Opinion: Rallycross – Has the sport come to a Crossroads?

by Phil Kinch

Its safe to say that if you want to watch an exciting form of Motorsport to watch, then a lot of people will direct you towards Rallycross and the resurgence its seen over the past five years proves its the most popular form of Motor Racing around

Back in 2013, I was looking for an alternative to watching Formula One, a sport that I was rapidly falling out of love with due to confusing technical regulations, stupefying penalties and a growing level of politics that overshadowed the show.

The entries for round one of the 2014 FIA World Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

With IMG as the new promoter for the FIA European Rallycross Championship, the 2013 season saw a TV deal linked up with Eurosport and star entries in the form of Petter Solberg, Tanner Foust and Liam Doran joining the field of drivers including Timmy Hansen, Anton Marklund and 2012 Champion Timur Timerzyanov.

I was hooked! By the end of the season, the FIA World Rallycross Championship was set in stone to begin in 2014 and suddenly Rallycross was propelled onto the World stage and growing more rapidly than other established FIA World Championships.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? Now, fast forward to October 2018 and suddenly Rallycross faces an uncertain future, so what happened?

Mettet-Saturday-05-Timmy-Hansen

With uncertainty over the Electric World RX regulations, Peugeot have pulled out of World RX for 2019. Credit: Peugeot Sport

In January 2018, World RX announced that the 2020 season would be a fully Electric Championship and that it as in talks with up to nine Manufacturers about entering the series under these new regulations.

The current generation of flame-spitting, noise making 600 bhp Supercars would be moved to an International Series as the cars would see more action but not on the same World stage.

Whilst the die-hard fans were against this move (and still are) there is the newer generation of fan who understands that Electric Racing is becoming the norm in many series and that World RX was making that move as part of the change. However, it had a further effect that has become more obvious in recent weeks.

Without the required minimum of three Manufacturers committed to building and entering these new Electric RX Supercars, the move to switch to the new regulations was delayed until 2021. But there was more fallout to come…

Audi Sport pulled their support for World RX after France, leaving EKSRX looking for other ways to stay in the series. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

In September, just before the World RX of France, Audi Sport announced that for 2019 its focus would be on the DTM and Formula E only bringing an end to its works support to Mattias Ekstrom‘s EKS outfit.

After the 2018 World RX of Germany, Peugeot announced it was pulling out of World RX after the end of the season due to the uncertainty around the Electric World RX move and seven days later OMSE announced a sabbatical from the series as it looked to attract Manufacturer backing for the 2021 season.

PSRX Volkswagen Sweden has committed to the 2019 World RX season. Credit: PSRX Volkswagen Sweden

If you look at the current field of teams and drivers so far, that leaves PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, GC Kompetition and GRX Taneco who, so far all seem committed to returning to the series next year in some form. ES Motorsport has committed at least one Skoda Fabia as one entry with plans in place for a second car to join the fray next year.

STARD have yet to commit to another full season entry after slimming down to one car for Janis Baumanis this year and several guest entries in the second car and this also includes Sebastien Loeb Racing in their maiden season of Rallycross.

When you consider that there are still two years of current Generation Supercar Regulations still in place, World RX seems to be in trouble in the space of two weeks after its penultimate round of the 2018 season has completed.

The move to “RX/F1” Circuits…

The Yas Marina circuit is the latest RX/F1 addition to the World RX Calendar for 2019. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

However, there are other factors that have led to this point. If you look at the Calendar for the first five years of World RX, there has been a major change from traditional Rallycross circuits to what I will call “RX/F1” circuits: Rallycross circuits created within the confines of a modern day F1 circuit.

The biggest headline on this happening took place back in January 2016 when IMG announced that Lydden Hill, the home of Rallycross, was being dropped for a new circuit at Silverstone built within the Stowe complex.

Traditional fans were in uproar, asking why the traditional Rallycross circuit was dropped. The reasoning behind it seemed that as World RX was a growing FIA World Championship, more modern circuits with modern facilities were required.

Here are some of the “RX/F1” circuits that have appeared in World RX over the past five years:

  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Silverstone, UK
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Hockenheim, Germany
  • Circuit of the Americas, USA

Now that’s only five however, when you take into account that the 2019 Calendar has recently been released with the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi and Spa-Francorchamps circuits added in, that takes the tally up to seven circuits in five years.

Whilst there have been other full-time circuits that have held World RX events during the first five years, some of these have fallen by the wayside whilst others remain. The locations include:

  • Franciacorta, Italy
  • Mettet, Belgium
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Santa Fe, Argentina.

So far the only circuits to have stayed on the World RX Calendar over the last five years have been:

  • Holjes, Sweden
  • Hell, Norway
  • Loheac, France
  • Trois-Rivieres, Canada.

