“Best season ever” – those are the words of Andrew Coley, lead commentator for the FIA World Rallycross Championship when asked how to sum up the 2019 season.
With just weeks until what should have been the opening round of the 2020 season, The Checkered Flag spoke to Coley about a number of topics about the championship. From the drivers, to venues and some of the key moments in the six thrilling seasons that has seen almost everything. Unfortunately since the interview took place the Coronavirus pandemic has pushed the start of the World Rallycross Championship back until later this year.
Rallycross has always been exciting but the 2019 season was one of the most incredible seasons ever in any motorsport and Coley believes there were a number of factors that caused this: “For me it’s that you started a final and you literally couldn’t tell who was going to win it, so many drivers had winning pace.
“Add to that the constant narrative between (Timmy) Hansen and (Andreas) Bakkerud; from the unfortunate incident in Abu Dhabi through so many close fights and them dragging themselves back up to Kevin Hansen and then the title fight going down to the very last race of the season with the title fighters on the front row. Incredible.“
The drama of 2019 came after a period of uncertainty when Volkswagen, Audi and Peugeot left the sport in quick succession at the end of the 2018 season and Coley thinks that the toughest period for the sport came when the three big manufacturers pulled out, potentially leaving World RX in jeopardy: “The end of 2018 was pretty tough; the manufacturers had all just left and the teams and drivers didn’t know what they were going to do, whether they’d be back.
“I kept hearing or reading World RX is dead etc; people love to be negative which is a real shame. Negative doesn’t get stuff done. “
“The 2019 season proved them wrong in the best way possible! We didn’t have them (the manufacturers) last year and we had an incredible season.
“I do enjoy the ‘arms race’ when they’re chasing lap times, when you spot something new on a car at the start of a season, and you definitely get more of that with manufacturers. But then it’s hard for the privateers to keep up.
“For the drivers they undoubtedly want to drive for a manufacturer; that’s how you get paid to be a pro.
“So there are pluses and minuses, and it’s important to remember that in all motorsport manufactures come and go, it ebbs and flows over the seasons.”
With the big manufacturers comes bigger names and drivers. Some of motorsport’s biggest modern starts have competed in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, including Petter Solberg, Mattias Ekstrom and Sebastien Loeb.
Coley is a fan of higher profile names racing in rallycross but does not think it is a necessity: “I like it when they come; it took both Solberg and Loeb 10 events each to get a win, which proves how high the level of WorldRX is.”
“I’d like to see a Button or a Rossi, simply because it would bring a different fanbase and I’d like more people to watch our brilliant sport. But in my opinion we don’t NEED them, we’ve got our own stars too.
“People like the Hansens, Bakkerud, Timerzyanov, Baumanis. They’re Rallycross through and through.“
The drivers make the sport what it is. The character and the differing personalities of them creates rivalries and passion that fans adore: They’re all great guys, and I can’t think of another world championship that has the incredible access we do, which I’m very grateful for.
“I think it’s obvious Bakkerud has a very outgoing personality, and he’s certainly one of the fan favourites.
“But the best thing is they’re all so different. Compare Andreas to Niclas to Timur to Timo…if they were all the same it would be boring! I wish I could show you the outtakes from some of our Timur Timerzyanov interviews. Brilliant.”
The coverage of World RX in 2019 was excellent from a fan’s point of view. Every qualifying session live on the World RX YouTube channel with a round up of the qualifying sessions and the semi-finals and final shown live on television networks around the world.
In the UK, the two hour show was broadcast live and free-to-air on Freesports. It’s a big difference to when the championship started out in 2014: “The biggest difference for us as a TV team is that in 2014 only one hour was live, the semis and the finals, while in 2019 every single second was!
“In terms of the coverage itself we try and improve every year, some stuff works, some doesn’t, just like for the teams. It’s incredibly hard work for the whole team but we’re all really proud of the output.”
Coley is the ‘voice of rallycross’ and has seen it all, picking out the best moments of the World RX championship was tough and ultimately he is incredibly grateful to be a part of it all: “We have had incredible racing, the mad moments we’ve had. The times a driver has come so close and not quite won, how emotional they are when they just miss out, or just take it.
“The rollercoaster of a season is incredible; especially one like last year. To travel with the championship and experience all of that is a highlight in itself; there are too many to pick one! I’m very lucky. I know that at least.“
Coley has commentated on all 71 World RX events and visited the 24 venues the championship has been to. For the first time since the inaugural 2014 season, there will be no British round in 2020.
Many rallycross fans argue that the decision to move to Silverstone in 2018 was a poor decision with hindsight, Coley had this to say about the move away from Lydden Hill a few years ago: “There are more countries that want a round than we have rounds available; we didn’t go to Portugal last year and we are going this year for instance.
“Same situation in WRC, the championship moves around. I’d love to encourage the fans to travel to an event abroad; I see loads of British at Loheac and Spa having a great time!
“As a note, I was really pleased to see Lydden finally get the support of the local council to improve it’s facilities; maybe we could see World RX back there one day, who knows.“
On the subject of venues and tracks, the Nurburgring joins the calendar for the first time, making it the third grand prix venue to be added to the schedule in the last 12 months. It is a topic that has divided rallycross fans:
“It has to be a mix; we’re a World Championship and the sport only existed in Europe. So certainly when you leave Europe you either build a brand new track which is ludicrously expensive, or you modify an existing circuit.
“They’re not all F1 tracks; Mettet wasn’t, South Africa isn’t. And Spa is an F1 track and was absolutely epic!
“Of course we should visit the traditional tracks too, like Holjes. Don’t forget ALL rallycross tracks were new at some point…even Holjes.”
As for the future of the World RX, 2021 will see the series run electric and petrol powered Supercars. Coley is excited by the prospect of electric and petrol cars racing against each other: “I’m excited to see them run together. If the fans are going to buy into electric I think they need to see them race side by side with their current hero cars.
“I think it’ll be fascinating too; incredible torque from electric but will they have the same driveability on loose or wet as an IC car? I’m a tech geek so will enjoy seeing where each has an advantage.
“We’ve got Projekt E coming this year as an all-electric support category, which will be a great insight as to what electric RX could be like. I’ve been lucky enough to have a ride in the new spec of car and it was mind blowingly fast, just relentless through the RPM. Crazy.
“It’s a kit of parts you can bolt into any existing supercar to convert it, which is great value for the teams looking at gathering data for the future.“
With the coronavirus postponing nearly all motorsport events in April, it is unknown as to when the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship will start. But when the action does get going, we can expect the same amount of drama and entertainment that we were served last year.
Will this season be as good as last year:? “After last year 2020 has a lot to live up to doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to new circuits; I always enjoy seeing how the tactics play out. I can’t wait to see the Hansens and Bakkerud get back at it; likewise Gronholm.
“Niclas could easily have been in contention last year were it not for his illness. The GCK Meganes were very quick from the middle of the season. So it’s wide open, and I’d love it be as incredible as last year. Though I might have a heart attack if it is!“