Reviews

Farewell Hoonigan Racing Division

26th November 2017 — by Steve White

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Reviews

Farewell Hoonigan Racing Division

26th November 2017 — by Steve White

Last month World Rallycross fans were disappointed to learn that Ken Block and Ford Performance would NOT be participatInG in the 2018 World Rallycross Championship.

With Andreas Bakkerud making his final appearance in the Hoonigan Racing Division Focus RS RX at Gymkhana Grid last weekend, there is no indication as to when – or even if – we will ever see the RS RX in action again. Given that I have been fortunate enough to be present at a number of the World Rallycross rounds during Hoonigan Racing Divisions two year stint in the Championship, now seems a perfect time to take a retrospective look at some of my favourite images of the Hoonigan cars in action.

Block Loheac Fiesta Last Corner Pan

Prior to undertaking a full World Championship campaign in 2016, Ken Block had previously appeared at two European Championship rounds back in 2014. Behind the wheel of an M-Sport Fiesta, Block finished third on his European debut in Norway and narrowly missed out on another podium in France with fourth overall.

Ken Block is a rather divisive figure among seasoned rally and rallycross fans, but I admire his passion for racing and, although his PR may be a little excessive at times, I have never seen him convey anything other than positivity about motorsport. After seeing Ken in action at Loheac I hoped we would see him return to Europe at some point and, in early 2016, it was confirmed that Block would become a full time participant in the World Rallycross Championship.

Ken Block Mettet Turn Two Dirt Slide

Many rallycross fans – myself included – had been taken aback by the choice of platform for the Hoonigan Racing Division rallycross programme, as shorter wheelbase cars have been in vogue in rallycross for several years and Block already had considerable seat time in the Fiesta. Hoonigan debuted the M-Sport built Focus RS RX at the opening round of the 2016 World Rallycross Championship in Portugal, however it would be the third round of the year before I would get to lay eyes on the new car.

The Focus RS RX had a remarkably short development period and that was painfully apparent in Mettet, as both Bakkerud and Block were plagued by mechanical gremlins. Still, despite the issues, I was surprised as to just how agile the long wheelbase Focus was on track.

Ken Block Lydden Hill Head On Dirt Loose

With only a fortnight between Mettet and the following round at Lydden Hill the Hoonigan team obviously didn’t have much time for testing and refinement, but they clearly weren’t sitting around as there was a marked improvement in the cars at Lydden.

Ken Block Lydden Hill North Bend Exit Pan

Two top ten qualifying times, one of which was earned following a terrific battle with Robin Larsson, showed that Block was beginning to get to grips with the Focus and that the creases were rapidly being ironed out of the car.

However it would be Block’s team mate Andreas Bakkerud who would give the crowd at Lydden their first true demonstration of the full potential of the Focus RS RX.

Bakkerud Lydden Hill Chicane Exit Air

Hoonigan Racing had seemingly opted for an incredibly soft setup for the Focus at Lydden, as both cars were violently pitching on turn in, but it was at the chicane where the soft setup was most apparent. The vast majority of Supercars tend to go light on the suspension here, but Bakkerud’s Focus RS RX was almost rearing up as it went through this section and rejoined the tarmac.

Still, the setup must have suited Bakkerud, as he took second in his semi-final and placed mid-pack for the final. Alas the car suffered a mechanical failure launching off the line, leaving Andreas to crawl around the circuit. Despite that, for the first time in the year, the RS RX had looked like it had race winning pace.

Bakkerud Loheac Turn Two Exit Pan

It would be three rounds later before I would catch up with the World Rallycross Championship again and in that time Bakkerud not only managed to chalk up the first win for the Focus in Norway, but followed that up with another win in Sweden and a second place in Canada.

Bakkeruds mid-season charge saw him rapidly ascend up the Championship standings and, with another second in France, Andreas was poised to be a serious title challenger in the second half of season.

Ken Block Loheac Turn Two Head On Pack

Perhaps buoyed by the success of Andreas, Block delivered one of his most consistent performances of 2016 at Loheac. A slightly tentative start in practise was followed by four top eight qualifying times, resulting in a spot on the front of the second semi-final grid. Block went on to make the back row of the final where he eventually finished sixth, narrowly losing out on fifth position to Reinis Nitiss in the closing stages of the race.

Notably M-Sport had finished construction of a third Focus RS RX in the weeks prior to Loheac and it was this car which Block used to film Gymkhana 9. It might have been a coincidence, but I wondered if the additional gymkhana seat time had contributed to the noticeable improvement in both Blocks performance and the overall reliability of the Focus.

Bakkerud Barcelona Head On Jump Ekstrom

Exclusion at round 9 in Barcelona cost Bakkerud dearly and, despite a win at the final round of the Championship in Argentina, Andreas was unable to prevent the 2016 title going the way of Mattias Ekstrom.

