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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.

Topic

Skiddin’ at Lydden

12th December 2016 — by Dave Cox

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Back in December 2015, Lydden Hill Race Circuit took the decision to close public drift days. Not an easy decision to make but complaints from the surrounding residents as well as a few people not being respectful on the local roads made is unfortunately necessary. Lydden Hill can’t really be blamed for taking this decision, it was putting the reputation with sponsors at risk

I don’t drift myself but I do photograph my fair share of drifting, so as minor grumble, I lost my “practice” days. There was also the social aspect of it, I have a lot friends that drift themselves and it was always good to catch up at the circuit and see how their home grown cars were progressing.

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But rather spend time talking about seemingly meek complaints, I thought it would be good to get some perspective from someone who was affected. A good friend of ours at Fueltopia is Paul Beechey who drifts with a group of friends under Team Lowmileage.

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Paul, cast your mind back to late 2015, Lydden Hill regrettably makes the decision to shut public, what does this mean for you?

PB: I remember thinking this is real bad for drifting in the UK, with many venues shutting their doors in the past 5 years this was another one on the list. There was always whispers in the background that it would make a comeback just not in the current form which would always be a good thing for me personally.

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Clearly this was bigger than just a single venue closing it’s doors, more of a general decline nationwide. What was it about the “current form” which wasn’t a good thing for you?

PB: The old way Lydden used to be was some what chaotic with tons of “missiles” in wrong groups etc. Impacting on seat time due to many red flags and stopped sessions. There was none of that on Saturday, the open pit format worked so well, option of twinning and trains if wanted. Otherwise it was solo passes which really took the pressure off.

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Wow, so in the time they shut public drift days, they revised how the sessions would have been run.

It is fair to say that when Lydden announced the return of public drift days but at a revised and higher price point, it was met with scepticism. What would you say to those people after testing the new format?

PB: So far the new format appears to be working, the last practice day was seat time central and the new pricing was totally justified with the amount of time on track. I think Lydden will be improving on the format and all the time we are heading in this direction it’s a winner for the UK scene.

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Glad to hear that it has come back stronger than before. So what happened with the noise complaints? Did Lydden have to make a deal with the local council to shorten the drift sessions? Or have they introduced tighter noise limits?

PB: The noise complaints will always be there. Lydden are running only 4 cars at a time max now and there is no drifting on chessons corner which is a real tyre saver. I know it takes the whole matsuri kinda vibe away from full circuit drifting but it still works. They have released another date with another new format. It looks promising and Lydden have really hit it on the head with an open track format. Good work Hannah and the team!

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 Sometimes your hand is forced and you have to go back and rethink things. Lydden Hill’s drift days were nothing short of popular in the past but there was always room for improvement. Having to call an early halt to them allowed Hannah and the team to sit down and re-evaluate things. Judging by Paul’s feedback it would see this was time well spent. I am happy to see the drift days return. The South East has a large drift community and it would be a shame to have it taken away.
I just need to get down there and see the new format for myself.
Words: Paul Beechey and Dave Cox
Pictures: James Tremain and Dave Cox

Event

British Rallycross Championship Round 6 – Lydden Hill

13th September 2016 — by Steve White

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Every round in a race Championship is significant, but the way drivers choose to approach a given event can vary immensely. In the latter stages of a Championship consistency often becomes more crucial than outright pace. For those chasing the leader every remaining round must be attacked as hard as possible in to reduce the point deficit, whereas those out front will seek to take as few risks as possible in order to preserve their lead.

As the British Rallycross Championship nears the end of its current season several drivers are now within sight of their respective class titles, so there were clearly mixed approaches being taken by the field at round 6 of the Championship.

One of the drivers keen to preserve his position was Dan Rooke. Dan’s remarkable performance in his debut year at the helm of rallycross Supercar has seen him claim a Championship lead which the more seasoned competitors have been unable to wrestle back from him.

Having won round 2 back in March, Rooke has a 100% success rate at Lydden in a rallycross Supercar. The last two August rallycross meets at Lydden have both been won by Ollie O’Donovan and, with thirteen Supercars entered in the class, both Ollie and Dan would have a full grid to fend off if they hoped to be first over the line again.

