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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!

Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 5 – Lydden Hill

8th June 2017 — by Steve White

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This is a blog I have been dreading writing. The news that 2017 would be the last year Lydden Hill would host a round of the World Rallycross Championship certainly isn’t new – in fact it’s been almost six months since the announcement – but with the Lydden weekend done and dusted, the sad realization that we will no longer see the biggest names and best cars in rallycross competing at Lydden has hit home.

12 months ago I wrote about the instrumental role Lydden Hill has played in both my introduction to, and long running obsession with, rallycross. Over the last decade I have seen Lydden bring the European Rallycross Championship back to the UK, garner significant interest on TV and aid in the growth of the World Rallycross Championship. With such success the loss of the World round here seems unthinkable but, if I’m brutally honest, the move to Silverstone doesn’t surprise me. Lydden has had proposed development work held in limbo by the local council for well over two years now and, with the rapid expansion of the World Rallycross Championship, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the paddock was bursting at the seams this year.

Still, I have already dwelled on the matter enough. The final World Rallycross Championship round at Lydden also coincided with the 50th anniversary of rallycross and for that reason, rather than mourning the departure of a Championship, I considered the weekend a celebration of the sport that was conceived at Lydden 50 years ago.

Just a fortnight ago PSRX Volkswagen Sweden broke the winning streak of 2016 World Rallycross Champion and current Championship leader Mattias Ekstrom, when Johan Kristoffersson claimed the win in Belgium. After several near misses, spectators finally saw the full potential of the new Polo GTI and the question everyone was asking was if they could repeat the performance at Lydden.

Timmy Hansen narrowly missed out on denying PSRX Volkswagen Sweden their maiden victory at round 4, when a puncture slowed him on the last lap of the final. With the Peugeot-Hansen 208’s looking stronger in 2017, Timmy led the teams charge at Lydden, placing higher in the intermediate classifications than teammates Sebastien Loeb and Kevin Hansen.

Four home drivers were vying for success at round 5, with World Championship regular Guy Wilks joined by European Championship competitor Ollie O’Donovan, British Championship rookie Oliver Bennett and British Touring Car driver Andrew Jordan who was making a one off appearance in the MJP Racing Team Austria Fiesta usually occupied by Timo Schneider.

Wilks is often spectacular to watch in the ex- Kristoffersson Polo, but I do wonder if his flamboyance is preventing him from topping the timesheets. Guy was certainly consistent at Lydden and fourteenth in the intermediate standings was a respectable finish but, sadly, it was just short of a spot in the semi-finals.

Ollie O’Donovan seemed intent on reducing his Christmas card list for 2017, as he traded paint (and an assortment of body panels) with other competitors. Ollie finished outside the semi-final positions, but he posted faster times than several of the permanent World Championship entries which is surely an encouraging sign for O’Donovan’s next European Championship outing.

Of all the home talent it was Andrew Jordan who fared best. Placing eighth in the intermediate standings Andrew earned a spot in the semi-finals and, although it was a real shame not to see him progress any further, it was still an astonishing drive from Jordan when you consider he arrived at Lydden with zero seat time in the car!

Although the entry list had been revealed several weeks prior to the event, there was a late surprise with regards to one of the cars. Rene Munnich has added yet another supercar to his stable, specifically one of the two PSRX Citroen DS3’s, which he will use in place of the Seat Ibiza he drove in Barcelona.

Although not an old car, this DS3 has quite a history, having been the first car the PSRX team built for Petter to use in the 2013 RallycrossRX Championship. The car subsequently went on to become the second team car in 2014, with Alexander Hvaal driving it for the first half of the season, before Sten Oja used it in Canada, Simon Romagna in France and Manfred Stohl made his rallycross debut at the final round in Argentina. Pleasingly Munnich seemed to have adopted a Solberg-esque driving style for his new toy, with some very sideways moments around North Bend.

It has been a PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo that has headed every opening practise session of the 2017 World Championship and Lydden would be no exception. Solberg not only went fastest but broke the previous lap record by over a second.

That could perhaps be partially attributed to the track conditions, with the loose sections of the track looking swept before the first cars had even touched the track but, based on the trend seen thus far, the Polo GTI looks to be pushing the envelope of Supercar performance.

