The 2019 Belgian Rally Championship was a thrilling affair. A three way battle, settled only on the final round of the Championship with Adrian Fernémont and Samuel Maillen coming out on top in the San Mazuin Skoda Fabia R5.
It was a tale of two halves. The first half of the season led by Kris Princen but a mid-year split with the BMA squad interrupted his run. Fernémont was strong all year, bouncing back even after losing certain victory on the Omloop van Vlaanderen after a mechanical issue. Equally Sébastien Bedoret and Thomas Walbrecq finally broke through for their first win and showed their undoubted talent to challenge for the crown.
All three contenders are back for 2020. The same nine rounds are present in 2020. Drivers nominate eight rounds to compete in and the best six scores count. The points structure has changed and this may play a part in this season’s battle.
The rounds we know. The season kicks off this weekend with the Rally van Haspengouw – though a new route will challenge the crews. Spa Rally follows before the TAC Rally, Rallye Wallonie, Sezoens Rally, Ypres Rally, Omloop van Vlaanderen, East Belgian Rally and the Condroz Rallye to finish the year. A stable calendar.
But what of the contenders for the crown…
The Skoda pilots
Skoda doesn’t quite have the strangle hold on the field they have had over the previous couple of years. But what they do have is two of the lead drivers and title favourites Fernémont and Bedoret return with the R5s. As per the entry list, Bedoret has the EVO while Fernémont continues with the older spec car he took to the win last year.
We should expect Fernémont to continue his rock solid pace – rarely making any sort of car damaging mistake, continuing to bring home the points. That consistency and a couple victories enabled him to take the Championship over the more fancied rivals.
Equally, should Bedoret get into the rally mode early on in each round, he will be a big contender for the title. He usually starts off a bit slow, which means he has a lot to make up on the later loops of a rally. Fix this, and he is a big threat.
Ghislain de Mevuis is also back in his Skoda. Last year he made big strides. Perhaps not with the outright winning pace but took podiums and given the right conditions, he could be in with a chance to get his first win.
PJM Cracco is also back in the Jobfixers Skoda from BMA. He and the Jobfixers company are back despite the sad loss of his father due to illness. Cracco had been putting in the miles last year, switching from the Ford to the Skoda and showing some glimpses and positive development. He achieved a couple of fourth places last year and this year he should break through for that podium.
Cedric de Cecco will have six outings this year and will hope to build on his first top five result he took last year.
Other drivers will appear through the season with Cedric Cherain expected to start in Spa – and should be a challenger. The PTR squad should feature in a few rounds this year.
The VW pilots
Last year the VW was debuted for a full season and we expected they would run away with the crown. In the beginning, it looked like that would be the case. Princen took his fair share of wins but in the end, they fell short after a difficult season and the car was not as dominant as people expected.
The marque will have just one outright challenger for the year with Vincent Verschueren. The 2017 Champ had a shocker in 2019, a little psyched out over having the older Skoda he still took two podiums but still didn’t look like challenging for a win. The switch to the VW came in the final round and he was a little at sea but he is confident he has overcome this for 2020. If he has, expect a Title run.
The BMA squad will send Henri Schmelcher out for a few rounds. A gentleman driver, we shouldn’t expect much in terms of results. But they are still a top team and if a pro can come up with some money, the chances of a good result remain.
The Citroën pilots
Citroën have not had a good off season for their rally team but they look strong for the BRC. They didn’t have a full season pilot last year but the DG Sport squad has come with two cars – and they are both contenders.
First of all there is Kris Princen – 2018 Champion and an undoubted contender. He has won previously in the Peugeot 208 T16 R5 and knows the French cars well. He was strong in 2019 early in the year before a blow up with BMA that left him out of the squad. Coming back with the new PTR squad was too much too quickly for that team. But DG Sport are a top line team with a lot of WRC experience. The car is also great on tarmac. It is all a great combination.
The other car sees Guilliame de Mevius back for a full season. He competed in WRC2 last year with RACB funding. But that has left him and he will concentrate on the BRC. He was the best of the Belgians in the Condroz Rally last year and showed his talent in the WRC – competing for a class podium in Monte. He will be keen to put his WRC experience to the test and prove he is an outright contender.
We will also see Paul Lietaer in a Crack Racing Citroën for three rounds through the year.
The Hyundai pilots
The Korean manufacturer hasn’t had a full presence in the BRC despite the success of Thierry Neuville. That changes in 2020 with the BMA squad attracting some dealer money and a car for up and coming talent Grégoire Munster and Louis Louka. The Junior BRC Champions from 2018 and 2019 had a full season last year and stepped into a Fabia R5 for three rallies and the Monte this year. Undoubted talents they will take a while to get to the outright pace but could pull a surprise or two through the year.
Youngster Maxime Potty steps into a Hyundai R5 for five rallies this year with the Yves Matton squad MY Racing. Having only started five rallies in the past, he is quite green but it should be interesting to watch his progress and it is quite good to have more new talent and names coming through.
The Ford pilots
The M-Sport built cars didn’t have a full season presence in the BRC last year, though they did take out the Condroz Rallye in the hands of Stephane Lefebvre. While there are three Fiesta R5s on the entry list for Haspengouw, we don’t expect a full season entry here.
The other classes
The Rally-4 (previously the RC4 cars) battle will open up with Champion Timo and Rebecca van der Marel not returning to defend their title. Equally with Munster stepping into an R5, the Junior and 2WD categories are up for grabs. There are a few names, with Gilles Pyck, Charles Munster and Bradley Howlett all looking good for a title shot. The latter steps up from his old Citroen C2 to a Peugeot 208 for this season. After years of dominance from Opel, the new packages from Ford and Peugeot look like they the cars to have.
We have new Porsches in the RGT battle this year. Patrick Snijers will be back, once with his old car – the one we all love, and then with a new car. Gunther Monnens and Romain Delhez rejoin the category and Glenn Janssens steps up from his (quite lovely) historic Porsche. This one is hard to call but if Snijers is on form, he has to be the favourite.
The Belgian Historic Championship will also provide a great spectacle with its usual mix of Fords, BMWs, Audis…like the BMW M-Cup, a strong field that will entertain the fans.
Who will win?
We think that 2020 will see a four way battle with Fernémont, Bédoret, Princen and Verschueren, with Guilliame de Mevuis as a dark horse. Last year, we went for the dark horse of Fernémont and got it right. So let’s do the same this year…De Mevius for the crown. (I am not a betting man!)
The first round gets underway on Saturday 29 February with the Rally van Haspengouw, with 137km of action around the city of Landen.
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By Sam Tickell
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