A Weekend Of World RX In Portugal
Practice Makes Perfect

In the eight years that I’ve been involved with Speedhunters, I’ve noticed the average reader becoming less interested in racing and more interested in car culture they can relate to themselves.

I guess I’m stuck in my old ways; as much as I love travelling the world shooting street cars and the lifestyle that surrounds them, I still find myself having the time of my life covering motorsport events.

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I kind of understand the disconnect though, because looking in from the outside, racing at the highest level is beyond reach for most. I think Ken Block understands it too, which is why outside of competition he puts so much effort into entertaining those with different interests in cars with his Gymkhana videos.

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I’ve followed Ken and the gang many times before, but for the Portuguese round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship I wanted to take a different approach with my coverage.

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For Ken, teammate Andreas Bakkerud, and the Hoonigan Racing Division crew, testing started a few days prior to the main event at the Lousada rallycross circuit.

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Portugal is rallycross crazy, and as soon as testing started a small crowd gathered out of nowhere. A few of the locals brought out some clean cars themselves, including this Ford Escort Mk1.

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With the exception of the livery, which is the Felipe Pantone style from 2016, the Ford Focus RSRX practice car is exactly the same as the M-Sport machines used by Ken and Andreas in competition this year.

I thought I would never see this livery again, but it was a welcomed sight, even if the car has seen some battle action. It’s really interesting to see what sort of damage a World RX Supercar sustains, so I made a point of capturing the details and textures. You can check out many more in the Cutting Room Floor chapter.

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The Lousada track is very historic and previously was used as part of a WRC stage. It’s literally in the middle of a city too; those are apartment buildings in the background.

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The reason why the Hoonigan team bring out a practice car all comes down to the lack of test time before qualifying at a World RX round. Even if everything goes to plan, you may only get eight practice laps in; if something breaks it will be even less. Either way, it’s not much seat time, especially if it’s an unfamiliar track.

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Andreas went first and got a number of crucial practice laps in to collect data and whatever else the team needs to make adjustments before the weekend.

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Then Ken jumped in, but driving a 600hp beast after travelling across the world and not sleeping for 30 hours made it tough for him to push out perfect laps. He powered through it though, and before we knew it the test day was over.

Race Weekend
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The actual Portuguese round was held at Montalégre, another one of the country’s dedicated rallycross circuits. Since I was traveling with the drivers I did miss out on a few behind-the-scenes activities, like pit setup and the pre-event car prep.

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The crew have a laundry list of maintenance and preparation jobs to take care of before and during a World RX round, but just like WRC only a set number of mechanics can work on a car at any given time. It helps bring parity between the major and minor teams. Yellow arm/foot bands allow officials to do a quick head count and ensure everyone is playing by the rules.

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Mr. Comic Relief is always on hand to prolong the process. Andreas’s story may be familiar to some of you long-time Speedhunters readers: a young Norwegian boy with dreams of becoming a professional racing driver; pushes harder than you could ever imagine; ends up in a factory-backed team. Sounds like Fredric Aasbø’s story, doesn’t it?

While everyone on the team is there because of their extreme technical skills and racing experience, they are such a blast to be around. I see the same guys at all of Ken’s races and his short film shoots.

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A World RX round takes in two days; the first day is practice and qualifying and the first set of heats, and the second consists of a quick two-lap warm-up, two more qualifying races, the semi-finals and of course the main event. It may sound like it has a long run time, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not. Compared to sports car racing or even drifting the laps are few and far between.

The access in and around this particular race track was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in rallycross. Because it was designed specifically for this motorsport, there were an unlimited number of photographer vantage points to shoot from.

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Every competitor has to make the most out of each session, but because the Focus RSRX is still relatively new, both Ken and Andreas had to push their cars to the limit in different ways to find the best time.

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I was surprised that the Montalégre course didn’t feature any jumps, but what it lacked there it made up for with some of the meanest curbs I’ve ever seen.

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Prior to this I’d only been to one World RX event before, and I was quickly reminded of just how much harder it is to get a large number of good shots compared to Red Bull Global Rallycross in the US. It all comes down to that aforementioned lack of practice and run time.

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The dirt section was very smooth, and because it was a permanent track it did not need to be groomed as much. There were water sprinklers all around the course that would wet the track in between heats.

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But regardless of whether it was tarmac, which made up 60 percent of the course, or dirt for the remaining 40 percent, every inch of the 0.95km (0.6mi) long track was used to advantage.

