As the 2015 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy draws to a close at the end of this month we thought it would be a good time to catch up with the ‘Voice of World Rallycross’ Andrew Coley.
The Checkered Flag : It seems that throughout 2015 the competition has upped their game as a whole, who has impressed you the most this season?
Andrew Coley: Petter Solberg caught them all napping over the winter and had a performance advantage (as well as driving brilliantly of course) that saw him secure his championship lead with a string of podium results in the early rounds.
After the UK round Peugeot-Hansen found something that transformed the ‘new for 2015’ chassis, and since then they’ve been the pacesetters nearly everywhere with either Davy Jeanney or Timmy Hansen. It’ll be interesting to see if the bar is raised again over the winter, and by who.
TCF: Rallycross on a worldwide scale is growing, have you noticed a growth in fans attending the races this year?
AC: I’m not privy to all the numbers but I do get handed ‘gate’ figures during the live TV show, and they’re going up every year. The great thing about Rallycross is while it was originally designed specifically for TV, the circuits are really compact so you can see all the action from pretty much any point as a trackside spectator too, with the advantage of hearing more of the fantastic noise!
TCF: The continued development in technology now means races can be streamed worldwide without having to rely on big broadcasting distribution deals, has this helped with the popularity of World RX?
AC: It’s certainly great for fans who don’t have a TV deal in their region, but it also provides an online back catalogue for anyone wanting to watch old events. Every live one is there, on demand, the full 2 hour show, right back to the 5 live shows we did in 2013 when we were still a European championship. I really think the championship and the TV have come a long way in a short time.
TCF: What has been your favourite moment of the year?
AC: “Hansen up the inside!” The last corner of Sweden’s final this year. Ekstrom was so far in front as they exited ‘Velodrome’ nobody thought Hansen would catch up, let alone go for the pass. Yes the result was reversed due to track limits, but it was a great bit of action for live TV. Semi Final 2 in Hell (Norway) was incredibly entertaining too; we rarely leave an event without a ‘moment’ of the weekend!
TCF: What has been your favourite venue to visit this year?
AC: Aside from great viewing all the tracks have really unique character as they don’t have acres of F1 run off, so I’d honestly recommend a visit to any of them.
But if I had to pick one I’d say Holjes, Sweden. It’s a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in a forest, population 300. About 40,000 people descend on it for the WorldRX weekend and it’s just a massive party every night, music stages/tents, crazy modified cars, saunas, even a wood fired hot tub!
It’s also a brilliant track with elevation change, a consistent loose surface and a mega jump. It’s been signed up for the next 3 years by WorldRX, which is great news.
TCF: What are your thoughts on the 2016 calendar?
AC: Not too much has changed; two events out and one in. The calendar mustn’t grow faster than the competitors can afford so I think it’s sensible to continue as we have this year, with great support in every class; limiting the number of events for EuroRX, S1600 etc worked really well.
I can’t wait to go to Latvia, our new event next year; they’re mad for their Rallycross and the venue is stunning, a Soviet era race track built in a forest just 20 minutes from Riga city centre.
In 2015 it was great to see the way some of the tracks changed from last year to this; new joker laps, jumps etc, RX tracks are adaptable and that keeps it interesting.
TCF: There is plenty of supporting action, who do you tip to be a future WRX star?
AC: Tough question; our various class champions this year were all deserving winners and I’m sure would be competitive in Supercar. Kevin Hansen and Kevin Eriksson are both clearly capable, we saw Eriksson get a podium in Argentina on his Supercar debut last year, it’ll be interesting to see of how Hansen gets on this year as the Lites champion prize drive winner.
Janis Baumanis was impressive in S1600 and on his Supercar outings this year, Tamas Pal Kiss is making a great transition from single seaters to RX, Magda Andersson matching the pace of the front runners in Touring Car. Tommy Rustad; I can’t call him a future star, he’s already done so much, but he’d be awesome as a full timer in the WorldRX class.
