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Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 9 – Loheac

22nd September 2017 — by Steve White

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Our last look at World Rallycross on Fueltopia came just after round 5 of the 2017 Championship, where Petter Solberg took victory at Lydden Hill.

At that time it seemed as though the Championship might be on the verge of a tipping point. After defending Champion Mattias Ekstrom had won the opening three rounds, rounds four and five had both been taken by a PSRXVW Volkswagen Polo. The Polo had looked fast from the outset of the season, but once the level of reliability matched it’s raw pace, it looked like Volkswagen Motorsport might have built a car to challenge the early dominance of the EKS Audi S1.

As the Championship headed back to Europe following round 8 in Canada, there was little doubt as to the capabilities of the Polo. After Solberg’s win at Lydden, PSRXVW team mate Johan Kristoffersson went on to secure a hat trick of victories in Norway, Sweden and Canada.

With defending Champion Mattias Ekstrom missing his home round in order to race in DTM, Ekstrom  relinquished his Championship lead to Kristoffersson, who held a comfortable 35 point lead over team mate Petter Solberg before the action began at round 9 in Loheac.

Although other drivers have challenged at individual rounds, none have seemed able to consistently match the pace of the lead trio. Given the rapid evolution of the front running cars, I haven’t been surprised to see the same competitors at the top of the leaderboard, however I had been expecting the M-Sport developed Hoonigan Racing Focus RS RX of Andreas Bakkerud to be among them.

Of the two Hoonigan Racing Division cars competing 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 has had good speed at Loheac in the past and I hoped that this might be the weekend we would see him make his first final of 2017.

Although their driver line up and management are predominantly Swedish, Loheac was technically home ground for the Peugeot-Hansen team and they were obviously looking for a good weekend. All three team drivers were to deliver great results and all would eventually finish in the top ten.

British fans were disappointed to learn that Guy Wilks had vacated his seat in the ex-Kristoffersson Loco Energy Polo prior to Loheac, however the sting was partially taken out of the announcement when it was revealed that Alister McRae would be taking Wilks position.

With limited seat time Alister certainly threw himself in at the deep end and, although McRae wasn’t quite quick enough to make the semi-finals, his qualifying times would have placed him well inside the top ten European Championship drivers.

EKS had the greatest presence on track, with the three World Championship regulars joined by DTM driver Nico Muller in a fourth Audi S1.

Muller placed outside the top twenty in the opening qualifier but had much better pace in his second race of the day, taking ninth fastest. I suspect he might have been able to challenge for a semi-final spot if the conditions hadn’t deteriorated so much on the second day of racing, but seventeenth on his World Rallycross debut was certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Last year was the first time I had seen wet racing at Loheac and I was surprised as to how much of a positive effect it had on the circuit. With a bit of moisture on the loose sections, there was no clean line swept into the dirt and there were far more passing options available to those drivers who were willing to take a wider line.

Standing in sunshine is generally preferable to getting soaked but, for the sake of good racing, I was hoping that we might get a bit of precipitation over the weekend…

…as the adage goes though, “careful what you wish for”: the rain started to fall before the first car hit the track on Sunday and, although it eased off at times, it never completely stopped. As a consequence the track was absolutely saturated, with standing water quickly accumulating around the curbs between races.

While the World Championship entry had a few obvious choices, guessing a winner in the European Championship entry was far trickier. Fresh from victory in Sweden, Anton Marklund was the Championship point’s leader, but he faced strong competition from a capacity grid comprised of both season regulars and local entrants.

Having failed to make the final in both Barcelona and Sweden, Robin Larsson was my top pick and I was certain he would be on the offensive from the outset.

Larsson was clearly trying hard, but his weekend got off to a disastrous start with Robin placing 31st in both qualifying one and two. Due to the volume of Supercar entries, the European Championship ran their third qualifying last thing on Saturday and Larsson at least managed to finish the opening day of racing on a positive note, winning qualifying three and moving himself up to eighteenth overall.

With a semi-final position still a mathematical possibility, Robin again pushed hard when racing got underway again on Sunday morning. Fourth in the final qualifying round was a great result in the damp conditions but, although that elevated Larsson to fourteenth overall, he was still two places shy of the vital semi-final spots.

Larsson’s absence from the European semi-finals was the biggest shock of the weekend for me, as I felt sure he had the speed to challenge for the win. Whilst Robin had been struggling, Anton Marklund was unstoppable and he took the top qualification spot in both qualifying one and two.