The background was absolutely stunning too.

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Once again, it was so awesome to see Petter Solberg behind the wheel, but this time in a Volkswagen. He was literally sideways around every corner, even when it was only the slightest of bends.

And it’s always great to see Sébastien Loeb drive. I was lucky enough to follow him during his record-breaking Pikes Peak run and I’ve looked forward to shooting him on the dirt ever since.

Fan Mail
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In between runs there’s a huge scramble in the pits to get the cars ready for the next race.

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While that’s happening, the drivers are doing one of three things. Firstly, there’s interaction with the fans, and both Ken and Andreas have large followings. In fact, last year Andreas’s hometown fans hired a Boeing 737 to fly them from Norway to Latvia so they could watch him race.

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When they’re not meeting fans in between racing sessions, you’ll find both drivers inside the rig. Sometimes it’s studying replay footage and taking mental notes on their next race, while others times it’s meeting with spotters, engineers and the crew chief.

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On top of the mental preparation, there’s physical preparation too. For warm-up and hand/eye coordination, the guys hit this rubber ball on a string, which is a whole lot of fun. Check out this great video Hoonigan’s Ron Zaras made.

Maximum Attack
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Although there are less cars on track and less laps compared to Global Rallycross, the action was super-close from the fast guys down to the lower end. Making it to the finals was a big challenge for everyone.

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The cars look absolutely amazing though. Ken’s new livery is out-of-this-world cool to look at in person and in pictures; I really wonder how they always come up with new and interesting designs.

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The only time Ken and Andreas met during competition was in one of the heats, where they finished first and second, but there wasn’t a lot else for the Hoonigan team to celebrate at World RX Portugal.

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During one of Andreas’s qualifying races he lost a tire; even after so much planning and analyzing of sector times and car setup there are still things that you can’t predict. Then in his semi-final, he failed to run his mandatory ‘Joker’ lap – a longer lap that every driver must complete once during a race – which resulted in 30-second penalty. It was an honest mistake that came about after a radio malfunction.

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Ken also dipped out of final contention after finishing 5th in his semi-final (only the top three went through). It was Mattias Ekström who ultimately took the round win and the points to maintain his #1 ranking in the 2017 World RX championship standings.

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Regardless of the outcome, I’m on cloud nine every time I get to shoot with the Hoonigan team. I really hope you enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the Portugal event, and don’t forget to check out the massive gallery chapter below.

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

Cutting Room Floor
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19 comments

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1
Peter Bruschi

Larry, love your work, especially the race coverage! You get some great shots that a lot of us can't!
I think the whole thing about racing is that it can be a hurdle for some to get into, whether they're into cars or not. Watching it through a screen simply does not compare to the sights, sounds, and smells that you get when you're at the track. I've brought a lot of friends to their first races and by the time they leave, they're already hooked and hungry for more.
You don't even have to pay big bucks and go to a huge event, there's plenty of local short tracks and grassroots stuff around if you look for it. I'm in the USA and I use a site called http://racingin.com/ to find tracks as I travel. I click on the map, find a track, and check the track website for a schedule. Any time between April and September, you're sure to find something fun to go to.

2
www.streetstatik.com

HAHA that 3D effect on the focus RS makes every photo look like you missed focus... excuse the pun

3

Block's videos - are they really about "the disconnect" or some mumbo jumbo philosophy or is it strategic marketing? More shrewd advertising and an avenue for his own hedonistic pursuits. Kudos for him doing that, but don't make him out to be sensitive to those who admire but will never get to experience these cars or this type of driving.

4
Jean-Michel Thise

"In the eight years that I’ve been involved with Speedhunters, I’ve noticed the average reader becoming less interested in racing and more interested in car culture they can relate to themselves."

This is actually what makes me read less of Speedhunters than before. I think car culture coverage should stay wide. And, to be honnest, those last times, i feel like i click on my Speedhunters tab by habit, like i always do, and most of the time, close it instantly beceause there is no content i'm interrested in. I wish for more racecars coverage. I love when Dino show us some close up of what's under GT500 cars. I wish we had the same with LeMans and GT cars of those days. I miss a technical approach. Racing is here to teach us, and for a time, Speedhunters was here as a resource and inspiration to build. Now, i see more and more stanced cars, or drift cars, or RWB.

But, as you say, reader is interrested in what is related to themselve. So maybe it explains why, since i'm a belgian guy who grew up in racing at 5 mins from Spa Francorchamps, and who is fabricating carbon fiber parfs for a living.