Seemingly with the bit between his teeth, Petter blitzed qualifying one and two, posting fastest times in both. With team mate Johan Kristoffersson close behind, the Volkswagen duo finished the opening day in first and second position overall.

Given the strong start to proceedings many were already talking about the pair locking out the top two steps of the podium but, with Mattias Ekstrom sitting in third, I was unconvinced that Ekstrom wasn’t just sandbagging in order to preserve his tyres.

The 50th anniversary of rallycross was the central theme of round 5 and it was marked with a huge car display at the top end of the paddock. There were some stunning cars in attendance, with all eras of rallycross represented. Predictably it was the Group B monsters that drew the most attention and the iconic sound of Will Gollop’s bi-turbo Metro 6R4 once again echoed around Lydden.

Of the cars in attendance, my preference will be unsurprising to anyone who has read any of my previous blogs. This is the very car that lured me to my very first rallycross meeting back in 2006 and I never tire of seeing it return to the track: especially when Pat Doran is giving it a good thrashing!

Despite having the lowest entry numbers of any of the rallycross classes this year, the Touring Cars have provided some of the closest – and most difficult to predict – racing of 2017.

Defending Champion Ben-Phillip Gunderson has got his title defence off to a terrible start, with a disastrous weekend in Barcelona followed by a marginally less awful round two in Mettet. Gunderson was pushing hard during the opening qualifying races and was sitting second in the overall standings after two races. Quickest in both qualifying one and two though, Mettet winner Lars-Oivind Enerberg was the early pace setter.

Anders Braten wrapped up the first day with a win in qualifying three and, coupled with seventh in qualifying four, he took second position in the intermediate standings from Ben-Philip Gunderson who slipped down to fourth.

Lars-Oivind Enerberg looked to have dropped in pace slightly when racing got underway on day two, but he was clearly saving the best for last, finishing second in the second Touring Car semi-final before going on to win the final. Second for Steve Volders and third for Kjetil Larsen allowed Enerberg extend his Championship lead to nine points.

After a shaky start at the opening round of the RX2 Championship, Cyril Raymond staged an astonishing comeback during the second day to take victory in the final and tie on points for the Championship lead.

Simon Olofsson had looked capable of matching the raw speed of Raymond in Belgium, topping the intermediate standings and winning the first RX2 semi final. Unfortunately his challenge came to an abrupt end when he picked up a puncture whilst leading the final.

Although Olofsson placed as high as fourth in the third qualifier at Lydden, Simon was unable to match the pace of the front runners and eventually finished in sixth overall. Olofsson retains his third in the Championship, with Guillaume de Ridder snatching fourth from Glenn Haug by just a single point.

Dan Rooke got his 2017 RX2 campaign off to a fantastic start at Mettet and English fans were hoping for another strong performance from Rooke, especially as he was on a familiar track.

Even on his home turf, Rooke was unable to best Cyril Raymond. With considerable RX Lite seat time under his belt, Cyril drove to a flawless victory at Lydden, winning all four qualifying rounds, the first semi-final and the final.

A maximum haul of points sees Raymond move into the lead of the RX2 Championship with Dan Rooke now trailing by four points. Coupled with further RX Lite success in the Global Rallycross Championship Cyril looks the man to beat this year. Fingers crossed Rooke can find a fraction more speed to challenge Raymond for the 2017 title.

My biggest failing when covering motorsport events is neglecting to spend enough time in the paddock and that is especially true with regards to rallycross. There are some fantastic personalities in the sport, but the cars have always been the stars for me and I curse myself for failing to spend more time studying them in detail.

With the ever-increasing level of competition within both the World and European Championships many teams are now reluctant to allow cameras anywhere near the front of their cars when the bonnets are up, however most are still happy for shots in and around the cars when they are all buttoned up and sitting on the dummy grid.

I find it fascinating to note the differing approaches taken by the various teams when it comes to both the major and minor design elements. If I was building my own car though, the interior of the STARD Fiesta is how I’d want to do it: fingertip controls, a flocked dash and heaps of carbon fibre.

Pleasingly Lydden Hill was another marginal improvement for the STARD team, with both Janis Baumanis and Timor Timerzyanov making it to the semi-final stage. Alas neither made it through to the final, but as the cars – and results – become more consistent it is surely only a matter of time.

