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Farewell Hoonigan Racing Division

26th November 2017 — by Steve White

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Last month World Rallycross fans were disappointed to learn that Ken Block and Ford Performance would NOT be participatInG in the 2018 World Rallycross Championship.

With Andreas Bakkerud making his final appearance in the Hoonigan Racing Division Focus RS RX at Gymkhana Grid last weekend, there is no indication as to when – or even if – we will ever see the RS RX in action again. Given that I have been fortunate enough to be present at a number of the World Rallycross rounds during Hoonigan Racing Divisions two year stint in the Championship, now seems a perfect time to take a retrospective look at some of my favourite images of the Hoonigan cars in action.

Block Loheac Fiesta Last Corner Pan

Prior to undertaking a full World Championship campaign in 2016, Ken Block had previously appeared at two European Championship rounds back in 2014. Behind the wheel of an M-Sport Fiesta, Block finished third on his European debut in Norway and narrowly missed out on another podium in France with fourth overall.

Ken Block is a rather divisive figure among seasoned rally and rallycross fans, but I admire his passion for racing and, although his PR may be a little excessive at times, I have never seen him convey anything other than positivity about motorsport. After seeing Ken in action at Loheac I hoped we would see him return to Europe at some point and, in early 2016, it was confirmed that Block would become a full time participant in the World Rallycross Championship.

Ken Block Mettet Turn Two Dirt Slide

Many rallycross fans – myself included – had been taken aback by the choice of platform for the Hoonigan Racing Division rallycross programme, as shorter wheelbase cars have been in vogue in rallycross for several years and Block already had considerable seat time in the Fiesta. Hoonigan debuted the M-Sport built Focus RS RX at the opening round of the 2016 World Rallycross Championship in Portugal, however it would be the third round of the year before I would get to lay eyes on the new car.

The Focus RS RX had a remarkably short development period and that was painfully apparent in Mettet, as both Bakkerud and Block were plagued by mechanical gremlins. Still, despite the issues, I was surprised as to just how agile the long wheelbase Focus was on track.

Ken Block Lydden Hill Head On Dirt Loose

With only a fortnight between Mettet and the following round at Lydden Hill the Hoonigan team obviously didn’t have much time for testing and refinement, but they clearly weren’t sitting around as there was a marked improvement in the cars at Lydden.

Ken Block Lydden Hill North Bend Exit Pan

Two top ten qualifying times, one of which was earned following a terrific battle with Robin Larsson, showed that Block was beginning to get to grips with the Focus and that the creases were rapidly being ironed out of the car.

However it would be Block’s team mate Andreas Bakkerud who would give the crowd at Lydden their first true demonstration of the full potential of the Focus RS RX.

Bakkerud Lydden Hill Chicane Exit Air

Hoonigan Racing had seemingly opted for an incredibly soft setup for the Focus at Lydden, as both cars were violently pitching on turn in, but it was at the chicane where the soft setup 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.

Still, the setup must have suited Bakkerud, as he took second in his semi-final and placed mid-pack for the final. Alas the car suffered a mechanical failure launching off the line, leaving Andreas to crawl around the circuit. Despite that, for the first time in the year, the RS RX had looked like it had race winning pace.

Bakkerud Loheac Turn Two Exit Pan

It would be three rounds later before I would catch up with the World Rallycross Championship again and in that time Bakkerud not only managed to chalk up the first win for the Focus in Norway, but followed that up with another win in Sweden and a second place in Canada.

Bakkeruds mid-season charge saw him rapidly ascend up the Championship standings and, with another second in France, Andreas was poised to be a serious title challenger in the second half of season.

Ken Block Loheac Turn Two Head On Pack

Perhaps buoyed by the success of Andreas, Block delivered one of his most consistent performances of 2016 at Loheac. A slightly tentative start in practise was followed by four top eight qualifying times, resulting in a spot on the front of the second semi-final grid. Block went on to make the back row of the final where he eventually finished sixth, narrowly losing out on fifth position to Reinis Nitiss in the closing stages of the race.

Notably M-Sport had finished construction of a third Focus RS RX in the weeks prior to Loheac and it was this car which Block used to film Gymkhana 9. It might have been a coincidence, but I wondered if the additional gymkhana seat time had contributed to the noticeable improvement in both Blocks performance and the overall reliability of the Focus.

Bakkerud Barcelona Head On Jump Ekstrom

Exclusion at round 9 in Barcelona cost Bakkerud dearly and, despite a win at the final round of the Championship in Argentina, Andreas was unable to prevent the 2016 title going the way of Mattias Ekstrom.

