Inside Revolution: Getting Started in Rallycross

Friday 21 July 2023

In this month’s edition of Revolution, see how you can get started in Rallycross, as Lydden Hill prepares to host Round 4 of the FIA World Rallycross Championship this month, with an all-star, all-electric, field of drivers returning to the UK.

Revolution is available online, as a PDF download and on the Revolution app (for both iOS and Android devices). 

Rallycross is an exciting discipline for those taking their first steps in motorsport. The events offer short, sharp racing on mixed surfaces – dirt and tarmac – with support for the sport across the UK, Europe and further afield.

As Lydden Hill prepares to host Round 4 of the FIA World Rallycross Championship this month, with an all-star, all-electric, field of drivers returning to the UK, we look at how you can get involved.

Competition format

Events typically involve up to eight cars at a time going wheel-to-wheel on a circuit that is part asphalt and part gravel (loose) surface. The races are usually short – lasting a maximum of three minutes – so events can often comprise of 60 separate races. In the British Rallycross Championship, each round comprises one three-lap practice session leading into three timed qualifying heats. Points are awarded based on intermediate classification, after which successful competitors will move into the semi-finals, the results of which will determine grid position for the finals. Qualifying heats are typically one car only, but in the British Rallycross Championship, cars battle side-by-side for the best time on-track. When cars go head-to-head, to mix things up more, every driver has a ‘joker lap’ where they take a different route and must decide when the best time is to take it.

What events are there?

The 5 Nations British Rallycross Championship Supercars is the top level of the sport, but the bill also includes lower level and more affordable Championships, such as Swift Sport, BMW MINI and Retro. Rounds are held at the home of the sport, Lydden Hill, as well as Pembrey Circuit in Wales, Mondello Park in Ireland, Valkenswaard in the Netherlands, and Dreux in France. The BTRDA Clubmans Championship has rounds at Blyton Park, Pembrey, Lydden Hill and Knockhill.

Get involved

Those looking to learn more about the sport are encouraged to first attend an event as a spectator to get to know how it all works. Rallycross teams are often some of the friendliest in motorsport, and they can always use an additional pair of hands – so an offer of your time in exchange for the experience of being within a Rallycross team over a race weekend will give you the opportunity to observe the inner workings before you get behind the wheel. Once you have identified a Championship and class you would be interested in joining, get in touch with the coordinator who can guide you through the process, offer advice and assist with car preparations. If you enter the British Rallycross Championship, the helpful organising team can guide you through your first event and point you in the right direction.

What age can you start?

Junior drivers can compete in the Motorsport UK Junior Rallycross Championship from the year of their 14th birthday. The class runs with identical Suzuki Swifts coordinated by Peter Gwynne Motorsport and the Swift Rallycross Championship, which features on the 5 Nations British Rally Cross Championship bill. The class provides door-to-door action with the focus firmly on driver ability, highlighting up-and-coming talent and giving plenty of opportunity for progression.

How do you win?

You will be competing against your fellow drivers solely in your class, with the overall winner being determined by your finishing position in the final. In the British Championship, the first to cross the line wins and gets the full 20 points. Trophies are presented to the podium places and championship points are awarded for performance in qualifying heats, semi-finals, and finals. The driver with the most points at the end of the year wins the Championship – and because the regulations and calendar have been designed to deliver close-fought battles, titles are often decided on the last day of the season. In 2022 the top three finishers in the Motorsport UK Junior Rallycross Championship were split by just 10 points.

What makes a good car?

The old adage ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’ rings very true in all forms of motorsport, but especially so in rallycross where almost every race within the weekend event counts towards the next. In the most accessible classes, the cars are standard, and regulations have been tweaked and tuned over the years to increase reliability, affordability, and competitiveness.

There are plenty of good quality second-hand cars available and these can be found by speaking to the Championship coordinators. There is also the opportunity to rent a ready-to-race car, so you can just turn up and race.

Can you drive the car to events?

Rallycross cars may be based on road cars, but they are built specifically for the track, so they have to be trailered to and from the event.

