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Event

Rear View Mirror 2016

14th December 2016 — by Steve White

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It pains me to admit it, but sometimes there are very rare occasions when motorsport isn’t the most important thing in life. I’m immensely proud of everything I have achieved this year but, in order to fit it all in, compromises had to be made with regards to the number of motorsport excursions I was able to make in 2016.

Knowing that I’d be unable to attend the quantity of events I wanted, my focus for this year instead shifted to ensuring that the quality of those outings I could make was as high as possible.

Despite the aforementioned compromises, I was at least able to get 2016 underway in the usual fashion: with rallycross of course! Round 2 of the British Rallycross Championship  also constituted part of the Belgian Rallycross Championship, so there were good entry numbers throughout the multiple Championship classes.

It was great to see the return of several British Championship stalwarts alongside a number of fresh faces. There was a notably high rate of attrition in the Supercar category, with several of the title favourites encountering difficulties throughout the day.

As the familiar names fell by the wayside, it was Supercar rookie Dan Rooke who made his way to the front of the field and went on to take the win. With Lydden marking his second podium finish in as many rounds, it was an early indication that Rooke was going to be one to watch.

From the mixed surfaces of Lydden, my next stop for 2016 was the hallowed tarmac of Brands Hatch for the first round of the British GT Championship. British GT seems to be in great health at the moment, with each round of the National Championship attracting large and varied entries. The presence of several BMW Z4’s on the grid at Brands really served as the icing on the cake, as I just can’t get enough of BMW Motorsports hardcore take on Barbie’s favourite Bimmer.

The opening British GT round gave me my first chance to see the GT3 variant of the Lamborghini Huracan in the metal and I liked it. I liked it a lot. The sound wasn’t quite on par with my beloved Z4 GT3 but, in terms of looks, the Huracan definitely gives the BMW a run for its money.

Barely a month had passed since my British GT outing when I found myself heading back to Brands to once again savour the sights and sounds of GT3 cars. The second round of the Blancpain GT Sprint Cup marked a rather significant milestone in the history of GT3 racing: it was 10 years to the weekend since the competitive debut of the class. The success of GT3 was reflected in the entry list, which was far greater in size than it had been on past visits to Brands Hatch.

As well as a packed main grid, the 2016 Blancpain round at Brands also boasted a much fuller support package than previous years. The Sport Club race was hugely entertaining, though it was the cars of the Hyperclub that proved the biggest draw to spectators. Not only were there a plethora of exotics present in the paddock, but many of them were taken out on track for a damn good thrashing.

Mettet would be one of three World Rallycross Championship rounds I was able to attend in 2016 and Belgium was the first occasion I could lay eyes on the M-Sport Ford Focus RS RX. I personally rate the M-Sport Fiesta as the best looking car in the current crop of rally and rallycross cars, so I was eager to see how the Focus compared.

Hoonigan Racing team mates Ken Block and Andreas Bakkerud were both plagued by technical gremlins but, amidst the problems, glimpses of the true capability of the car could be seen.

Few were surprised to see the big names at the front end of the field in the World Championship races, but it was the success of the younger drivers in the European Championship battles that caught many by surprise. Defending European Champion Tommy Rustad looked outpaced by the likes of Joni-Pekka Rajala and Kevin Hansen. Much like Dan Rooke, Kevin Hansen was a name that rallycross spectators would become very familiar with in 2016.

Round four of the World Rallycross Championship took place at Lydden Hill just a fortnight after Belgium. Andreas Bakkerud demonstrated how rapidly development of the Focus RS RX was progressing, with a surge of pace that saw him qualify on the back row of the final. Mechanical woes would prevent him from challenging for a podium spot, but it was a clear sign that Bakkerud was ready to enter the fray as a serious title challenger.

Petter Solberg just pipped Matias Ekstrom to victory at Lydden last year and it looked like he would do the same again in 2016, with Solberg falling just short of a perfect set of qualifying races and absolutely blitzing the field in his semi-final. Ekstrom is a wily opponent though and in the final he edged out Petter by the narrowest of margins to take his third successive win of the season.

There were a plethora of Americas finest to ogle at American Speedfest IV but, for the second year in a row, it was the brutal Formula 5000 machinery that stole the show for me. The raw simplicity of these cars illustrates everything that is wrong with the current crop of premier open wheel racing cars.

