Rallycross: The next big thing in the world of motorsport

Rallycross: The next big thing in the world of motorsport

Rallycross and the Indian entry to the highly competitive motorsport

Rallycross is gaining more attention. Though the FIA accredited World Rallycross series is just four years old, it boasts many big names and due to the high competition, we already have four different teams and three different drivers emerge victorious. Not to forget the high octane action and drama packed with it to keep the viewers attention for a long time. It has become a big budget, high profile and prestigious motorsport, attracting high profile circuit racers like  Jacques Villeneuve, Yvan Muller and rally stars like Petter Solberg and Gigi Galli and even Sebastian Loeb, who is regarded as one of the most successful drivers in the sport. Back in India, the sport is gaining popularity thanks to three time APRC winner Gaurav Gill, who will be making his debut in the WRC in the WRC 2 category representing team MRF Tyres, behind the wheel of the M-Sport powered Ford Fiesta R5. In this story, we tell you the difference between a WRC car and a WRX car and tips on how you could be the next rallycross star.

The initiation

There’s a clip on YouTube of Italian rally driver Gigi Galli negotiating a tarmac hairpin with his usual flair in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI. He pitches the car broadside before the turn even starts, his car taking up the full width of the road and almost pointing back where it came from as it enters the hairpin, before sliding through the corner and onto the following straight. Imagine that same turn, but on dirt, and while overtaking five cars in a single hit. That moment, supplied by Kevin Eriksson at the German round of the 2016 World Rallycross Championship, is rallycross in a nutshell. It’s long been an exciting spectator sport, really taking off when drivers like Will Gollop and Kenneth Hansen campaigned 6R4s and RS200s, but in the age of instant gratification, there’s never been a better time for it to thrive.

The current season

The 2018 season kicked off on April 14 in Catalunya, and unfurls across Europe and Scandinavia, North America and South Africa, with each event comprising four qualifying heats, two semi-finals and a final. Three to five cars take part in each four-lap heat, while semi-finals and finals pit six cars against each other for six laps. As an FIA series, World Rallycross is young, having started in 2014, but fierce competition means we’ve already seen four different teams and three different drivers triumph. The sport is big business, and we’ll tell you all you need to know about it.

The cars: WRC vs WRX

The top tier of Rallycross – of which master overtaker Kevin Eriksson and nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb are a part – is the Supercar class. The cars are steroidal, WRC-like machines based on familiar hatchbacks, albeit ones that put down the best part of 600bhp through sequential gearboxes and all-wheel drive. They may look like their WRC counterparts, but this comparison of a Citroën C3 WRC and Peugeot 208 WRX reveals the differences.

A WRC car

Structure and bodywork

Modified Citroën C3 shell, reinforced with a welded multi-point roll-cage and clad in a mixture of steel and carbonfibre panels. Length 4128mm, width 1875mm, wheelbase 2540mm. Minimum weight 1190kg (1350kg minimum with crew).

Engine and transmission

Citroën Racing GRE four-cylinder: 1600cc, turbocharged, Magneti Marelli fuel injection, anti-lag system. Approximately 375bhp @ 6000rpm and 400Nm @ 4500rpm. Six-speed sequential transmission, mechanical front and rear self-locking differentials, hydraulic centre differential.

Wheels, tyres and brakes

7 x 15in alloy (gravel), 8 x 18in alloy (tarmac), Michelin tyres. 300mm ventilated discs and four-piston calipers front and rear (gravel), 370mm front and 330mm rear ventilated discs with water-cooled four-piston calipers (tarmac). Hydraulic handbrake.

Suspension

MacPherson struts all round. Citroën Racing dampers, adjustable for low- and high-speed compression and rebound.

A WRX car

Structure and bodywork

Modified Peugeot 208 shell, reinforced with welded multi-point roll-cage and clad in tough carbonfibre body panels. Length 3965mm, width 1850mm, wheelbase 2550mm. Minimum weight 1300kg.

Engine and transmission

Peugeot RCD1 four-cylinder: 1998cc, turbocharged, Peugeot Sport fuel injection, anti-lag system, 552bhp @ 6000rpm and 850Nm @ 4500rpm. Six-speed sequential transmission, multi-plate clutch, limited-slip differentials front and rear.