The PSRX Volkswagen Sweden duo continued where they left off when racing resumed on day two. Petter Solberg took qualifying three from his team mate, with those positions switching for qualifying four when Johan Kristoffersson led Solberg to the line.

I still had my doubts as to whether we were seeing maximum attack from Mattias Ekstrom, but after all four qualifying races were completed I was surprised to learn that Kristoffersson still had two new tyres in reserve while Solberg had three remaining, having used just one new tyre for qualifying three. Tyre preservation has unquestionably been an issue for Petter in the past, so to see him reach this stage of the weekend with three of his eight tyres untouched was quite a shock.

Ken Block posted his best result of the season in Mettet with eighth overall and, with both Hoonigan Racing Division drivers believing the Focus RS RX would be well suited to Lydden, it looked likely that he would be able to continue that form.

Seventh in the intermediate standings placed Block on the second row of the first semi-final. Although Ken would finish just one place shy of the all-important top three positions, fourth in the semi netted him seventh overall, topping his finish in Belgium.

As the weekends racing began to near its conclusion, Andreas Bakkerud emerged as the greatest threat to the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polos. With a string of bad luck early in the season Bakkerud was clearly desperate for a win and with the Focus RS RX performing as well as hoped, Andreas looked likely to challenge Solberg and Kristoffersson for the top step of the podium.

Despite the talk, it was only when the racing reached the semi-final stage that I truly believed the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden cars could dominate the entire weekend. Knowing that Solberg had three new tyres on his Polo for the first semi-final, I was expecting Petter to lead the pack into the first corner and that’s exactly what happened. Starting alongside Solberg, Timmy Hansen dived into an early joker while Andreas Bakkerud slotted in behind Petter to take second.

Typically the lead driver will hold off on the joker until the last lap of the race but, in a break from the norm, Petter relinquished the lead in favour of the joker at the start of lap two. The gamble paid off, as Solberg emerged in the middle of the field with clear track ahead of him and no one to harass him from behind. As the cars ahead peeled off one-by-one for their joker, Solberg ascended back up the order until he found himself leading again.

In the second Supercar semi-final Johan Kristoffersson was joined on the front row by Mattias Ekstrom. With both cars fitted with a single new tyre (interestingly on opposing sides of the front), they ran side-by-side off the line and, given his placement on the outside of the track, Ekstrom sensibly opted to take his joker on the first lap of the race.

Sebastien Loeb moved into second as the pack headed into turn one and Loeb began pursuing Kristoffersson for the lead. Sebastien never lost sight of Johan, but as each lap passed Kristoffersson stretched his lead a little more.

Exiting the joker with a clear track ahead of him Mattias Ekstrom had clear air to try and reduce the gap to the lead pair but, like Loeb, he was unable to match the speed of Kristoffersson. Notably the EKSRX Audi S1 didn’t look anywhere near as composed on the loose section at the bottom of Paddock Hill as either the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo or the Peugeot-Hansen 208.

Ekstrom looked like he was on the absolute limit and it was unusual to see wisps of smoke from his rear tyres. Nevertheless Mattias still managed to cross the line in third, earning himself a spot on the back row of the grid for the final.

With a semi-final win apiece it was an all Polo GTI front row for the final. Predictably the Volkswagen pair split off the line, with pole position sitter Petter Solberg opting for the normal lap while Johan Kristoffersson headed for an early joker.

As with the first semi-final Solberg chose to joker at the end of the first lap and, exactly as before, he emerged with a clear track ahead of him and a comfortable gap between himself and the car behind, which in this case was his team mate Johan Kristoffersson.

While Bakkerud led, Mattias Ekstrom found himself battling for second as he fended off the advances of Timmy Hansen. Hansen opted to joker on lap three, joining the race behind team mate Sebastien Loeb. Timmy didn’t stay there for long though, as a left rear puncture sent him pirouetting into the tyre wall as he applied the brakes on the approach to North Bend.

As Ekstrom slowly lost touch with leader Bakkerud, Solberg was closing in from behind, reducing the gap to Mattias to just over a second before Ekstrom took his joker. With only Bakkerud ahead, Petter continued his charge and when Andreas took his joker on the last lap, Solberg and Kristoffersson moved into the top two positions with just half a lap to go. Bakkerud re-joined in third to complete an all Monster Energy top three.