I was unable to get my Le Mans fix in 2015 and the withdrawal hit me hard, so I was desperate not to miss out again in 2016. Le Mans never fails to disappoint and there was close racing throughout the classes, however it was the fight in LMP1 that proved most memorable. 12 hours in and the top three were just seconds apart. In the latter stages of the race the number 5 Toyota managed to stretch out a slim lead and victory looked assured…

…but with just 6 minutes to go, the TS050 began to slow, before grinding to a halt by the pit wall. The ending of the 2016 24 hours of Le Mans was absolutely heart breaking to watch, where even rival teams expressed sympathy for the distraught Japanese manufacturer. Still, although Porsche may have stood on the top step of the podium, the unclassified Toyota is the car I’ll remember.

My list of “must see” car shows has slowly dwindled over the years, but the Festival of Speed is one of the few exceptions. Even after a decade of attendance, I still cite it as an essential weekend for any motorsport fan. Virtually every discipline is represented in some form and, whatever your preference, I guarantee there will be at least one vehicle there to excite you.

As the car that ignited my passion for motorsport, watching Ryan Champion slide his Group A Impreza around the (critically underrated) Goodwood Forest Rally Stage was my personal highlight of the day. I’m sure many people in attendance were cursing the grey skies, but as the precipitation greatly reduced the grips levels on the rally stage, I was silently praising the wet stuff.

I considered myself very fortunate to get an invitation to the inaugural 6R4.net track day in 2015, so I was flattered to be invited back again in 2016. The formula of the event remained largely unchanged from 2015 but, given how much I had enjoyed that, I wasn’t complaining!

Heavy showers during the afternoon did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the drivers and the cars continued to run in the driving rain. It was a privilege to be able to watch the owners put these valuable classics through their paces and I was especially grateful to them for continuing to show off despite the slippery track conditions.

The August Bank Holiday round of the British Rallycross Championship has been a mainstay of my annual motorsport agenda for a decade now and, as long as it continues to deliver great racing, rallycross will always be my priority.

Proving that his win at round 2 was no fluke, Dan Rooke took a lights-to-flag victory in the Supercar final at round 6. Rooke maintained his form at the subsequent round of the Championship, where he claimed second place and, with it, the 2016 British Rallycross Championship. Dan is the youngest ever driver to take the British Championship and I hope we see him back to defend his title – and perhaps even challenge some of Europe’s finest – in 2017.

As the World Rallycross Championship passed its midpoint, the Championship battle was impossible to call. Petter Solberg arrived at round 8 in Loheac as the points leader, but he was unable to match the pace of his closest rival, Mattias Ekstrom, and by the end of the qualification stage Ekstrom had reduced the point deficit between the title rivals to zero.

Neither Ekstrom nor Solberg would set foot on the podium though. With Ekstrom failing to make it past the semi-final stage, Johan Kristoffersson fended off all challengers and led the final from start to finish. The damp conditions produced the best days racing I have seen at Loheac and made for a great conclusion to my World Rallycross Championship attendance in 2016.

World Rallycross weekends have consistently been the highlight of my motorsport expeditions over the last few years and I’m desperate to fit as many of them as possible into 2017.

As the summer drew to a close, it became apparent that my year had been rather lacking in two wheeled motorsport, but a trip to Swingfield in September was to rectify that. Not only was I able to check out some very sideways motorcycles, but the program at the European Grasstrack Final also incorporated two classes of sidecars as well.

The solo riders were fantastic to watch, but it was the sidecars that made the biggest impression. Watching a 1000cc sidecar tearing up a field is an incredible spectacle and I am certain that my first visit to a grasstrack event won’t be my last.

With the end of the season looming, I had just enough time left to sneak a visit in to my most local motocross track, Canada Heights, for the final round of the British Sidecarcross and Quad Championship. The sidecars here may not have been quite as rapid (or sideways) as their grasstrack counterparts, but what they lacked in speed they made up for with altitude.

However the highest fliers of the day were undoubtedly the quad riders. I briefly rode a quad on the flat and felt that a trip to casualty was an inevitability, so I have a great deal of respect for the British Quad Championship riders. Flinging a quad through the trees is a tricky task in itself: and that is before you factor in the other 30 lunatics all trying to do the same thing!

My final outing of the year was a slight deviation to the norm in that it concerned virtual, rather than physical, racing. Two years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to drop into Codemasters studio in Southam and I returned again in late November for another behind the scenes look at proceedings.  Much awesomeness was demonstrated and many cool things were seen: but that’s about all I’m legally allowed to tell you!