One of the last races on Saturday was the third qualifying race for the quickest European Championship Supercars and, for me, it was one of the best battles of the weekend. There were multiple lead changes and, after several exchanges of paint, Marklund found himself bumped down the order and knocked off the top qualification spot. Third overall was still a great start for Anton and only a total disaster would prevent him for claiming a place in the semi-finals.

Although it was no real surprise to see Anton Marklund at the top end of the timesheets, I hadn’t expected to see Marklund’s team mate Magda Andersson place so highly. After finishing eighteenth in qualifying one, Magda then posted fourth and fifth respectively in qualifying two and three, placing her seventh at the end of the opening day.

Ninth at the end of day two was the best result of the year for Andersson and hopefully a sign that she is starting to adapt to the Supercars.

Of the considerable French contingent in the paddock Jonathan Pailler placed highest at close of play on Saturday, sitting in eighth overall.  Firmin Cadeddu was just behind Pailler and both drivers gained positions during a wet qualifying four to finish sixth and fifth respectively in the intermediate standings.

Firmin and Jonathan were joined in the semi-finals by Jerome Grosset-Janin and Patrick Guillerme, which gave the sizeable crowd of French rallycross fans plenty to cheer about.

Much like the Supercar regulars, Super 1600 leader Artis Baumanis had a number of local drivers to contend with in his bid to maintain his Championship lead.

For Championship regular Ulrik Linnemann, 2017 has seemed like another “almost” season. Victory in Spain  was followed by a retirement in Belgium  and, although Ulrik did at least leave Mettet with a decent chunk of points, a poor result in Sweden saw Linnemann with a widening point deficit to make up and, once again, dwindling hopes of a title win.

Loheac belonged to one Super 1600 driver this year and that was Kristian Szabo. Szabo won every qualification round, the first semi-final and the final, with victory in the latter races by a considerable margin from his rivals. Second position was taken by local driver Maximilien Eveno while Ulrik Linnemann completed the podium.

Victory for Szabo netted him maximum points and moved him ahead of Artis Baumanis in the Super 1600 Championship. The Super 1600 title will be decided at the next round in Germany and with another win in Latvia, Szabo is the man to beat.

Even with a capacity grid of Supercars and Super 1600 cars to handle, organizers had decided to shoehorn even more racing into the timetable, with the Rallycross Legend Show running a full set of qualifying races and finals over the course of the weekend.

Divided into separate classes for 2WD and 4WD cars, both sets of races were entertaining, however it was the Group B cars on the limit that provided the most memorable spectacle. I love watching the modern Supercars power round the last bend of the Loheac circuit and the classics were every bit as spectacular.

Cyril Raymond won the 2016 RX Lite title by just a handful of points, with three other drivers taking race wins throughout the season.

In 2017 Raymond has been the dominant force in RX2 and, aside from Sweden, he has claimed victory in every round thus far. The only consistent challenge to Cyril has come from 2016 British Rallycross Champion Dan Rooke.

Loheac was a make-or-break weekend for Dan Rooke. After crashing out in Canada, Rooke needed a win in France if he was to stand any chance of denying Cyril Raymond the 2017 title. Alas luck would not be on Dan’s side and, after a slow time in qualifying one, the opening day was rounded off with suspension damage in qualifying three.

Rooke battled on and managed to claw his way back to seventh in the intermediate standings. Starting the first RX2 semi-final mid-pack, Rooke was unable to make his way into the top three and his weekend, along with his title hopes, ended there.

Without the challenge of Rooke to deal with, Cyril Raymond held off the advances of Guillaume De Ridder and Vasily Gryazin to take a clean sweep in Loheac. Maximum points in qualifying, semi-finals and the finals saw Raymond not only win his home round, but secure the 2017 RX2 crown.

After the tussles of qualifying three, Anton Marklund began day two with a much cleaner run to take second in qualifying four and move up to second in the intermediate standings.

Eighth in qualifying four was enough to keep overnight leader Thomas Bryntesson at the top of the standings and he would take the pole spot in the first of the European Championship semi-finals.

It was another successful weekend for the Irish, as both Derek Tohill and Ollie O’Donovan made it through to the semi-finals. O’Donovan’s weekend came to an abrupt end in the second semi-final, but Tohill made it through to the final where he went on to finish fifth ahead of rallycross veteran Tommy Rustad.

