The roar of 600 BHP petrol engines, the hum of electric motors, the squeal of tyres and pure adrenalin filled the air at Lydden Hill in Kent as the start of the 2021 Motorsport UK British Rallycross Championship 5 Nations Trophy Presented by Cooper Tires season got underway on Saturday 29th May 2021.
Yes, I said electric motors there. You have probably seen news about electric rallycross cars being able to join the grid alongside internal combustion engines but did you know that the 5 Nations BRX is also running a brand new series, the Electro series! The Elimen Racing Fiat 500e is an electric rocket with a 0-60 mph of seven seconds, a top speed of 85mph and 200 Nm torque which makes it ideally suited to rallycross and those gripping launches. This new series will only be running at the Lydden Hill rounds this year but we shall see what the future brings.
The dedicated electric races were very strange to watch as you only hear the noise of the tyres on tarmac and a slight hum as they go past. It was odd but the drivers did well in round one providing some good racing as all five cars are identically built so it really did come down to driver skill. Motorsport journalist and occasional rallycross driver, Hal Ridge provided us with some great racing and was only pipped to the top of the podium following an interesting moment where three electro cars were running abreast coming out of Chessons Drift and Ridge was squeezed out to leave Daniel Welch and Tomasz Wielgosz fighting between themselves for the top spot with Welch finally claiming the top prize.
Another new series this season is the All4 Mini which are based on the four-wheel-drive BMW Mini Countryman. All qualifier sessions for this new class were run along with the usual BMW Mini class races followed by their own separate final. It was good to see a slightly different take on the Minis racing but apart from the different model of Mini used, I didn’t really see any difference in the racing style, at least at this opening round. All three of the All4 Minis were equally matched but it was David Bell who ultimately took home the trophy for round one.
In the standard BMW Mini races, many drivers experienced engine issues with retirements in almost every race. Archie Thomas had an issue in the second qualifier when he lost it and ended up parked nose-first in the tyre wall at the top of Hairy Hill followed by Stephen Brown losing power and going from leading the race to crossing the line in last. The second semi-final was disastrous for Stratis Hatzistefanis who lost a wheel which led to a trip into the gravel pit and tyre wall at Devil’s Elbow. Dave Bellerby took the final win after performing so well throughout the day using his daughter’s car. Drew Bellerby has recently given birth but will return to the sport soon.
The Motorsport UK Junior Rallycross Championship started the day in dramatic fashion with a rollover in the first corner. Owen Robbins took the Chessons Drift bend a little too close to the curb which caused the roll. This then led to the two cars following to collide with each other. We then had a short break whilst all three drivers were checked out by the medical teams and for recovery of the cars off the track. All three drivers were fine and their cars were repaired meaning that they could participate in all of the following races. These young drivers really do show talent and skill, all of the races were hard-fought with minor scuffles and bumper nudges all round. The final checkered flag was taken by the only driver to have rolled his car in round one, Robbins!
One of the regular series in the British Rallycross is the RX150. These small, 200 BHP buggies are always fun to watch and they certainly did not disappoint in round one with a number of spins and wheel to wheel action. Young Patrick O’Donovan kept up his skill level from last year by dominating every race and taking home the trophy.
Swift Sport Rallycross Championship is where many of the junior drivers go as the cars are based on the same Suzuki Swift cars and their years of experience at the lower levels show as they all fight feverently for position leading to some exciting racing for the spectators as well as their fair share of racing incidents. These included David Watt and Max Weatherly spinning out and quite a few bumper nudges. James Chisman dominated almost all of the races but it was Luke Constantine in his Swift Sport debut, having progressed from the Junior championship, who took the crown in the final.
Super1600 and Supernational are two classes that are run together due to their similarities. These races are always great for spectators due to the wide range of car types, from a Ford Ka and Peugeot 206 to a Lotus Exige and a BMW M3. Jason Bleasdale in his Vauxhall VX220 and Slawomir Woloch in his BMW M3 RX dominated the Supernational class with Woloch taking the checkered flag in the separate Supernational final although he was issued with a five second penalty after the race due to his overly aggressive start that pushed Bleasdale into two of the movable barriers. This meant the win went to Bleasdale.