Given the rapid evolution of the Focus RS RX throughout its maiden season, I had Andreas Bakkerud tipped as a favourite for the 2017 title. Although Andreas wasn’t quite as dominant as I had anticipated at round one of the 2017 Championship, early signs were encouraging.

Bakkerud Barcelona Turn Two Exit Pack

Despite lacking the pace to challenge for the overall win, Bakkerud managed to hold off the advances of Petter Solberg and secure third position. Third in the season opener was a promising start for Andreas, but a semi-final retirement in Portugal would be followed by a disastrous weekend in Hockenheim where Bakkerud failed to make it beyond qualifying.

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

Bakkerud Mettet Turn Two Exit Pan

The fourth round at Mettet would be my next World Rallycross stop of 2017 and it would be one of the best weekends of the year for Hoonigan Racing. Andreas placed fourth in qualifying one with Ken in eleventh, with Block then surprising many by taking fourth fastest time in qualifying two. Ken continued that form on the second day of racing, with ninth in qualifying three and another fourth in the final set of qualifiers.

Block Mettet Pack Head On

Sixth in the intermediate standings marked Blocks best qualification result of the year to that point and, with Bakkerud in fourth, both Focus RS RX made it through to the semi-finals.

Block Chicane Curb Clip

Unfortunately Block’s progress was once again halted at the semi-final stage, as he retired on lap five of the race following an interaction with the scenery. Ninth overall was a respectable finish, but missing out on the final due to an error must have been frustrating for Ken.

There would be no mistakes from Andreas Bakkerud, who chased Petter Solberg to the flag in his semi-final earning himself a spot on the second row of the Supercar final. After the disappointment of Portugal and Germany, it was fantastic to see Andreas back at the sharp end again.

Bakkerud Lydden Hill North Bend Exit Pan

Both Block and Bakkerud believed that the Focus RS RX would be well suited to Lydden Hill and their results would support that opinion, with fourth in the semi-finals netting Block seventh overall, bettering his finish in Belgium.

Andreas Bakkerud emerged as the greatest threat to the now-dominant PSRXVW Polos. Bakkerud was clearly desperate to shake off his early season run of bad luck and, with the Focus RS RX performing as well as hoped, Andreas looked capable of challenging Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson for the victory. Bakkerud would come close, but third position would see Andreas step onto the podium for the second time in 2017.

Block Loheac Pack Launch Pan

Given the rapid evolution of the Focus RS RX during the 2016 season I had been expecting to see the development of the cars continue both during the winter break and throughout the subsequent Championship but, at least in the eyes of a layman like myself, progression seemed much slower in 2017. That said, Bakkerud followed up his third in Lydden with two second place finishes in Norway and Sweden.

Of the two Hoonigan Racing Division cars competing at round nine in France, it was Ken Block who made the best start. Sixth in qualifying one was followed by a third in qualifying two and Ken finished the first day of racing sitting in third overall. Block had demonstrated great speed at Loheac in the past and, at my final World Rallycross weekend of 2017, I hoped to see him make his first final of the year.

Block Loheac Wet Pack Penultimate Corner Head On

After a strong showing on the opening day, Ken eventually finished seventh in the intermediate standings. Sadly Block’s good run would yet again come to an end in the semi-finals when he began to spin coming into the penultimate corner and, in an attempt to straighten the wayward Focus RS RX, Ken buried his right foot.

In the dry he probably would have got away with it, but on the damp surface the power exacerbated the problem and the car continued to rotate straight into the gravel trap, resulting in a rear right puncture.

Block Loheac Last Corner Pan Flat Rear Tyre

Block did his best to limp to the finish line, hoping that the drivers ahead of him might encounter similar difficulties, but with the rest of the field having an issue free race, Ken missed out on what would have been a well-deserved place in the final.

Third in the second World semi-final, Andreas Bakkerud started the final on the back row and managed to fight his way up to fourth. I was disappointed not to see one of the two Hoonigan cars claim a podium spot in Loheac, especially having subsequently learned that this would be the last time I will see the team competing.

Lydden Block Focus Mirror 43

Block came within a whisker of making his first appearance in a 2017 final at the last round of the Championship in South Africa, but disqualification following the second semi-final saw him denied at the final hurdle. It was a rather low note for Ken to finish his second World Rallycross season on and I hope the stewards decision won’t sour him on any future Championship appearances.

