Ever since Silverstone launched plans for a purpose-built Rallycross track and became the new home for the FIA World Rallycross GB round, there has been plenty of hype and lots of talk. 2018 was certainly going to an exciting year for Rallycross in the UK and now with Silverstone alongside Lydden Hill as permanent Rallycross homes, everyone couldn’t wait for the new season to get underway. To begin the new season, Silverstone was tasked with hosting a thriller, as the kilometre-long layout of gravel and tarmac would host the season opener for the Toyo Tires MSA British Rallycross Championship. Likely looked at as a trail run for the World Championship round, the British championship would bring a competitive mix of drivers and cars to Northamptonshire, of which this would be their first of two visits. A championship with heritage back to the 70s, it has grown to be the pinnacle of Rallycross in the UK and over the years has seen many drivers tame the quick 600bhp Supercars and progress to challenge on the European or World stage. Before many drivers make it to the Supercar ranks nationally, the British Championship is famous for starting many careers, in Suzuki Swift Sport, the BMW Mini, RX150 Buggies or even Retro Rallycross, for drivers looking to replicate classics in Group B Audis, Metro6R4s or even the odd Mini. Drivers can then progress further up the ladder into Super1600 or Supernational for more power and plenty of sideways action. For the Supercar class as the headline act, drivers will compete in four lap heats, scoring enough points to qualify up the grid order for the important six-lap semi-finals and finals later in the day.
The opening round of the 2018 season would see a strong line up of fourteen taking up the challenge in the Supercar division including two champions and plenty of race winners. With reigning champion Nathan Heathcote moving onto the European and World stage, favourite had to be five times British Champion Julian Godfrey, who for the opening round switched from his trusty Fiesta to a brand-new Mitsubishi Mirage RX Supercar, however the 2007 British RX Champion Ollie O’Donovan was back for a full season in a mighty looking Fiesta and was ready to try and take up the challenge in 2018. The British Championship has history of throwing up surprises throughout the year and the addition of former British Rally champion Mark Higgins for 2018 in an Albatec Racing Peugeot 208 added extra spice in what would be his first proper taste of Rallycross alongside team boss and former British RX winner Andy Scott. Talking of Rally champions, the British RX opener would see an added bonus for spectators in attendance as in preparation for the World RX round in May; nine times WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb would arrive at Silverstone with the Hansen Motorsport Factory Peugeot squad. Whilst Loeb’s team mate hadn’t been determined for the 2018 season, 2016-2017 team driver Timmy Hansen would join the British RX line up to partner Loeb. Joining the field as another World RX driver gaining experience, Frenchmen Guerlain Chicherit would campaign a brand-new Renault Clio, whilst the Prodrive Renault Megane RX Supercar is being finalised. The Clio was a new Supercar for 2018 and prepared by G-Fors. One driver from the world scene who is accustom to how the British RX paddock operated was Andreas Bakkerud, who in the build up to the new season joined Audi Sport EKS squad to partner World Rallycross Champion Mathias Ekstrom. Bakkerud had competed previously in British RX in a few outings in the RX150 category but after a winter test plan since joining EKS, would bring a 2017 Specification Audi S1 to the British Paddock at Silverstone in preparation for the new World RX season and test the circuit for the Speedmachine festival in May.
Bakkerud on a charge after Qualifiers
Three rounds of four lap qualifiers would set a benchmark for the all-important semi-finals and in tricky conditions of high winds and falling snow, it was evident once the chequered flag fell that Andreas Bakkerud in the EKS Audi S1 was the driver to beat, as he top all three sessions with blistering quick times. The WRX entries were always expected to be fastest but Bakkerud got the better of the two Peugeot drivers as Hansen and Loeb swapped second place in the times, apart from the opening session where Kevin Procter broke into the top three and split the Peugeots. Procter would end the qualifiers fourth fastest and fastest of the British RX runners, taking fourth in Q2 but dropping to eighth overall in Q3 after losing time to his championship rivals. Behind Procter in the standings on his Rallycross debut was Albatec Racing’s Mark Higgins was struggled in his opening qualifier before improving in Q2 and Q3, going fastest of the rest in fourth, but surprisingly five seconds back from Timmy Hansen. Ollie O’Donovan, the 2007 British RX champion was just outside the top five after the qualifiers being consistent over the three sessions and ahead of the Andy Grant in seventh and the Spencer Sport Mitsubishi Mirage RX of Julian Godfrey in eighth. For Grant Silverstone had been a tricky season opener so far, struggling for pace after Q1 and then retiring from the action in Q3. For the five times British Champion things had also been turbulent in adapting to a new car as he could only manage seventh in Q1 and Q2 before retiring in Q3 after a collision resulted in a failure with his master switch. Just behind Julian Godfrey in the standings was Steve Hill in the Mitsubishi Evo X who made it into the semis after overcoming a DNF in Q2 due to an alternator problem. Hill would be joined in the Semis by newcomer Roger Thomas who would finalise the top ten in his Ford Focus after being consistent early on, but unfortunately retired in Q3. Two drivers who ended outside the top ten in qualifying due to unfortunate incidents was Mad Mark Watson in his Citroen Xsara and Frenchmen Guerlain Chicherit (Renault Clio RX), who both non-scored in two of the qualifier sessions due to mechanical failures or on track incidents.
