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
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