One name that was conspicuous by its absence from the Supercar entry was Dave Newsham. In the days leading up to round 6 the Power Maxed Racing team announced their withdrawal from the 2016 British Rallycross Championship. It’s a real shame that Newsham wasn’t able to complete the season as I had hoped the team would be able to iron the creases out of the ex-Marcin Wicik supercar.

Entry numbers in the Super National class were also strong, with season-long contenders joined by a number of familiar faces, including Gary Simpson who was making his first British Rallycross Championship appearance of the year and Stuart Emery, who was competing for the first time since injuring himself back in May.

Neither Emery nor Simpson could boast the longest hiatus from rallycross though. That accolade was firmly in the hands of Paul Easterbrook, who returned to rallycross for the first time in a decade. Alas, Paul retired early in the day, but I hope it won’t be another 10 years before his distinctive MR2 is back on track.

The Swift Sport Championship is at its most entertaining when the grids are full, so it was pleasing to see seventeen Swifts present at Lydden Hill. Among the numerous entrants was Barrel Sprint champion and Fueltopia fave Luke Woodham, making his rallycross debut at round 6.

In all 87 cars were set to appear at Lydden, which was a very respectable number for a National Championship event. Of course the only issue with this total – and this has been a reoccurring criticism of the British Rallycross Championship for several years now – was that those entries were spread across nine classes. Still, although the numbers weren’t huge in every class, there were at least enough cars to fill a grid. Sensibly the small Super 1600 entry was merged in with the Super Modified class for the heats, with just the final to be run separately…

…as it turned out though, the Super 1600 final was to be a non-event. Casualties claimed virtually the entire field and Tristan Ovenden was the sole surviving Super 1600 car at the end of the day. It was a rather lucky break for defending Super 1600 Champion Craig Lomax who, despite breaking a gearbox, managed to last long enough into the day to claim some Championship points and preserve his hopes of taking the title again this year.

Sam Jones had been the driver to beat in the Junior Swift Championship, but the mid-season arrival of Tom Llewellin put an end to Jones winning streak. Llewellin looked untouchable at Lydden, winning all three heats and the final by a comfortable margin. Tom joined this year’s Championship too late to challenge for the title, but if his current run continues then a fourth place finish looks more than achievable.

Second place was taken by Tom Constantine with Junior Championship leader Sam Jones placing third. As a consequence Constantine now trails Jones for the Championship lead by just three points, so the Junior title looks set to go down to the wire.

Kris and Keifer Hudson have been neck-and-neck in the 2016 BMW MINI Championship. Unfortunately Keifer was unable to challenge his brother for another win at Lydden as his car suffered a mechanical issue in the final, leaving Kris free to concentrate on collecting as many points as possible. Despite the absence of his brother Keifer, Kris continued to drive on (and occasional over) the limit which was evidence by a couple of very spectacular moments on the loose.

Even with his big push, it wasn’t Kris who would stand on the top step of the podium. Victory in the BMW MINI class was taken by last year’s Junior Swift Champion Bradley Durdin on his maiden drive in a BMW MINI. It was an impressive debut from Durdin and an early sign that the Hudson clan may face a new challenger in 2017. Second for Kris was enough to take the championship lead from Keifer and, no matter what the rest of the field are doing, I’m sure the siblings will be fighting up until the end of the season for the title.

With no Rob Gibson to contend with, Barry Stewart and Ray Morgan went at it for honours in the Retro Rallycross Championship. Morgan was close to Stewarts pace throughout, but Barry just took the win.

It was business as usual for Chrissy Palmer in the RX150 buggies, with Chrissy taking his sixth consecutive victory of 2016. Second for Stephen Jones was enough to bring him within one point of Jake Harris in the Championship standings and, with Palmer now holding an almost unassailable lead, the fight for second is going to be the main focus of the last two rounds of the Championship.

After winning at round 5 in Belgium, Tony Lynch came to Lydden with an increased lead in the Super National Championship. Lynch looked the man to beat, but several entrants seemed like they had the speed to challenge Tony, particularly Steve Cozens at the helm of the very rapid ex-James Bird Renault Clio V6. Sadly Cozens was to be denied victory whilst leading the final, as his Clio died in the closing stages of the race.

