Bang. Sequential forced into fifth gear and throttle mashed. Bang. Stone after stone peppers the underside of the car. Bang. Suspension forced to full compression after the jump, expected to settle in time for turn one. Bang. Race over in a flash.
Rallycross is utterly mad. It’s about the only logical way I can describe the sport, because the action is intense, the machinery is incredible, and the speed is frightening.
Mad also describes my personal feelings on how I managed to go this far in life without attending an FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX) round before.
While you may have noticed from my contributions to the site since I came on board that I have a bit of a love for traditional rallying, one weekend in Belgium has gone and turned everything I know and love nearly on its head.
More than just the highest echelon of the sport, each and every race across multiple support categories caught my attention, and each was every bit as intense as the big boys that are the true crowd pullers of World RX.
Paddy has already brought some incredible coverage from Benelux, but trust me this sport is so incredible that it deserves another post. As very much the office junior of the SH team, it was also an incredible chance to work alongside our fearless leader for the first time.Road To Spa
Naturally, with a multitude of low-cost airlines criss-crossing the European airspace at any one time, getting from Ireland to Belgium should be a fairly easy and direct proposition. I don’t really work to norms, so a weekend of racing should naturally begin with a Wednesday flight. Makes sense, right? Why go direct when there are a few stops worth making along the way.
First stop: Stuttgart.
The industrial heart of the West, Stuttgart is a busy city with massive factories pumping out huge volumes of product on a daily basis. Two facilities, located on opposite sides of the city, are perhaps more recognisable to readers of this site. The perfect first stop would be at Porscheplatz, the site of one of the most stunning pieces of modern architecture I have ever seen. Inside wasn’t half bad either.
While the number of cars on display may be reasonable, the provenance of the collection is mind blowing. Each turn has my eye fixed on yet another piece of Porsche racing heritage.
After a rather tasty salami sandwich with a rather tasty view, it was time to head across town to the other large museum on my radar, located on Mercedesstrasse.
While the Porsche Museum is nicely contained over a single floor, the Mercedes-Benz Museum is a towering seven-storey history of both the company, and much of the world over the past 150 years. From automotive genesis right through to legendary race cars that I have idolised for years, the home of the pointed star had it all.
The museum here is designed to be enjoyed as a double helix experience, two very different paths to be explored from top to bottom. While one side covered the car output of Mercedes-Benz, the other was a reminder of just how diverse the range is across all manner of vehicular output.
With Stuttgart ticked off, the next morning meant getting a two-hour mix of trains across the German countryside to pick up a hire car, and then head to Spa-Francorchamps. The sat nav read 75 minutes of journey time, but there was a small local track that would only add about an hour of a detour. It would have been a shame not to swing by the ‘Ring, I suppose.
As I rolled into Nürburg, the roads were busy with a string of development mules out testing on the Nordschleife.
Driving around the GP track perimeter, it became apparent that Volkswagen had a sizeable presence set up in a carpark opposite the old pits. The branding, proudly displaying Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record times, gave it away, as the incredible VW I.D. R was set to hit the track that afternoon in the hands of Romain Dumas. I just about got to Brünnchen to see – but most definitely not hear – the electric machine fly past at a rather frightening pace.
Quick visit over, next stop would be Belgium and the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. A name synonymous with F1, the allure of the place is what forced me to pop my rallycross cherry.
As the sun began to set on Friday night, I got a first opportunity to take in this absolute temple of speed for the first time.
Walking around the La Source hairpin, the hairs began to tingle looking straight on towards the spellbinding Eau Rouge, possibly one of the most famous corners in motor racing. Every piece of coverage mentions how steep it is, and they are definitely not lying.
This particular evening, 10 Audis sit on the hallowed tar, each ready to take on the custom-built rallycross track to our left. The mood is light, but that is soon to change once racing starts.Screaming Sixteen Hundreds
The first engine I hear on any race weekend always gets me excited. Not at tick over, I mean the opening note of a machine already being pushed to its rev limit, screaming as it approaches. That’s what gets me pumped, and through the gloom and rain a Citroën C2 S1600 pierces the silence.
Pops, bangs, induction noise and more – the thing is a howling monster as it rounds turn one and heads up the long drag to the summit of Eau Rouge. I’m like a giddy child.