Given the rapid evolution of the Focus RS RX throughout its maiden season, I had Andreas Bakkerud tipped as a favourite for the 2017 title. Although Andreas wasn’t quite as dominant as I had anticipated at round one of the 2017 Championship, early signs were encouraging.

Bakkerud Barcelona Turn Two Exit Pack

Despite lacking the pace to challenge for the overall win, Bakkerud managed to hold off the advances of Petter Solberg and secure third position. Third in the season opener was a promising start for Andreas, but a semi-final retirement in Portugal would be followed by a disastrous weekend in Hockenheim where Bakkerud failed to make it beyond qualifying.

Ken Block at least delivered consistent results for Hoonigan Racing with Block qualifying for the semi-finals at rounds one, two and three.

Bakkerud Mettet Turn Two Exit Pan

The fourth round at Mettet would be my next World Rallycross stop of 2017 and it would be one of the best weekends of the year for Hoonigan Racing. Andreas placed fourth in qualifying one with Ken in eleventh, with Block then surprising many by taking fourth fastest time in qualifying two. Ken continued that form on the second day of racing, with ninth in qualifying three and another fourth in the final set of qualifiers.

Block Mettet Pack Head On

Sixth in the intermediate standings marked Blocks best qualification result of the year to that point and, with Bakkerud in fourth, both Focus RS RX made it through to the semi-finals.

Block Chicane Curb Clip

Unfortunately Block’s progress was once again halted at the semi-final stage, as he retired on lap five of the race following an interaction with the scenery. Ninth overall was a respectable finish, but missing out on the final due to an error must have been frustrating for Ken.

There would be no mistakes from Andreas Bakkerud, who chased Petter Solberg to the flag in his semi-final earning himself a spot on the second row of the Supercar final. After the disappointment of Portugal and Germany, it was fantastic to see Andreas back at the sharp end again.

Bakkerud Lydden Hill North Bend Exit Pan

Both Block and Bakkerud believed that the Focus RS RX would be well suited to Lydden Hill and their results would support that opinion, with fourth in the semi-finals netting Block seventh overall, bettering his finish in Belgium.

Andreas Bakkerud emerged as the greatest threat to the now-dominant PSRXVW Polos. Bakkerud was clearly desperate to shake off his early season run of bad luck and, with the Focus RS RX performing as well as hoped, Andreas looked capable of challenging Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson for the victory. Bakkerud would come close, but third position would see Andreas step onto the podium for the second time in 2017.

Block Loheac Pack Launch Pan

Given the rapid evolution of the Focus RS RX during the 2016 season I had been expecting to see the development of the cars continue both during the winter break and throughout the subsequent Championship but, at least in the eyes of a layman like myself, progression seemed much slower in 2017. That said, Bakkerud followed up his third in Lydden with two second place finishes in Norway and Sweden.

Of the two Hoonigan Racing Division cars competing at round nine in France, it was Ken Block who made the best start. Sixth in qualifying one was followed by a third in qualifying two and Ken finished the first day of racing sitting in third overall. Block had demonstrated great speed at Loheac in the past and, at my final World Rallycross weekend of 2017, I hoped to see him make his first final of the year.

Block Loheac Wet Pack Penultimate Corner Head On

After a strong showing on the opening day, Ken eventually finished seventh in the intermediate standings. Sadly Block’s good run would yet again come to an end in the semi-finals when he began to spin coming into the penultimate corner and, in an attempt to straighten the wayward Focus RS RX, Ken buried his right foot.

In the dry he probably would have got away with it, but on the damp surface the power exacerbated the problem and the car continued to rotate straight into the gravel trap, resulting in a rear right puncture.

Block Loheac Last Corner Pan Flat Rear Tyre

Block did his best to limp to the finish line, hoping that the drivers ahead of him might encounter similar difficulties, but with the rest of the field having an issue free race, Ken missed out on what would have been a well-deserved place in the final.

Third in the second World semi-final, Andreas Bakkerud started the final on the back row and managed to fight his way up to fourth. I was disappointed not to see one of the two Hoonigan cars claim a podium spot in Loheac, especially having subsequently learned that this would be the last time I will see the team competing.

Lydden Block Focus Mirror 43

Block came within a whisker of making his first appearance in a 2017 final at the last round of the Championship in South Africa, but disqualification following the second semi-final saw him denied at the final hurdle. It was a rather low note for Ken to finish his second World Rallycross season on and I hope the stewards decision won’t sour him on any future Championship appearances.

As for the future of the Focus RS RX, no official announcement has been made. Rumour has it the cars will return to the US and I hope they will be campaigned again rather than being mothballed. I am certain Andreas Bakkerud will be snatched up by another rallycross team, but only time will tell on that one. Irrespective, here’s a thanks to Hoonigan Racing Division for the two years they have given to the World Rallycross Championship: don’t be strangers and come back soon!

 

Words & Pictures: Steve White

Want to see more of the Hoonigan Racing Division cars? Click here for a set of image galleries.