Tamas-Pal Kiss had placed well during the first day of racing, but he seemed to relish the wet weather and took first in qualifying four before going on to win the first European Supercar semi-final ahead of Thomas Bryntesson.

Kiss lined up on the front row of the European Supercar final alongside Firmin Cadeddu, who was the only French driver to make it through to the top six.

The battle for overall victory in the European Championship final would be fought between Thomas Bryntesson and Tamas-Pal Kiss, with Thomas eventually emerging as the winner. Firmin Cadeddu completed the podium with a superb drive in his Citroen C4.

There would be no trophies for Anton Marklund, but fourth was enough to give him a decent haul of Championship points, allowing him to take the European Rallycross title at the intermediate stage of the Latvian round last weekend. Although the World Championship has provided the quickest races this year, the European Championship has been the most competitive and I think Marklund has done well to emerge victorious from such a class field of drivers.

I’m not sure if the home soil was providing additional motivation, but the Peugeot-Hansen drivers clearly had the bit between their teeth and I thought the 2017 specification Peugeot 208’s looked quicker than they have all year.

In fact in the dry conditions the Hansen cars even looked a match for the PSRXVW Polo, with Timmy Hansen registering two top ten times in the opening qualifying races.

If the locals wanted to see one Peugeot-Hansen 208 deliver though, it was the number 9 car of Sebastien Loeb. Second in qualifying one was followed by a first in qualifying two, which placed Loeb first overall and, predictably, elicited a huge roar from the home crowd.

Loeb didn’t look quite as rapid in the wet conditions during qualifying three and four, but two more top four times was enough to secure him second overall in the intermediate standings.

And who do you think was in first? After taking a win in the wet at Loheac last year, Johan Kristoffersson again coped well with the rain and took third in qualifying three, before winning qualifying four to once again take the top qualification spot.

Following his podium finish in the opening round of the season many wondered if the World Rallycross Championship might have another ex-DTM front runner in the form of Timo Schnider. Timo is yet to better, or even match, his early success but he placed ninth in Loheac.

MJP Team Austria team mate Kevin Eriksson narrowly missed out on a spot in the semi-finals thanks to a DNF in the third qualifying race which dropped him to sixteenth in the intermediate standings.

It was a mixed weekend for the STARD cars as well. Janis Baumanis manage to crack the top ten in two of the qualifying rounds, earning himself tenth in the intermediate standings and a spot of the back row of the second World semi-final. Fourth in that semi-final wasn’t quite enough to take him all the way to the final, but it at least bagged him some Championship points.

In the second STARD Fiesta Timur Timerzyanov never seemed to really hit his stride and Timur didn’t register a single top ten time in any of the qualification races, leaving him on the outer fringes of the point scoring positions.

After a strong showing on the opening day, Ken Block eventually finished seventh in the intermediate standings. Sadly Block’s good run came to an end in the semi-final when Ken began to spin coming into the penultimate corner and, in an attempt to catch it, he planted his right foot.

In the dry he probably would have got away with it, but on the damp surface the power wasn’t enough and the Focus RS RX continued to rotate straight into the gravel trap, resulting in a rear right puncture.

Block did his best to limp to the finish line, perhaps hoping that the drivers ahead of him might encounter similar difficulties, but with the rest of the field having an issue free race, Block 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 he managed to fight his way up to fourth. I am still surprised that the Focus RS RX hasn’t claimed any wins this year, but at least Bakkerud is continually getting the car to the final.

It seems odd to write a World Rallycross Championship blog and make so few mentions of Petter Solberg, but he just didn’t seem to be at the sharp end in France. That isn’t to say he wasn’t fast – he made it through the semi-final stage with ease – but it’s unusual to see Petter not take at least one qualifying win over the course of a weekend.

For Solberg the final began badly before then turning to complete rubbish. Running wide at turn one, Solberg dropped to fifth and so sensibly opted for an early joker lap. Unfortunately Mattias Ekstrom had the same idea and Petter emerged from the joker dead last. As he began his pursuit of fifth place driver Andreas Bakkerud, it became apparent that he had a front left puncture.

Petter continued to lap the circuit, with the tyre slowly working it’s way off the rim and he eventually crossed the line in fifth position.