Despite containing far less motoring content than I would have liked, 2016 has definitely been a year where quality has triumphed over quantity. When compiling end-of-year reviews in the past I have often omitted events that have fallen short of my expectations, but everything I attended this year has seemed worthy of mention.

Typically I would bemoan the lack of motorsport over the winter, but I’m actually rather grateful for it this year: the more work I can do during the quiet spell now, the more events I should be able to fit into 2017!

 

Want to see more? Click here for the full albums from 2016.

Event

World Rallycross Championship Round 8 – Loheac

22nd September 2016 — by Steve White

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The last time we featured the World Rallycross Championship here on Fueltopia, the focus had been on round 4 of the Championship where Mattias Ekstrom had seen off double Champion Petter Solberg to claim his third successive victory of 2016.

Ekstrom’s winning streak cited him as the dominant force in this year’s Championship. However motorsport is rarely a foregone conclusion and, with three more rounds completed since Lydden Hill, the terrain has shifted again. Solberg reclaimed the overall lead in Canada, but while Petter and Mattias have been driving tactically and accumulating as many safe points as possible (if there is such a thing in rallycross), the rest of the field have been significantly reducing the gap to the Championship leaders.

Rapidly gaining on the lead pair of Solberg and Ekstrom is Hoonigan Racing driver Andreas Bakkerud. Following a slightly erratic start to 2016, Andreas quickly closed the divide thanks to wins in both Norway and Sweden, followed by a second in Canada.

After a trough in his results at rounds four and five, Johan Kristoffersson also scored well in both Sweden and Canada. Like Bakkerud good results have propelled Johan to the upper echelons of the points table and, as a consequence, what had previously looked like a two horse title race early in the season is now much more open.

I had high hopes for Ken Block at round 8. Two years ago I watched Block make his second European Rallycross appearance at Loheac when he absolutely flew in the M-Sport Fiesta. In fact Ken set the fastest lap time over that weekend by a considerable margin, which was mighty impressive given that it was his first visit to the track.

Although Block has seemed to struggle with the transition to the Focus RS RX, there were definite signs of improvement in Canada and I hoped that, on a familiar circuit, Ken would continue that trend.

Pleasingly those hopes proved well founded, as Block delivered one of his most consistent performances of the season. 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.

It was interesting to see that Hoonigan Racing had a third Focus RS RX present at the circuit. This Focus has recently shot to fame in Gymkhana 9 and I understand the car is to be employed by the team to both increase driver seat time and further develop the RS RX so, in theory at least, there should be even more to come from Block, Bakkerud and the Focus RS RX in the latter half of the season.

Notably – though perhaps unsurprisingly given the location of round 8 – the Peugeot 208 was the most common car to be found in the Supercar class. Albatec Racing were one of several teams who arrived at Loheac in force with 2015 European Champion Tommy Rustad and Albatec team principle Andy Scott joined by French driver Philippe Maloigne in a third Peugeot 208.

OMSE also deployed French reserves, with the team running a third Fiesta for Yann Le Jossec. Although not quite as popular as the Peugeot 208, the Fiesta was another common shape in the paddock with several privately entered cars competing alongside the Fords of Championship stalwarts Olsbergs and Team Austria.

It’s odd how the situation seems to have reversed between OMSE and Team Austria: I can distinctly recall a moment at Lydden last year when I watched a Fiesta from each of the teams cornering round North Bend: the OMSE car looked planted and controlled, whereas the Team Austria car was pitching all over the place to the extent where it looked absolutely undriveable. 18 months down the line and the Team Austria cars are not only on par with the OMSE Fiestas, but arguably even stronger. Were it not for a string of bad luck, the team would have surely had several podium finishes this year.

With Liam Doran no longer competing for JRM, the teams recently completed 2.0 litre MINI Countryman had been unused since Doran’s last drive at round six in Sweden. The car was placed in the hands of Guerlain Chicherit in Loheac, with Gurelain making the first of three planned outings in the MINI.

Unfortunately Chicherit’s weekend was to be short one, with JRM announcing the retirement of the car before the end of the first day of racing. With only a fortnight between Loheac and round nine in Barcelona it seemed like the team had insufficient time to address the engine gremlins, as both of the JRM cars suffered issues again in Spain. With another short window before round ten, I really hope the team are able to identify the defect and get the cars back up to speed.

