As Jeremy, Richard and James found out, Rallycross is (a) a form of mixed-surface motorsport contested solely by people called Gary, (b) cheaper than a set of posh golf bats, and (c) a bloody good laugh.
But now Jean Todt has given the raucous Rallycross circus the green light to go global, with the series running as an FIA World Championship for the first time this year.
This has watered down the Gary-quotient quite considerably. Names on the driver roster this season include former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, former WRC Champion Petter Solberg, BTCC Champion Andy Jordan, DTM Champion Mattias Ekström, GRC Champion Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen and X-Games Champ Liam Doran. Not too shabby.
With this year’s F1 rules taking the pinnacle of motorsport into a new, more efficient, quieter direction (providing plenty of kindling in our comments section) - there’s never been a better time for Rallycross, to quite literally bring the noise. And trust us, it does.
For the uninitiated, Rallycross (or RX, if you’re down with the kids) is a circuit racing mixtape of all the best bits of motorsport blended together.
The top tier cars are 600bhp four-wheel-drive monsters cloaked in carbon fibre silhouettes of everyday superminis like Citroen DS3s, Peugeot 208s, VW Polos and Audi S1s. It’s quite obvious they’re not your everyday city cars as soon as drivers line up on the grid. With a flick of a switch and a hefty prod of the throttle, turbos spool up and anti-lag systems kick in, filling the track with a din like an arson attack on a firework factory. Then, with the release of a handbrake, 0-60mph is hit in 1.9 seconds, pace that’d leave Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car lagging behind.
But the start is just the, erm, start. Once the pack of seven cars has completed the drag race to the first corner, they have to get round it. Which is an entertaining affair as the cars are set up for bumpy gravel sections and smooth tarmac. This means they wobble round on their axles like jelly on a Power Plate, cocking wheels as they shift from power understeer to power oversteer while belching flames out of the exhaust onto the bumper of the car behind.
With just four to six laps to a race depending on the circuit, the racing is insanely action-packed. And, as you can see here, potentially very crashy.
No surprise it’s a sport that’s drawing in more spectators by the year. RX events are now beamed into the televisions of some 816 million homes in 100 countries, making the sport very attractive to manufacturers and brands.
This year, Ford, VW and Peugeot are backing teams, and big sponsors like Monster, Red Bull and Total are getting on board - bringing lots of cash into the sport. But, being relatively cheap by top level motorsport standards, veterans of racing like Petter Solberg and Mattias Ekstrom are going rogue and setting up their own Rallycross teams.
TG visited the Franciacorta circuit just outside Milan to see some of this year’s cars put through their paces for the first time. As you can see from the photos, this was no gentle shakedown. Largely because Gigi Galli, the most outrageous sideways showman to ever pilot a rally car, was in charge of the course design. This resulted in one thing: BIG, chassis-bending jumps. Lots of them.
If you’re in the Milan area in September, we’d highly recommend visiting the Italian leg of the RX championship. Don’t worry if you can’t, though. Now RX is a World Championship, it’s easier for you to get your old school racing fix as it ventures outside of Europe for the first time. Canada, Argentina and Turkey have now been pinned on the map, and there are 12 races in total, hopping from France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and Germany, to Lydden Hill back here in Blighty on 24th-25th May.
But don’t worry. Just because there are big brands, drivers and publicity, the RX organisers don’t plan to throw out the beers and burgers in favour of champagne, caviar and helicopters.
Understanding where Rallycross has come from, and that privateers have kept it afloat, the people pulling the puppet strings of RX have pledged to keep it true to its roots. Which is a good thing.
So if you’re baffled by the new rules and lack of noise (and indeed jumps) in F1, we’d recommend checking here to see if there’s an RX round near you. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
Still not convinced? See what Jacques Villeneuve has to say in this exclusive interview.
Pictures: Rowan Horncastle