The Super1600 final consisted of just the three cars of Nick Snoeys, Craig Lomax and Phil Chicken. The three cars each using the joker lap individually meant that the leader was constantly changing and eventually Snoeys brought his bright orange Ford Ka across the line first.
The other great classes that run with the BRX are the retros. Consisting of three separate sub-catagories of Retro, Super Retro and Group B +4WD, these are all older rallycross cars such as mark one Ford Escorts, Austin Minis, Lancia Stratos and more. Generally the drivers of these classes are veteran rallycross drivers and display their racecraft in precision top class driving without being overly aggressive which leads to some exciting racing.
The Retro class races were really a battle between the top three drivers of Steve Cozens in his Citroen AX, Terry Moore in his Austin Mini and Tony Lynch in his Toyota Mk1 MR2. Ultimately leading to Moore taking the final prize.
The Super Retro class was being dominated by Phil Collard’s Renault 5 until qualifier three where his car started smoking so badly that it was thought there was a fire although once he stopped the car the smoke cleared but it did mean the end of the day for Collard. Jos Sterkens had a scary moment in qualifier one with a spin which resulted in the Ford Escort Mk1 being parked facing the tyre wall missing a front left wing in the gravel trap at Devils Elbow. The final was an exciting race with John Cross’ Lancia Stratos R leading from the start and a fierce battle for second between Sterkens and Barry Stewart’s Porsche 911 with track limits being stretched and dust being thrown up everywhere. Ultimately Cross took the win, starting his 50th year in rallycross in the best way possible.
Group B +4WD class that was introduced in 2020 provided some interesting racing this round with the addition of a guest racer in the form of RX Cartel driver Liam Doran driving his dad’s Ford RS200 called Rosie although with his own black and purple Monster Energy livery. Doran didn’t participate in all races but when he did, he was showing off his signature driving style by being sideways at every opportunity and flying round the track at top speed.
He was beaten by Andy Grant’s Ford Focus in qualifier two though. The final began with a jump start by Grant who, due to there being no Joker lap in the retro classes, was put to the back of the grid as a penalty. After the restart, both Steve Harris in his Ford RS200 evo and Derrick Jobb in his Ford Escort shot ahead but were, by the first corner joined by Grant, who before the end of lap one, had taken second place. The rest of the race was dominated by Harris and Grant who battled each other for the lead well ahead of the rest of the pack. Grant took the lead on lap four and went on to take the top prize.
The main race class, of course, is the 5 Nations British Rallycross Championship Supercar class which are the 600 BHP monsters. The top three drivers in the qualifying sessions were the 2020 Champion Mark Donnelly in his Citroen DS3, Julian Godfrey in his Ford Fiesta and Andy Scott in his brightly liveried Peugeot 208. This class really gave us some great, hard-fought racing from all competitors with a number of off-track excursions by Tristan Ovenden and Scott, some heavy contact between Ollie O’Donovan and Scott in the semi-finals which sent Scott spinning into some moveable barriers from which he recovered and rejoined the race. The final race gave us all a shock with prize drive winner Robert Vitols, who last year won the Super1600 class 2020 which also came with a chance to drive a Citroen C4 Supercar this weekend.
As the race got underway, O’Donovan shot off the line followed by Godfrey and Ovenden. 2020 Champion Donnelly surprisingly stalled on the startline but got the car restarted and joined the race. During lap three Godfrey had mechanical issues and had to retire leaving O’Donovan to lead the race ahead of Ovenden and Vitols until lap four when Vitols took the lead after O’Donovan jokered. The Latvian teenager went on to take the checkered flag just ahead of O’Donovan and Ovenden.
When asked how it felt to win in his first ever drive of a supercar, Vitols said “It’s amazing, I don’t even have any words yet. This morning was only the first time I got in the car and did a proper run on the track. I didn’t finish Q1, in Q3 we had some technical issues and before the final I said ok, we do some small adjustments but my dad was like we don’t need to change anything before final, it’s scary.Those adjustments just played excellent. I drove the first lap and the car felt just perfect. I have to say a massive thanks to all the boys for doing the job, totally amazing. I have to say thanks to my family and all the supporters who are coming down here. It’s been amazing.”
Round two of the 5 Nations British Rallycross Championship will be held at Lydden Hill on Bank Holiday Monday 31st May 2021.