GO­ING FASTER THAN FOR­MULA ONE B

Hal Ridge looks at ral­ly­cross’s iconic era

Motor Sport News - - Monsters: Rallycross - Pho­tos: Hal Ridge, Tim Whit­ting­ton

y the very na­ture of the sport, ral­ly­cross breeds mon­strous ma­chin­ery. Renowned for be­ing full of uber-pow­er­ful Su­per­cars, there are few other mo­tor­sport dis­ci­plines where cars are on the ‘wrong’ set-up for a con­sid­er­able part of any given lap or race, such is the con­stant com­pro­mise of rac­ing on both sealed and un­sealed sur­faces. That in­evitably makes the ac­tion in­vig­o­rat­ing.

Most ral­ly­cross cars have at least some mon­ster blood run­ning through them. Look at en­try-level na­tional com­pe­ti­tion where, in some classes, re­stric­tions are rel­a­tively few and in the pur­suit of power rac­ers of­ten fit big­ger and more pow­er­ful en­gines than are ac­tu­ally re­quired. Or at the twin-turbo mon­sters that graced the top ech­e­lons of the sport over two decades ago in the Group B era. The state-of-the-art ma­chines that race in the World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship to­day can out-ac­cel­er­a­tion a For­mula 1 car to 60mph.

While the sport is lit­tered with ex­am­ples of frankly bonkers ma­chin­ery, it’s dif­fi­cult to shy away from the Group B pe­riod when think­ing about mon­strous ral­ly­cross cars. Group B, as has been de­tailed in this week’s MN, was a crazy time for ral­ly­ing. But when the in­fa­mous cars were banned from the rally stages in 1986, many were adapted to race in ral­ly­cross. If the Group B rally era could have be­come any more ex­treme, then it was on the ral­ly­cross tracks around Europe, where they were given more power, less weight and raced door han­dle-to-door han­dle with elec­tri­fy­ing con­se­quences.

There are few that drove the most po­tent of ma­chines on both the rally stages and the ral­ly­cross cir­cuits some 20 years ago, but to have driven then and still to­day is even more unique. But then, as any­body that has had the op­por­tu­nity to spend any time in his com­pany will know, Swedish leg­end Per Ek­lund is unique.

Ek­lund has driven most types of cars in most cham­pi­onships in an in­cred­i­ble 50-year mo­tor­sport ca­reer and says rac­ing his light­ened, more pow­er­ful MG Metro 6R4 in ral­ly­cross stood out as a favourite.

“It was fan­tas­tic to have Group B ral­ly­cross cars on the start line,” he says. “F***ing hell, it was [Ford] RS200S, [Audi] Sport quat­tros, Peu­geot 205s and the Metro – cars to­day that you need to pay mil­lions for. The Metro was funny re­ally, ev­ery­body had a turbo but we were there with a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine, the V6. That was dif­fer­ent.

“The Metro was like a rac­ing car, you were sit­ting on the gear­box and there was noth­ing in front of you. The car was al­most the same when we turned it into a ral­ly­cross car as it had been when I did ral­ly­ing, but it had much more horse­power and that was a bit of a prob­lem. We used to break the trans­mis­sion, there was good trac­tion and the rear dif­fer­en­tial was the prob­lem, it kept ex­plod­ing so we had to do some work there, and to the sus­pen­sion.”

Ek­lund says that de­spite the lack or a turbo, over a race dis­tance the Metro was a strong match for the op­po­si­tion. “We lost out at the start but over a lap it was very good. We used the 3.5-litre en­gine, so it had much more power than the rally car, even with no turbo. Will Gol­lop used a twin turbo, which worked well and he was quite quick for some years. The cars were fan­tas­tic, they were like a cir­cuit rac­ing car with long sus­pen­sion arms too.”

Ek­lund also sam­pled the leg­endary Martin Schanche’s Ford RS200 ral­ly­cross car, al­beit on a hill­climb. “It had the 2.5-litre turbo en­gine when I drove it. It was very good, very quick. It was more horse­power than the 6R4 and was more dif­fi­cult to con­trol. The re­sponse out of the cor­ners was not as good. Driv­ing these cars was not an easy life.”

The Swedish team owner, who is as ac­tive as ever, now into his 70s, has also com­peted in mod­ern cars re­cently. The 600bhp World RX Su­per­cars are con­sid­ered as some of the most mon­strous ma­chines in rac­ing, but to Ek­lund, they’re tame against the 6R4 and RS200.

“Our Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle is more like a proper rally car with more power, the chas­sis is very good” he ex­plains. “The mod­ern ral­ly­cross cars are so good with all the hanky-panky tricks with the re­sponse sys­tem and elec­tron­ics. They’re much eas­ier to drive now, with the se­quen­tial gear­box and ev­ery­thing. They [Group B] were much more ex­treme and more dif­fi­cult, but they were fan­tas­tic.” ■

Ek­lund loved power of RX Gol­lop’s sav­age Metro Did M3 have 1000bhp? Xan­tia boasted 850bhp Group B ral­ly­cross cars were hugely dra­matic Subaru: fast but frag­ile Su­per­charg­ing a turbo

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