We’re lucky to have so many feeder formulas under the same umbrella, as well as all the various national championships, and so many people seem keen to swap disciplines and try RX.
TCF: Andrew Jordan has taken part in two rounds this year and has just committed to another season in BTCC, do you see him launching a full championship assault in the future?
AC: We’ve been lucky to have AJ as a co-commentator since the start, and while we selfishly want to keep him for TV I’m sure he’ll be keen to do more RX outings in future. He’s a career driver in BTCC so I totally understand his commitment to that, but I’d love to see him have a go at WorldRX full time. A podium with Ford in ’14, and an overall heat win with Peugeot in ’15; he was on the pace in the EKS Audi in Italy too. Who knows?! I’ll ask him next time I see him!
TCF: Jenson Button has been touted as a potential driver when he does finish in F1, who would you love to see in the series in the future?
AC: Button is number one on my list. He’d love it. I think a lot of circuit drivers worry about the gravel, but a couple of hundred kms in a group N rally car somewhere like Walters Arena would sort that fear immediately. He’d be rapid and have some ‘no pressure fun’; win/win!
Valentino Rossi. Already loves rallying, and is very good at it. These WorldRX cars are faster and there’s the racing element, I’m certain his sponsors and fans would follow him to RX.
Sebastian Loeb. Obvious choice but he’s so good at everything he does, I’d love to see him do a full season & combine his incredible rally record with his recent WTCC experience.
Tanner Foust. He’s the only wild card to have won a round of WorldRX, he’s a clever driver (and a nice bloke) and I’d like to see what he could do in a whole season.
TCF: You’ve taken part in RX150 at Lydden and also S1600 at Croft, how did you find these experiences and is there a scope for further future outings?
AC: I loved it! So good to be back in a competition car.
I had a test on gravel in the buggy and loved it, but it was the worst weather I’d ever seen at Lydden, and I struggled on the brakes on the tar especially. When I used to work as a track instructor I was driving every week, and you naturally stay sharp. The buggies only weigh 400kgs so you can brake super late, and I was basically being a wuss in the wet. Practice needed!
The Super 1600 car was mega too. Much more like the rally cars I used to compete in; I had no pre event test and had only done 5 laps when we went to start heat 1. Admittedly I was up against slower cars, but we were 9 seconds in the lead when the car developed an electrical fault that couldn’t be fixed. With a few more laps I think we’d have been somewhere near respectable pace!
I also did the ‘Lada race’ in Reinis Nitiss‘ home town this year, which was an absolute blast. I don’t think I displayed anywhere near enough finesse to get the best lap times, but the running joke is that I’ve got the best photos!
I must thank Ollie O’Donovan & Jelf Insurance, the Lomax family at XtremeRX, and Reinis Nitiss and his family for the fun I’ve had this year, I’m very lucky to get such opportunities and I really do appreciate it.
I’d love to do more; there’s nothing that compares to the buzz of driving a car as fast as you can, especially on gravel, and I’ve learnt a lot about Rallycross that you can’t ‘imagine’ out of the car. I’ve been invited to drive Craig Lomax‘s S1600 again at the Croft GP next year, which is very generous of the team.
TCF: Who are you tipping to win in Argentina and who will take the title this year Petter or Timmy?
AC: New circuit; Petter is always good at those which I’m sure comes from his rally days and taking less time to adapt to a track. He might adopt a low risk strategy for the championship; Hansen has to do the opposite, fight for every point and hope Petter has a a problem.
It’s Petter’s to lose; if he qualifies for the semis he’s the champion. With it being a flyaway I’d expect an entry around 20-25, so you can afford to drop one heat with a problem. But not two! So as long as he steers clear of trouble in the first heat of each day (less time to repair car before next heat) he’s got a great advantage. But of course anything can happen in Rallycross!
Follow Andrew on twitter at @Andrew_Coley