Exiting the joker behind Sebastien Loeb, Mattias Ekstrom suffered exactly the same fate as Timmy Hansen, with a left rear puncture putting paid to any hope he had of taking fourth from Loeb.

Mattias eventually limped over the line in fifth. After opening the year with three wins, it was surprising to see Ekstrom off the podium for the second round in a row. The drama certainly made for an exciting final though and it was a fine spectacle to conclude the 50th anniversary weekend with.

Victory for Solberg has slashed his Championship point deficit to Ekstrom, while second overall was enough for Johan Kristoffersson to take the Championship lead. Are we on the tipping point of a season of dominance from PSRX Volkswagen Sweden? I still think it’s too early to jump to conclusions, but with the team managing to pair their single lap speed with consistency they look to be the team to beat. Can Ekstrom, or anyone else in the field, extract more speed to match them?

Thankfully we don’t have a long wait to find out, with Round 6 of the Championship taking place in Norway this weekend. Stay tuned to the official World Rallycross Championship website for the latest news and and expect more World Rallycross content on Fueltopia later this year!

 

 

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

Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 4 – Mettet

25th May 2017 — by Steve White

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After a fantastic weekend at the opening round of the 2017 World Rallycross Championship I had to be content with watching rounds two and three from afar. Thankfully the wait between rounds is minimal and I have returned to the Circuit Jules Tacheny Mettet in Belgium for round four.

A quick glance at the results from this year’s Championship and you could be forgiven for thinking that Mattias Ekstrom is dominating the 2017 season.

Although Mattias has won all three finals – and managed to pull out a significant lead in the Championship standings in the process – the wins have come as a result of smart driving in the closing stages of the weekend rather than though outright domination. The top qualifier at each of the three 2017 Championship rounds thus far has been a different driver: all driving different marques.

In terms of raw pace the new PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo GTI has been the car to beat. The Polo has topped the practise timesheets at every round of the Championship thus far and Belgium would prove no exception to that rule, with team mates Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson placing first and second respectively.

Of course races are not won on a single lap time and it has been consistency – and arguably luck – that has kept overall victory out of reach for Kristoffersson and Solberg. Day one in Mettet would see the team perfectly combine speed and consistency, with Petter and Johan taking a qualifying win each. There was still a long way to the final, but could this be the weekend when the Polo GTI took its first overall victory?

Pleasingly the Peugeot-Hansen 208’s seem more competitive in 2017. Sebastien Loeb had failed to make the semi-finals at the opening round in Barcelona, but he looked much stronger at both rounds two and three, making it to the final at both and finishing as high as second in Portugal. Team mate Timmy Hansen also performed well in Germany, qualifying second at the intermediate stage and taking third – his first podium finish of 2017 – in the final.

Notably Timmy Hansen seemed far more aggressive with his lines at Mettet than I can ever recall seeing in the past. With his circuit racing background, Timmy has always been synonymous with smooth and tidy driving, but he was riding curbs and skimming – or even clipping – trackside furniture in Belgium. This resulted in several spectacular two wheel moments: and a number of smashed front bumpers!

Despite reaching the semi-final stage in both Portugal and Germany, Kevin Hansen is yet to reach a final in this year’s World Rallycross Championship. I had been expecting to see Kevin challenge – and perhaps even beat – his older brother Timmy, but the speed isn’t quite there yet.

Things got off to a promising start in Belgium, with two top ten times in the opening days qualifying races. Unfortunately any hopes of surpassing Timmy in Belgium disappeared in the third qualifier, when Kevin ran slightly off line on the ascent from the bottom of the circuit, clipping the banking and sending his Peugeot 208 into a violent series of rolls.

After a strong second half to the 2016 season, which included three overall victories, I touted Andreas Bakkerud as one to watch this year. Third in Barcelona was an encouraging start, but a semi-final retirement in Portugal was followed by a disastrous weekend in Hockenheim where Bakkerud failed to make it beyond qualifying.

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

Mettet would prove to be the best weekend of the year for Hoonigan Racing. Bakkerud placed fourth in qualifying one with Block in eleventh, then Block surprised many to take fourth fastest time in qualifying two. Ken continued that form in day two, with ninth in qualifying three and another fourth in the final set of qualifiers.

Sixth in the intermediate standings was the best qualification result of the year for Block and, with Bakkerud in fourth, both Focus RS RX qualified for the second of the World Championship semi-finals.