After winning the second World Supercar semi-final Timmy Hansen started the final from the front row of the grid. Slotting into second position ahead of Sebastien Loeb, Timmy looked just shy of the pace of the leader, but fast enough to finish on the podium. What appeared to be a mistake on lap two saw Hansen drop down to third, allowing Loeb move up to second, however the mistake turned out to be a mechanical issue, forcing Hansen to pull off on lap four.

To the delight of the French fans Loeb managed to hold off Mattias Ekstrom to finish second, though he was unable to close the gap to leader Johan Kristoffersson, who took a lights-to-flag victory. Where the rest of the cars finished the race caked in dirt and grime, the PSRXVW Polo was still gleaming!

Johan Kristoffersson continued his record breaking run with victory again at round 10 in Latvia last weekend. That win saw Kristoffersson secure the 2017 drivers title and team title for PSRXVW.

With the 2017 Championship now decided, attention has already begun to shift to 2018 and many are already asking the question, can anyone stop the PSRXVW Polo?

The dominance of PSRXVW clearly has the other teams rattled. Mattias Ekstrom initially made noises about EKS needing additional support from Audi, before putting four of their five cars up for auction last week, while Sebastien Loeb has hinted that Peugeot are reconsidering their participation in the Championship.

It is perhaps a little ironic to hear Loeb voicing such a compliant, as it was arguably his period of dominance with Citroen that killed a lot of interest in the World Rally Championship. That said, he is perhaps more aware than any other driver of the detrimental effect that single marque supremacy can have on a sport.

At present I am rather torn on the subject. On the one hand I want to see cars going as fast as possible – and I have a huge amount of respect for Volkswagen Motorsport for producing such a capable car – but as a sport that is at its best when the racing is close, having a pair of cars run away with things isn’t going to contribute to that.

With two rounds of the 2017 Championship left it’s going to be interesting to see if anyone is able to break Kristoffersson’s streak before the end of the season, especially with Petter Solberg seemingly out of action for at least one of those rounds.  Beyond that – and considering that the rumours have already started to fly about 2018 – I’m even more intrigued to know who we’ll be watching in next years Championship!

 

Words and Pictures: Steve White.

Want to see more of the World Rallycross Championship at Loheac? Click here for a full image gallery.

Event

British Rallycross Championship Round 6 – Lydden Hill

14th September 2017 — by Steve White

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Last year was a record breaking year for the British Rallycross Championship, with Dan Rooke becoming the youngest driver in the history of the Championship to secure the Supercar title.

Although Rooke has moved to the World Rallycross Championship this year, 2017 has seen a continuation of the youth versus experience theme, with several young guns vying for class titles.

Supercar rookie Nathan Heathcote picked up the mantle from Dan Rooke, taking first blood with a win at the opening round in Croft. The old guard struck back at round two though, with Ollie O’Donovan snatching victory from Warren Scott. Zero points for Heathcote saw him relinquish his early Championship lead and the upstarts had seemingly been put back in their place.

Following a shaky start to the season, Julian Godfrey hit full stride at Pembrey, where he took the first of what would be a hat trick of wins. Godfrey’s two victories at the double header in Mondello Park saw him ascend to the top of the Championship standings.

Trailing just behind Julian, Oliver Bennett arrived at Lydden with just a handful of points separating him from the Championship lead. Despite not winning a race this year, a remarkably consistent performance from Bennett has seen him place on the podium in all but one round.

The threat to the experienced rallycross drivers hasn’t just coming from the youngsters. Former-BTCC driver and Team BMR owner Warren Scott is another newcomer to rallycross and, despite his tarmac racing background, Scott has been quick to adapt to mixed surface racing.

With the third LD Motorsport Citroen DS3 now back in the UK, Warren Scott took the helm of the ex-Liam Doran car. Notably the LD Motorsport team look to be continually refining their fleet of DS3’s, as the list of cosmetic dissimilarities between the cars continues to shrink.

The youth challenge hasn’t been restricted to the Supercar category either. 2016 Super National Champion Tony Lynch made a slow start to his title defense, a situation which Paige Bellerby capitalized on with first place finishes in the opening three rounds.

Paige seemed to have many short bursts of speed in 2016 but, for every second gained on the straights, Bellerby looked to be losing time as she fought to keep the Exige pointing in the right direction. With better control of the little Lotus, Paige looks a lot more consistent in 2017 and the multiple victories are a reflection of that.