RX Supercar Overall Classification After Qualifiers – Top Five:
- Andreas Bakkerud (No.113 – Audi S1) = 3:25.796 / 3:28.952 / 3.12.121
- Sebastien Loeb (No.109 – Peugeot 208 WRX) = 3:26.264 / 3:30.411 / 3:12.891
- Timmy Hansen (No.121 – Peugeot 208 WRX) = 3:35.895 / 3:29.024 / 3:15.496
- Kevin Procter (No.10 – Ford Fiesta) = 3:33.836 / 3:38.806 / 3:47.413
- Mark Higgins (No.34 – Peugeot 208 RX) = 3:54.990 / 3:40.151 / 3:20.918
Peugeot on top in Semis
The semi-finals would see all the hard work of the qualifiers put to the test as progression to the final was crucial for the all-important points. In semi-final one it was mostly about Hansen vs Bakkerud but for the British drivers, Mark Higgins would mostly be challenging Steve Hill for honours. When the lights went out Andreas Bakkerud got the better start and after dominating qualifying, was setting the pace with Hansen in hot pursuit. Hansen was able to overhaul the Norwegian to take victory whilst the Peugeot of Mark Higgins would finish third and progress as highest BRX driver from this semi. Entering the final alongside Higgins was Steve Hill in the Evo after taking fourth spot comfortably. This semi unfortunately didn’t have a fall grid due to Mad Mark withdrawing his Citroen Xsara but Hill was mostly unchallenged after Andy Grant suffered a mechanical failure in his Ford Focus and would finish one lap down.
RX Supercar Semi Final 1 Qualifiers:
- Timmy Hansen (No.121 – Peugeot 208 WRX) = 4:38.534
- Andreas Bakkerud (No.113 – Audi S1) = +0:02.671
- Mark Higgins (No.34 – Peugeot 208 RX) = +0:07.672
- Steve Hill (No.4 – Mitsubishi Evo X) = +0:15.141
In semi-final two Sebastien Loeb was the only WRX wildcard on the grid as Guerlain Chicherit withdrew the G-Fors Renault Clio RS RX after suffering throughout the event with a broken intercooler. Starting on pole Loeb got away well to lead the field as behind there was contact between Procter, Godfrey and Ollie O’Donovan into the first corner. Whilst Procter came away in second, the collision between O’Donovan and Godfrey left the Ford Focus driver retiring with broken suspension and Roger Thomas moved into third. Julian Godfrey was the driver on a charge after the incident and moved into third in the later stages but didn’t have enough in the tank to catch Procter, let alone Loeb who was long gone, lapping three seconds faster than the rest. At the chequered flag, Loeb’s time was over twenty seconds faster than Procter and in comparison, to semi-final one, nearly three seconds faster than his team mate Timmy Hansen.
RX Supercar Semi Final 2 Qualifiers:
- Sebastien Loeb (No.109 – Peugeot 208 WRX) = 4:35.774
- Kevin Procter (No.10 – Ford Fiesta) = +0:20.716
- Julian Godfrey (No.51 – Mitsubishi Mirage) = +0:22.283
- Roger Thomas (No.95 – Ford Focus) = +0:39.416
Loeb the man to beat in the final
Heading into the final the conditions changed once again with the sun beginning to drop and the snow appearing. On the front row was the entire FIA WRX contingent, led by the Peugeot Motorsport pairing of Loeb and Hansen alongside the Audi of Andreas Bakkerud. In terms of the British RX competitors, Kevin Procter was the highest place in the Ford Fiesta. As the lights went out, the Peugeot duo got away well, closely followed by Bakkerud and Julian Godfrey. As Hansen tried to battle with Loeb, the door opened for Bakkerud and the Audi driver comfortably slotted into second and tried ever so hard to close down Loeb. The WRX lot appeared untouchable in the top three spots but as wildcard entries, points couldn’t be scored with Loeb taking the chequered flag ahead of Hansen and Bakkerud completing the podium. This meant that attention would be on fourth spot to see who would take maximum British RX championship points. After a frantic round of qualifiers seeing troubles for Julian Godfrey in his brand-new Mitsubishi, the five times Champion had the hang of the Mirage in the final and was away and clear from the rest. His closest challengers appeared to be Procter and Mark Higgins but in the early stages Procter retired on the start line before Higgins broke the driveshaft on lap two, ending his momentum in the Albatec Racing Peugeot as he would run in last position. The retirements of Procter and Higgins opened the door to Steve Hill (Mitsubishi Evo X) and Ryan Thomas (Ford Focus). Both had occurred a rollercoaster day in the troubling conditions but would score British RX podium points in second and third behind Godfrey at the flag. This would therefore result as Julian Godfrey the championship leader heading to Lydden Hill in April and his rivals playing catch up early on to halt Godfrey in his quest for title number six.
RX Supercar Final Classification – Top Five
- Sebastien Loeb (No.109 – Peugeot 208 WRX) = 4:31.268
- Timmy Hansen (No.121 – Peugeot 208 WRX) = +0:03.295
- Andreas Bakkerud (No.113 – Audi S1) = +0:05.371
- Julian Godfrey (No.51 – Mitsubishi Mirage) = +0:19.194
- Steve Hill (No.4 – Mitsubishi Evo X) = +0:21.734
To keep up to date with the British Rallycross (RX) Championship in 2018, please visit http://www.rallycrossbrx.com where you can find the calendar, latest points and driver info.
For more photos from the season opener at Silverstone including the Support championships to the Supercars, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.