Unfortunately Block’s progress was again halted at the semi-final stage, as he retired on lap five of the race after an interaction with the scenery. Ninth overall was still his best result of 2017 and hopefully an indication that the American might be a finalist before the year is out.

Andreas Bakkerud fared better, chasing Petter Solberg to the flag and earning 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.

While Mettet didn’t constitute part of the European Championship, it had a packed timetable with the second round of both Touring Cars and Super 1600 taking place, as well as the opening round of the 2017 RX2 Championship.

The latter was a particular point of interest for me as, although the RX2 category (formerly known as RX Lites), has produced some good racing, the permanent class numbers haven’t been that high, so the overall Championship battle has often been fought out by just a couple of drivers.

With eighteen entries at Mettet, interest in RX2 looks very strong this year. Included among those entrants was 2016 British Rallycross Champion Dan Rooke who, after failing to secure a budget for this year’s British Championship, has managed to secure himself a drive in an RX Lite.

After recovering from a poor start, Philip Gehrman won the opening round of the Touring Car Championship in Barcelona and it was Philip who headed the Championship standings prior to racing getting underway in Belgium.

Defending Touring Car champion Ben-Philip Gunderson had a weekend to forget in Spain, but things got off to a much more promising start in Mettet. Second in the opening qualifying race was followed by another second in race two and two first places in qualifying three and four.

Lars-Oivind Enerberg had qualified top at round one, but finished outside the top three in his semi-final and thus missed out on the final. Enerberg was again quick in qualifying at Mettet, winning the first days qualifying races and placing well enough on day two to sit second in the intermediate standings. Winning the first Touring Car semi-final, Lars-Oivind claimed a front row spot for the final.

It looked like Enerberg would be fighting with Ben-Philip Gunderson for the overall win but, for the second time, Gunderson failed to make it through to the final. Although Ben-Philip at least managed to get some Championship points on the board in Belgium, failing to make it beyond the semi-final stage was a real blow to his title defence, with Gunderson now trailing the Championship leader by 29 points.

Enerberg carried his semi-final winning form into the final. Leading the pack out of turn one, the biggest threat to Lars-Oivind came from Anders Braten. Opting for an early joker, Braten pushed hard to close up the gap and, when Enerberg took his joker, Anders took the lead. When the joker staggered unravelled at the end of the race, it became clear that Lars-Oivind had done just enough and he took the win from Braten, with round one winner Philip Gehrman in third.

I had suggested in my pre-season preview that, if consistent , Ulrik Linnemann unquestionably had the speed to win both individual rounds and this year’s Super 1600 title.

Linnemann proved his race-winning pace at the first round of the Super 1600 Championship in Portugal, where he took overall victory, Unfortunately Ulrik couldn’t repeat the feat in Belgium, as mechanical woes forced his retirement during the final.

Top qualifier in the Super 1600 category at Mettet was Artis Baumanis. After setting fastest overall time in the opening race, Artis posted top eight times in the remaining races to pip Kasparas Navickas to the top spot.

After winning in the first Touring Car semi-final one, overall victory for Baumanis was looking ever more likely until, on lap four of the final, Artis clipped the tyre barrier on the outside of turn one. Obviously keen to make up any lost time, Baumanis charged into the joker section a bit too hot, rolling his Fabia in the process and handing the lead over to Janno Ligur.

With the damaged Fabia of Baumanis on the circuit, the race was immediately red flagged and, as Ligur was yet to take his joker lap, a time penalty was awarded which handed first position to Kasparas Navickas, who had already taken his joker.

Jussi-Petteri Leppihalme scored his best result of the year, with third in the intermediate standings, second in his semi-final and third in the final.

Kasparas Navickas now leads the Super 1600 Championship, with Ulrik Linnemann in second just five points adrift of Navickas. Artis Baumanis and Jussi-Petteri Leppihalme are joint third and Krisztian Szabo fifth. All five drivers are separated by just nine points and, with four rounds of the Championship left, I strongly suspect that the lead will change hands again before the seasons end.

In the RX2 category, it looked like defending Champion Cyril Raymond was making a measured start to the weekend, as he posted sixth fastest time in the opening RX2 qualifying race. However problems in qualifying two saw Cyril tumble down the standings.

