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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

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

British Rallycross Championship Round 2 – Lydden Hill

2nd May 2017 — by Steve White

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After basking in the Spanish sunshine for the opening round of the World Rallycross Championship, it was back to the waterproofs again for my trip to Lydden Hill and the second round of the British Rallycross Championship.

Having perused the entry list before arriving at Lydden, it was notable that the numbers in the Supercar class are lower than in 2016. That may seem a rather negative note to open this blog with but, although a number of regular competitors have elected to sit this season out, there has also been an influx of new drivers, all of whom have bought competitive machinery to the Championship.

Former British Touring Car Championship driver Warren Scott is one of those who has made the move to rallycross for 2017, with Warren driving the LD Motorsport Citroen DS3 used by Dan Rooke to take the Supercar title last year. Sadly Rooke is one of the familiar names who hasn’t returned to the British Championship this year but, with a recently announced deal to race in RX2, rallycross fans will at least have a chance to see Dan in action at Lydden next month.

Scott is joined in the LD Motorsport garage by Jake Harris – in the DS3 formerly used by Steve Harris – and last year’s Suzuki Swift champion Nathan Heathcote. Heathcote will initially be utilizing the Citroen C4 driven by Pat Doran in last year’s Championship, before switching to a DS3 later in the season.

After being denied a podium spot at round one of the Suzuki Swift Championship from Croft, Simon Ovenden was clearly on a mission at Lydden. No one seemed able match the pace of Ovenden in the heats with Simon winning all three heat races. He went on to claim first in the opening Swift semi-final and then drove to victory in the final. Morgan Bailey and Christoffer  Lia completed the podium while round one winner Chris Woollett had to settle with fifth.

In the Swift Junior Championship Tom Constantine qualified top and took the pole spot for the final. It looked like Constantine might finally break Tom Llewellin’s undefeated streak, but Llewellin seized the lead on the opening lap of the Junior final and led all the way to the flag.

Victory at Lydden marked Tom’s sixth consecutive win in the Swift Juniors. I touted Llewellin as a favourite for the 2017 Junior title last year and, with his current winning streak, that’s looking a very strong possibility.

Chrissy Palmer was untouchable in the RX150’s last year and Palmer carried that dominance into 2017 with a win at the opening round. After topping the qualifying standings and winning the first RX150 semi-final at Lydden, Palmer claimed the pole spot for the final and seemed destined for another victory.

Tom Ward had other ideas though and, after starting from second position on the grid, pushed hard throughout the RX150 final. Following contact with Chrissy, Tom was able to seize the lead and finally oust Palmer from the top step of the podium.

One critique that I have made of the British Championship in the past is the grid size in some classes. Although no one wants to see any cars excluded from competition, the low numbers have resulted in some heats and finals running with just a handful of cars.

Consequently the decision has been made to amalgamate the Super 1600, BMW MINI and Hot Hatch races together in 2017. I applaud whoever is behind this move as, although the total number of races in the day has been slightly reduced, multiple races with near empty grids have been replaced by just a couple with full grids. Ultimately this is more entertaining for spectators and, while the drivers still have separate class titles to chase, there is the added bonus of inter-class battles that you wouldn’t get with separate races.

Having secured second place at the opening round, Craig Lomax had made clear his desire to stand atop the podium at Lydden and, with consistent times in heats one and two, challenging for the victory looked feasible. Unfortunately Lomax pushed a bit too hard in heat three and rolled his C2 coming through Chessons. After some hasty repairs, the team had the car back out again but, despite some very hard driving (and a couple of very sketchy looking moments coming through the chicane), Craig was unable to qualify for the final.

With Lomax out of contention, round one Super 1600 winner Paul Coney led the field, posting fastest times in heats two and three to win qualifying. The biggest challenge to Coney came from Darren Scott, who won the second semi-final and earned the grid slot next to Paul for the final.

Scott wasn’t far behind Coney, but never quite close enough to deny him the win. Second was still a fantastic result for Scott though on just his second outing in a Super 1600 specification car.

Tomasz Marciniak was the fastest Hot Hatch of the weekend, while Martin Hawkes headed the BMW MINI standings, taking maximum Championship points ahead of David Bell and Drew Bellerby. With wins at both Croft and Lydden Hill, Martin Hawkes has got his 2017 BMW MINI title campaign off to a perfect start.