As for the future of the Focus RS RX, no official announcement has been made. Rumour has it the cars will return to the US and I hope they will be campaigned again rather than being mothballed. I am certain Andreas Bakkerud will be snatched up by another rallycross team, but only time will tell on that one. Irrespective, here’s a thanks to Hoonigan Racing Division for the two years they have given to the World Rallycross Championship: don’t be strangers and come back soon!

 

Words & Pictures: Steve White

Want to see more of the Hoonigan Racing Division cars? Click here for a set of image galleries.

EventVideo

From Four To Two

24th November 2017 — by Dan Fegent

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I like to think that I am someone who likes to welcome a new challenge. In my job as a photographer I enjoy taking on new things & capturing different events. However I’d be lying if I told you that my nerves don’t get the better of me sometimes when I’m asked to do something outside of my comfort zone. That familiar anxiety I’m sure we have all felt at some point starts to build & just needs kept in check, remain calm I tell myself, it’ll all work out.

At the start of this year I was asked to shoot several rounds of BSB, I ran off to the Googles & quickly realised that BSB is the British Super Bike Championship… ok I wasn’t that naive to it but I did need to start researching & fast!

If you know of my work for Fueltopia & for Monster Energy then you’ll know I’m someone who mostly covers four wheel motorsport events. That has changed in recent times & I’ve come to adapt to the various challenges & enjoy it. Variety is the spice of life right? Seriously though I believe the subject matter I’m most associated with doesn’t define me, I simply love all things I get to do.

Now that aside I still was nervous about BSB, I am not someone who owns or has ever ridden a proper motorbike on or off road. I have roughly 20 minutes to my name on a moped, which I promptly fell off so as for experience… you could say I am lacking it.

This was all new to me. I spent the lead up to round one asking friends about what it meant to them to ride a bike. Yeah, with questions like I did get some strange looks but I was trying to understand the passion behind it all. The reason people go and watch these races. I did an intensive course several evenings on the BSB website, learning about the teams, the riders names, their numbers & bike liveries. Anything that could help me once I arrived at the circuit with a job to do.

From a photographers point of view though I try not to look at other peoples photos when I shoot something new, not in anyway due to arrogance but more due to the fact that it may scare me in to thinking that I can’t do it, that I can’t capture what they have done. Its once again that familiar anxiety that builds inside me which is not what I need when I’m taking on a new challenge so I just avoid the situation completely. I go, I shoot, I edit & I deliver my own results from what I’ve witnessed.

Due to clashes with other events I was scheduled for this year, I only attended four rounds of the BSB 2017 championship. I was at the first in Donington Park, followed up by Oulton Park & then two rounds at Brands Hatch including the final.

I knew that I had four main riders to capture throughout the year, across three teams. Michael Laverty & James Ellison in the MCAMS Yamaha team, Leon Haslam in the Speedfit Kawasaki team & John Hopkins in the Moto Rapido Ducati team.

During these events I was far too engrossed in making sure I nailed the work to even be able to put together an event by event recap for you here on Fueltopia, I’m sorry about that. I robbed you of four blogs. I also tried to vlog the events (videos at the bottom) those didn’t quite go to plan either as I was simply far too pre occupied with making sure I knew what was going on & getting the job done.

With excuses aside let me take you back to my first BSB round of the year. This was Round 1 at Donington Park, a circuit I’ve worked at a few times over the years so I was familiar with the layout. I arrived confident & ready.

Standing near the track for the first time as the bikes blasted past me was an experience. They were louder than I expected & considerably faster! Also from a photography point of view they were a lot smaller in my view finder… go figure, turns out bikes are smaller than cars…

After that epiphany hit me it was time to take in & learn how they move, the speeds in the straights, the lines in the corners. All of a sudden, the anxiety & worry about the whole thing was gone, I was filled with the want to capture what was happening as much as I could, a sudden urge to show my perspective on the events I was witnessing.

Post practice/qualifying & races the paddocks are alive with activity, teams are checking & preparing the bikes for the next outings & riders are discussing tactics & times with their teams. There is simply so much going on at all times. It was simply exciting to be a part of.

The paddock however is cramped, not as much as the incredible tight space Speedway riders work out of but its close. Everyone among the multitude of people present has a specific job which is carried out to perfection, because put it simply someones life always does depend on it.

A break in all this two wheel action came at the first Brands Hatch hosted round of the series. Monster Energy Gymkhana driver Luke Woodham lit up the track in his 200sx s14a and put on a smoke show for the fans. Ok yeah he blew up the engine during the final demo of the day but YOLO right?

