BTRDA Rallycross at Croft Circuit
If you asked me what my favourite form of ‘battle by motorcar’ was I’d probably say Rallycross, and every time I see it in the flesh I come away feeling vindicated. It is simply the most thrilling four-wheeled spectacle I’ve ever come across and I really should see more of it. Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been missing out.
As a format, Rallycross was invented specifically for a one off Television show in the 1960’s but it proved to be such an addictive shot of fast and frantic racing that it remains popular worldwide. One of its main strengths is that it still caters very much to the spectators. Races take place on relatively short and entirely visible circuits allowing you to keep track of the action and miss none of the incidents. Surfaces are a mixture of a tarmac circuit and the ‘loose’, which is everything else. Grass, dirt, gravel and kerbs are all fair game. Cutting corners, getting sideways and even airborne is all within boundaries of good conduct. Contact, while not encouraged, is inevitable. The heats are short, noisy and aggressive and because of the way the scoring system works, everyone can have a full days racing, providing their car survives.
I am here, predominantly, as a fan of outrageous modified cars. And since you’re reading this in PPC I assume we’re on the same page. As such, there is a lot to look at during a Rallycross event. You are free to wander the pits and check out the cars up close. While the cars have to retrain a mostly standard bodyshell, apart from aerodynamic additions, that’s where the similarity between Rallycross cars and their base vehicles end and there are some nice surprises if you go looking for them. For example, there was a Vauxhall Corsa competing in the Supermodified class. It was battered and bruised and looked ready to be retired to a life of pizza delivery. On closer inspection it was hiding a bored out, V-tec engine borrowed from an S2000 and a sizeable turbo sending over 300bhp to the rear wheels. The whole thing being kept on the ground by some very trick looking Ohlins suspension. There’s a whole host of modern stuff like wide arched, big winged Ford’s and Citreon’s that would all pull a crowd in a MacDonald’s carpark but these versions are equipped with full tubular spaceframes, 4 wheel drive, anti-lag, launch control, you know… WRC cars. Some cars are purchased directly from factory teams and given much more firepower. Unconstrained from the power restrictions of rallyings flagship series they are mostly running in excess of 500bhp. In the Retro categories there’s a lovely mk1 Fiesta running a boosted Zetec and rear wheel drive. It will be doing battle with a mk2 Astra GTE, a BMW E30 M3, a Metro 6R4 and a Beetle that looks like a banger racer with some kind of 500bhp Porsche power plant.
If you think you’ve seen it all before when it comes to cars then there’s the RX150 category. This one wins the prize for making every race look most like a scene from Mad Max 2. This is a stand-alone, one make, race series, which for the last few years has been helping to fill the program at the British Rallycross Championship. Competitors make use of Rage’s utterly berserk, off the shelf, rallycross weapon. It’s a single seater buggy powered by a Honda Fireblade engine weighing in at under 500kg and taking its name from the amount of horsepower it puts out. Engines and sequential gearboxes are factory sealed and dyno checked to ensure close competition. And what a competition it is! These things are a handful even to watch. Incredibly fast but also very short and keen to switch ends. You get the feeling from watching them tearing around on the ragged edge, that if you learned to race in one of these things then there would be nothing you couldn’t drive.
Rallycross cars might be my absolute favourite racecars. All that snorting, barking, power wrapped up in a largely unassuming shell. You never know what technology is lurking inside a tatty looking hatchback and you never know what something is capable of until you see it on the move. At some point though, you will have to tear yourself away from admiring the welds on some tidy fabrication work and check out some racing.
Yes, for the modified car fan, Rallycross is an opportunity to see iconic racing cars (and not so iconic 80’s obscura) away from the shiny, static displays at your local car show, going flat out around a course specifically designed for maximum drama. So here we are at Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire, which along with Lydden Hill is one half of the original pair of British Rallycross tracks. It is 0.75 miles long in this configuration. It features a very long start/finish straight into a fast chicane and a long right hander before the cars hit the grass to tear up the infield. It is possible to view the entire track and keep abreast of the action and results thanks to the live commentary. That back straight is also one of few places where drivers can really unwind the cars to the limit. It gives the spectators a chance to witness the shocking pace of the Supercar category. I’ve never seen cars launch so hard and deliver such merciless acceleration and the dry conditions play towards the strengths of these turbo charged, super grippy, fire spitting monsters. They regularly hit 60 in under 3 seconds and with no one backing off, entry speeds to the first corner are very high with most cars repeatedly swapping paint.
There are over 70 cars racing this weekend in a variety of categories. There are one make series for Suzuki Swift’s and both classic and modern Mini’s. There are multiple classes for different levels of modified cars split by engine size and use of forced induction. There’s always a good turnout of highly modified Hot Hatches making sure that Britain’s favourite high street hooligans are well represented. At the top of the tree is the Supercars class. The winner of which will be awarded the title of British Rallycross Champion.
At this stage of the season most of the championships have been wrapped up but it goes without saying, that this made no difference to the assertiveness of the driving on track. There’s a mixture of drivers that have travelled a very long way to make the last race of the season and will battle it out for every inch of track and local drivers in front of a home crowd that will battle it out for every inch of track.
One honour that was still up for grabs was the MSA Rallycross Grand Prix. Kevin Procter was the reining champion and favourite to retake the title. His brand new Ford Fiesta made its debut at the World Championships in France. Today however, having made it to the final his race was ruined by his Fiesta’s faulty launch control. Kevin was left sitting in pole position as his competitors left him behind. When the Fiesta was running, it was blisteringly quick and it was a treat to watch it come from the back picking off the slower cars. In his desperation for a podium place he spun on the last corner of the last lap and his day was over. It was Julian Godfrey in his Cosworth YB powered Fiesta that took the lead early and held on to take the title.
That’s the end of the series for 2014 but keep an eye on the British Rallycross website for next years fixtures. It’s also worth checking out Croft Circuit and Lydden Hill for stand-alone events throughout the winter.
If the media buzz surrounding the series is to be believed then the popularity of Rallycross in the UK is at a level not scene since the BBC ditched it from Grandstand and it’s rising steadily. Standing on the sidelines, it’s hard to believe that it ever declined.