OP-Ed Rallycross: Does it Help or Hurt Stage Rally?
This Sunday is the season opener of the FIA European Rallycross Championship (a.k.a. RallycrossRX), which will be followed in just a couple of weeks with the Global Rallycross Championship opener at X-Games Brazil. I began to ponder what other motorsports, and particularly rally fans, thought of the sport of Rallycross. Do you think it helps or hurts stage rally?
A quick overview of Rallycross for those not in the know. Rallycross uses what at first appears to be typical 4wd WRC type hot-hatches like the Ford Fiesta and Citroen DS3. The cars are actually quite a bit different from WRC spec with the small turbo 4 cylinder engines making in excess of 600 horsepower. They are built from the ground up with heavy use of carbon fiber and some designs even include placing radiators in the back for better balance. The races take place on short courses with a combination of both tarmac and gravel. The grip changes of different surfaces types makes for added difficulty, especially in the transition areas. Typically 10 cars will be on track at the same time and they race somewhere on the order of 5-10 laps. To add another dimension, the drivers are required to make at least one “joker” lap. The joker is an alternate part of the course that usually takes 5-10 seconds longer to complete than the standard route. The challenge for every driver is determining whether it is better to do the joker early or late in the race to end up in the best position for the finish. Similar to motocross racing there are several “heat” races to determine who ends up in the final and what their start position is. Whoever wins the final is the champion of the event. One huge advantage that Rallycross has over Stage Rally is the ability to see most of the action from grandstands like circuit racing. This also makes it easier to film and get TV coverage because no helicopters or airplanes are required.
So that’s the basics of Rallycross as a sport. Although it has been around since the late 1960’s, Rallycross has really grown quickly over the last few years. Big names from the rallying world are now joining the sport. American Tanner Foust has been competing both in Europe and in the new GRC here in America (and has been the key driving force in getting it here to begin with). Two time WRC champion Marcus Gronholm was the top competitor in GRC until he had a bad accident last year. Another WRC Champion and Open Paddock favorite Petter Solberg makes his debut in RallycrossRX Sunday as well as doing select GRC events. And finally Ken Block is fully committed to GRC this year as well. That is just a few of the recognizable Stage Rally names and there are many more that might make one-off appearances (remember Sebastion Loeb’s domination at Summer X-Games last year?).
So does this new tweak of the sport affect Stage Rally? Yes, I think it does. But is it good or bad? My opinion is that Rallycross actually helps Stage Rally. Why?
First of all the cars. As more people realize how awesome these little cars with 4wd are when going sideways on gravel, I think they will be interested in seeking out other events that showcase similar vehicles. Small cars with high horsepower are increasing in market share here in the USA. I would expect greater involvement from major manufacturers in both Rallycross and Stage Rally in the years to come.
Second are the drivers. Almost every driver in Rallycross says they love Stage Rally and some actually say they still prefer Stage Rally over Rallycross. Most notably Ken Block is racing both disciplines this year in both GRC and Rally America.
Personally I prefer Stage Rally over Rallycross from a racing purist point of view. Stage Rally is the driver, co-driver, and the car against the clock and that’s it. I really like the action in Rallycross, but it has the same problem as other forms of side-by-side racing in that it can become a contact sport. Seeing top drivers taken out by rookies can become quite frustrating, but that’s a minor gripe and can be prevented if the rules are strong enough.
Overall I think these two forms of rally will complement each other more than they will compete with each other, especially if drivers and teams crossover and compete in both Rallycross and Stage Rally. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.