Paige Bellerby seems to be gradually getting the better of her Exige, but the dinky Lotus seemingly takes no prisoners when on the limit and, while fighting with Allan Tapscott for second, the tail happy Exige caught Paige out and she dropped down the order. That allowed Tapscott to go on and take second from Stuart Emery, who had a race long fight with Mike Howlin for third.

Second was the best result of the season for Allan Tapscott and third a fine return to form for Stuart Emery after several months out of action.

With fastest times in all three heats, first in his semi-final and first in the final it was a perfect weekend for Tony Lynch, netting him a maximum haul of points and furthering his lead of the Super National Championship. He hasn’t yet moved beyond the reach of second and third position title challengers Paige Bellerby and Guy Corner, but just a few more points should be enough to secure the 2016 title.

Nathan Heathcote arrived at Lydden with a slender lead from Aidan Hills and Simon Ovenden in the Swift Sport Championship. While Nathan enjoyed a trouble free day, both Hills and Ovenden encountered issues which resulted in Simon failing to make the final and Aidan placing eighth.

The greatest challenge to Heathcote instead came from Darren Scott, who made his first appearance in the Swifts of 2016. The pair were close throughout the day, but Nathan managed to shake off Darren in the final to take a comfortable win and open up a significant lead in the Championship.

After finding his feet in the opening heat race, Luke Woodham was forced to miss his second heat before coming back out again for heat three. With his pace increasing throughout the first Swift semi-final, Luke was just one spot away from qualifying for the final. Ninth overall was a respectable debut and I have my fingers crossed it won’t be long before we see the Fueltopia liveried Swift sitting on the grid of a final!

Following a successful weekend in Belgium, Graham Rumsey was just a few points shy of seizing the Hot Hatch Championship lead from Tomasz Wielgosz. Qualifying first put Rumsey on the front row of the final and a good result seemed assured… right up to the moment when Mariusz Mehlberg ploughed into the side of Rumsey and ended his race.

Mehlberg was subsequently excluded from the meeting and with Robert Potyra winning and Wielgosz finishing third, the damage to Rumsey’s championship challenge was minimized. Sadly the same couldn’t be said for Graham’s Saxo, which is going to need some serious attention before Pembrey. The team have promised the car will be straight again for round 7, so I wish them the best of luck!

It was refreshing to see some of the rallycross veterans back on the pace in the Supercars. Pat Doran seemed to have the bit between his teeth in the ex-Liam Doran Citroen C4 and he was flying during the heats. Steve Hill also had a pleasingly trouble free day of racing and he actually flew in the semi-final after clipping the curb on the exit of the chicane.

After taking second place in the second semi-final, Hill went on to finish fifth in the final. Having persisting with the Evo X for so long I found it immensely satisfying to see Hill scoring Championship points in the car, so I can only imagine how good a decent result must feel for Steve!

Despite having his first heat time ruined by a puncture, Dan Rooke still managed to qualify second having placed second and first in heats two and three respectively. It was no surprise to see the top qualification spot go to defending Champion Julian Godfrey, who looked very much on form with top-three times in all heats.

Unfortunately round 5 was either a feast or famine for early season favourite Kevin Procter. Fastest time in heat 1 was followed by technical issues with the car and, although he managed to qualify for the final, Procter chose to relinquish his spot on the back row of the grid.

After winning his semi-final, Rooke lined up on the front row of the final alongside Ollie O’Donovan and Julian Godfrey. Godfrey looked to make a move on Rooke as the pack headed into the first corner, but Julian drifted wide, gifting Rooke some breathing space: and that was all he needed. As Godfrey was swallowed up by the chasing pack, Dan drove a clean race out front and went on to take the checkered flag almost 5 seconds ahead of the next car.

Second place was contested right up until the last corner. David Bellerby snatched the position from Godfrey on the first lap and had to defend right up to the line. The result elevates Bellerby to third in the Championship standings and, having denied Godfrey another point, means that Rooke has extended his Championship lead.

Lydden yielded the perfect result for Tony Lynch, Dan Rooke and Nathan Heathcote, as all three managed to not only retain the lead of their respectively classes, but extend them.

With just two rounds of the Championship left, the need for consistency will increase that little bit more, a task that will surely become even more difficult as the rest of the field push harder in the hope of forcing a mistake. It should be an interesting end to what has been a hard-fought season in the British Rallycross Championship!

 

Want to see more of the British Rallycross Championship at Lydden? 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.