When it comes to single lap pace though, Tristan Ovenden has unquestionably been the Super National driver to beat in 2017. Unfortunately the ex-James Bird Clio V6 has been struck by an assortment of mechanical issues, and Ovenden has been forced to retire on several occasions.

There would be no problems for Tristan at Lydden, with Ovenden romping to overall victory. Tony Lynch finished second while current Championship leader Paige Bellerby took third. Paige still retains the points lead but, if the Clio stays reliable, Bellerby is going to have a real fight holding off Ovenden.

As great as it is to see new names in the Championship, it was also pleasing to see the return of some old faces to the entry list. John Cross has returned to rallycross and he was joined in the Super National category by Bruce Bamber, running a Honda Civic in his distinctive light blue colour scheme.

In the Suzuki Swift Championship the early signs were that the title would go the way of Simon Ovenden. Rob Shield began a fight back with two wins at the double header event in Mondello Park and he continued to pile the pressure on Ovenden at Lydden.

Winning two of the heats, Rob Shield went on to win his semi-final and the final. Losing second position to Morgan Bailey, Simon Ovenden had to settle for third and, as a consequence, his Championship lead has now fallen to just two points.

In the Junior Swift Championship, it seems that no is able to stop Tom Llewellin. Ole Henry Steinsholt has been the only other driver to claim a victory in the class this year and, with Steinsholt slowed by a technical problem, Llewellin took his fifth win of the year at Lydden.

Although it is still mathematically possible for Tom Constantine to win the Junior title, Tom Llewellin would have to have an awful lot of bad luck at rounds 7 and 8 to lose it now!

I have previously praised the idea to combine the Super 1600, BMW MINI and Hot Hatch grids, as it has resulted in some excellent inter-class racing. I used to find the separate races for these classes some of the least enjoyable at a British Rallycross Championship round, but the changes have really renewed my interest in these categories.

With increased numbers in all three classes at Lydden, there seemed to be even more mixed battles throughout the field during the heat races.

One of the drivers bolstering the Super 1600 entry was Jack Thorne. Following several outings in a Supercar last year (which can currently be snapped up if you have a spare £88,000), Thorne has bought his Championship winning Citroen C2 out of retirement.

It seemed that Jack hadn’t forgotten how to drive the C2, as he posted fastest time in the third heat and placed second overall in the intermediate standings. Unfortunately Thorne’s Super 1600 comeback came to an end at the semi-final stage, with Jack failing to finish the race. It was a real shame for Thorne, but if he runs the C2 again this year I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t claim a podium spot.

Placing third in the intermediate standings, I’m not sure if Darren Scott was holding something in reserve or slowly building his speed up throughout the day but, irrespective, Darren posted the fastest lap time in his semi-final and the final.

Scott won the final with a comfortable four second gap to Paul Coney, while Phil Chicken took third. This was the first final that Paul Coney had lost this year, but he still retains a comfortable lead in the Super 1600 Championship.

The Retro Rallycross Championship has seen fluctuating numbers throughout its short history, with the level of participation of some cars very erratic. The entry at Lydden was the best I can recall seeing for some time as the numbers were swelled by an assortment of Mk.1 and Mk.2 Ford Escorts rally cars.

With an entry comprised entirely of two-wheel drive cars there was some close pack racing for first, plus a lot of scrapping behind the lead pack.

Fending off the horde of Escort drivers as well as the Retro regulars, Barry Stewart took the win ahead of Kevin Feeney. Spectators are used to seeing Feeney in an RX150, but he seemed a dab hand behind the wheel of a Mk. 2 Escort, so I am sure this won’t be his last Retro Rallycross appearance.

Given the ever-increasing level of competition in rallycross, many of the Supercar teams are very reluctant to allow cameras anywhere near the engine bay of their cars. That said, if I see bonnet up I always ask if it’s OK to take a quick snap and I was rather surprised when the chaps at XITE Racing said yes.

I find the technology – especially under the bonnet – behind modern rally and rallycross cars absolutely fascinating. Given the specification and capability of rallycross engines I have long been puzzled as to why more people (especially those interested in tuning) aren’t paying them  more attention.

Compared to previous seasons, 2017 isn’t the most dominant we have seen from Chrissy Palmer in the RX150 buggies. John Ward denied Palmer victory at round 2 and Marc Scott took first place at round 4. Three victories was still enough to secure the Championship lead and with Palmer making it four at Lydden, his lead has been stretched further.

