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Apr 4, 2011

Rallycross: Making rallying extremer

Probably what rallying lacks of is some kind of contact between the best drivers, as their only rival is the chrono. A special stage would seem like a qualifying run in track racing rather than a proper race. So, how making rally drivers race ones against the others, head to head?

Well, there is a motor racing variant that, even if not new, is now benefiting from a new golden era thanks to its travel to the USA. We are talking about rallycross. This sport had all to become popular from its beginnings, as it was conceived as a BBC TV show in the late sixties, and thus, it had to take place in a circuit where to use the same cameras (just as Rally Stage in today's X-Games, or in the Race of Champions). Moreover, and to allow circuit and rally drivers to race in every surface, the track used mixed asphalt and gravel.

This TV approach helped the sport to be quickly sold around Europe, becoming popular not only in UK, but also in the Benelux and the Nordic countries, until the creation of the European Rallycross Championship a decade later. But the explosion came at the end of the eighties. Group B rallycars were banned by the FIA in special stages, so all the factory cars were sold to privateers from second division national championships, but also to rallycross teams, which extensively evolved them.

Those monsters, driven by legends such as Martin Schanche, gave rallycross its ultimate form: rallycars would be too dangerous in road sections if they were unlimited, but what if we race them in circuits? Nowadays rallycross cars are barely based on WRC cars, but built by nearly family teams, they are much more brutal than rally cars, with bigger restrictor plates which make them really hard to control even with any kind of electronics. There also two lower categories where only two wheel drive cars are allowed, which find its main differences in the level of preparation of the cars and how big their engines are (2.0 or 1.6 liter engines).

But returning to its expansion as a global sport, someone realized that, as the most important in the USA is always to make the show, if anyone wanted to import rally racing, they had to import its brutal version. That is why, in the X-Games, RallyAmerica and the brand new Global Rallycross/US championship, Ford Fiesta cars from the European Rallycross Championship, built by Swedish Olsbergs MSE, are employed by Ken Block (RallyAmerica, Rallycross), Kenny Bräck (X Games) or Tanner Foust (X Games, Rallycross), among other new cars that are being developed as Rhys Millen's Hyundai Veloster.

Apart from the European and the American championship, it is worth said that National championships in the UK, France or the Nordic coutnries have a huge level of competitivity (Petter Solberg began his racing career in rallycross, for example), but unfortunately it hasn't become so popular in Southern Europe, with only a round of the ERC taking place in Portugal once a year (Lousada or Montalegre are the tracks used).

But let's stop offering you just words. Here you have an example of what can anyone expect when attending an ERC round:

(Sometimes you will see drivers doing a longer lap than others through a kind of shortcut: it is the so called “joker lap” that any driver has to achieve once during every race).

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