Barry Stewart made his first Retro Rallycross Championship appearance of 2017 at Lydden Hill, where he held off the challenge of round one winner Ray Morgan to claim first overall.

I have made mention of Vince Bristow in the past but, despite not being a title challenger or even a front runner, he still remains one of my favourite drivers to watch out on track. Bristow’s BMW is perhaps the most standard looking car in the Super National field, but with Vince at the wheel it’s always entertaining. I am of the opinion that Vince doesn’t really care where the rest of the field are as long as he is going sideways!

On the subject of the rest of the field, there are a number of strong contenders vying for the 2017 Super National title. In terms of raw pace though, Tristan Ovenden is undoubtedly the man to beat. Tristan had been very quick at Croft, but an overheating issue with his Clio V6 had slowed him at the end of the day and allowed Paige Bellerby to take victory in the final.

Ovenden absolutely dominated the heats at Lydden and won his semi-final by a ridiculous margin. After opening up a gap at the start of the final it looked like Tristan would romp to the win that eluded him at Croft. Luck was not on his side and, on the approach to the Devil’s Elbow, the left rear corner of the Clio gave way and Ovenden was forced to retire. Once again Bellerby was there to pick up the pieces and victory again went her way.

The relatively small Supercar entry actually made for a rather interesting event as several competitors experienced troubles throughout the heats but, thanks to the lower numbers, they were still able to qualify for the final. Ollie O’Donovan was the first Championship challenger to encounter a major issue when he clipped a barrier on the exit of Chesson’s during the first heat and smashed the front corner of his Focus.

The damage was so significant that O’Donovan was forced to miss the second heat, but he made it back out for heat three where he posted fastest time.

Nathan Heathcote had surprised many by winning the opening round of the 2017 Championship on his maiden outing in a Supercar. Hopes of repeat success at Lydden faltered in the first heat, before going up in flames in heat two. Thankfully the marshals were able to get to the car before the fire really took hold, but it was a disappointing way for Heathcote to end the day.

Kevin Procter topped the Supercar standings and it was his Fiesta that sat on pole for the final. After several abandoned starts the final finally got underway and it was Warren Scott who led the pack as they headed into Chessons for the first time. Mid-corner contact with Procter in turn one caused damage to the rear of Scott’s DS3 which, crucially, induced a rear puncture.

Ollie O’Donovan started the final on the back row of the grid and, after creeping slightly on the line, O’Donovan hesitated as the lights went green. Despite the delay, Ollie was a man on a mission and, after working his way through the field with a combination of passes and a well-timed joker, Ollie reeled in and passed Scott.

Warren looked like he might have to relinquish second position to Julian Godfrey, but Julian made an uncharacteristic mistake on the approach to the Devil’s Elbow when he collided with some trackside furniture. This resulted in significant damage to the right front corner of the car which sent Godfrey ploughing into the gravel on the outside of the bend.

Despite the shredded right rear tyre, Scott crossed the line less than three seconds behind O’Donovan. Third place went to Oliver Bennett who took his first podium of the year and fourth went to Jake Harris. It was surprising to see so many of the newcomers finishing above rallycross veterans Godfrey, Procter and Steve Hill, but I think it’s an encouraging sign for another good title fight this year.

It was a rather protracted day, but some cracking finals justified the wait. Despite the lower entry numbers the Supercars were as entertaining as ever, however with numerous battles throughout the field, the Super Nationals proved the highlight of the days racing. With several drivers still still getting to grips with new machinery and Tristan Ovenden yet to finish an event, I expect the class is going to continue to deliver this year!

 

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

Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 4 – Lydden Hill

22nd June 2016 — by Steve White

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I have to begin this blog with an apology, as there is likely to be an air of nostalgia to what you are about to read. Ten years ago, with a shiny new driving license in my hand, I took a drive to a relatively unheard of circuit in Kent to watch a motorsport that the internet told me had died in the mid 90’s.

To say that day proved a revelation is somewhat of an understatement. Rallycross wasn’t a sport that was confined to archive footage on You Tube, it was something that was happening right now and, unlike rallying, at a circuit barely an hour away from home.