Petter Solberg got his weekend off to a flying start with an absolutely incredible move around the outside of turn one. Alas the manoeuvre was to be wasted as, just a lap into the race, the red flag came out and the racing was halted due to the presence of a stricken car on track.

The car in question belonged to Team Austria driver Timur Timerzyanov who found himself the victim of bad luck yet again. Contact during the first corner resulted in the Team Austria Fiesta being spun around, where it then slid backwards across the track before slamming into the barrier on the outside of turn two. The impact sounded horrendous, but with the huge cloud of dust kicked up from the pack it was hard to gauge just how severe the crash had been…

…it was only when the dust cleared that the extent of the damage became clear. Even from the front you could immediately tell that the rear end of the Fiesta had been absolutely obliterated. With significant damage to the structure of the car, the weekend was over for Timerzyanov. After showing such promise in qualifying I had really hoped Loheac would be the race where Timur could make his long overdue return to the top of the podium, but it wasn’t to be.

With the damaged Fiesta removed from the circuit, the qualifying race was restarted and Solberg once again attempted another bold overtaking move through the opening corners. Alas things didn’t go the way of Petter second time around and he found himself stuck in traffic. Solberg still managed to post a respectable time, but it was only good enough for sixth overall and surely frustrating for Petter based on his position before the stoppage. Adding salt to the wound was the news that his main Championship rival had posted the fastest time of qualifying one.

In fact the first day of racing would belong to Mattias Ekstrom, who dominated both qualifying one and two with quickest time in both races. Andreas Bakkerud sat in second overall with the local favourite Sebastien Loeb in third. Tenth in qualifying two left Petter Solberg languishing in seventh overall and, although he was still in line for a spot in the semi-final, Ekstrom already looked poised to eliminate the narrow Championship point gap.

Complementing the Supercars and Super 1600 classes over the weekend was the French Twingo R1 cup. Much like the Suzuki Swift Championship here in the UK, the cars are all identical specification and, despite not being the quickest thing on track, they provide some great racing with big pack battles.

Slotted in between the racing the track was handed over to the V8 pairing of the French Xtreme Show and Vaughn Gittin Jnr., the latter of whom proved that professional drifters aren’t just limited to tarmac.

It was all change for day two as, for the first time in four visits to Loheac, the skies turned grey. Rain began to fall before the morning practice session started and, once cars hit the track, it didn’t take long to realize that the circuit conditions were clearly very different to those from the first day of action.

Aside for the obvious reduction in traction, it was also notable that the damp conditions were keeping the loose surface in place. Having never seen racing at Loheac in anything other than dry, sunny, conditions, I have been used to seeing the loose surface being quickly swept aside and a fast line appearing. That most definitely wasn’t the case this year, and it was only towards the very end of the day when a line began to clear.

Much like the Supercars, the 2016 Super 1600 title fight has been a close one. Ulrik Linnemann led Krisztian Szabo by just a single point after the third round in Sweden and both were looking to gain the upper hand at round four of the Super 1600 Championship in France. Entry numbers in the class were high, so both drivers had their hands full with the Championship regulars and numerous local entrants all vying for positions.

Surprisingly neither Linnemann or Szabo looked that strong in the opening qualifying round, with the fastest time being secured by Kaparas Navickas. Navickas went on to deliver a stellar performance over the course of the weekend, qualifying second overall and finishing second in semi-final two. A close race with Enzo Libner and Maximilien Eveno in the final saw him miss out on a podium position, but it was still a great result for Kaparas and his distinctive Fabia.

With Ulrik Linnemann having a disastrous qualifying three, Krisztian Szabo was free to claim the top qualifying spot and, with Linnemann only able to secure fifth, Szabo scored enough additional points at the intermediate stage to take the Championship lead.

Racing together in both the first semi-final and the final Krisztian and Ulrik had their own battle out front, a duel which Szabo eventually won. First by just over half a second, Krisztian took maximum points and with it the Super 1600 Championship lead.

Linnemann and Szabo continued their scrap in Barcelona last weekend, with Ulrik taking the overall win and snatching the Championship lead back in the process. The Super 1600 Championship concludes in Germany next month and I have no doubt that there will be another close fight between the two drivers for both race victory and the Championship title.

The first days qualifying races had unquestionably belonged to Mattias Ekstrom, but on day two a new contender came to the fore. After scraping into the top ten on day one, Johan Kristofferson absolutely blitzed qualifying three and four, setting fastest time in both races and leaping up to second in the intermediate standings.

