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OPINION: ANDREW COLEY'S VERDICT ON NEW RX TRACKS

Tuesday 21st of May 2019

We’re three rounds into this year’s FIA World Rallycross Championship, and of those three rounds we’ve had two brand new rallycross tracks, so I thought I’d write a few words on the new track layouts and the racing they provided.

Basically, MEGA! OK maybe a few more words then…

In short, I thought they were both brilliant, and the way in which they were designed was for me the most inclusive I’ve seen yet with a new track. Both the organisers from Abu Dhabi and Spa Francorchamps came to the Estering last year and observed the race, while touring the paddock and showing off their track designs.  

They asked the opinions of everyone involved, from drivers to teams, TV to organisers, and then made changes according to those thoughts. Significant changes I might add too; coming form the TV side were thoughts on joker lap positioning, a major change being made in Abu Dhabi to ensure the joker is late in the lap, which for me always provides more excitement as it doesn’t split the grid at turn one.

Abu Dhabi featured a sprint finish line merge which could have been spectacular; unfortunately on this occasion it was spectacular for the wrong reason featuring a big crash between Timmy Hansen Andreas Bakkerud. But that’s easily fixed in my opinion, just move the finish line to after turn 2, then if it’s a close battle you’ll see defensive and aggressive lines on the entry and more great racing through that section as we saw on numerous occasions this year.

Yes the gravel in Abu Dhabi was on the harder side, but it was dusty and loose in terms of grip compared to the tarmac, and I think people are quick to judge a new track…especially when a classic like Loheac doesn’t have ‘real gravel’ either. (But is still a brilliant track.) The cars looked stunning under the lights, the anti lag flares looked amazing in the dark, and the track build was stunning; befitting of a world championship.

The big kerbs came in for a little criticism too, so I think it’s important you know who is involved in making the decisions to introduce things like this on new rallycross circuits. Kenneth Hansen.

The kerbs used in Abu Dhabi have been designed so they can be bolted in to any track and removed after the event, leaving the track still safe for other FIA or FIM (bikes) disciplines. Kenneth is part of a track design focus group for World Rallycross, working with the FIA, because F1 doesn’t do jumps. Sadly.

Were the kerbs too big for turn 1? Yes, I think in hindsight they were as you don’t always get to pick your line in the bundle at the start…see Reinis Nitiss’ award for biggest air, and a new roof for Marklund. But for the other chicanes and the joker lap, fine. Rallycross cars have the ability to drive over pretty much anything, leading to boring stewards enquiries about track limits, and hundreds of tyre bails spoiling the view of spectators at home and at the track.

On to Spa. Very loose, deep gravel, a funneling turn 1, and super committed banked gravel corner and a jump over the finish line. All the drivers loved it, and if you didn’t think the racing was epic all weekend you need your eyes testing. The layout also led to joker exit defence being to run the car wide…leaving the door open for Timur Timerzyanov to bundle through into turn 1 and take another position! Awesome. The banked corner required only a tiny brake to settle the nose, and the joker was gravel too. All the big names made mistake in both corners at some point. GOOD. They’re the best in the world so challenge them. 

Downside? Real gravel cuts and ruts up, and we had some big holes on day one which caused tyres to be pushed off rims; not something I want deciding races on a regular basis. But the organisers dealt with it brilliantly, and on day two dry track conditions didn’t factor in the racing at all, and the deep gravel led to a brilliant spectacle with mega racing all day, across all the classes. Yes to more banked bends.

On the weather…rain always makes the loose slippery, and drags dirt onto the tar. Lovely! I’d love it if we watered the dirt sections of every track. Not a bowser on a trailer and drivers moaning about running order; sprinklers around the circuit which are switched on between every race, adjusted on ‘sprinkle rate and time’ for ambient temperature etc, to ensure the loose is always slippery to a relatively consistent level, even if the gravel isn’t deep.

So what about the old tracks? I love them. Lydden, Montalegre, Kouvola, the list goes on. Aside from the first year in Argentina I can’t think of a track I wouldn’t like the World Championship to go back to. But the clue is in the name; it is a WORLD championship and it must travel further afield than Europe if the sport is to grow in the way I think it can.

I know we’re all Rallycross fans but how may times have you seen a ‘new’ viewer post “OMG THIS IS AWESOME” on social media? We need more people to know about Rallycross. Imagine watching this brilliant, bonkers action on TV and then hearing it’s coming to your doorstep. You’re over the moon. Ask the fans in South Africa.

So if you really, HONESTLY, want to assess a new track, you have take off the blinkers about the old circuits, and think if all the old circuits were still on the calendar, and these new circuits were added on top, what would you think of the new circuits then?

And yes please to 20 rounds of WorldRX a year. Just saying.

 

 

 

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