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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

Sunshine and Tyre Smoke

21st June 2017 — by Ben Gaut

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The day before Drift Cup Round 3 was an invite-only practice day at Rockingham Race Way. For me, this was my first time ascending on Rockingham but I had heard amazing things from fellow Fueltographer Shooting Dave. I was so hyped to get down and see what it was all about. Being the second practice day I had shot this year, I was ready to see some action!

Now it’s safe to say the weather was the polar opposite of when I had my first outing of the year, it looked like I had traded in the snow and freezing temperatures for some amazing sunshine and a full on heat wave! Perfect for some smoky door to door action!

The main man behind Drift Cup ‘Sweeps’ had laid out a seriously awesome track which was perfect for the drivers. He also threw in a few hard hitting walls for good measure. It’s safe to say I didn’t see a single car without a dent in their rear quarters by lunch time, everyone was gunning for them. Just gradually edging closer and closer, before well you know the story!

The driving was on a whole different level, some of the best drift trains I have seen in the UK for a while outside of a show demo or major event!

As the weather stayed on our side and just got hotter and hotter, so I thought I would take the time to get off track side and out of the oven and into some cars and see how the track felt from the drivers perspective. It certainly didn’t disappoint, everyone was hunting for doors and pushing their cars to the absolute limit!

I managed to jump out with Monkey London, now this was an experience in itself, if you haven’t already, then do head over & check out his youtube channel. However I am telling you now, jumping in the car was like I had just stepped into a drifting documentary with David Attenborough! I then looked to my left to see Phil Morrison from Driftworks, hunting down my door and the adrenaline kicked in. I had only one option, to do what I do best, grab the camera and start firing.

The Practice day also meant that some of the Drift Cup drivers could get a day on track before the big event the following day and you could see for some of them just having that extra seat time really pulled through on the Sunday!

Now for me, I am pretty much out of words for this one – but thank you Sweeps and the team for an awesome day. Below are some more snaps from the day.

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!

 

 

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