It has been some time since we have seen Steve Hill standing on the podium and, although he hasn’t finished inside the top five this year, it does look like he is at least managing to get some consistency out of his Mitsubishi Evo X.

After qualifying fifth overall, Hill finished fourth in the first Supercar semi-final and looked on course to at least challenge his best placing of the season. Unfortunately Steve was unable to start the final and so relinquished his grid slot to a rather fortunate Ollie O’Donovan. One of the pre-event favourites, a puncture in the semi-final had put Ollie outside of a final position.

Alas O’Donovan was to suffer exactly the same fate in the final, with a front left puncture putting paid to any hopes he had of repeating his round two win O’Donovan continued to limp around the circuit on the rim, but as he slipped down the order the Championship point deficit between himself and the leaders grew.

With wins in qualifying two and three, Warren Scott won the second Supercar semi-final and claimed pole position for the final. Although Scott was beaten to the first corner by his LD Motorsport team mate Nathan Heathcote, Warren only had to wait a lap for Nathan to leave a DS3-sized gap to squeeze through and take the lead.

After being denied his maiden victory at Lydden earlier in the year and with such a strong performance throughout the day, I thought Warren was a deserving winner. Heathcote managed to hold on to second, while Oliver Bennett took the third step of the podium. With Julian Godfrey finishing in fourth, the Championship standings have really closed up and Godfrey and Bennett are now separated by just a single point.

Following the internet furore surrounding the World Rallycross Championship move from Lydden, it was superb to see so much support for the circuit and such great attendance for the National Championship.

I hope the two remaining rounds of the Championship are as well attended as, with several Championship title winners impossible to call, there is sure to be some good racing!

 

Words & Pictures: Steve White

Want to see more of the British Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill? Click here for a full image gallery.

Event

Barrel Sprint Rocks

2nd August 2017 — by Craig Toull

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Saturday the 29th of July saw the Fueltopia Barrel Sprint return for round 3 of the 2017 championship.

This time instead of the usual venue of Santa Pod Raceway, the barrel sprint track was setup at Rockingham Motor Speedway. With a slightly cambered track surface in the outer paddock and a different surface material this would make for interesting results.

With perfect track conditions the drivers were setting blisteringly quick times during practice. Some already surpassing the times set at previous events held at Santa Pod with times down as low as 18.1 seconds .

This event also saw the return of Hadley Fulbrook in his S14 (nicknamed the smurf) and after not competing all season it soon became apparent he was here for only one thing and that was a podium finish. With everyone already working out where they would be on the leader board through points it could really stir things up if someone else came into the mix and took a podium position.

After a short break for lunch we went into qualifying and it was soon apparent just how close the times were between all the drivers, Nobody could call it from spectating and everyone gathered around the podium to hear the results. With only 0.18 seconds splitting the top 3 drivers it’s no wonder no one could guess.

It was then straight into the battles, which saw some even closer racing than the rest of the day and the times fall even lower. Going into the finals would be Adam Elder against Hadley Fulbrook in the RWD class, Dmitrij Sribnyj against Yordan Andreev in AWD class and Andrew Biddle against Mark Elder in U1 class.

The results of the finals aren’t released until after the race so everyone gathered around the podium to wait for the results….

RWD- 1st place-Adam Elder, 2nd place Hadley Fulbrook and 3rd place going to Mike Newland.

AWD-1st place-Dmitrij Sribnyj, 2nd place Yordan Andreev and 3rd place going to Andrew Stevens.

U1- 1st place- Andrew Biddle, 2nd place Mark Elder, and 3rd place Nick Biddle

Each event has a hardcharger award, this was awarded to Oak Richardson in his 350z on his first ever event.

Words and photos by Craig Toull

Event

6R4.net Track Day – Curborough

1st August 2017 — by Steve White

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In a year filled with national and World Championship motorsport weekends, it may surprise you to read that a simple club track day was one of my most anticipated events in 2017.

The inaugural 6R4.net track day was the unexpected surprise of 2015 and it’s follow up in 2016 built on that initial success to produce an even better event.

After ironing out the creases last year, the structure of the 2017 track day was effectively a carbon copy of 2016, with many of the same owners once again returning to Curborough Sprint Circuit.

Considering the above it might seem hard to understand how the repeat running of a single-marque track day could hold so much appeal. Crucially though, the focus of this meet wasn’t a commonly occurring mass-produced model, but a rally icon rarely seen in great numbers.

