, everybody that works on this car and has worked on this car for a long time. I’ve just got to thank all the fans and NASCAR and my family and everybody for all of the support. It’s been a great ride and I can’t complain.

Fantic Rally Team to field three-rider effort at 2024 Dakar Rally

Fantic is one of the top motorcycle manufacturers in enduro, and their 2024 Dakar Rally programme will reflect that as Jane Daniels, Jeremy Miroir, and Tommaso Montanari will represent the Fantic Rally Team. Daniels and Miroir are making their débuts while Montanari enters his second Dakar.

The trio, all enduro champions, entered the Rallye du Maroc in October, the final round of the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship. Montanari was the highest-finishing non-points rider in the Rally2 category as he placed fifth overall with Miroir three positions back. Daniels was thirtieth in her first W2RC race. While Montanari already had Dakar experience, Miroir and Daniels’ successes locked in their acceptances for the 2024 edition.

Montanari’s maiden Dakar took place in January when he raced a Husqvarna for Solarys Racing. However, after finishing an impressive ninth in Rally2 in the opening stage, he crashed the following day and hurt his femur. After undergoing surgery and recovery, he departed Solarys in July and signed with Fantic.

Prior to trying out rally raid, he won three enduro titles in his home country of Italy along with the 2018 European Enduro Championship. His father Mario Montanari is a Dakar veteran.

“For me, it’s a year of revenge,” said Montanari. “I’ve been working hard to get back in shape, coming from a severe injury sustained at the last Dakar, and having the support, trust, and esteem from Fantic is fundamental for me. I’m thrilled to represent myself and my country in the colors of Fantic, an Italian motorbike manufacturer, and I’m sure that the results will repay the effort put in by all of us.”

Patronellis skipping 2024 Dakar Rally

After dominating the Dakar Rally‘s Quad class during its run through their home country of Argentina, Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli planned to make their return in 2024 but have ultimately elected to wait another year. In an interview with Argentine radio station FM Alpha, Alejandro revealed he and his younger brother are putting off their 2024 entry due to funding concerns.

Alejandro described 2024 as instead being a year to “wait and analyse” how the event plays out. The brothers ran a Quad dynasty in the early 2010s as Alejandro won the Dakar twice in 2011 and 2012, while Marcos claimed three in 2010, 2013, and 2016. Marcos had placed runner-up in 2009, the first Dakar with a Quad category, before the duo finished first and second three times.

Although the Dakar continued to run through South America until 2019, the brothers eventually stepped back after 2016 for sponsorship reasons. They considered a return over the following years, but Yamaha Argentina’s factory support alone was not enough to fund another run. The Patronellis announced their plans to return for 2024 in December, only for the same issue to arise again.

The problem was further exacerbated as potential sponsors are currently unavailable due to Argentina being in an election year. The first round of the Argentine general election took place just two days after Alejandro’s interview, and a run-off is scheduled for 19 November. Perhaps the election’s most pressing issue is the country’s economy, which has suffered from significant inflation and a collapsing currency.

In the meantime, the Patronelli family oversees a motorcycle shop.

Corey Heim penalised for Phoenix clash

Corey Heim‘s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship hopes went around when he was spun by Carson Hocevar during the final race at Phoenix Raceway last Friday, and he returned the favour by taking Hocevar out. On Wednesday, NASCAR added insult to injury by deducting twenty-five points from his final total and fining him USD$12,500 (€11,673.19).

Hocevar bumped into Heim on lap 121, spinning him but not taking him out of the race. Nevertheless, Heim retaliated with three laps remaining by squeezing Hocevar into the wall, causing both to hit the barrier; the contact forced Hocevar to retire, while Heim’s truck was damaged but continued. A myriad of overtimes and additional crashes allowed Heim to salvage a top twenty as he finished eighteenth, albeit still third in the championship behind Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger.

While Hocevar apologised for the initial spin, admitting he “just messed up,” Heim seemingly refused to accept it. He stressed that he did not intentionally force Hocevar into the wall, having just “lost all my sideforce and lost control.”

“He obviously screwed up, just wrecked me,” Heim continued. “I’ve been racing Carson for a long time, racing him since I was eight or nine years old, and that’s just kind of what he does. He’ll wreck you and apologise, and then he’ll do it again the next week. It’s not going to be the last time he does it, and it’s certainly not the first time he’s done it. Known him for a long time, and I know a lot of guys have only known him for four years as far as his racing career, but it’s been a decade on top of that.