With Raymond struggling, it was Simon Olofsson who set the early pace in RX2. The greatest challenge to Olofsson came from Dan Rooke, who demonstrated considerable pace against the RX Lite veterans. Rooke placed second in qualifying two, then went one better and won qualifying three.

Rooke was second only to Olofsson in the intermediate standings which was a superb way to get his RX2 campaign underway.

Bouncing back from the disappointment of qualifying two and three, Cyril Raymond won the fourth qualifier and the second RX2 semi-final, placing him alongside Simon Olofsson on the front row of the final grid. When the lights went green Olofsson was able to fend off Raymond to take the lead and it looked like the challenge to Simon would instead come from Dan Rooke. While Rooke and Olofsson battled, Raymond took an early joker and, when Simon picked up a puncture, Dan found himself second to Cyril after taking his joker.

Victory in the RX2 final was a remarkable reversal of fortune for Cyril Raymond. From fifteenth overall at the end of day one to an overall win at the end of day two. Cyril left Mettet with an equal point haul to Dan Rooke and the pair currently share the lead of the RX2 Championship. With the next round of RX2 taking place at Lydden Hill, Rooke will have circuit knowledge on his side, so fingers crossed he will stand on – or perhaps even atop – the podium at round 2.

Timo Scheider has seemingly been unable to duplicate his round one podium success. Kevin Eriksson was the MJP Racing Team Austria Fiesta to watch at Mettet, with Kevin making it all the way to the back row of the final. Eriksson might have made posed a challenge for a podium spot, but a puncture relegated him to the back of the field where he eventually finished fifth.

I was expecting a breaking in period for the pair of STARD Fiestas, but I thought we might see them posing more of a threat for final positions at this point in the season. Janis Baumanis barely managed to finish the top 16 where he netted a single Championship point. Team mate Timur Timerzyanov got a little further but, for the third time this year, his weekend came to an end in the semi-finals.

I believe both drivers have the talent to be challenging the front runners and I hope it’s not long before we see them up there.

With such a strong performance throughout the weekend and cars on the first and second row of the grid, the odds of a maiden victory for PSRX Volkswagen Sweden seemed good. After the lights had gone green it was Petter Solberg who led the pack into the first corner and down towards the lower section of the track. Timmy Hansen slotted into second and, after a brief moment of contact with Andreas Bakkerud, Johan Kristoffersson snatched third.

Petter would retain the lead until the end of lap two, when Timmy Hansen got fantastic drive out of the inside of the final corner and ran alongside Solberg as they turned into the first turn of lap three. Petter tried to hold off Timmy, but instead ran wide, grazing the tyres on the outside of the first corner. As the Polo GTI snapped back onto the racing line, Solberg collected the hapless Focus RS RX of Bakkerud and fired him into the tyre barrier on the opposite side of the track.

Andreas managed to limp on for another half a lap before retiring at the side of the track. With Kevin Eriksson struggling with a puncture and Kristoffersson opting for an early joker, Mattias Ekstrom was elevated to third. The position of Ekstrom was to prove critical to the final result as, although he was several seconds behind the race leaders, both Johan and Petter would end up behind Ekstrom after taking their joker lap.

As Kristoffersson and Solberg tried to find a way past Ekstrom, Hansen had a clear track ahead and could focus on putting in the quickest laps possible. It looked like Timmy might have stretched out enough of a gap to joker and retain the lead, until the final lap of the race when it became apparent that his Peugeot 208 had picked up a left front puncture. With Ekstrom also opting to take his joker on the final lap, the finishing order was decided on the last corner.

Despite being held up by Mattias Ekstrom, Johan Kristoffersson had done enough and he took the maiden win for the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Polo GTI. Undeterred by the puncture, Timmy Hansen had the throttle absolutely pinned as he emerged from the joker and, although it looked like Petter had crossed the line first, Timmy claimed second place by a hundredth of a second.

Finishing fourth Mattias Ekstrom retained first place in the World Championship standings, however his lead has been slashed, with just three points to second place Kristoffersson and fourteen to third place Solberg. With Ekstrom’s early Championship lead severely eroded, the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden pair will surely be aiming to catch and pass Mattias next time out.

The fifth round of the Championship takes place at Lydden Hill this weekend. Fueltopia will be in attendance, so be sure to check back for full event coverage in the coming days!

 

 

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