A decade has passed since that weekend and much has changed in that time. My passion for rallycross remains as strong as ever though and the sport currently has a greater presence in the mainstream conscience then it has for many years. Seeing the awnings of the World Rallycross teams packed into the paddock at Lydden Hill seems a far cry from the clubman competitors I first watched running their race efforts from the back of a Transit van.

Equally it seemed hard to believe the personalities present at the circuit. Ten years ago I was watching drivers who were well known to rallycross fans, but whose names meant nothing to anyone outside the sport. Solberg, Loeb and Block could all be reasonably considered to be household names and here they all were, at the sleepy little Kent circuit where my passion for the sport was first ignited.

Tanner Foust, fresh from victory at the first and second rounds of the Global Rallycross Championship, joined the other star names at Lydden Hill for his first European rallycross appearance of 2016.

I was honestly a bit disappointed with Foust at Lydden last year as,  based on some of his past performances in the UK – which included victories in both 2012 and 2013 – he just didn’t look on the pace. Alas success was to elude Foust once again. Having been plagued by electrical problems on the first day, the issues persisted into day two and Foust was forced to throw in the towel before the third qualifying round began.

Johan Kristoffersson was another driver who doesn’t seem to have fortune on his side. In fact Kristoffersson seems to have encountered bad luck at every round of the 2016 season thus far, receiving bumps and breakages at the most inopportune moments.

Johan once again delivered the goods in the qualifying rounds at Lydden, but trouble in the second semi-final saw him fail to finish the race. I hope Kristoffersson gets a break soon, as he certainly isn’t lacking in pace, just luck!

In the time that has passed since my first trip to Lydden, I’ve tried to sample as many facets of motorsport as possible. However I’m still yet to find anything that provides the same sensory overload as a rallycross Supercar race. From the bassy rumble of anti-lag and the flutter of turbos, the soundtrack for a Supercar race is absolutely unforgettable.

It’s not just the sound of rallycross Supercars that I find so captivating, it’s the sheer aggression of these cars that always astounds me. Watching Supercars leave the line is an experience I’m fairly certain I’m never going to tire of, as the cars squat down on the line before leaping forward and scrabbling for traction under acceleration.

Hopes for home success in the Supercar class rested in the hands of three drivers, namely World Rallycross Championship regular Liam Doran and wildcard entrants Julian Godfrey and Guy Wilks. Wilks had been very competitive in the JRM MINI in 2015, but he didn’t look anywhere near as comfortable in the OMSE Fiesta.

Despite that Wilks was on the fringe of a semi-final position at the conclusion of qualifying three, however an issue with the car in the fourth qualifying round left him crawling round the circuit, eventually forcing Guy to pull off. With no score on the board, Wilks dropped down to seventeenth overall and outside of the all important top twelve.

The weekend wasn’t much better for Julian Godfrey, who made an uncharacteristic mistake during the opening qualifying race, ploughing straight into the barrier on the outside of Chesson’s drift. After a good hammering and a careful application of duct tape Julian was back out for his next race. Sadly he was unable to match the pace of the leaders and Godfrey eventually placed twentieth overall.

Liam Doran has always seemed to encounter difficulties at his home event. With the 2.0 litre engine he has been desperately waiting for finally available, hopes were high that Doran would now have a car capable of matching the power of the rest of the field.

Sadly, and despite the best efforts of the team, Liam was unable to give the significant crowd of British spectators something to cheer about. The preparation of the 2.0L variant of the JRM MINI seemed to be ongoing right up until the moment the car hit the track and the weekend panned out more like an extented shakedown for the car, as issues cropped up throughout the qualifiers. It was a shame to see Doran unable to challenge on home soil, but hopefully the time on track will help JRM quickly refine their latest iteration of the Countryman

It wasn’t all woes in the paddock. After a very testing weekend for Ken Block in Mettet, it was good to see him have at least a partial change of fortune for round 4. Sixteenth in the opening qualifying round wasn’t anything to get excited about, but eighth in qualifier two was much more respectable.

Seventeenth in qualifying three wasn’t the best way to start day two, but a brilliant battle with Robin Larsson in the fourth qualifying round saw him net tenth fastest time. Block leapt up the standings, finishing just outside the top twelve. It was a shame that Ken didn’t make the cut for the semi-finals, but pleasing to see him and the Focus RS RX delivering a much stronger performance than Mettet.