“It is what it is. I completely expected it. I actually drove into 1 way past my lifting point to avoid that contact because I literally saw it coming, but he went that extra yard and got us.”

Former NASCAR team owner Leo Jackson dies at 90

Leo Jackson Jr., who was the owner of the iconic green-and-white #33 Skoal Bandit car piloted by Harry Gant in the 1980s and 1990s, passed away Monday morning. He was 90 years old.

Jackson and his brother Richard, alongside their father Leo Sr., first got involved in racing via their business Precision Products which catered to NASCAR teams in the 1960s. In 1974, the brothers formed Precision Products Racing to compete in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series, the predecessor to what is now the Xfinity Series. Bob Pressley was the team’s lead driver while the legendary David Pearson also dabbled in a race for them in 1980.

In 1985, the Jacksons entered the NASCAR Cup Series under the Jackson Bros. Motorsports banner with sponsorship from the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company via their Copenhagen and Skoal brands. Brothers Benny and Phil Parsons débuted the team at the 1985 Daytona 500 before making select starts over the next two years years, with Benny scoring a pole the following season at Michigan.

Phil eventually became a full-time driver in the team’s #55 Oldsmobile. In 1988, he won his maiden and lone Cup race en route to a ninth-place points finish. They returned to a two-car operation a year later when they poached Gant from fellow Skoal team Mach 1 Racing. Gant scored a win at Michigan in the #33 and placed seventh in points.

Richard branched off to form a separate team under the Precision Products Racing name for 1990, bringing the #55 with him. This left Leo on his own to cover the entire season, as opposed to when he oversaw Jackson Bros. Motorsports’ superspeedway efforts while Richard specialised on short tracks and mile-long courses. Now competing as Leo Jackson Motorsports, the team and Gant enjoyed the prime of their careers with eight wins and back-to-back points finishes of fourth in 1991 and 1992, including a record-tying four consecutive victories in fall 1991.

Stadium Super Trucks set for 11th year in Long Beach in 2024

Save for the COVID year in 2020, the Stadium Super Trucks have made the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach their home since the inaugural season in 2013. The trucks will return for an eleventh year in 2024, once again running two races on 19–21 April to support the NTT IndyCar Series.

Long Beach is the only track from the 2013 SST season to still welcome them on an annual basis. Since 2022, the California street circuit has also served as the SST season opener.

Matt Brabham won both races in 2023. He led a podium sweep of former series champions in Race #1 ahead of Gavin Harlien and Robby Gordon, followed by defeating Myles Cheek in a late battle for the second victory.

Besides SST and IndyCar, other series on the Long Beach event card include IMSA, Formula DRIFT, and the additions of GT America and the Historic Indy Car Challenge.

“Our 2024 event is going to be another action-packed weekend for the entire family to enjoy,” said Jim Michaelian, Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President and CEO. “The additions of GT America and the vintage Indy cars plus the off-track attractions just add to the excitement that our fans will experience at an affordable price next April.”

2024 Kove 450 Rally revealed

As China’s Kove Moto prepares for their second Dakar Rally in 2024, they will do so on an upgraded version of the Kove 450 Rally that was revealed Tuesday at EICMA in Milan, Italy.

The new bike is smaller than its predecessor to improve efficiency, being 26 lbs (11.8 kg) lighter but boasting twelve more horsepower. Inside the 65-hp engine, the intake and exhaust rocker arms have been combined while the cylinder’s head is more compact and straighter to reduce resistance. The revised engine is also available on Kove’s updated MX450 motocross bike.

The starter clutch has been consolidated in the hydraulic. Said clutch is also narrower and lighter by ten percent than competing products.

Various components are modified to further decrease weight, such as a one-piece tail light and lighter headlight, a revised handlebar, and an integrated buffer and large sprocket. The new tail light is lighter by nearly eighty percent, while the buffer and large sprocket system has gone from consisting of three parts to just one.

One of the more notable changes is to the fuel system, which is larger at thirty-four liters. Laid out in a twin fuel pump format, riders can either toggle between front or rear pump automatically or on their own. Despite the capacity increase, the bike’s centre of gravity is lowered to offset any increased weight.

Alona Ben Natan ends season due to war in Gaza

Alona Ben Natan will not enter next week’s FIM Bajas World Cup season finale at the Dubai International Baja. In a video published on social media Sunday, the Israeli rider explained she is not within the right state of mind to continue racing in 2023 while her country continues its war in Gaza.

The latest war, another chapter in a decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, erupted on 7 October when Hamas attacked southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, resulting in over a thousand civilian deaths and a major hostage crisis. Concurrent with the operation, Natan was competing in the Baja do Oeste in Portugal where she finished forty-first overall and fourteenth among FIM entrants. She returned to Israel following the event, commenting that she felt “lonely and mentally disconnected” in Portugal despite being encouraged by her friends back home to continue the race.

The Jordan Baja, originally set to be the final 2023 round, was cancelled as the host country shares a border with Israel and Palestine’s West Bank. The Dubai International Baja, now the last race of the year, will take place on 9–11 November.

“You know I usually share on my social media about training, competitions, sports, and more but since 7 October I can’t do anything,” she said in her video. “I feel that I can’t continue my normal life after everything that has happened and is still happening in my country and across the whole world. I was supposed to compete in Croatia, in the Dubai Baja in a few days, and in the Jordan Baja that was cancelled.

“I can’t emotionally travel to another country and compete when I know that my friends are fighting here and getting killed every day. I hope to come back to compete next year mentally and physically stronger than ever, representing my country and waving the Israeli flag.”

Ryan Blaney completes 2023 Ford NASCAR title sweep with maiden Cup Series crown

Ryan Blaney only led two laps and finished second in Sunday’s finale at Phoenix Raceway, but winner Ross Chastain not being a contender meant Blaney did all he needed to do to win his maiden NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Blaney restarted sixth with thirty-one laps remaining behind his championship rivals Kyle Larson and William Byron. The two Hendrick Motorsports cars followed Chastain with Larson ahead before Blaney found his run past Byron. Larson, the 2021 champion, was unable to keep him at bay any longer with twenty to go.

“When I saw him get to third as quickly as he did, I knew I was going to be in trouble,” recalled Larson, who settled for third. “I felt like I could maybe hold off William for the length of that run. Holding off Ryan was going to be tough. He could just move around a lot better than me, kind of be more comfortable on the edge. He definitely looked loose, but he could still push the car. I couldn’t push the car really further than what I was.

“I felt really committed to the bottom. Even when I would move around and make my car feel better, it was slower on lap time. I knew I was in a little bit of trouble and was going to try to put up a fight. I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to hold him off. He did a really good job. His team continued to improve on the race car throughout the last few months. They deserved to win.”

Byron finished directly behind Blaney and Larson for third in the championship. While short of a title, it is still Byron’s best season by far with a series-high six wins and his first Championship Round appearance.

“Stone Cold” Cole Custer takes 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series title in overtime

Cole Custer barely qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Round while crossing the Martinsville Speedway finish line backwards and on fire. A week later, he crossed the Phoenix Raceway finish in the right direction and for the championship. While his car was not ablaze this time, his liver probably was from the beers he chugged to celebrate his maiden title.

To win the championship, Custer simply needed to beat Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer, and John Hunter Nemechek regardless of where the rest of the field finished. Of course, this was easier said than done as Custer had yet to win on an oval in 2023 and Anthony Alfredo‘s wreck with three laps remaining set up a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.

The quartet occupied the top four coming to the restart with Custer and Nemechek on the front row. Riding the outside line with Allgaier in tow, Custer was quickly swamped by the other three before they ran four-abreast coming to the white flag. Custer cleared Allgaier before Riley Herbst and Sheldon Creed, the latter having been eliminated from title contention at Martinsville in a photo finish by Allgaier, showed up to force a battle for second. As Creed returned the favour to beat Allgaier for the runner-up spot in yet another dead heat, Custer pulled away to seal the victory.

“This place, it’s always a toss-up, top or bottom. I went with my gut on the top because the resin started working in, but just didn’t work out,” explained Custer. “The #7 (Allgaier) was able to get to our outside and I tried to block him but from there I was kind of in a tough spot being in the middle. I just tried to make sure I got a good exit and downshifted it and tried to make it off turn two. We were able to get a good run and make it happen there. I don’t think it would happen again. But it was just an unbelievable restart that worked out right.

“If we didn’t have the car we had either, it wouldn’t have worked out. We had such a fast car. Historically, this has just been (Joe) Gibbs‘ race track. Those guys put up a great fight, John Hunter and all those guys. But it’s a very proud moment for our team to come here. It hasn’t been our strongest race track. We put it to them.”

Ben Rhodes survives to win 2023 NASCAR Truck Series championship

As an inebriated Ben Rhodes remarked to the press that dinosaurs did not exist (thanks to a bet with his friend Chase Cabre), Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim were hoping they could throw the other into the jaws of one.

Heim, the regular season champion, mathematically could have clinched the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title before Friday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway under a season-long points system. With the existence of the playoff format, however, he had to hold off Hocevar, Rhodes, and Grant Enfinger.

All of this came to naught when Heim was spun by Hocevar on lap 121. While Heim was not eliminated from contention, his retaliation twenty laps later triggered a series of events that ended the season in virtual disaster. On lap 148, while Enfinger was holding the championship lead with just three laps remaining, Heim pulled in front of Hocevar and forced him into the wall, ending the latter’s title hopes.

Hocevar apologised for the initial contact. While the young driver proved his mettle in a breakout 2023 campaign, he has also developed a reputation for an aggressive driving style. As such, he conceded that he couldn’t “sit here and say I didn’t mean to, but I just fucked up. I just messed up. I was just trying really hard, blocking, doing everything I could, I just tried to slow him down, and I just messed up.”

Heim suffered damage that knocked him back but the ensuing chaos in overtime allowed him to salvage an eighteenth-place finish. While stressing that the second wreck was not intentional, he was not keen on accepting Hocevar’s remorse.

Lucas Del Rio skipping 2024 Dakar Rally for personal reasons

Lucas del Río will not run the Dakar Rally in 2024 after a family concern arose with just two months until the race begins. His navigator Bruno Jacomy has been allowed to search for a new team and driver for the event.

“Unexpectedly, we have been left without Dakar as a team with Lucas this year,” Jacomy told Cross-Country Rally News. “It’s so sad, but we are both strong and we think very positively about what’s left of the season and the next year. This situation personally, I cannot handle and leaves me free for this race. Thankfully, my driver gives me the possibility of joining another crew, for which I am infinitely grateful.”

Del Río moved up to T3 for the 2023 Dakar Rally alongside Jacomy after finishing thirty-sixth in T4 in 2022; he had to bow out of his Dakar début’s contention with a mechanical issue but was allowed to finish the event. An actor in New York by trade, del Río had started rally in 2020 and qualified for Dakar by winning the Road to Dakar at the 2021 Rallye du Maroc.

Driving a Can-Am Maverick XRS from South Racing with Jacomy by his side, del Río suffered an engine failure on the first stage to knock him out of the overall. Like the previous year, his team was able to repair the engine and continue the rally, albeit with severe time penalties to keep him at the bottom of the leaderboard.

Due to the early retirement, his final classification of thirty-eighth and last in T3 does not properly reflect his daily pace. Del Río scored a top ten a day after his shortened Stage #1, which he improved upon with a ninth in Stage #10 and eighth the day after. If not for the time penalties, accumulating over 120 hours total with three more DNFs, his final time of 144:23:26 would have been a 23:53:06 for twenty-second in T3.

Tyler Reddick becoming TIE Fighter pilot at Phoenix

Tyler Reddick‘s goal on Sunday? Defend the Death Star by taking out Rebel scum like Bubba Wallace. Not literally, of course, as that would ironically be friendly fire.

While Wallace will run Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway in a #23 car themed after the X-Wing from Star Wars, Reddick’s #45 23XI Racing Toyota Camry will represent the franchise antagonist, the Galactic Empire, and its trademark TIE Fighter.

Much like the X-Wing, the TIE Fighter is one of the most iconic vehicles in the Star Wars universe since its début with the original film release in 1977. In that film, TIE Fighters—formally dubbed the TIE/ln space superiority starfighter—are deployed by the Empire at the Battle of Yavin, where the Rebel Alliance’s X-Wings and other craft seek to destroy the Death Star. As the main Imperial starfighter, it appears in all three original trilogy films while an upgraded model, the TIE/fo, is used by the First Order in the sequel trilogy. Since the design was introduced by the Empire, it did not show up during the prequel movies and the period of the Galactic Republic though the V-Wing served as a spiritual predecessor.

The joint paint schemes manifested via Wallace’s sponsor Columbia Sportswear, which is launching its annual Star Wars collaboration collection in November. For 2023, Columbia is releasing ski suits and jackets based on the flight suits worn by Rebel pilots.

“We wanted to take a different approach to not wanting to necessarily put a poster on the NASCAR, so it wasn’t going to be a billboard or an advertisement,” explained Columbia designer Chris Araujo to “We wanted Bubba to feel like he was in an X-Wing and flying around the track. I decided that, ‘Hey, what if we translated all the elements of an X-Wing to a NASCAR, almost as if the NASCAR was built out of X-Wing parts?’