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Now that the talking and the testing is done, the focus for the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy switches to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for the opening round of the 2019 season.

Since its inception in 2014, World RX has visited Europe, Asia, North and South America. We can now add the Middle East to that list as the championship prepares for a duel in the desert in the United Arab Emirates.

The World RX of Abu Dhabi will also be the first time a round has been held at night with the semi-finals and final on Saturday evening run under floodlights.

As a debutant track, the Yas Marina Rallycross Circuit, presents a level playing field for the 2019 combatants.

There are plenty of challenges in the purpose-built 1.2 kilometre rallycross layout featuring 63 per cent asphalt and 37 per cent gravel, a series of wide tarmac areas, tight turns including a hairpin and a formidable jump, all within the circuit’s famous Formula One circuit stadium section.

The quality, depth and multi-national mix of the competitors suggests a fierce battle from the moment the lights go green at Yas Marina.

The 2019 entry lists features 16 permanent drivers in six teams and four individual entries representing eight automotive brands with drivers from 11 countries.

Facing the starter in Abu Dhabi are names synonymous with rallycross and a posse of rookies, some first-year graduates from Euro RX, eager to make their presence felt on the world stage.

None of the permanent drivers in World RX 2019 have won an FIA World Championship title, meaning we will crown a new FIA World RX drivers’ champion this year.

Monster Energy RX Cartel’s Andreas Bakkerud looms as a championship favourite. Third in the overall standings in 2018, Bakkerud starts as the highest-placed finisher from last season. Alongside the Norwegian in the Audi S1 will be Britain’s Liam Doran.

The Hansen brothers, Timmy and Kevin, run a pair of Peugeot 208 WRXs for Team Hansen MJP, the first time the Swedish brothers have competed in equal machinery. Timmy, 26 and 20-year-old Kevin, may be one of the youngest line-ups on the grid, but they have both been competing in high-level rallycross for the last six years, and Timmy has started in every World RX race ever – all 61 of them.

Austria’s Team STARD will campaign the all-new Ford Fiesta RXS for Latvia’s Janis Baumanis. He will be partnered by Norwegian Pal Try, who will feature in at least three rounds during 2019. The team also recently announced a new title sponsor in Ferratum Group, the digital banking service.

GC Kompetition’s Anton Marklund makes a full-time return to World RX after focussing on European racing for the past two years. The Swede will partner team owner Guerlain Chicherit in Renault Meganes.

In the build up to the opening round, Marklund has been helping with the development of the Megane and the Renault Clios to be shared by GCK Academy young guns Cyril Raymond of France and Belgium’s Guillaume De Ridder.

Marcus Gronholm’s GRX Taneco squad comprises three Hyundai i20s for Russian Timur Timerzyanov and Niclas Gronholm. Abu Dhabi will be the first of a number of selected appearances for Latvia’s Reinis Nitiss of GRX Set. All three drivers completed final pre-season test in Germany recently.

Britain’s Oliver Bennett returns to build on 2018’s programme of selected World RX events. His Xite Racing Mini Cooper has been subject to a programme of development and testing over the winter.

Timo Scheider begins his full-season campaign in the ALL-INKL.COM ( Muennich Motorsport Seat Ibiza. The German squad has been quietly going about pre-season testing and could be one to watch in the opening round.

Hungarian Krisztian Szabo chose ice driving as his preparation for Abu Dhabi last week. The EKS Sport driver, twice the European Super1600 Rallycross Champion, joined Bakkerud and the 2016 World RX Champion Mattias Ekstrom on the frozen wastelands of Scandinavia.

Lithuania’s Rokas Baciuska is the least experienced of this season’s rookies. The reigning FIA European Rallycross Champion for Super1600, Baciuska will be at the wheel of ESmotorsport’s Skoda Fabia, which has completed well over 1,000 kilometres of testing this winter. It will be seen in public for the first time in Abu Dhabi.

Along with the World RX track action, 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. American hip hop group Migos are the headline act – off-track at least.

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