It was Block’s team mate Andreas Bakkerud who was to truly demonstrate the capability of the Ford Focus RS RX. Hoonigan Racing Division looked to have opted for an incredibly soft setup for the Focus at Lydden, as the car was really pitching on the turn in for the Devil’s Elbow.

It was at the chicane where the soft setup of the Focus was most apparent. The vast majority of Supercars tend to go light on the suspension here, but Bakkerud’s Focus RS RX was almost rearing up as it went through this section and rejoined the tarmac.

Clearly the setup was working for Andreas though. Top six times in the first three qualifying races was followed by a first in the fourth qualifier. Bakkerud even briefly stole the fastest lap time of the weekend from Solberg in the third qualifying race, however Petter promptly snatched that back later in proceedings.

Slotting into gaps in the timetable was stunt driver extraordianaire Terry Grant  and drift demonstrations care of Fueltopia faves Luke Woodham and Steve “Baggsy” Biagioni. The was the first time I’ve seen Baggsy’s Nissan S13 since it’s LS3 transplant and the new powerplant seemed more than capable of smoking out the spectators on the outside of Paddock Hill Bend.  

The star attraction in the paddock came care of the Retro Rallycross Championship. A regular fixture at the British Rallycross Championship rounds, the Retro team had truly outdone themselves for the World Round, gathering an array of Group B rallycross machinery for static and moving display.

The centre piece of the Retro Rallycross display was unarguably the former Will Gollop bi-turbo Metro 6R4, the very car that Will claimed the 1992 European Rallycross Championship title with. This car has been in the hands of private collector for a number of years and hasn’t seen the light of day for some time. I’m not sure how or what sort of a deal has been struck, but the beloved 6R4 of Gollop has now been fully restored and looked absolutely stunning out on track.

For me the presence of Pat Doran’s RS200, better known as “Rosie” was rather fitting, as it was this very car that convinced me to make that first journey to Lydden a decade ago. As keen as I am of some of the modern machinery, the RS200 is first rallycross car I had a yearning for and still the one that I most covet.

It was Ulrik Linnemann who won the final at the opening round of the Super 1600 Championship, but after a more consistent performance over the weekend it was Mario Barbosa who led the Championship coming to Lydden.

Barbosa’s weekend came to an abrupt end during the second semi-final when he clipped the curb on the inside of Chessons and spun his Saxo across the track. Ulrik Linnemann looked set to secure a top three place and qualify for the final until he, rather unbelievably, clipped the same curb and flipped his Peugeot through the air and on top of Mario’s stricken Saxo. With semi-final two red flagged and the result declared on the previous laps positions, Ulrik was technically third, however as he was the cause of the stoppage it was fourth place Christian Petrakovits who advanced to the final.

With the Championship leader and top qualifier out of the running, the assumed favourites for the win were second and third top qualifiers Krisztian Szabo and Artis Baumanis. Both drivers won their respective semi-finals and so sat side-by-side on the front row of the grid for the final.

Early contact between Ernestas Staponkus and Timur Shigabutdinov gave Krisztian Szabo some breathing space and, while Artis Baumanis kept Josef Susta and Christian Petrakovits at bay, Szabo pushed on. Despite the pressure from behind Baumanis was absolutely flying and, when Szabo opted for his joker on lap 5, the pair ran door-to-door for half a lap. Artis looked faster, but he couldn’t find a way past Krisztian on the last lap and so had to settle for second.

For me the Super 1600 class produced some of the best racing of the weekend. Where there is a certain among of reservation in the Supercars as machinery is preserved for the Semi-Finals, the Super 1600 drivers seemed to be absolutely on the limit from the get go.

Thomas Bryntesson has been the man to beat in RX Lites in 2016, winning the opening round of the Lite Championship and the second round in Belgium last month.

Surprisingly Bryntesson didn’t look anywhere near as dominant at Lydden, thus the result of the Lite races were to prove a lot tougher to call. Cyril Raymond posted fastest time in the opening qualifying race, a feat he went on to repeat in the third qualifier. Failing to finish the second race cost him the top qualification spot – claimed by a very consistent Simon Wago Syversen – but at the intermediate stage Raymond looked the quickest on paper.