The Euro RX S1600 series is one of the largest support series that travels alongside the main World RX championship, and is the first real stepping stone for emerging talent looking to broaden their experience beyond their home events.
The cars here are all naturally aspirated 1.6L screamers, with many revving to beyond 9,000rpm. Power, generally in the 220 to 240bhp range, is sent to the front wheels and mated to a sequential gearbox. The variety is massive, with all manner of shapes and sizes of car taking to the line.
With a set rulebook regarding engine and mechanicals, freedom to choose a body shell and aero means that the field is one of the most visually exciting, but then I really love low-power French FWDs so I may be biased here.
A real eye-catcher, and a case of a car that immediately elicits the reaction ‘that’s really cool’ was this Skoda Citygo. The most mundane of everyday runaround, whack on a set of wide box arches and race car parts and it’s a proven recipe for success.
Tomáš Krejcik would take the diminutive Skoda right through to the S1600 final, but it wasn’t to be and he finished sixth.
The weather likely had the biggest effect of all on the smaller S1600s, with the complete lack of grip on Saturday not overly overcome in the lower powered machinery. But once things dried up on Sunday they really began to fly.R Times Two
While the Euro S1600s may appear to be rather cool modified versions of the typical hatchbacks we could encounter on our daily commute, the next series up is a real bridge into the world of bespoke rallycross machinery. RX2 – or Supercar Lites – are a hell of a lot more than the field of Ford Fiestas they may look like.
Designed as the natural breeding ground for those with aspirations of World RX success, the history of the RX2 series has time and time again proved to be a successful formula. Six drivers behind the wheel of World RX machinery this weekend have come through this single-make formula, all honing skills that have seen them become event winners.
The cars here are serious pieces of kit, with a lot of impressive engineering hiding beneath the composite plastic exterior. The chassis are of complete space-frame construction, while the 2.4L Duratech engines send 310bhp and 300Nm of torque to the rear wheels through a Sadev sequential transmission.
Each corner gets an Alcon brake setup, with adjustable suspension all round thrown into the mix. Each car is identical, making this much more of a test of man than machine.
With an even field the action is intense. Each inch of track is fought for, none more so than the dive into turn one. Braking and turning in on gravel, the transition to tarmac happens literally right on the apex. The inside line is ideal for the run up to the hairpin, whereas too wide leaves the risk of meeting the immovable pit wall.
Rounding the final turn and gunning the throttle open towards the jump, the airtime these cars get is significantly larger than the S1600s, but still seems tame compared to what was to come…The Supercars
The first time a World RX Supercar came thundering towards me will remain special in my mind for quite some time.
Around the brilliantly-designed Spa circuit, these cars came alive. The start line, always a buzzing mass of excitement, ramped up to 11 as the big cars rolled in. The crackle of anti-lag as each made its pre-race practice launch could be felt, while all five cars hitting anti-lag was like a punch straight into the chest.
When I mentioned at the start that World RX had turned all I knew about motorsport on its head, no particular few minutes could sum this up better than Race 3 of Qualifying 3. The spectacle had me as excited as I’ve ever been while photographing an event.
Ready to race. Bang, bang, bang. Green light… Go! Three thousand horsepower, held back by 10 brake callipers and five handbrake levers is unleashed. The dash into turn one is manic. Bakkerud sweeps the Audi to the inside, with the two Hansen Peugeots forced wide. Timerzyanov and Chicherit dive tight, but the Monster RX Cartel car has the cleanest line.
All I hear is exhaust and carbon fibre colliding at less than three-feet from my face.
Timmy Hansen loses out and goes on the attack – hard. Lap one, the side of the Timerzyanov Hyundai acts as the necessary nudge to get the Peugeot straightened for the upcoming left-hander, yet the following lap he is rubbing up the side of his own brother, Kevin Hansen.
Obviously on the back foot and dropping time, Hansen is desperate to make the most of the final two laps and maximise his time. Out of the joker on maximum lock, he knows the importance of passing Chicherit’s Megane and having a chance at an open track for the lap ahead. Rubbing is racing, right?
The main selling point of World RX is that the action is right there, all the time. It works as a form of entertainment, as everything is done and dusted in a matter of minutes, with more thrills and spills combined in four laps than nearly a season of other forms of motorsport.
It took me 25 years to witness this for myself, and I’m pretty adamant that I need more of this in my life. N
ow, how do I get to Holjes in July…Cutting Room Floor