Wheels, tyres and brakes

8 x 17in magnesium alloy, Cooper tyres. 343mm ventilated discs and four-piston calipers front and rear. Hydraulic handbrake.

Suspension

MacPherson struts front and rear, adjustable dampers with 300mm travel.

How to be a rally cross driver

The right-rear tyre of this Peugeot 208 GTi would get you pulled over in minutes if you were foolish enough to use it on public roads. Its completely bald counterpart on the left-hand side would probably have you thrown in the clink without trial. Give the average oblivious motorist a few laps around the sprinkler-doused gymkhana course at the Peugeot Driving Academy in Nivelles, Belgium, and you’d never again need to remind them to put new rubber on their family wagon. On the damp surface, the 208 oversteers like an AC Cobra on remoulds the instant the rear tyres find water. It slides with particular voracity when turning right.

Luckily, a cheerful Swedish family has turned up to help me make sense of these unusual handling characteristics. Kenneth Hansen, his wife Susann and his sons Timmy and Kevin are the rallycross family behind the eponymous Team Peugeot-Hansen, which competes in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. The all look surprisingly cheerful given they’ll soon be sitting alongside me in the passenger seat…

Look for the grip

The bald rear tyres might as well be made of ice on the arc of wet acrylic halfway through the course. The correct technique is to go in slow and straight. Predictably, I spin spectacularly on the first two runs.Kenneth’s technique is much more enlightening. He… er, cheats. We pile onto the acrylic and instantly slide wide. Both outside tyres then hit the tarmac surrounding the curve and hook up, allowing him to get on the gas early and exit far quicker. ‘It’s not the way you’re supposed to do it,’ admits Kenneth, ‘but it’s where the grip is.’ In rallycross, the surface can change lap-on-lap. A driver’s greatest responsibility is to find that grip, even if it means an unconventional line – like going wide, hooking your tyre on a kerb, or just occasionally, leaning on a competitor.

Keep tight

While a wide line may be necessary sometimes, the ideal line is often much tighter. I treat the course much as a circuit – slow in, fast out, drive each corner as if it has an apex. The Hansens have a different approach: keep tight. Kevin demonstrates this most vividly. He brakes latest of all, turns in early and aggressively, carries speed into the turn, and uses front-end grip to scrabble as close to the inside cones as possible. From there it’s straight onto the throttle, forcing the limited-slip diff to lock the nose into the chosen line, and using deliberate steering and throttle inputs to unsettle the tail if the nose starts to push. The inside is, after all, the shortest path, and it’s the one your competitors will all be taking while you’re leaving a big gap on the inside on your traditional racing line.

Learn the car

Watching Timmy pile into the poor little road car and mercilessly thrash it around the course, torturing the tyres with his family sitting in the back, makes for hilarious viewing. But within one or two laps, all three had learned circuit and car better than I manage all day. Each had discovered just enough tarmac on the way into the first hairpin to take the preceding corner without even a lift and still have time to brake for the tight left-hander – in contrast to the confidence lift I was using. In the 208 WRX – a car Kevin describes as having a ‘brutal’ power delivery thanks to its anti-lag system – this manifests itself as an ability to adapt to technical changes race by race, but also to the car’s deficiencies; Timmy notes that the team still has some way to go to match its rivals on the sprint to the first corner.

Listen to your spotter

Or don’t…In a sport where so many cars spend so much time so close together, a spotter – much as in NASCAR – is vital, helping to make strategy calls, advising on joker laps, and giving you running details on your nearest competitor’s exploits. The brothers like a constant stream of information, and everyone chips in: Kenneth and Susann usually act as the brothers’ spotters, but when Kevin destroyed his car in a qualifying round in Belgium in 2017, he took over as Timmy’s spotter for the final.

Of course, you could choose to ignore them. Teammate Sébastien Loeb explains that he prefers to receive information on joker laps and little else – perhaps some respite after spending much of his working life being shouted at from the co-driver’s seat by Daniel Elena…

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