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Nigel Chiu: Why I love the World RX

Credit: World/Red Bull Content Pool

The FIA World Rallycross Championship is one of the most exciting motorsport championships in the world. Races may be decided within a 4 minute period but the drama is unlike anything else.

Over a race weekend, you can get up to 100 races which includes supporting Rallycross series and the World RX itself. It’s brilliant for a fan who’s going to watch. You can walk up and down the paddock without any extra cost so you can really get up close and personal with the cars and like F1, World RX has a host of entertainment when there’s no on track action. It’s very family friendly.

I haven’t been to an event myself but that will all change when I visit Silverstone this weekend to go to the Speedmachine Festival to see the World RX right in front of my own eyes. I can’t wait and I just hope the weather stays dry which probably won’t happen considering it has rained at some point in all of the World RX events so far this year! The entertainment off the track is expected to be good but it’s what’s happening on the track which I can’t wait to see.

So how does it all work?

The drivers will take part in 4 qualifying heats to try and get through to the semi-finals. There are 3-5 drivers in each heat. Position doesn’t matter too much since it’s all about the time you set compared to everyone else. Each qualifying heat is 4 laps.

-The driver with the fastest overall race time after 4 laps is declared the qualifying winner of that qualifying which will give you intermediate points based on your position

-This is repeated for Q2, Q3 and Q4 with and at the end, all of the intermediate points are added up and the 12 drivers with the most points in the ‘intermediate standings’ move into the semi-finals.

-The semi-finals are 6 laps and it’s all about finishing in the top 3 of your semi-final. Odd numbered positions from qualifying go to semi-final 1 and evens to semi-final 2.

-The final is an all out scrap to win and get on the podium of the event.

It might sound confusing on paper or when explained but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of after you’ve watched an event.

The start of a RX race is so intense and the drivers will trade paint and nudge each other to get into turn 1 first. In the last event in Belgium, we saw cars rolling over and on 2 wheels as the drivers leaned on each other. You can’t beat the sound of 600BHP, turbocharged rallycross cars with drivers who are super pumped up with adrenaline flowing through them as they try to react to the lights to beat everyone else off the line and to get the perfect launch to do 0-62 in less than 2 seconds.

The joker lap (a longer route which you have to take once in the race) adds some really good strategy which means that timing when to do your joker lap can make or break your race. It means that you can jump people through an undercut or overcut and your spotter (the person advising or ordering you to do the joker lap because they can see the gaps) has a really important job. The team, engineers and mechanics have an equally important job to turn the cars around to get them as good as possible for each qualifying heat, the semi-finals and the final because there’s not a lot of time to get the cars fixed and ready if you have some damage, which is always likely in rallycross.

You don’t have hours to fix a car like in F1, you have minutes.

The championship has provided a strong mix of young and old talent from Rallying to DTM (Credit: World/Red Bull Content Pool)

The driver line-up is pretty mega. The 9-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb is probably the biggest name in the series and we all know that he is no slouch. Petter Solberg won the inaugural series in 2014 and defended his title in 2015 to add to his WRC championship win. His driving style where he just backs the car in and slides it whenever he can is fascinating to watch.

You then have Mattias Ekstrom who is a 2-time champion in the highly competitive DTM series. He is very aggressive and always gets his elbows out. “Go hard or go home” is his motto and it awarded him with the championship in 2016.

The defending champion is the super consistent Johan Kristoffersson, arguably the best RX racer out there. He is the winningest driver (11 wins) and 9 of those have come in the last 12 months. That is incredible considering it is so easy to collide and damage your car in a semi-final or final, or to have some bad luck and reliability issues with the team having to fix the cars so quickly. He has been so impressive and World RX has given him a fantastic reputation which he thoroughly deserves.

Timmy Hansen also now has a great reputation and this season he has suddenly become a fan favourite. He is so neat and tidy but has learnt to be aggressive and he has proved that you don’t need a joker lap to get passed cars as you can overtake on the track itself even though it’s tight and twisty.

