Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Electric Rallycross

Is one of the world’s top motorsport series about to go electric? Quite possibly, and we’re not talking Scalextric here, but real motorsport. This is going to be big news, or at least it will be if it happens. This is the story.

The FIA, which stands for International Automobile Federation, only in French, currently licenses four motorsport world championships. These are Formula One, Rallying, Endurance Cars and the World Rallycross Championship. The Americans may dispute this, but these four series are the pinnacle of motorsport. And guess what? One of them, Rallycross, has announced it’s to go electric. All electric. They’re not just going to allow electric cars, like several other series are doing so, nor are they going to run a parallel series, like Formula E, but the whole series is to go electric. If all goes to plan, when the cars line up for the start of the first race of the 2021 World RX Championship, every single one will be an EV.

So how did we get here? Well, rallycross was a British invention, making it one of the few branches of motorsport that was not initially in French. It is a cross between rallying and circuit racing. Cars would race together round a short circuit that was half tarmac and half gravel. The inaugural event was at Lydden Hill in Kent in 1967 and was shown on World of Sport.

That the first event was televised was no coincidence. Rallycross was pretty much designed to make
it watchable. Formula One costs a fortune and nobody overtakes, rallying takes place in the middle of nowhere and endurance racing goes on forever. With rallycross though you can sit yourself down in the grandstand and watch every moment of a day of close racing. As in rallying, the cars look like ordinary cars, but they are four-wheel drive, turbocharged and very, very fast. An event consists of a number of races. Each race lasts no more than five minutes so they’re short enough to be shared in an email. To spice things up a bit more a recent innovation is the Joker Lap, which adds a bit of tactics to the mix.

Rallycross was a staple of Saturday TV when I was growing up in the seventies and my first Scalextric Set that I would was called the Mini Rallycross. However, outside of my bedroom, rallycross in the UK never quite made it to the first tier of motorsport. There was a European Championship, but the only people who took it seriously were the Scandinavians. However, all that changed in 2014, when the FIA made rallycross the fourth of its world series. Big names from the world of rallying and racing signed up and the car manufacturers chipped in money and expertise. World RX was off the starting line and quickly became the most exciting motorsport on the planet.

None of that is likely to get the average Greenpeacer too excited though. However, the news that came out at the start of last year might: rallycross would go all electric in 2020. This was a major announcement. It meant that every single rallycross car currently being used would be obsolete. Everyone would need new vehicles. Although it’s the teams with manufacturer backing that usually win the races, most of the field in rallycross is smaller, private teams. They would be allowed to make their own electric cars, but realistically they’d be looking to buy them. The FIA therefore needed to know that there were enough manufacturers interested both to make sure the season had enough works and private teams to make it interesting. The date of the changeover was initially 2020, then 2021, but the FIA said it had four companies interested and that it would definitely be happening. Prototypes of the cars have been built and they are at least as powerful as the current supercars, which means 500bhp plus and 0-100kmh in two seconds.

Then, in summer 2018, the wheels started to come off the wagon. Why this happened is still being debated, but over the course of the second half of the year the big manufacturers dropped out of the sport one by one. In their wake several of the big-name drivers moved on. Increasing costs, the general direness of the world economy and the domination of the championship by one team (VW) have all been cited as reasons, plus the fact the rallycross, as the new kid on the block, doesn’t have the resilience of other series to survive these sorts of setbacks. As things stand, we know the 2019 series will be going ahead in April, but we don’t know who’ll be in it. Many of the regular drivers are still trying to find cars, or money, or both.

So where does this lead the FIAs electric dreams? Officially the plans are still going ahead. Unofficially the fear is that with a diminished series, audiences and sponsors will depart, and that the manufacturers will reconsider splashing out big money on electric supercars. More optimistic voices think this could be a blessing in disguise, that rallycross will become more interesting now more teams will have a chance of winning.

So as things stand the 2012 World Rallycross Championship will certainly sound very different, although what it will look is still uncertain. Making the car on the track electric in itself won’t reduce the carbon footprint of the sport much, as most of the emissions for an event are from the spectators. However, as anyone who’s been to watch motorsport knows, road going versions of the cars on the track very quickly become the desirable cars in the car park. So, if it happens, rallycross going electric should be great news for both eco-warriors and petrolheads, if you’ll be able to still call them that.

To get a flavour of what World RX is like click here:

Here is a test of an electric rallycross car here: