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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Niclas Gronholm battles back to win inaugural RX race at Yas Marina Circuit

The 22-year-old Finn edged out Swedish driver Kevin Hansen in a fierce battle that went down to the wire in the six-lap final

Niclas Gronholm won his first-ever FIA World Rallycross Championship event at the inaugural RX race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

The 22-year-old Finn, behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20, edged out Peugeot’s Swedish driver Kevin Hansen in a fierce battle that went down to the wire in the six-lap final.

Audi S1’s British driver, Liam Doran, joined them on the podium after a tight tussle to take third spot ahead of Latvian Janis Baumanis, Krisztian Szabo of Hungary and German Timo Scheider.

Gronholm had to battle back twice in the semi-final and final to be triumphant in what is the first round of 10 in this season’s series.

He had a clutch issue at the start of the semi-final and had to work his way from the back of the six-car race, and again had to fight with Hansen to take the lead midway through the six-lap final.

“Obviously happy with the result and how the race panned out for me in both the semi-final and final,” said Gronholm.

“Honestly I was a bit nervous going into the final after the clutch problems I had to deal with in the semi-final. To fight for the lead is always very hard. I was relaxed a little once I was in the lead.”

Gronholm is not looking too far ahead about whether this victory will lead to a sustained title challenge, but is instead focusing his sights on the next race in Spain.

“We have seen the challenges that we would see throughout the season,” he added. “Now we prepare for the next race in Barcelona in three weeks.”

It was mixed feelings for runner-up Hansen. He had set the fastest qualifying time to start the race from the front.

Although he was beaten into second place by Gronholm, he took the positives from the result.

“I had a great weekend and happy with the result,” said the Swede. “I led for a while in the final and then Niclas almost bumped me out, and I lost the lead.

“Once I lost the lead and the gap began to open up, I drove with safety in mind for a podium finish.

“This result is good enough for a small team like us, 12 people from the family. I think we are there as a team and the confidence is great after this race. It’s a long season and hopefully pick up some good results from the coming races.”

The battle lines were drawn between Gronholm and Hansen after the two pre-event favourites, Timmy Hansen and Andreas Bakkerud, both failed to reach the final.

It was a disappointing weekend for the older Hansen after he dominated Friday’s action with two heat wins.

He was forced to retire after colliding with Bakkerud, the impact damaging his roll cage. Bakkerud was disqualified for his role in the contact between the two cars.

Updated: April 7, 2019 02:53 PM

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