The Manufacturer Losses…

Audi, Peugeot and Ford are amongst the Manufacturers who have left World RX in previous seasons. Credit: IMG / FIA World RX

As well as Peugeot and Audi pulling out of World RX, this is not the first time a Manufacturer has done this. Ford pulled out at the end of the 2017 season where the iconic Ford Focus RS RX saw only three wins in its twenty-four event history despite having Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block at the wheel.

A Re-focusing of its programmes saw the end of two seasons hard work whilst the Blue Oval has seen more success in its GT/Sportscar Programme over the past few seasons as well as an increased support of the M-Sport World Rally Programme. This has seen the 2017 Drivers Title go to Sebastien Ogier and could well see the 2018 WRC drivers Title go his way as well.

Ford Performance has been able to challenge for titles in both its WRC and GT Programmes. Photo Credit: M-Sport

All this may seem doom and gloom, but its also simple facts. There were eleven events on the World RX Calendar for 2019 with Portugal and Germany missing, however the reason behind the Estering’s absence has been explained already: They are holding a double header event for the two remaining classes of the FIA European Rallycross Championship: Supercars and Super1600.

The reason? The uncertainty surrounding World RX currently. As referenced in my recent article about the 2019 Euro RX Calendar, The circuit owners have faith in the capacity grids that Euro RX has witnessed over the past three years and because of that, the German venue will hold a one-off Euro RX only event on a traditional Rallycross circuit.

Euro RX will enjoy a special one-off weekend of Supercars and Super1600 on the same bill in Germany next year. Credit: Set Promotion

Its already a winner with the fans and is sure to attract another capacity entry of 25 – 30 cars despite being an addition to what has been a five round series previously.

Its safe to say that the winter period leading up to the 2019 World RX season will be interesting, to say the least. Despite adding cost-cutting measures for the 2018 season, Manufacturers and teams are moving away from the series due to the concern over the Electric World RX regs and increasing costs.

Whilst PSRX Volkswagen Sweden seem committed in one capacity or another with Petter Solberg at the helm, GC Kompetition has also made noises about bringing their new Prodrive built Renault Megane’s back for another year.

However more entries will be expected and with fifteen being the lowest number of the season so far, many hope to see a resurgence of interest whilst Electric World RX has been delayed.

The New Series in Town…

The new GRC Europe Rallycross Championship offers another alternative to Euro RX in 2019. Credit: GRC Europe

Whilst World RX seems to be hitting a rough patch, a new European based Rallycross Championship gets underway in 2019 with a familiar name: GRC Europe.

With MJP Racing Team Austria Team Principal Max Pucher at the helm, GRC Europe offers a new perspective in Rallycross that appeals to the fans who still want to see traditional Rallycross Action taking place on traditional Rallycross circuits.

The series is expected to run on traditional rallycross circuits in England, Italy, Hungary, France, Germany, Austria and Slovakia, running from May to October 2019. Its difference to other Rallycross series is that GRC Europe offers a cheaper alternative by using a brand-new rallycross car, the Pantera RX6 which has been developed by Pucher’s team.

15 cars have been slated to start the series which will be billed as GRC Europe’s GRC Titan championship category.

The "home of rallycross", Lydden Hill Circuit, as seen from above

Lydden Hill is soon to be confirmed as the opening round of the new GRC Europe Series. Credit: Matt Bristow

However, there is also room for FIA homologated Supercar class cars which also be eligible to the second GRC Supercars class. With Balance of Performance to be used to equalise the cars, the promise here is that GRC Europe will bring the “Rallycross back into Rallycross”

With 2013 GRC Champion Topi Heikkinen already confirmed to race in the series next year, little is known about the Calendar apart from a deal with Lydden Hill to be the opening round is almost complete. With a move that will please Rallycross fans, GRC Europe offers another opportunity for drivers and teams to compete at a cheaper level.

Time will tell if the series is successful in meeting its goals and attracting the interest from European based teams and drivers.

The Future?

The future of Rallycross involves going to fully Electric Supercars, but how soon will that be? Credit: STARD Development

Well, it looks quite simple. World RX and Euro RX both have a calendar for 2019. GRC Europe is in talks to confirm its Calendar and so far Volkswagen is the only manufacturer confirmed for the 2019 World RX season.

The driver market for next year is going to be a fascinating one as drivers have the options before them of at least three series that utilise FIA homologated Supercars for competition. Add in the Americas Rallycross Championship as a further choice and there are plenty of options out there, however budget and sponsorship will also determine the driver market.

What can be confirmed is that there will be Rallycross action on the International stage in 2019, the choice ahead of Drivers, Teams and Fans is:

Which series will they choose?

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