That said, I have attended a lot of single-marque meets over the years and, no matter how unusual the type of car involved is, a lack of variety can severely limit the appeal of repeat events. Thankfully organiser and 6R4.net co-founder Nicky Lindon has realized that even the most die-hard 6R4 lover likes to occasionally look at other cars, and so invitations had once again been extended to a number of other owners.

An early arrival at the circuit meant I had plenty of time to grab a brew and pick a good spot to watch the unloading and preparation of the cars. There probably are better ways to start the day then seeing a paddock slowly filling up with classic rally machinery but, as I sat on the grass and listened to the burble of idling engines, I couldn’t think of one.

As cars started to line up at the entrance of the track, a rather inconspicuous looking truck trundled in and parked up. The new arrival certainly looked about the right size to house a car and its spares, but as the shutter rolled up I was surprised to see two cars neatly stacked in the rear of the truck.

And what a pair they were. Not only had Brian Betteridge brought an absolutely stunning Ford RS200 along, but also a fine example of its predecessor, the ultra-rare Escort RS1700T.

For those of you unfamiliar with the RS1700T, this was Ford’s initial response to the Group B regulations. Using a MK.III Escort as a starting point, Ford engineers reduced the displacement of the 2.0L BDA engine to 1.778, strapped a turbo on and then directed all the turbo-charged goodness to the rear wheels.

This was the first time I have physically laid eyes on a RS1700T and the “adapted” nature of the design becomes very apparent on closer inspection. Components protrude from the bodywork and, compared to other cars of the period, the silhouette of the RS1700T makes the basis of the car easy to identify.

Given the rapid evolution of car design during the Group B period, it’s clear to see why Ford realized they would have to go back to the drawing board to compete with the more radical machinery being produced by their rivals. That said, although the RS1700T is one of the abandoned projects of the era, it was fantastic to see another facet of the Group B story so well persevered.

I have spent many hours ogling RS200’s, but Brian’s example is unquestionably the tidiest I have ever looked round. Outside and inside, the car looked absolutely flawless.

Unfortunately a blown turbo seal meant the Ford was unable to spend much time on track, but it did at least manage a couple of laps before retiring back to the paddock.

Claudio Ascione was a new face among the 6R4 contingent for 2017. Like Computervision, Rothmans are an iconic sponsor from the Group B period and Claudio’s example looked fantastic both in the paddock and out on track.

This particular 6R4 also seemed to like cocking it’s rear wheel on the exit of Fradley Hairpin, which made for entertaining viewing from the infield of the circuit!

Lewis Warner was a late addition to the entry and he was obviously keen to make the most of the opportunity. In fact I don’t think Lewis stopped driving all day, with the distinct crackle of the Celica’s anti-lag becoming a very familiar sound.

The presence of a Group A car might seem a little out of place given the Group B theme of the event but, as a motorsport fan who grew up with this era of rallying, I was as pleased to see the Toyota on track as any of the 80’s classics.

Gary Hewitt has been a regular of the 6R4.net track day since its inception and, like Lewis Warner, Gary was regularly lapping the circuit throughout the morning and afternoon track sessions.

In a paddock filled with rally rarity it was hard for any car to really stand out. To the uninitiated the above may just look a Vauxhall with a body kit nailed to it, but the Astra 4S was Vauxhall’s final attempt at producing a four-wheel drive rally car for Group B and, although it may not look that radical, the innocuous looks disguise what might be the greatest unrealized project of Group B.

As with Brian Betteridge’s RS1700T, Michael Goddard’s Astra 4S was beautifully presented and another unexpected, but fascinating, addition to the mix.

My first experience in a Group B car came at the 2015 6R4.net track day, when I managed to sneak into the co-driver’s seat of Nigel Mummery’s Ford RS200. I was actually Nigel’s first passenger of the day and, although he had warned me that the car hadn’t warmed up (and therefore he couldn’t really thrash it) I still got out of the car thoroughly impressed: and with my love for the RS200 absolutely cemented.

Nigel wasn’t present at last year’s track day, but he was back again for 2017 and so (rather predictably) I made a beeline for him during the lunch break to plead for another ride. Happily the answer was once again a yes, however this time I wouldn’t be the first passenger of the day. The engine and brakes were warm and so I was able to get a much better glimpse as to what the car was capable of.

