FIA World Rallycross Championship
The weekend was sun-soaked and action-packed. The atmosphere was engaging from the moment I stepped out of the car. It had the air of a festival about it, with the involvement of the Retro Rallycross Group B cars packing a punch in-between the Qualifiers and Semis, a reminder of where it all began.
There were some other…unusual entertainments too.
Including the drift demo that everyone had been looking forward to, engulfing the track in tyre smoke and a badass atmosphere.
Lydden Hill – The Track
Pulling into the car park of the legendary Lydden Hill was like driving into a 360-degree view stadium; you could see every angle, corner and straight of the track, all the way from the North Bend, down Hairy Hill to Pilgrims. From a spectator’s perspective at the very least it’s such a fantastic circuit. I hear the drivers are pretty keen too…
The RX Lites category was brilliant. The group consisted of ten 310 bhp, mid-engined, four-wheel drive racecars built by Olsbergs MSE competing for the Cup. Cyril Raymond rolled his car in the Joker lap on Q2, fully expecting to have the competition thrown wide open for the rest of the RX Lites drivers. Despite this spectacular crowd-roaring incident, he was still in the top spot after an excellent recovery in Q3, going on to win the entire round at Lydden Hill. That didn’t stop the other drivers giving the crowds a performance to cheer for.
I’d been following the FIA World Rallycross highlights for the Supercars, race footage and all but I didn’t know much about the Super1600s aside from the specs; front-wheel drive hot hatches, powered by their zippy 1600cc engines. In the flesh, what an amazing surprise they were; totally gutsy and fearless.
It might be personal opinion or perhaps due to the situations that arose during their races but they seemed to have a lot more attitude in their driving than the other categories. The Supercars and RX Lites seemed a touch more black-and-white, methodical-type racing (as much as you can be for a rugged rallycross environment) which is in no way a bad thing; just a different style of competition. It was entertaining to watch and great to see the Super1600 drivers’ passion, for better or worse and it was often worse for this category.
Speaking of passion, there was a major incident between Mirko Zanni in his Renault Clio and Kasparas Navickas in a Skoda Fabia. Zanni’s Renault had taken a turn for the worst in a previous scuffle in the race with Dmitrii Malakhov (pictured above) and ended up with what remained of his bonnet up on his windscreen.
This would have been a reasonable point to for Zanni admit defeat, what with him not being able to see and all. To Navickas’ misfortune though, Zanni didn’t give up so easily and took the Devil’s Elbow at usual speed and clocked the Skoda. Navickas certainly let Zanni know – verbally and in gestures – in no uncertain terms what he thought of the other driver’s actions.
Of course, finally came the show everyone was whistling, yelling and jostling for space at the fences for: the turbo-charged, 2 litre, 600 bhp engine, four-wheel drive rockets that make up the Supercar category. The energy from the crowd was intense and it obviously was passed on to the drivers. After a spectacular show from the Supercar teams, it was looking oh so promising for Petter Solberg by the end of Saturday.
Petter Solberg, Mattias Ekstrom and Andreas Bakkerud joined together for a mid-way-through-the-weekend press conference, spirits were high and expectations for both Solberg and Ekstrom even more so.
Bakkerud was full of cheeky grins. Quite rightly so, as it turned out he had set the fastest lap of the day in the Hoonigan Racing Division’s superb Ford Focus RS RX. It was an excellent high for the Hoonigan Racing Division to end on, with Bakkarud saying;
“I’m really happy with how today has gone for me. The car feels great at this track, I’m driving well and I managed to set not only be the fastest in practice, but I also had the fastest lap of the day and set a new course record here at Lydden. Definitely an awesome day in the car, I can’t wait to keep it going tomorrow!”
Supercar Sunday – The Final
After a rather tense take off with Bakkerud taking what seemed at first to be a confusingly slow start, which turned out to be due to a mechanical fault; disappointing to all involved obviously, though understandable due to the Focus RS RX being still under development. Considering Bakkerud and Block’s great performance with the RS RX elsewhere during the weekend, they had to come out smiling.
At the end of Sunday, Mattias Ekstrom came a triumphant first in his Audi S1 with an impressive time of 04:17.809, Petter Solberg followed close behind with 04:18.951 and Timmy Hansen in his Peugeot 208 brought up the rear in third with 04:20.433, just managing to stay ahead of his similarly 208-toting brother Kevin Hansen as he jokered in the final lap.
Ekstrom pulled it out of the bag at Lydden Hill, as he had done through the last few rounds of the FIA World Rallycross. In the final press conference he was so intently going through his lap times on the screen, comparing against the times of the other drivers listed there, that he didn’t even notice we were stood around for a good couple of minutes. Not ignorant, just focused. When he snapped back into the real world he was a very personable – almost relaxed – character; bubbly, laughing, joking. Ekstrom’s performance in what he described as “probably the hardest rallycross weekend so far in my career” was exemplary, but what was the secret to Ekstrom’s success in his words?
“I think the secret was losing last year actually because the motivation to lose against Petter is the worst I have to say!”
Which comes as no surprise, as the good-hearted, respectful rivalry between the Ekstrom and Solberg has become a focal point of the entire championship, in a ‘will he, won’t he win?’ situation for the both of them.
Ekstrom, Solberg and Hansen were all pleased with their performances but obviously the question came up for Solberg about Ekstrom taking the round. Solberg’s answer:
“The tyres were quite near the limit and, in the end, I ran out of grip. The joker lap went really well, it was very, very quick, but when it came to the fight with him, I just couldn’t get the power down.”
So Where Does Everyone Stand?
So far in the championship as a whole, Ekstrom leads with 105 Championship points, Solberg follows seriously hot on his heels with 100 points and Johan Kristoffersson with 70 points brings up third.
The next round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship is hosted in Norway, at the rather ominously named Hell circuit. Let’s wait and see if Swedish Ekstrom can pip Norwegian Solberg to the finish once again on Solberg’s home turf.