That event also saw a Monster energy rig riot take place. What is a rig riot I hear you cry? Well, its controlled chaos as the Monster Energy Girls figuratively whip the crowd into a frenzy before the Monster Energy riders themselves show up and sign & distribute merchandise. Its always awesome to watch & you can see the fans love it.

Throughout my stint of BSB this year I have watched them race in all conditions, I saw people come off & I even heard of fatal accidents taking place over the race weekends I attended. The commitment to this sport is incredible, why do they choose to do it & why when they come off during a practice in the morning are they back on the bike that very afternoon, ready on the line to take on all challengers?

I don’t have the answer to that question but as this year has gone on I’ve learnt something which I’ve come to love about BSB. The passion, the drive, the sense of family among teams is second to none. Its much more personal than any other race series I’ve worked in. The emotions are there for all to see, these riders can’t hide their, they are exposed, on the line with only their helmet to shield their anticipation & uncertainty about the race ahead.

During the races themselves the concentration can be seen on their faces, several times I would frame a shot & almost feel like I was making eye contact with the riders. The emotion once the race is finished & the results are in is beautiful to watch too.

These guys are rock stars, the fans love them! The open pit line signing sessions are a blast. The interaction is golden & seeing the smiles on fans faces from kids to full grown adults is incredibly rewarding.

This is the beauty of bikes, people get fully attached to the riders themselves, more so I feel than in any other motorsport. I mean these guys are about to risk their lives for your entertainment? I think they deserve being made a fuss of by the fans, which they most certainly do! The energy is electric.

Of course I’m not saying that any other motorsport is less dangerous or anything like that but I will say they these guys get it wrong or something fails, its their bodies that strike the tarmac with very little to protect them.

My work days at these events were mostly taken up by my shot list requirements & making sure I was always in the right place at the right time, however I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get moments to enjoy where I was, to take it in & have what is really the best seat in the house for the proceedings. It was a pleasure to learn all about everything at first & then follow the 2017 BSB championship.

With my anxiety and worry leading up to round one, the unknown of it all, did I enjoy working my first ever 4 rounds of BSB? Hells yeah I did! I loved it, I enjoyed the energy, the speed, the noise, the teams, the fans, honestly I can keep going… but the riders to me, their attitude, the way they held themselves in a win & in a defeat, I truly admire that above all else. Yeh for sure I think they are crazy but I admire that crazy & I am honoured to have captured some moments from their 2017 season.

Words & pictures by Dan Fegent

Vlogs

Cutting Room Floor

EventVideo

Behind the scenes: Formula G Pilot TV Show

18th November 2017 — by Fueltopia Events

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Back in July the Fueltopia event team headed to Rockingham Motor Speedway to host their first event at the iconic racing venue.

Taking over the entire outer paddock the Formula G, Gymkhana track was set out and the sun shone on for what was set to be an epic day of head to head racing.

Not only was this venue a first for Formula G, we also held a competition to give drivers and supporters the chance to design the track. Some great designs were entered but our winning track was drawn by Philip Staniford of Monkey Drift.

Photographers and Videographers are common place in the paddock and track side at events, capturing all the action, but on this occasion we sent Fueltographer Dave Cox to Rockingham to capture a behind the scenes look at what, new to full scale motorsport broadcast media team CTRL was getting up to at round 4.

CTRL the team behind RC Racing TV contacted us earlier this year with a vision of using their expertise gained in producing programs about radio controlled cars to create a new pilot for a TV show all about Gymkhana. They see it as the new breakthrough in racing and something different to what is currently shown on many motoring channels.

When first looking at this project, Mat the director said “As soon as we saw the events that Fueltopia did we loved how exciting, accessible and ‘real’ the racing was, we cant wait to show this to everyone else too”. Kitted up with 5 cameramen, 3 high rise platforms and our very own Nigel Pope on the mic, we were extremely excited to see what this could become.

The team was there to capture everything they could and turn it into a pilot TV show soon to be released on national channels.

On completion of the project Mat is looking ahead to an exciting year and working together with the Fueltopia event team. “Making the pilot was a blast” he said” the whole Formula G team and the racers have been awesome to work with and we are ready to share the excitement and serve more of this up to viewers in 2018″

So make yourself a cup of tea, click the link below, enjoy the next 24 minutes of Formula G Round 4 action and if this makes you want to join us as a driver or spectator next year drop Becci our event manager an email with any queries and follow our facebook page for 2018 updates

 

 

 

Event

FBS goes Live at Japshow finale

2nd October 2017 — by Craig Toull

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The 5th round of the 2017 Fueltopia Barrel Sprint took place on 1st October and saw the FBS championship integrating with the Japshow Finale at Santa Pod Raceway. The Barrel Sprint track moved to the Live action arena to provide entertainment to those coming straight through the gate, giving the spectators a grandstand view of the action from the top of the hill. The smaller width with less run off, brung the concrete blocks closer alongside the track, giving a new mental challenge to the drivers.