I have never taken a selfie before, but I wish I had while I was out on track, purely to see just how big the stupid grin plastered across my face was!

After a blast in an RS200, it was going to take something special to get my attention, but there was one more surprise in store for spectators. The pre-event blurb had teased of a “special guest”, but it wasn’t until the early afternoon when the guest arrived. I’m not sure exactly how it came about but, incredibly, current works World Rally Championship driver Craig Breen dropped in to Curborough to swap his Citroen for an MG.

Dan Ellmore was kind enough to entrust Craig with his steed and, after just a handful of sighting laps, Breen looked like he had the measure of the Metro. Many sideway moments followed and the smiles from driver and passenger were evident for all to see.

Watching any driver demonstrate a Group B car is great, but seeing one of the WRC’s best find his feet in the Metro was especially entertaining.

Despite fears that last minute cancellations would ruin the day, the 2017 event proved every bit as good, if not even better, than its predecessors. With Craig Breen setting an example, I wonder if other WRC drivers will be interested at trying their hand in a 6R4 next year?… Fingers crossed I’ll be there to see for myself!

I have to wrap up by extending a huge thanks to Nicky Lindon for once again letting me be part of this unique event. Thanks to Nigel Mummery for the RS200-induced grin and to both Mark and Bryan Sims for making what would have a very long journey an awful lot easier!

 

Want to see more of the 6R4.net track day at Curborough Sprint Circuit? Click here for a full image gallery.

Event

‘Grass Roots’ At Drift Cup Round 3

21st June 2017 — by Ben Gaut

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Sun, Smoke, Walls, Battles and even a proposal! That’s right a proposal but I will get on to that later, Drift Cup Round 3 had it all! 

As this was my first Drift Cup event, I had heard mixed things about the series from both drivers & a plethora of random people throwing in their two cents. This aside, I went in with a clean slate to see what it was all about for myself. I dragged myself out of my comfy hotel room, grabbed a coffee + croissant and headed to the track. With the guys from Drift Cup having run an invite only practice day on the Saturday which you can read about here! It’s safe to say I wasn’t going to be disappointed by what was in store and had a good idea of what to expect!

The level of driving from what is classed as a ‘grass roots’ event was just insane, door to door action all day, non stop! Throw in a couple of walls as they make their way round just to up the ante that little bit more. I don’t think a single person drove away with a pristine rear quarter.

Open practice was running all morning for the drivers to get used to the track, With the sun beating down it truly was a smoky morning! From watching the practice you could see everyone was hungry for that number one spot!

Moving into qualifying the driver level just stepped up even further, was seriously blown away with the lowest score in the top 32 being a 68.5!

With qualifying over we heading into the driver briefing room to hear the feedback and find out who would be battling who. This is where the shock of the day happened, after everyone knew what was going on for the day ahead, Frazer Jamieson wanted to say a few words, little did we know he got down on one knee and proposed to his other half as the whole room erupted in a huge cheer! This is what drifting is about, it doesn’t matter if you make the final battle just being there and supporting all your fellow drivers in everything they do. Was a real moment and memory for all the drivers and staff there and of course the happy couple!

Jumping straight to the battles, the fight and pressure was on, everyone was driving to win! The pressure and talent was on a whole different scale, everyone wanted that podium spot not a single person was holding back.

Leading into the top 16 things started to get really interesting, With everyone from the top 8 being given the chance to drive at the eagerly awaited BDC street round! It’s safe to say the heat and battle was well and truly on!   I for one would have not liked to be sitting in the judging tower trying to call some of the battles!

Top 8 WOW, the hunger was unreal with drivers putting everything on the line and hunting the walls and doors of the lead like nothing I have seen from before in ‘grass roots’ drifting!

Now it came down to the final battles. The drivers showed no signs of stopping the fight for that top spot! It was bound to be an awesome show and they certainly didn’t disappoint!! The final battles were seriously something incredible with both the crowd, judges and commentators on their feet screaming the house down.

Oliver Bolton took the win is his awesome S13, bearing in mind he’s only been driving the car 3 months and this was his 3rd competitive event, safe to say we have a star in the making here on English soil! Time for the Irish to move to one side this is one to watch!

I would just like to finish off by saying a massive thank you to Sweeps and the team over at Drift Cup for putting on a seriously epic event! Entertainment value and driver skill was through the roof, more than enough to rival some of the biggest names in competitive drifting!