What equipment must the car have?

The car must be built to the safety specifications as detailed in the championship regulations and Motorsport UK Yearbook. This will include equipment such as a fire extinguisher, rollover cage, seat, harnesses and more. However, to make things easy, some championships offer a kit to convert a standard road car into a ready-to-race rallycross machine.

What personal kit do you need?

Each driver will need a Motorsport UK / FIA approved helmet, frontal head restraint (FHR) and approved flame-retardant overalls, socks, boots, gloves, and underwear. A full list can be found in the Motorsport UK Yearbook.

What are the general costs of running a car?

This varies hugely across classes. The most cost effective are the one-make standardised classes, such as the Swift Rallycross Championship and BWW MINI Rallycross Championship, with regulations that are designed to keep the cars close to how they originally left the factory. As a result, parts are plentiful and can be found cheaply, with certain parts also provided by the Championship coordinators. In terms of costs during the race weekend, tyres and fuel are worth thinking about. Fuel is purchased from the Championship supplier on-site and it is best to talk to a seasoned racer in your class to get an idea of the amount needed for your first event. Tyres can be down to personal preference and driving style – some drivers opt for a few new sets per race weekend, others often run just one set of tyres over a few rounds.

How can you maximise your budget?

Rallycross can be chaotic racing and collateral damage can quickly escalate your budget if you are not careful. Compared to many other disciplines, there is a lot going on for a driver in a short space of time and it is easy to get carried away. Overly exuberant driving is often punished by high repair bills, whereas keeping your races clean and tidy will be rewarded with a reliable race car that does not require too much in the way of replacement parts – and hopefully some good results! Rallycross is also an excellent spectator sport and its short-sharp racing in amphitheatre venues can really bring in the crowds. Where there are spectators, there is always the potential for sponsorship to aid the racing budget, so use that to your advantage if you can.

What about travel and accommodation?

In the British Championship, most competitors camp in the paddock as all events are run over at least two days and the circuits have showers, food options and toilets to keep your stay comfortable. Some circuits, such as Lydden Hill, offer evening entertainment including live music for competitors staying at the circuit overnight, adding a great atmosphere to the whole weekend.

What makes a good driver in this discipline?

It is easy to get overwhelmed by everything going on during a Rallycross race. Good results come through quick thinking and being adaptable. You need to adapt to the track surface, finding grip when often there is very little available; you need to adapt your driving style to the conditions on the day; and you need to adapt to the other drivers around you. A good driver develops an understanding of their car, and how to get the best performance out of it. Then they can establish a limit to drive at to bring the car home in a good position. The mandatory joker lap rewards drivers with a cool head. The driver who can plan the best joker lap strategy to minimise time loss can benefit big time.

How can you learn the basics?

Rallycross is famed for an open and friendly paddock, with drivers more than happy to help a rookie understand the nuances of the sport and how best to approach a race weekend. Some Championship coordinators, such as the Swift Rallycross Championship, offer driver coaching ahead of their first event. That is a great option for those looking to get some seat time before lining up for the real thing. However, there is nothing better than taking the leap of faith and putting some racing laps under your belt. The best experience can only be gained by just getting out there!

How do you improve and progress?

There are a number of progression paths to the top echelons of the sport – take 19-year-old Rallycross star Patrick O’Donovan as an example. He started off at 14-years-old competing in the Motorsport UK Junior Rallycross Championship, where he was runner-up in just his second year. He then graduated to the single-make RX150 Rallycross Championship, where he managed to take the top spot in 2021. He then moved up to the top level of the sport, Supercars, where he became the 2022 British Rallycross Champion. There are other paths to choose from, such as the two-wheel-drive Supernational class or ALL4 Mini’s.

How do you enter and what are the costs?

In the British Championship, entry criteria can change depending on the organising Club. Contact details for each event can be found on the Championship website and the organisers are more than happy to point new competitors in the right direction.

Interested? Watch an Introduction to Rallycross on Motorsport UK TV.

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