I'm not here to flame him, but when i see an RWB article popping up about every two weeks, with always the same car with the same bodykit with more or less the same story about a guy who charges 300k€ for instaling a 5k€ bodykit on some car of a rich dude and it's awesome,.. i feel a bit ashemed of car culture, and it feels a bit redondant to me.

So, why is that? Buisness deals to promote RWB? Lack of inspiration? There could be some coverage of WTAC, with a look about all the interresting technical things going on there? A look into a racing team, or a glimpse what's happening behind the scenes of manufacturers developping their brand new GT Cars? Coverage of older cars wich are not "secret" anymore, like an old JGTC NSX? For example, an article i personally really enjoyed was the birth of the hoonicorn, explaining how it has been built and thought. Or that article about the Zachspeed Calibra? I feel we miss that kind of article in the past years. I mean, it doesnt even have to be track racing only. It can be Baja too, it can be WRC, , it can be anything. I feel like there is enough to interrest to.

But that's my point on the subject, and maybe that's not what your traffic tells you. But you should consider hiring a motorsport journalist. Who knows?

5
Paddy McGrath

I mostly agree with your sentiment. If I could, I would spend more time shooting motorsport and its every detail and nuance, as it's what I was raised on. Larry is right, though. The average reader does not relate to motorsport on Speedhunters.

As we only have a finite budget, it has to be best allocated to stories which engage and resonate with our readers. There's no point in spending thousands of dollars to send a contributor to cover an event that ultimately nobody will read. It sucks, but it is what it is.

For the longest time, I refused to accept this and even payed out of my own pocket to cover F1 to try and prove a point that we just weren't covering it in the right way, I was wrong, and it was the last time we covered an F1 event in detail on Speedhunters (~4 years ago).

I'm not ruling out motorsport on Speedhunters, far from it, but I wouldn't expect it to become the backbone of the site in future.

6
Christian Clark

Please, please talk to the powers that be and get that changed. This site needs to be grounded in real motorsports or else it becomes all flash and no substance.

7
Paddy McGrath

It's nothing to do with the powers that be. Comparatively speaking, people don't read motorsport on Speedhunters. It's as simple as that.

8

I read 99.9% of the articles you put out regardless of whether I'm interested in it or not. (Maybe I'm messing the ratings up?) haha

9
Paddy McGrath

I'm loving the low-vis media vests xD

10

There's one with your name on it Paddy..... come visit already.

11
Paddy McGrath

I'll hold you to that. Hope you're good!

12

Will you stay in Portugal to cover the next WRC event?

13
Martin Barratt

I bet that Chromatic Aberration livery gave you loads of fun in the edit Larry

14

In his semi final Andreas hit another car and resulted in damaging his and other driver's cars. He missed joker lap in one of the Qualification races.

15

Stunning work as ever Larry, fantastic to see you covering the World Rallycross Championship again. I am yet to go to Montalagre, but the track looks spectacular so I really must give it some serious consideration.

I must confess I'm not that big a fan of this years Hoonigan livery: I think it looks permanently out of focus! Real shame that the team don't seem to have had much luck this year, as Bakkerud was flying in the second half of the 2016 season.

Minor spot: your comment about seeing Solberg sideways, that is Johan Kristoffersson in the picture! Epic shot though!

16

Love the Racing Scene!!! I look toward the racing scene first and foremost for any modification and style pointers...never the car show scene filled with chrome to the teeth. Would love to see some WTCC or BTCC coverage on SH someday... as the Honda Type R is kicking some serious German ass right now! It's the David and Goliath love story we all love to enjoy...

The Rally scene has some of the best style out there. Love the Blue wheels. I see more colored wheels in motoGP than auto racing where it's mostly black wheels so it brings much joy to see a bit of motoGP influence. Cheers and keep hunting them speed!

17

LARRY! Im super curious about what glass you use to get these awesome shots.

From an inspiring photographer.

18

Good coverage of a RX event. Pictures don't show how intense these events are!

But come on Larry, as a fellow journalist your stories are getting a little long in the tooth. Tell the facts and leave yourself out of the story. It sounds like a fanboy at a car show, overly impressed with the "cool" people they meet and places you go to on someone else's dime.
And is there no editor to take out the frequent hyperbole, such as "unlimited number of photographer vantage points to shoot from"? Really, I would think there are only so many...

19

Speedhunters is all about opinion. We are not a news publication.

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