Raymond went on to prove that point in the second semi-final, winning the race and posting a time four seconds faster than semi-final one winner Simon Olofsson. With Bryntesson back on form for the final Raymond looked like he might be beaten but, despite posting the fastest lap of the race, Thomas was pipped to the line by Cyril.

Although I had been expecting to see Guy Wilks wrestling with car setup in the unfamiliar OMSE Fiesta, I hadn’t been expecting to see the team regulars struggling. After running a relatively stiff setup in the past, the OMSE cars all looked very loose. Given the relative inexperience of the young OMSE driver pairing, I wonder if car setup is something that is dictated to them rather than chosen at this point.

Kevin Eriksson posted the best result of the OMSE Fiestas, placing ninth at the intermediate standings and going on to finish fourth in the first semi-final. It was a far cry from the results OMSE have acquired at Lydden in the past, but with such an experienced field in play the learning curve for the younger drivers must be incredibly steep.

In a mirror image of past events at Lydden, it was the Team Austria Fiestas who looked the most composed. The Fords of Janis Baumanis and Timur Timerzyanov looked balanced in both the corners and over the chicane curb, which was a far cry from the first time I saw this team appear at Lydden. Crucially both Team Austria cars made it to the semi-final stage and Timur went onto to finish fifth overall.

The Team Austria cars seem to be continually improving and with the consistency of the two team drivers, podium finishes are surely an inevitability now.

Petter Solberg continued his dominant form into the second day of racing. Petter made it three out of three by winning the third qualifier and he came close to a perfect qualification score by taking second in the fourth set of qualifiers. Setting off from the pole spot in the first semi-final, Petter led the race from start to finish. The drive was Solberg at his best: flat out and flamboyant.

Mattias Ekstrom had been conspicuous by his absence from the top spot of any of the qualifying rounds. Although Ekstrom had obviously been slowed by a puncture in the fourth qualifier, his car seemed to be running fine in the first three races. Was Solberg really that much quicker than Ekstrom, or was Mattias saving himself for the closing stages of the weekend? I suspected the latter, but it was only during the final when spectators would know for sure.

Victory in the second semi-final put Ekstrom alongside Solberg on the front row of the final. When the lights went out both drivers got a good launch and, as they arrived at the first corner, Mattias dived off into the joker lap whilst Petter remained on the normal line.

Petter certainly wasn’t hanging around but, unlike the first semi-final, it was notable that Solberg wasn’t gapping the cars behind him. The ever increasing stream of smoke from the rear end of the DS3 was also a strong indication that his tyres were rapidly approaching the end of their life.

Emerging from the joker lap with clear air between himself and Kevin Hansen in third, Mattias Ekstrom slowly began to reel in the lead trio. Up front Timmy Hansen continued to hang onto Solberg and, when Petter peeled off for his joker, Timmy took the lead while, crucially, Solberg re-joined just behind Ekstrom.

Petter held onto Mattias right up to the flag, but he couldn’t pull him in close enough to attempt a pass. When Hansen went for the joker on the final lap Ekstrom moved into the lead. With a little over a second between himself and second place Solberg, Mattias took the checkered flag to claim his third successive win of 2016.

Although the resultant points changed little in the overall Championship standings, when the dust had settled at Lydden it seemed hard to look past Ekstrom as the Championship favourite for 2016. Still, as we have seen in past seasons, fortunes can quickly change and the development of cars is an endless process.

Cementing the above point, Andreas Bakkerud subsequently claimed round five of the Championship in Norway with a dominant (and record breaking) performance following victory in all four qualifiers, semi-final and final. The win signifies that Hoonigan Racing are hitting their stride with the Focus RS RX and, if the car can consistently deliver on its potential, it seems likely that the two horse Championship race we have seen so far will be interrupted.

With the Championship approaching its midpoint, first and second position are now separated by just five points, while third to fifth are only two points apart. At this stage the scene is set for the closest World Championship title fight yet and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season pans out. Expect more World Championship content on Fueltopia later in the year and, in the meantime, be sure to keep tabs on the latest news updates on the official World Rallycross website!

 

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