Another driver who I had never heard of before World RX is Andreas Bakkerud who, like Max Verstappen, has his own set of fans who travel to all of the races. He’s always had a rivalry with Solberg as to who is the best Norwegian and he made history in 2016 in Hell (that’s a place in Norway) by being utterly dominant and winning all four of his Qualifier races, the first man to do so, before going on to win his Semi-final and the Final.

Those are currently the “Big 6” drivers who all drive for Volkswagen, Peugeot and Audi. When a few of them are on track together then you can guarantee fireworks.

Despite being fairly anonymous before WRX started, Andreas Baakarud has built a sizable fan base as one of Norway’s top racing talents (Credit: World/Red Bull Content Pool)

Watching the cars slide out of the corners and the nose of them dipping down as the drivers slam on the brakes and drift through the turns whilst scraping their front bumpers across the barrier or armco is something that you can’t really teach so the very best rallycross drivers have a natural talent from being millimetres from a complete rollover and a big scary accident.

It’s hard to describe how hard the drivers are pushing, especially in the semi-finals and the final. They’re absolutely on it and you have to be or else you will have no chance of winning. They leave nothing left on the table and throw the cars in and out of the corners like it’s their life depends on it. It’s incredible and so exciting.

Anybody can get to the final in rallycross and from then on in, with a bit of luck, who knows what will happen. It’s a hard-fought season long war with many battles which can get heated at times. That’s what’s so great about the sport. If you give it everything as a driver then with a decent car you can go far into an event. The big manufacturers still have a bit of an advantage but that is negated straight away if you can get ahead of them on track at the start.

Some if my favourite moments in motorsport have come from the FIA World Rallycross Championship. Here’s some of them:

0.005 seconds split Ekstrom and Solberg in the final in Germany in 2014.

Kevin Eriksson’s amazing move around the outside of everybody in Germany 2016. A hero moment which gave him the win in the final.

The 2015 Final in Sweden which saw a last lap, last corner move for the win by Timmy Hansen in a battle of the Swedes. Unfortunately Hansen was penalised.

Bumper cars between Ekstrom and Solberg in Latvia 2016

The first final of the 2018 season in Catalunya was so intense and a great watch

Perhaps the craziest race ever? 

(Click on the bold parts to watch)

The action remains very tight for much of race, with even Privateers having a point to prove. (Credit: World/Red Bull Content Pool)

The tracks all have their own characteristics. Whether it’s the placement of the joker lap, or perhaps the high kerbs which allow the drivers to slide their way around the circuit which not only looks great but it’s the best way to attack the circuit. The weather can turn any of the rallycross tracks into what feels like an ice rink. They’re already sliding around and carefully applying the throttle pressure so that they don’t spin whilst judging how far away from the barriers they are. Add some rain (or even snow, as we saw in Montelegre this year) then it’s just so easy to make a mistake and the gravel section turns into dirt and mud. It’s a fascinating natural evolution to tracks which are less than a kilometre long.

The coverage of any sport is vital to the enjoyment you get. World RX’s main commentator, Andrew Coley, deserves a lot of credit because his passion for the sport really comes through and he makes the broadcast just as exciting as the action. He’s become one of my favourite commentators and I love the way he talks through the races with his entertaining voice. He is a true fan who wants to see the best competition possible and his delivery of the races and paddock walks are perfect. A lot of people can learn that you need passionate people when it comes to commentary or punditry.

There’s no doubt that the series is in a pretty good place at the moment. They have the stars; the young drivers who take the fight to the old heads; excellent TV coverage; a good mix of locations and tracks and more importantly the racing and the excitement is top-notch. It’s very different to other motorsports but it works.

Rallycross has been around for a very long time and it now has a world championship with world class drivers and tracks. It might not be increasing in status like Formula E is, but it’s still rising. One day, we will lose the cars and the engines that we have now which makes the sport so good. Electric rallycross cars are already being talked about so it’s right that we salvage every second of what we have now because modern day World RX if phenomenal in my opinion.

The WRX continues this weekend at Silverstone as part of the Speedmachine Festival.

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