Mattias Ekstrom was very slightly off the pace set by Johan in qualifying three and four. That’s not to say he was slow, but second and third in qualifying three and four respectively was still more than enough to enable him to top the intermediate qualification. With Petter Solberg placing fifth, he was awarded four less points than Mattias and, as the drivers lined up for the semi-finals, the Championship point gap between those two had been reduced to zero.

Completing the top 12 Supercars was Albatec Racing principal Andy Scott. Given the presence of both the reigning European Champion Tommy Rustad and local talent Philippe Maloigne in the team, Andy was the last Albatec driver I expected to see in the semi-final. Scott seemed much better suited to the damp conditions on Sunday though (which was not entirely surprising given his nationality) and it was great to see a British driver make it to the semi-finals.

With Ekstrom starting on the front row of the first semi-final his place in the final seemed assured. A stunning drive from Andreas Bakkerud saw Mattias having to settle for second but, with Petter behind him, it looked like Ekstrom would still score an additional point over his rival and thus take the Championship lead.

However with just two corners to go it became evident that Ekstrom had a puncture. As Mattias drastically slowing before the final corner, Petter plowed into the back of him, causing Ekstrom to run wide. With the door open fourth place Reinis Nitiss tucked in behind Solberg, passing Ekstrom and snatching third – and the last grid slot in the final – from Mattias.

Round 8 of the Championship marked the last occasion that Reinis Nitiss would drive the Munnich Motorsport run Seat Ibiza. Pleasingly Nitiss would leave the team on a high, posting his best result of the season with fifth place in the final.

Without Ekstrom to worry about in the final, the biggest threat to Johan Kristoffersson looked to come from Andreas Bakkerud. Lining up together on the front row of the grid Andreas ideally needed Johan to bog down in order to make a move around the outside. Bakkerud would have no such luck though, as Kristoffersson made a perfect start, cleaning moving to the head of the pack as they swept through the opening corners.

As Johan made a break for it, a massive scrap unfolded behind him with Bakkerud, Loeb and Solberg all fighting for second place. As the trio exited turn two for the first time Solberg and Bakkerud began trading paint. With the Norwegians tangling with each other and drifting wide in turn three, Loeb moved to the inside and passed them both in one fell swoop. If you hadn’t seen the move then the roar from the French crowd told you exactly what had just happened.

When Loeb first announced his move to circuit racing, many questioned how well Sebastien would be able to deal with traffic. Although there may have been some hesitation in his first races, watching Loeb in the final showed those days were long gone.

Loeb opted to take the joker on lap three and seemingly had no qualms about collecting Bakkerud en route. The manoeuvre ended up working in favour of Andreas as he passed Loeb in the joker and manage to merge back onto the circuit just ahead of Solberg who had taken his joker on lap two. With Block yet to joker the entire pack stacked up behind him as the field crossed the line for the third time.

With an increasing amount of smoke pouring from his left rear tyre, Solberg looked like he was struggling to fend off the advances of Loeb. Petter was given a brief respite as Sebastian had to brush off Ken Block after the joker merge but, on the last lap of the race, Solberg’s defense finally faltered. Petter ran deep into the bottom hairpin corner and Loeb didn’t hesitate, sneaking up the inside, snatching third place and once again sending the French contingent of the crowd into overdrive.

At this point in the race Loeb was too far back to challenge Bakkerud, who in turn was too far away from Kristofferson, and so that is the way the order remained for the last few corners. Although Johan had gone largely unchallenged the mid-pack battle had been fantastic to watch and easily made for the most entertaining final I have spectated at Loheac.

Kristofferson’s victory, coupled with Bakkerud’s second position, also had an interesting effect on the title standings: Johan climbed to third in the standings, with Andreas just one point behind him. In fact the top four competitors in the Championship left Loheac separated by just 24 points.

Round 9 in Barcelona last weekend saw the balance shift yet again, as Mattias Ekstrom took victory while Solberg failed to make it past the semi-final stage. As a consequence Mattias retook the Championship lead from Petter, with Solberg now trailing by 10 points and third place driver Kristoffersson 26 points adrift. That is the biggest the point gap has been for several rounds but, with three rounds left, the Championship race is clearly far from over.

Round 10 takes place next weekend at the brand new Bikernieki rallycross circuit in Latvia. As I am sadly unable to be there, I shall be glued to the TV seeing how it pans out: I would urge you to do the same!

 

Want to see more of the World Rallycross Championship at Loheac? 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.