The morning practice began on a wet and very greasy track surface, this causing even the current championship leaders a few teething issues. Once the drivers had dialed in the conditions and the surface started to dry the times started to drop. Practice continued until lunchtime and the drivers started to prepare themselves for qualifying, with only a few weeks to go until the Gymkhana Grid Finals in South Africa some of the drivers had made rather drastic alterations to their vehicles (including totally new engines, addition of race fuel and whole new engine calibrations) and this gave them the perfect opportunity to test the cars before they are loaded onto a boat.

After a short lunch break a further 30 mins of practice was given to the drivers before qualifying. This also saw the return of Jake Archer in a borrowed car take to the track. Qualifying began after the practice session and it was soon very apparent that there were going to be some very close battles.

Qualifying results were in and it would see a top 16 format in RWD, top 4 in AWD, top 3 in U1 and top 2 in FWD. Battles commenced and results started to come in, the times were that close it came down to reaction times on the 3rd and 4th position battle for RWD, Ryan Milton vs Philip Staniford in their turbocharged MX5s, the win went to Philip in his military inspired MX5. The final battle seeing Mike Newland and Adam Elder go head to head for 1st place, Adam taking the top spot and putting Mike in 2nd.

Again in the 4WD class reaction time would be the deciding factor, after a quick check it was found that with only a 0.1 second reaction time difference we would see Jonathan Buck get the top spot, with Dmitrij Sribnyj taking 2nd and Andrew Stevens in 3rd.

U1 class would see Andy Biddle taking 1st place, Nick Biddle taking 2nd and Tim Eardley taking 3rd.

Front wheel drive class only involved 2 drivers this weekend, Sean Franklin in his Ford puma and Jake Archer borrowing Seans puma. The win would unexpectedly go to Jake in the borrowed car.

The final round of the year takes place in 2 weeks time at Santa Pod Raceway and if you would like to be involved then visit the FBS website for more information, make sure your car meets the minimum requirements and turn up with your driving licence for a chance to be on that podium.

Photos and words by Craig Toull

Additional photo content:

Event

Barrel Sprint Rocks

2nd August 2017 — by Craig Toull

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Saturday the 29th of July saw the Fueltopia Barrel Sprint return for round 3 of the 2017 championship.

This time instead of the usual venue of Santa Pod Raceway, the barrel sprint track was setup at Rockingham Motor Speedway. With a slightly cambered track surface in the outer paddock and a different surface material this would make for interesting results.

With perfect track conditions the drivers were setting blisteringly quick times during practice. Some already surpassing the times set at previous events held at Santa Pod with times down as low as 18.1 seconds .

This event also saw the return of Hadley Fulbrook in his S14 (nicknamed the smurf) and after not competing all season it soon became apparent he was here for only one thing and that was a podium finish. With everyone already working out where they would be on the leader board through points it could really stir things up if someone else came into the mix and took a podium position.

After a short break for lunch we went into qualifying and it was soon apparent just how close the times were between all the drivers, Nobody could call it from spectating and everyone gathered around the podium to hear the results. With only 0.18 seconds splitting the top 3 drivers it’s no wonder no one could guess.

It was then straight into the battles, which saw some even closer racing than the rest of the day and the times fall even lower. Going into the finals would be Adam Elder against Hadley Fulbrook in the RWD class, Dmitrij Sribnyj against Yordan Andreev in AWD class and Andrew Biddle against Mark Elder in U1 class.

The results of the finals aren’t released until after the race so everyone gathered around the podium to wait for the results….

RWD- 1st place-Adam Elder, 2nd place Hadley Fulbrook and 3rd place going to Mike Newland.

AWD-1st place-Dmitrij Sribnyj, 2nd place Yordan Andreev and 3rd place going to Andrew Stevens.

U1- 1st place- Andrew Biddle, 2nd place Mark Elder, and 3rd place Nick Biddle

Each event has a hardcharger award, this was awarded to Oak Richardson in his 350z on his first ever event.

Words and photos by Craig Toull