Why you should be watching World RX this year

Forget the boring precession of F1, this is exhilarating, bumper-to-bumper action – all in souped-up versions of cars your mum might drive. This is World Rallycross. 

World RX 2018 starts in Barcelona on Saturday 14 April (Photo: FIA)

The FIA World Rallycross Championship is exploding into life this weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, after what feels like an eternity since the final round of the 2017 season in South Africa.

This year’s World RX looks set to be the biggest yet in the championship’s short but exciting five-year history, with the series heading to America and three fully works teams lining up, each with two drivers very capable of winning the title.

If you’re a rallycross fan you’re probably too excited to even be reading this article and are instead making your prediction as to whether Johan Kristoffersson can pick up where he left off last year.

But if you’re sitting there wondering what on earth rallycross is; allow me to educate you.

In essence, rallycross is a blend of all the best bits from other motorsports blended into one, attracting all kinds of drivers in cars that could be foolishly mistaken for the one your mum drives.

But I’m fairly confident your mum’s daily runner isn’t accelerating from 0-60mph in less than two seconds. Nor is it producing over 600bhp with a beefy body kit and rear wing to boot. But please correct me if I’m wrong!

Rallycross takes the word exhilarating to a whole new level. If you love rallying but miss the close competition of circuit racing, it has you sorted. If you love racing but find the procession of cars a bit boring, it has you covered there too. Prefer your motorsport short and snappy? That’s the biggest feature of this sport.

To put it simply, rallycross is a circuit racing discipline just like any other, except drivers compete in modified rally cars that have been transformed into rocket ships. Each track is comprised of both asphalt and gravel, and each race is no more than six laps long.

It’s an entirely unique style of racing, and that’s why you see ex-rally champions such as Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb as well as former racing experts like Mattias Ekstrom out there competing. It brings the two worlds together.

The sting in the tale is the so-called joker lap. This is an extension to the normal circuit that must be taken once during every race by every driver. This adds a tactical element to the racing, and can make for some brilliant action as cars merge back onto the track.

With such powerful cars and such short racing, the racing is never boring. The weekend kicks off with qualifying heats where everybody is entered into four races. Drivers battle against each other on track across the four-lap race, but it’s the overall time that counts, with the fastest driver from each qualifying heat receiving maximum points.

These points are then totalled up and the top 12 drivers are entered into the semi-finals. These races are longer at six laps and are entirely about position, with the top three from each race progressing into the final. The finishing positions in the final declare the overall classification from each event.

Johan Kristoffersen winning a race on his way to last year’s title (Photo: FIA)

Now you know how it all works, let me talk you through who you should be watching out for.

The PSRX Volkswagen Sweden are the hot favourites after a domineering 2017. Johan Kristoffersson and Petter Solberg won 75% of the races between them with Kristoffersson in particular stamping his authority, winning five races on the bounce to take his first ever title.

The team are unlikely to have not improved over the off-season either, with Volkswagen’s pedigree in motorsport renowned. You need only look at their domination of the World Rally Championship between 2013-16 to understand why they are the team to beat. Solberg is twice a World RX champion too, so expect the VW Polos to fly.

VW’s opposition haven’t exactly been sleeping though. Audi Sport and 2016 champion Mattias Ekstrom are serious about 2018.

Ekstrom has long juggled his World RX commitments with the DTM, the German touring car series. But the Swede has quit DTM to focus solely on his rallycross programme, and will be joined by the highly-rated Andreas Bakkerud. Bakkerud has won multiple races in World RX, and was the first man to score the ‘perfect weekend’ – winning all four qualifying heats, the semi-final and final.

Much like Kristoffersson and Solberg, expect both Ekstrom and Bakkerud to be in championship contention in their Audi S1s.

Peugeot are the third and final fully works team, with the French marque stepping up its commitment another notch. Timmy Hansen is a consistent front-runner and will once again partner the world’s most successful rally driver Sebastien Loeb. Timmy’s brother Kevin will race a 2017-spec 208 as he did last year.

Timmy Hansen has all the hallmarks of a champion, while Loeb has the ability to win in about just anything that has four wheels. Don’t bet against them.

Beside the full manufacturer entries, look out for the all-new Prodrive Renault Meganes of Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin as well as the equally new Hyundai i20s of Niclas Gronholm and Timur Timerzyanov. The successful Olsbergs outfit make a welcome return too with Swedes Robin Larsson and Kevin Eriksson driving Ford Fiestas, with Janis Baumanis and Qinghau Ma lining up for Team STARD.

The best way to understand all of this is to join the cult and watch it. There genuinely isn’t a more exciting form of motorsport out there, and I can present a fairly strong argument as to why motorsport is the most exciting form of sport.

And if you’re trying to muster up an excuse as to why you can’t watch it, you’re out I’m afraid: Channel 4 are broadcasting a highlights programme following each round.

Enjoy it! You’ll thank me later.

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